transmission_lineWhen Dominion shuts down the Yorktown Power Station, Virginia’s Peninsula will need another source of electric power. Dominion says a 500 kV transmission line over the historic James River is the best option. Conservationists James A. Bacon

Communities in the historic Virginia Peninsula face a devil’s alternative: Immediately accept a high-voltage transmission line that foes say could mar views of a historic stretch of the James River or face the prospect of rolling blackouts that Dominion Virginia Power says could disrupt the economy for 500,000 people.

The State Corporation Commission (SCC) and the PJM Interconnection regional transmission organization have given the go-ahead to build the 500 kV Surry-Skiffes Creek transmission line to balance electricity lost when Dominion Virginia Power shuts down two antiquated coal-fired units at the Yorktown Power Station. But many residents in and around the history-rich region are up in arms, and Dominion cannot begin construction on the line until it obtains necessary switching-station zoning approval from James City County and a nod from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

If a decision isn’t made immediately, contends Dominion, the power company will be unable to complete construction of the transmission line before it shuts down the Yorktown power plants in April 2017 at the latest.

At that point, reliance upon four existing 230 kV transmission lines will put the electric grid only one or two “contingencies” — unplanned transmission-line outages — away from a meltdown that could send uncontrolled blackouts cascading to the Richmond region and beyond. Rather than risk such a catastrophe, federal regulations would require Dominion to take customers offline on a rotating basis. Depending upon weather conditions and other events, the Virginia Peninsula will be at risk of rolling blackouts 50 to 80 times a year.

“If there’s a one in million chance of a breakdown, PJM tells us to shed load,” says Kevin Curtis, Dominion’s director of transmission planning, referring to the regional transmission organization that would issue the command to pull the trigger. If Dominion failed to follow through, it could face fines of $1 million per day for violating North American Electric Reliability Corporation standards.

But foes of the transmission line are still fighting back. In early August, the James City County Planning Commission recommended denial of a rezoning request that would allow Dominion to construct a sub-station critical to the project. Meanwhile, the USACE says,  “Due to the many variables yet to be addressed, we are unable to provide a discrete timeline” for when it might decide whether or not the project requires a full-fledged Environmental Impact Statement, which could delay it yet another year.

Margaret Nelson Fowler, founding member of the Save the James Alliance, isn’t buying Dominion’s warning of rolling blackouts. Dominion is making a business decision to shut down the Yorktown power plant, she says. Dominion can continue operating the coal-fired units in a non-compliant status. It will have to pay fines, but fines are Dominion’s problem, not the community’s, she says. “We’ve been told by people who know that blackouts would never be permitted. … This is all scare tactics.”

Surry-Skiffes Creek is perhaps the most controversial of some three dozen transmission line projects that Virginia’s major power companies are planning or implementing as they undertake a sweeping re-engineering of Virginia’s electric grid. Under heavy regulatory pressure, power companies are shifting from coal-fired generating plants to gas, wind and solar energy sources; transmission lines must be built or upgraded to accommodate the re-routed flow of electricity. Dominion lists 27 Virginia projects at some stage of approval or construction; Appalachian Power lists seven approved and pending projects.

The problem is that no one likes looking at power lines, and proposals often encounter local resistance. The Surry-Skiffes Creek proposal arises from a set of circumstances that is particularly complex and intractable. The engineering logic that dictates building a 500 kV Economic transmission line across the James River is persuasive. But so are objections by conservationists and property owners, who say Dominion’s cost-benefit analysis fails to take important non-monetary values into account. The result is institutional gridlock as the proposal works its way through federal, state and local oversight. In this case, the economic consequences of a failure to reach a timely resolution could be highly debilitating to the Peninsula economy.

Yorktown Power Station. Photo credit: Dominion

Decommissioning the Yorktown Power Station.

The Yorktown Power Station is  one of the oldest plants in the Dominion system. Two coal-fired units and one oil-fired unit generate as much as 1,141 megawatts of electricity, or about 6% of Dominion’s total energy. Because the coal-fired units were aging, Dominion was planning to phase them out by 2019. Then came the new EPA mercury and air-toxic standards, which, according to Dominion, gave it little choice but to accelerate the planned shutdown to December 2014. Unable to obtain the required authorizations to get the transmission line built, Dominion has continued to operate the plant based on one-year extensions lasting into 2016. The company plans to apply for another extension to April 2017 but maintains operating the plant past that date would be illegal.

Knowing that Dominion had to shut down the two coal-fired units (retaining an oil-fired unit as a rarely used back-up power source), the company, the SCC and independent consultants reviewed multiple options to keep units 1 and 2 open, says Daisy Pridgen, a Dominion spokesperson. “The evaluation concluded that the costs required to extend the life of these facilities (vintage 1950s) was not appropriate to include in customer rates. Costs were over $650 million to achieve EPA compliance, which far exceeded other … options.”

It was impossible to convert the facilities to gas-fired boilers because the natural gas pipeline system on the Peninsula does not have enough capacity to supply a large gas-fired facility. There are no practical locations for wind power nearby, nor are there any parcels of vacant land suitable for solar — at six acres of solar panels per megawatt, 3,600 acres would be needed, says Curtis, the transmission planning director. Moreover, wind and solar are inherently variable, which means the company would need a backup energy source in case they weren’t generating power, which poses the question of where that electricity would come from.

