A Whimsical Proposal for Defusing the Skiffes Creek Controversy

Artsy power line proposed for Iceland.
Artsy power line proposed for Iceland.

Two weeks ago the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issued “preliminary finding” that Dominion Virginia Power’s preferred route for building a 500 kV transmission line across a historic stretch of the James River is the lowest-cost alternative for meeting the electricity needs of the Virginia Peninsula while remaining compliant with federal environmental laws. While the Corps continues to deliberate on the issue in the face of stiff public opposition, the finding would seem to improve the odds that the project eventually will get built.

Foes object to the transmission line on the grounds that towers as high as 295 feet will disrupt views of a historic stretch of the James River visible from Jamestown Island, location of the first surviving English-speaking settlement of the New World. While Dominion insists that the power line will be barely visible on the horizon, there is no denying that the structure itself is aesthetically unappealing. (See our in-depth coverage of the controversy here.)

Somewhat whimsically, one Bacon’s Rebellion reader, who asks not to be named, wonders if the aesthetics issue could be addressed by making the power line look less like a power line and more like a piece of art. The image above is a rendering by Choi+Shine Architects for an electric transmission line proposed for Iceland. That project never got built, but I’m wondering in the same spirit if the idea couldn’t be adapted to Virginia — give the tower-figures tricorn hats! The historical purists wouldn’t like it but, heck, maybe the tourists would.


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5 responses to “A Whimsical Proposal for Defusing the Skiffes Creek Controversy”

  1. LarrytheG Avatar

    or perhaps if it were a bridge and wonderfully architected if that would be any more or less acceptable…. some bridges are graceful art…

    but on a more practical level the premise for the crossing is associated with the loss of the Yorktown coal plant and my question is – will these powerlines carry enough power to actually replace in full – all the power from Yorktown?

  2. Love the prospect of seeing these giant figures striding across the James River, from the shores of Jamestown Island! Maybe Dominion could have them constructed wearing colonial garb!

  3. LarrytheG Avatar

    yeah.. I’m not seeing any waterfront lots….

  4. Rowinguy Avatar

    Four very tall towers are proposed to span the two shipping channels in the James at that location. One set of towers could represent John Smith and Chief Powhatan and the other set could represent John Rolfe and Pocohantas.

    In a related matter, Dominion has filed with the EPA a request for an Administrative Order that would allow the Yorktown plants to continue to operate until April 2017 in view of the uncertainty regarding construction of this line.

  5. LarryG, you ask, “will these powerlines carry enough power to actually replace in full – all the power from Yorktown?”

    I think it’s safe to say the answer is “yes.” This requires a lot of explanation and qualification however:

    First, how much power can move over a transmission line? The precise answer requires a lot of engineering but here is what one paper written by Idaho Power for its “TVEP Community Advisory Group” says:

    • For general purposes, we can say:
    o A 500 kV transmission line can carry between 1,000 and 1,500 megawatts
    o 345 kV transmission line can carry between 700 and 1,000 MW
    o 230 kV transmission line can carry between 300 and 500 MW
    o All of these lines will normally be operated in parallel with (electrically alongside) another line of equal size or a set of lower voltage lines. If the line with the highest capacity goes out, the remaining lines must still be capable of carrying their loads plus the load that was on the line that went out.

    These ballpark numbers are for transfer capability — how much power can move over these lines. In addition there are frequency stability concerns and reactive power concerns, particularly for longer transmission lines.

    Second, there’s more to this situation than merely moving bulk power onto the Peninsula. What is being retired here is 324 MW at Yorktown and 579 MW at Chesapeake. So why the heck aren’t we talking about Chesapeake too? The answer is, the south side of the James from Virginia Beach to Petersburg is located along an arc of multiple 500 kV transmission circuits that run to Petersburg and south, as well as north past Richmond all the way to northern Virginia and into Maryland and West Virginia. The retirements at Chesapeake are no problem. However, the transmission into the lower Peninsula, north of the James and east of the Chickahominy River, is not strong enough to carry the load on the Peninsula PAST THE FIRST CONTINGENCY.

    What that means is what that last bullet in the Idaho Power quote above means. An electric system must be able to accommodate existing load instantly despite any single system failure, including any single equipment outage. That means you ALWAYS operate an electric system with sufficient reserve capacity to accommodate the flows that will result in the instant just after any single transmission line or switch or generator fails. That way you don’t get a cascade of outages growing into a regional blackout just because something tripped or went offline unexpectedly. In this case, the consequence is, the existing 230 and 115 kV lines down the Peninsula from Richmond, plus the 230 kV line that crosses from Suffolk, together can supply enough power to the Peninsula under normal conditions to do without Yorktown Units 1 & 2, but, the first-contingency condition, i.e. the loss of any one of those 230 kV lines, would leave Dominion unable to avoid a major outage as it would have insufficient remaining transmission capacity in reserve to fall back on. Also I believe I read somewhere that there would be first-contingency complications in Norfolk too.

    Either you must replace those Yorktown units or add transmission into the Peninsula tying to generation elsewhere. Dominion would like to add transmission, by tying into that strong 500 kV arc south of the James River, and there are two obvious places to do that: either tie in at the Chickahominy Substation, near the Richmond Airport, and run a line east from there, or at the Surry Station switchyard, next to the Surry generating station, and run a line north across the River to Skiffes Creek substation and then east from there. As I understand it, the Chickahominy route was rejected because of wetlands issues crossing the swamp there, plus the Surry route, while it involves crossing the River, is a shorter distance. Adding a 500 kV connection would obviate these first contingency concerns because it would be a double-circuit connection, and also the existing 230 kV can handle the load as a emergency backup.

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