Transmission line foes have suggested investing in energy efficiency and demand-response programs, but history has shown it takes years to change people’s behavior enough to shave 8% to 10% from demand, says Curtis. The Peninsula would need to slash more like 30% to 50% to avoid building the transmission line. “I’m not aware of anyone doing that anywhere in the United States.”

Map credit: Dominion Virginia Power. (Click image for more detail.)

Another transmission line. Dominion concluded that the most economical option was to bring in electricity from outside the Peninsula, and that meant building another transmission line. Currently, the region is served by four 230 kV transmission lines, two crossing the James River from the south and two from the northwest. Under ideal circumstances, those four lines by themselves could accommodate the region’s electricity demand. But in hot days when demand is highest, the lines would lack the capacity to meet power demand and handle multiple contingencies.

It is electric utility dogma, now enshrined in North American Reliability Council regulations, to maintain enough redundancy in the electric grid to be able to survive two simultaneous adverse events. Some events are caused by nature, such as tornadoes, high winds and ice storms. Others involve all-too-human screw-ups, such as a tree-cutter knocking a tree onto a power line or a ditch digger ripping up an underground line. Yet others are flukes, such as a barge damaging a river transmission-line tower or a large bird knocking out a substation. On any given day, the chances of any one of these events occurring is remote. But events of one kind or another occur with some frequency. Any section of the transmission grid must be able to survive not just one incident but two simultaneously.

The consequences of overload could be catastrophic: transmission lines could melt down, causing electricity to reroute through other lines, knocking them out in turn, and setting off a chain of dominoes that could spread like the infamous 2003 blackout that cut power to 50 million people in Canada and the United States.

Dominion is part of PJM Interconnection, an organization that, among other things, safeguards the reliability of the regional electric grid. The company continually monitors Dominion’s transmission lines, as it does for all of its other members, and is empowered to order Dominion to cut power sufficient to drive demand below the two-adverse-event standard. If PJM says to shed load, says Curtis, Dominion complies. “Nobody’s going to fine us for shedding load. We’ll get fined for not shedding load.”

Controlled, rolling blackouts through the Peninsula would be less disruptive economically than an uncontrolled chain reaction that knocked out power for millions of people. Still, the blackouts would be a significant burden to the region’s economy. Curtis says there would be 50 to 80 “high risk” days of blackouts in a typical year, although the randomness of weather makes it impossible to predict the number with any certainty.

Dominion’s engineers determined that the Peninsula needed a 500 kV line, for which it explored two broad alternatives and innumerable variations of those alternatives: (1) extending from the Chickahominy substation (midway between Williamsburg and Richmond) along an overland route into the Peninsula and (2) running the line from a substation tied to the Surry Power Station across the river. Dominion focused on the Chickahominy and Surry substations because both are served by 500 kV lines that draw from multiple power sources.

The problem with the Chickahominy route, says Curtis, is that the high-voltage line would cross a river, the Chickahominy, that is far more pristine environmentally than the James, and would run through Chickahominy Indian tribal lands and other culturally sensitive sites. Early public hearings generated a buzz saw of resistance. Indeed, that route is so unacceptable that Fowler with the Save the James Alliance argues that Dominion floated it to make the Surry alternative look good by comparison.

The Surry route would start at the Surry substation, run 1.5 miles on Dominion land, stretch four miles across the James, and then another 2.3 miles in James City County to a switching station at Skiffes Creek. There the voltage would be stepped down from 500 kV to 230 kV in a line that would be extended to the Whealton sub-station. The river crossing would require 17 towers, which would rise to a height of 275 to 295 feet on each side of two active shipping channels. The average height of the other towers would be 160 feet.

Dominion characterizes the affected stretch of the James as a working river, with numerous commercial vessels, a waste-water treatment plant, the Surry nuclear power station, residential development, the former BASF manufacturing plant, the Fort Eustis Army Base and the so-called “ghost fleet” of mothballed military vessels. Moreover, the transmission line would be far in the distance and barely visible on the horizon. That stretch of the James may be historical, says David Botkins, director of media relations for Dominion, but “it’s not pristine.”

Dominion's simulated view of the transmission line from part of the Colonial Parkway. Foes dispute Dominion's methodology for creating this depiction.
Dominion’s simulated view of the transmission line from the Colonial Parkway. Foes dispute Dominion’s methodology for creating this depiction.

Resistance builds. Resistance quickly surfaced in opposition to the Surry-Skiffes Creek route. The Peninsula is home to the so-called Historic Triangle of Colonial Williamsburg, Jamestown Island and the Yorktown battlefield. History buffs  represent a large and vocal constituency in the region. The power lines, foes say, will be intrusively visible from the east side of Jamestown Island (the archaeological digs are on the west side), from the Colonial Parkway, from Kings Mills Resort, from Carter’s Grove plantation and by boaters on the river.

The towers will destroy the vista of “America’s founding river,” a designation granted by a resolution of the U.S. House of Representatives, says Fowler. “We’re not arguing that the river is as pristine as when John Smith was here. We’ve never said that.” But this stretch of river is relatively undeveloped and worth preserving from further degradation, she says. Adding to the intrusion of 295-foot towers, the power lines will be studded with metal balls to make them visible to airplanes, and the towers will flash strobe lights at night.

The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation has opposed the project since 2012, says Joe Straw, manager-public relations, citing “the project’s potential negative impact on the region’s tourism economy, which is based on authentic, inspiring experiences.” Other prominent groups to register their disapproval include Preservation Virginia, the Chesapeake Conservancy and the National Park Service, among others.

Tourism is an economic pillar of the Historic Triangle. The Colonial National Historic Park attracted 3.3 million visitors in 2014. National Park Service economists estimated these guests spent $187 million that year, supporting more than 3,100 jobs in  communities surrounding the parks.

But the significance of the area transcends jobs and dollar signs. As Stephanie S. Toothman, keeper of the National Register of Historic Places, wrote in a recent letter to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers:

The English colonization of North America was an extraordinary undertaking which had a profound impact on the Old World and the New and much of what was to come had its origins here along the James River: the establishment and growth of the first permanent English settlement in the New World; some of the earliest and most sustained interactions (both cooperative and antagonistic) between the original inhabitants of the area — the American Indians — and the Europeans; the initial European voyages of discovery which took them throughout the Chesapeake Bay and into the interiors following the numerous rivers and led to expanding contact with the American Indians and the spread of English settlement; the foundation and development of the tobacco economy which would dominate the Chesapeake Bay world; the introduction and firm establishment of chattel slavery; the architectural evolution of buildings in the James River area from the first crude huts built by the English to the flowering of the dominant Georgian architectural style; and the growth of the unique political and social institutions which would lead to the development of representative democracy and the growing impulse of the colonists to gain independence and self-rule.

Focusing more specifically on the James River itself, Toothman noted that the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail, which encompasses the area to be traversed by the power line, is associated with important historical events. Along this trail, Smith surveyed the Bay, explored for gold and made contact with Indian tribes. “This segment of the [trail],’ she wrote, “is among the most historically significant portions of the overall National Historic Trail’s 3,000 plus miles of waterways. Jamestown was the starting and ending point for all of Smith’s voyages and was Smith’s base of operations.”

Says Fowler: “If this place isn’t sacred to you as a historical treasure, then tell me which place in America would be.”

Regulatory quicksand. Dominion has painted itself into a corner, says Fowler. The company bungled the job of getting the Surry-Skiffes Creek project approved by starting the regulatory process too late — a project this complex takes years to review — and then it has refused to agree to let the Army Corps of Engineers conduct a full-fledged Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) instead of a much more preliminary finding of an Environmental Assessment. As a result, the Army Corps is conducting the Environmental Assessment and may well conclude that a more thorough EIS is needed as well, adding another year to the timeline. “Dominion was very late in applying for a permit,” says Fowler, “and now it’s an emergency. They have no one to blame but themselves.”

The approval process has been complex, involving the State Corporation Commission, PJM Interconnection, a legal appeal to the Virginia Supreme Court and James City County in addition to the Army Corps of Engineers. Dominion executives contend that the company initiated regulatory reviews with reasonable advance notice. They find it ironic that foes delayed the project with every means at their disposal and  then turned around and accused Dominion of not giving the regulatory process enough time.

According to a timeline that Dominion prepared for Bacon’s Rebellion:

September 2011: Dominion first publicly identified the problem when it filed an Integrated Resource plan with the SCC, announcing the planned retirement of Yorktown Power Station Unit 1 and the need for a new 500 kV line.

January 2012: Dominion officials met with the Corps for preliminary discussions. At this time the company was leaning toward the Chickahominy route.

March 2012: Retreating from the Chickahominy route, Dominion officially filed with the Corps for a permit for the Surry-Skiffes Creek transmission line.

September 2012: Dominion filed with the SCC for approval of the complete project, including not only the Surry-Skiffes Creek 500 kV line but a switching station at Skiffes Creek and a 230kv extension from Skiffes Creek to the Whealton substation.

August 2013: Dominion modified its application  to the Corps to include the Skiffes Creek-Whealton extension, completing the package of proposals for which it was seeking approval. The Corps initiated a review process that included  extensive public notices, multiple public comment periods and meetings of consulting parties.

November 2013: The SCC issued a final order approving the Surry-Skiffes Creek 500 kV line, the Skiffes switching station and the Skiffes-Whealton 230 kV line.

February 2014: Routing complications of the 500 kV line led to a reexamination of the case. The SCC issued another order authorizing Dominion’s preferred route.

April 2015: The Virginia Supreme Court unanimously upheld the SCC order approving construction of the transmission line, but also ruled that only James City County had the right to grant zoning for the switching station. On June 4, the Supreme Court remanded the case back to the SCC.

June 2015. Stating that the need for the transmission line is “severe and fast approaching, and the reliability risks are far reaching,” the SCC ordered Dominion to file regular updates on the project, including the status of the Army Corps permit, county approval of the switching station, and Dominion’s proactive reliability efforts.

August 2015: Although James City County Planning Department staff recommended approval of the Surry-Skiffes Creek switching station, the appointed Planning Commission denied a recommendation to approve the project. The Board of Supervisors is expected to make a final decision later this fall.

Addressing the charge that Dominion did not file with the Army Corps of Engineers in a timely manner, Media and Community Relations Manager Bonita Billingsley Harris says the company held preliminary discussions with Corps officials in January 2012, submitted its application for the Chickahominy-Skiffes route in September 2012, and then when it switched to the Surry-Skiffes route, filed revised plans for that route in August 2013. “The bottom line,” says Harris, “is that Dominion began discussions with Corps officials more than three years ago  in January 2012, submitting additions and revisions as soon as possible every step of the way.”

It has been two years since the final update was filed, Harris says. If an Environmental Impact Statement is commonly said to take a year to complete, she asks, how long should it take to finish a less exhaustive Environmental Assessment?

A hard deadline? This fall Dominion plans to ask the EPA to give another one-year extension to operate the Yorktown Power Station until April 2017. After that, the company says, it will have no choice but to shut down. Harris says the company is not engaged in scare-mongering.

There are no legal provisions in the [Mercury and Air Toxics Standard] rule for extensions beyond April 16, 2017 – that’s if we get a one year extension from the EPA, which we sincerely hope is approved.  Under the Clean Air Act, the EPA can bring civil judicial enforcement actions against sources that violate Clean Air Act requirements. This includes seeking injunctive relief and civil penalties up to $37,500 per day for each violation. In addition, any person who knowingly violates a requirement of the Clean Air Act may be subject to criminal enforcement. Dominion will not break the law and we don’t know of any other uncontrolled power companies deliberately operating out of compliance.  Both coal units will retire no later than April 0f 2017 — for legal and environmental reasons.

Fowler disputes Dominion’s understanding of the Clean Air Act, stating that other power companies have operated power plants when out of compliance and out of extensions, although they paid fines when they did so. Dominion’s decision to shut down Yorktown units One and Two instead of operating it out of compliance and paying fines until a better remedy can be found, she says, is a business decision. That business decision may be cheaper for rate payers, at least in the short run, but will create an aesthetic monstrosity that will diminish property values and create incalculable harm to a historic treasure.

Bacon’s Rebellion contacted the EPA for a definitive explanation of what would be the consequences should Dominion continue operating the Yorktown units out of compliance. The written answer was non-responsive, essentially stating that Dominion could seek up to two one-year extensions, one from the state regulator and then one from EPA.

Bacon’s Rebellion also asked what would happen if Dominion fell out of compliance. EPA’s response: “We cannot comment on whether companies are out of compliance.”

Dominion considers itself to be up against a hard deadline for building the transmission line. Even if the company gains zoning approvals for James City County and regulatory approval from the Army Corps, it will take at least 18 months to build the transmission line, which would take completion well past April 2017 when its hoped-for extension would expire.

“It takes a good year-and-a-half to build the line, with no room for contingencies,” says Curtis, the transmission planning director. “There’s stuff you run into — weather issues, equipment issues, barge problems. We’ve used up all the slack. It’s critical path all the way.”

The economic consequences could be highly disruptive until construction was complete, especially during hot summer months. Manufacturing operations are particularly distressed by the prospect of rolling blackouts. Newport News Shipbuilding, the region’s largest private employer, sent the Army Corps a letter in support of the Skiffes Creek project. Spokesperson Christie Miller cited the fact that “the shipyard depends on reliable electrical power to support employment and build warships for the U.S. Navy.”

A “wicked” problem. Fowler  concedes that from an engineering perspective the Surry-Skiffes Creek route might be the least expensive solution for rate payers, but says that calculation doesn’t factor in the impact of the despoiled viewshed in a prime historical location to property owners or the tourism industry. “Surry-Skiffes Creek may be cheapest and fastest, but that’s not our interest,” she says. “We seek to find a workable criteria where the river expanse is saved, at a reasonable cost in a reasonable time frame. It’s called compromise, a word DVP doesn’t understand.”

There is an approach vetted by PJM, Fowler says, that would cost more than the Surry-Skiffes Creek proposal but would preserve the scenic vistas of the James: Continue running the Yorktown 2 coal-fired plant and run a submerged 230 kV line, not a buried 500 kV line, from the Surry substation across the river to the Peninsula. “We’re suggesting this would give [Dominion] time to find replacement generation for the Peninsula.”

Fowler acknowledges that the solution would cost more than Dominion’s proposal, but it would minimize disruption to James River vistas. At least her solution does not sacrifice a “400-year-old national treasure,” she says.

Dominion maintains that it investigated five generation alternatives and 10 transmission alternatives. The SCC approved the Surry-Skiffes Creek option in a ruling that was affirmed by the Virginia Supreme Court. Fowler’s compromise approach was discussed but only in the context of retrofitting Yorktown with gas, which proved not to be viable.

Dominion also looked at the scenario of burying the 500 kV line and rejected it as expensive and vulnerable. A 500 kV line must be buried under the riverbed, which would create an environmental problem of moving 36,000 cubic yards of kepone-laced dredge spoil, and splicing 18 cables at four different points. If something went wrong with any of the splices, it could take literally months to repair, says Curtis. No project with such a high voltage and capacity running such a long distance underwater has ever been attempted before. Is the marginal harm created by viewing a transmission line four or five miles away really worth spending hundreds of millions of dollars to prevent?

Rob Marmet, a senior policy analyst for the Piedmont Environmental Council who filed SCC testimony in support of the conservationists, concedes that the situation may have reached the point now where there is no practical choice but yield to Dominion or suffer major disruption to the Peninsula economy. “We could have avoided the situation,” he says. “Now that we have the situation, we have to mitigate it.”

That doesn’t change the fact that Dominion is socializing much of the cost, Marmet says. The project will make the power cheaper than it would be otherwise, but it imposes a cost on the tourist sector, which will suffer a diminution of the visitor experience, and cost individual property owners who paid for river views that will be taken from them.

The question now is how to avoid these brutal tradeoffs in the future, Marmet says. “How can we plan our system so these things can be avoided?” For instance, could Virginia put into place a more aggressive demand-response program that would shed electric load under extreme conditions in a way that is less disruptive than a rolling blackout? Surely it would be possible, he says, to take water heaters offline when the system is overloaded, or to cut off air conditioners in a controlled and reasonable way.

“This was a tough issue,” Marmet says. “I wish that there had been planning many years in advance. I’m certain given all the smart people at Dominion, the environmental community and the commonwealth that you could have had a situation that made fewer people unhappy.”

Share this article


(comments below)


(comments below)


  1. LarrytheG Avatar

    Excellent article. Even contacted the EPA!

    If Dominion says they need a natural gas pipeline – why not link it to Hampton and provide a clear need for their proposal?

    what’s also not clear to me is if they use Surry across the river for baseload – and they are talking about rolling blackouts – where are their peaker plants – and again – you’d need natural gas for them.

    So I am not on board with the Nimbys but I do think questions have not been answered about natural gas and meeting peak load demands.

    A NEPA environmental impact would require Dominion to draw up options and to compare and contrast benefits and costs – and to truly justify their decision.

    Even without being required to do that – I think it’s simple good public relations to show the public enough respect to justify their decisions rather than pick the one they want and leave the impression that they do not have to justify their choices.

    1. Thanks, Larry, you may be one of the very few to have read the article all the way through.

    2. This was, by far, the best reporting on this difficult case anywhere. Thanks Jim.

    3. Larry

      1. The ACP does have a link to the Hampton area; it just won’t be ready in time to meet the unloading of the Yorktown and Chesapeake power plants in 2017. Remember, electricity has to flow all the time.

      2. Where are the peaker plants? They are scattered all around the Dominion transmission zone. They don’t need to be located inside Hampton to deliver power to Hampton, they just need a wire into Hampton to deliver the power. In the following list, those designated as “CTs” are peaking plants.

  2. I’ve read every word and it’s not a pretty picture. Thank you, Jim, for an excellent summary of a complex standoff.

    I must say, on this beautiful morning in Mathews County, it’s hard to get wound up about the future of an industrial project a half-hour away. Of course, it matters hugely to the economy of the Peninsula that electricity not be limited there. Of course, the folks who bought those multimillion dollar riverfront homes in Kingsmill care hugely about the possible loss of their view. I care even more about the effect on the economy of the whole State and the significant contribution to that from DVP’s efforts to keep electricity prices competitively low.

    But, if ever there was a case to be made for a strategic retreat in the face of regulatory obstacles backed by public opinion, it’s this situation. Put the electrical stuff under water! Sure it costs more, but that’s what makes sense.

    It seems that DVP, as is their habit, put themselves into this box by heavy-handed regulatory tactics aiming to ram through the least cost solution never mind the public opposition to it, and assuming that the federal agencies involved would roll over and cooperate on DVP’s schedule like the VSCC and Virginia’s courts. Kind of sounds like the US 460 standoff doesn’t it? (A very different context but had to say it!) Whether or not you agree with DVP’s cost-saving goal here, its strategy was flawed. Merely offering up a worse-case solution as a straw man was not enough to win support for a 500 kilovolt river crossing directly in front of the most scenic section of the Colonial Parkway on Jamestown Island. The VSCC should never have gone along with it, it’s part of their statutory duty to consider environmental impacts, but that’s another story for another day.

    The EPA doesn’t care about DVP’s quandary and has far bigger fish to fry. Ditto for the Corp of Engineers. Dominion’s problem now is how to retreat gracefully but quickly to support either underwater transmission solution and to mitigate the extent to which it has to pay fines to keep at least one Yorktown unit in service until the transmission is in-service. Having convinced the Virginia establishment that the least cost overhead-500 kV solution was the best way to go, it’s difficult now for DVP to turn this around. It’s also hard for DVP, so used to blaming the feds for all those expensive requirements and constraints, now to get out ahead of the EPA and the CE and the VSCC and actually LEAD the way towards a publicly-acceptable compromise that gets fully recovered in rates. They still can do it, but it will be messy, some heads will get knocked, and a few crows will have to get eaten along the way.

    I wonder if they will continue the blame game, or get going to turn this situation around?

  3. LtG may have an idea with the suggestion: “… If Dominion says they need a natural gas pipeline – why not link it to Hampton and provide a clear need for their proposal?”.

    1) – However then you have the NIMBY/Environmental pipeline opposition/construction cost and timetable issues to address.

    2) – Next is the cost/development of/procurement/installation and testing of gas-fired heat generation conversion equipment at Yorktown.

    3) – Then for how long can Yorktown’s old gas converted generators support Peninsula’s future load growth?

    4) – Do existing transmission/switching station facilities from Yorktown support the projected load growth?

    And yes, I read Jim’s entire excellent article. In addition I salute him for such unbiased reporting in light of the support issue.

  4. This was, by far, the best reporting on this difficult case anywhere. Thanks Jim.

  5. LarrytheG Avatar

    re: Hampton does not have enough natural gas

    It would seem that rectifying that would be a key to meeting Hamptons need for both baseload and peak load with gas plants to replace the Yorktown plants and to provide a way to respond to peak loads.

    I think I asked this once before, i.e. how does Hampton currently handle peak load and was told they buy it from PJM – yet VDP is saying that if they do not get a power line to it’s baseload Surry Plant – that Hampton is in danger of rolling blackouts; that does not quite follow to me.

    I do not pretend to understand it all; In issues I do not understand or am skeptical of, I often point out apparent inconsistencies and/or conflicts in the issue and I do that here. The conflict may well be due to my own ignorance.

    Surry already serves as baseload for an existing region, not Hampton and the proposal to put lines across the James is more than just a powerline proposal. It’s also a proposal to change the regions that Surry provides baseload power to from where it is now providing baseload power to Hampton.

    I presume (perhaps incorrectly again) that Surry currently serves the Southside region where dominion has built a new plant and is building another new gas plant to serve – both baseload and peak power generation.

    See – this is what is lacking from DVPs James River proposal – an explanation of what they are trying to achieve because obviously, it would seem that they COULD build gas plants in Hampton just like they are in Southside rather than build powerlines over the James.

    It would certainly cost money to expand gas lines to Hampton and it may be that they would be needed to tap into Transco lines rather than the proposed Atlantic Coast line but would it be more expensive/less cost effective than powerlines over the James (or under)?

    I think, DVP probably owes the public more than a ” we want to put powerlines over the James” explanation, in no small part, because their proposal is to provide baseload and their reason given is to prevent rolling blackouts – seemingly a peak load issue.

    The thing that enpowers Nimby whether it’s in Kingsmill or Nelson County are proposals the locals don’t like that the larger public do not know about or understand nor the locals. Little is really known about the substantiative reasons why and that gins up the opposition and pretty much cuts out any would-be support from the public at large or for that matter, even the locals, some of whom might be won over if they think the issue is important to Virginia and Virginians.

    In that regard DVP reminds me of VDOT in how they go about new road proposals where they fail to convince local affected or the larger public of the need for something and instead, apparently willingly, go directly to an adversarial public process.

    With both entities there seems to be an attitude that they do not need to explain what they are doing nor win public support. They see themselves are the primary decision-makers, and they essentially tell the public what they have decided, as opposed to justifying to the public what they looked at in options and why they chose what they did.

    When such issues are presented as all or nothing propositions – and there is opposition – instead of a legitimate public policy discussion – it turns into a David vs Goliath affair.

    Long story, short. I think DVP owes the public a more detailed explanation of options considered and why they chose the one they did and allow the public to at least understand that some analysis actually did go into supporting the decision made.

    1. Larry, Dominion has put forth its case in innumerable SCC documents — it’s all there for anyone who wants to dredge through it. In my experience, Dominion also has been willing to answer any question that I have posed it, and I have posed the toughest questions I can think of. Now, I admit that I’m still moving up the learning curve and that I have not yet asked the most probative questions possible, but I’ve never seen Dominion back away from a question.

      I suspect that the real problem is that the issues are so extraordinarily complex that (a) there are very few journalists willing and able to put in the legwork to explain them, and (b) most peoples’ eye glaze over when reading the few stories that are published. I first approached this story thinking it would be relatively easy to research in write. As soon as I start digging into, I quickly found that the issues were enormously complex, and I had to sort through a welter of claims and counter-claims. The result is an article that only a handful of highly motivated people will read all the way through. (Thanks for being one of them.) That’s not Dominion’s fault.

    2. The gas issue is interesting. One question I did not ask: Would it be economical to retrofit the Yorktown power plants if the Atlantic Coast Pipeline gets built?

      Let’s assume, for purposes of argument, that the answer is yes, the ACP, if built, could provide the gas needed for a gas-fired plant. Let’s consider Dominion’s and the SCC’s thinking process in planning for the Peninsula’s power needs. Would it be responsible to assume that the ACP pipeline will get built, even though FERC, not the SCC, is the governing regulatory body and even though there is significant opposition to the project?

      Let’s say that Dominion’s in-house analysis suggested there is a 90% chance of getting the ACP approved. Is that enough certainty to justify shelving the Surry-Skiffes Creek transmission line and exposing the Peninsula to rolling blackouts for three or four years until the gas pipeline wins regulatory approval and gets built — and a 10% chance that the pipeline doesn’t get built at all?

      If you were Newport News Shipbuilding and dependent upon a reliable supply of electricity, would you be willing to take that gamble?

      Sometimes in life there’s nothing but least-bad choices.

      1. What makes sense if ACP is constructed is for DVP to build new generation on the HR Peninsula, not retrofit Yorktown. With their S-SC scheme, 90% of the Peninsula’s energy needs will be imported.

        It only took three years for DVP to apply for, get approvals and construct the New Brunswick County natural gas-fired plant. A dog-leg for ACP is already shown going into Chesapeake Energy Center. The Peninsula shouldn’t be subject to the vulnerability to storms, accidents and terrorists of overhead transmission lines running to the world’s largest military complex from three different directions. Build a new plant in HR.

    3. Mr. G:

      If Surry-Skiffes Creek were only a NIMBY argument, this line would have already been built and electrified. The Army Corps has been examining this line for over two years for a reason, and it isn’t NIMBY. Please read again the quote in the article from the Keeper of the National Register. This expanse of river is an internationally important historical site. It is the site of the first successful English speaking colony IN THE WORLD, outside of the British Isles. Jamestown Island is the first Ellis Island, and the James that runs past is the headwaters of a nation.

      This has NOTHING to do with NIMBY. NOTHING! Look at the number of preservation groups who have fought DVP for over three years.
      See the work of the National Trust for Historic Preservation:
      See the work of Save the James Alliance:
      This is not NIMBY. Never has been.

      1. LarrytheG Avatar

        I guess I’ll reassess my Nimby view point… a bit but I’d ask isn’t the whole river in that area the same viewshed issue? So the overhead cannot go anywhere on the lower James for the same reason?

        1. Mr. G.,

          The “whole area”? No. One option is to upgrade existing power lines over the James in Newport News. The other is to keep Yorktown open. It cannot be said loudly enough. YORKTOWN DOES NOT NEED TO CLOSE!!! PERIOD. END OF DISCUSSION. DVP is making a short-term, short-sighted, business decision. DVP has known for decades that these plants needed upgrading. The company had decided that generation elsewhere is more profitable. It’s a business decision.

          As for grid reliability, if Yorktown is kept open until a viable longer term solution is designed, there won’t be grid instability that’s any greater than it has been for a decade. Dominion has sold reliability to the Peninsula, who thinks it means keeping the lights on during a storm, after an accident. Of course, it doesn’t. The same tree that takes out a transformer will still fall and turn off power. S-SC will not stop that. And, as someone mentioned, there is excess capacity in the PJM footprint, a point that PJM argued to the VA SCC against DVP when it was seeking approval to add even more generation.

          And, the comments about sources of gas that now exist for the Peninsula are spot on. There is gas there. It’s just not owned by DVP.

          Other comments about disturbing kepone on the river bottom by submerging a line are nonsense. Building the towers will disturb the river bed far more than directional drilling, which will be under the river bed.

          Dominion’s strategy as explained by their CEO on several occasions is to move as much of their business into the regulated world where their ROI is guaranteed. In VA, that guarantee is 10%. As current reviews have revealed, the last to come before DVP’s books are closed to scrutiny, the company’s return has been well above that in some cases, and refunds should be given to their customers.

          This is business. Not reliability, per se. This is not DVP being just wonderful folk. This is pure and simple $$$$. As also stated, the costs for this project will be socialized across the PJM footprint, so the costs to DVP or to their customers, over the life the project won’t amount to a discernible sum. If you’re a shareholder, I’m sure you’re pleased. If you’re a customer, not so much. If you’re someone who stands in their way, God bless you.

  6. One advantage to lines over the James from Surry might be grid reliability. There are existing older lines over the James paralleling the James River bridge from Isle of Wight or Suffolk (not sure where the city/county line is) to Newport News.

    These and lines coming from the west and north evidently aren’t expected to be able to handle projected Lower Peninsula growth.

    1. LarrytheG Avatar

      I think there is no question that something will have to replace the loss of the coal plants but how does replacing that lost baseload with Surry Baseload deal with peak load ?

      1. The reason for connecting to the Surry nuclear plant is not to get Surry’s electricity but to plug into the 500 kV sub-station that services the Surry plant. The issue for the Peninsula isn’t base-load capacity of the kind that Surry provides. The issue is peak load capacity on hot days. That electric capacity could come from anywhere in Virginia, or indeed anywhere in the PJM electric system. But the Peninsula needs a 500 kV line to deliver it.

        1. LarrytheG Avatar

          so the only place a transmission line can go to Hampton is at Surry? Why not from Richmond down the the peninsula into Hampton?

          Why is the 500KV line at Surry right now? It’s not just sitting three unused…. or will it become unused or “available” after the gas plants south of there come online?

          what area does the Surry Nuclear plant serve right now ?

          and what area will the new gas plants south of there serve?

          I just assumes that Surry currently serves southside and the new gas plants would take that over and Surry would be shifted to Hampton to take over from the closed coal plants.

          but now folks are saying that no – Surry will continue to serve whatever area it currently serves and the new gas plants will serve Hampton but how will the power from the gas plants get to Surry where the new power line will be built?

          Are we building new 500kv lines from where the new gas plants are – up to Surry then across the river?

          finally – where in the middle of this does PJM play a role?

          1. Although you do not seem inclined to acknowledge my attempts to answer your questions, I will do so again, Larry:

            Q: so the only place a transmission line can go to Hampton is at Surry? Why not from Richmond down the the peninsula into Hampton?

            A: An alternative was proposed down the peninsula from the Richmond area; it had far more adverse environmental impacts (not merely esthetic impacts) than the Surry line.

            Q: Why is the 500KV line at Surry right now? It’s not just sitting three unused…. or will it become unused or “available” after the gas plants south of there come online?

            There is 500 kV transmission at Surry because of the Surry Nuclear Station being a huge source of baseload power for the entire DVP service area. That Surry power flows all over the DVP transmission grid. It is not “confined” to Hampton or any other particular geographic area. The DVP grid will also transmit power generated at Brunswick and Greensville stations, although how much flows over the line at Surry depends on any number of factors that comprise what is called a “load flow study.” The laws of physics generally direct where power flows. There are some transmission devices that can redirect the flow under certain conditions.

            Q: what area does the Surry Nuclear plant serve right now ?

            A: Surry provides power into the entire Dominion service area. Maybe it would help to consider that electricity in a transmission line moves at very nearly the speed of light; thus generating plants do not have to be situated directly adjacent to loads. If there is a transmission path available between say, Surry and wherever you are, when you switch on a light in your house, some electrons generated at Surry are likely to be running through the bulb virtually instantaneously. This same answer applies to your next question about the new gas plants’ output. Electricity goes out onto the grid and is dispersed instantly wherever it is called for by a load.

            Q: I just assumes that Surry currently serves southside and the new gas plants would take that over and Surry would be shifted to Hampton to take over from the closed coal plants.

            A: This is not a correct assumption for the reasons I’ve set out above; plants in a transmission grid do not serve particular geographic areas.

            Q: but now folks are saying that no – Surry will continue to serve whatever area it currently serves and the new gas plants will serve Hampton but how will the power from the gas plants get to Surry where the new power line will be built?

            A: Through lots of interconnected power lines and substations that comprise the DVP transmission network. Testimony filed in the biennial review case heard by the SCC earlier this week and last week, stated that DVP has 6,400 miles of transmission lines and 57,100 miles of distribution lines serving customers in Virginia.

            Q: Are we building new 500kv lines from where the new gas plants are – up to Surry then across the river?

            A: No. There are transmission lines that interconnect the Brunswick plant to the grid, but they do not extend all the say to Surry. I don’t know what the interconnection at the proposed Greensville station will be, but I’m fairly sure they don’t run all the way to Surry either.

            Q: finally – where in the middle of this does PJM play a role?

            A: PJM approved the Surry line a number of years back as part of its Regional Transmission Expansion Plan which it produces several times a year. When PJM approves a line for construction, its members like DVP are obligated to use their best efforts to gain all necessary approvals to construct.

          2. LarrytheG Avatar

            thanks for the answers rowinguy – but I’m still not completely satisfied.

            let’s go back to why DVP needs a power line – right at the Surry site.

            if what you say is true about generation being independent of location why can’t DVP just route power down the Peninsula from the RIchmond area rather than crossing at Surry?

            and why have an Atlantic Coast pipeline instead of putting gas plants near the shale fields themselves – just add one there and ship the power to Hampton via existing power lines.

            I’m a bit of a skeptic about the “generare power anywhere” idea

            I think there IS some relationship to geography because of line loss …and because it just doesn’t make sense to have two generating plants sending power to the geography around the opposite plant.

            I don’t think Surry serves power to the region around the North Anna Nukes either… I think there probably IS some relationship to geography but I will change my position if you can provide something that pretty much says that geography does not matter.

          3. “Why not from Richmond down the the peninsula into Hampton?”

            Dominion proposed that alternative first — hooking into the 500 kV line at the Chickahominy sub-station and running it along right-of-way acquired literally 30 or more years ago. But no one was happy with that alternative either. The Chickahominy River is more environmentally pristine than the James, and the Chickhominy Indians own land there. You don’t want to mess with an Indian tribe! Even foes of the Chickahominy route say it’s so unacceptable that they see it as something of a red herring designed to make the James River crossing look good by comparison.

          4. LarrytheG Avatar

            I was thinking more along the lines of the I-64/Rt 60 corridor

    2. You are correct, JohnB, that is exactly the problem here. Grid reliability, which is to say in this case grid stability, requires generation that’s operating located near all concentrations of load. “Near” in this case means “electrically near” — which is achieved either by a physically-nearby location connected by a variety of paths through the local lower-voltage transmission grid, or, from a more distant location brought in by two or more bigger, high-voltage transmission lines.

      Grid operators don’t like situations where a lot of load sits at the end of a single long-distance transmission connection; instability is greater and there is no backup connection in case the principal one fails. There is an electrical grid reliability organization called NERC (the North American Electric Reliability Council) that sets the minimum standards for grid reliability, and those standards govern what the local grid operator does and doesn’t allow. Specifically, PJM will insist that DVP either have generators operating on the Peninsula or have transmission connections that meet reliability standards at all times, or as a last resort will require DVP to shut down loads, so that operating contingency requirements are met at all times.
      This grid operater, PJM (formerly the “Pennsylvania-New Jersey-Maryland Interconnection,” which now as “PJM Interconnection” also operates the grid over most of Ohio, Illinois, Virginia, etc. across the mid-Atlantic region)

    3. You are correct, JohnB, that is exactly the problem here. Grid reliability, which includes both grid stability and contingency reserves, requires generation to be operating in a dispersed manner near all concentrations of load. “Near” in this case means “electrically near” — which is achieved either by a physically-nearby location connected by a variety of paths through the local lower-voltage transmission grid, or, from a more distant location brought in by two or more bigger, high-voltage transmission lines. (A single “radial” connection is not a “grid.”)

      Grid operators cannot meet reliability standards where a lot of load sits at the end of long-distance transmission connections; instability is greater and there is no backup connection in case the principal one fails. These reliability standards are not up to DVP; there is an electrical grid reliability standards organization called NERC (the North American Electric Reliability Council) that sets the minimum standards for grid reliability, and those standards govern what the local grid operator does and doesn’t allow. Specifically, PJM will insist that DVP either have generators operating on the Peninsula or have transmission connections to the Peninsula load centers that meet reliability standards, or have generators operating on the Peninsula, or as a last resort will require DVP to shut down loads, so that operating contingency requirements are met at all times. Those existing transmission lines over the James River Bridge aren’t nearly enough.

      The grid operater, PJM (formerly the “Pennsylvania-New Jersey-Maryland Interconnection,” which now as “PJM Interconnection” also operates the grid over most of Ohio, Illinois, Virginia, etc. across the mid-Atlantic region) is an independent system operator regulated by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). NERC is also regulated by FERC. So, these requirements are federal imposed and federal regulated. Not that DVP would take any chances even if it could — nobody wants to be responsible for causing another U.S. grid blackout — but it means that ultimately, if the EPA forces the Yorktown generating units off-line and there’s inadequate transmission to serve Peninsula loads reliably without them, it’s the FERC that will be in the middle, not the VSCC.

      The VSCC has done what it can to avoid a crisis here by approving DVP’s proposed transmission expansion plan, and local zoning authorities can delay things only so much; at some point the FERC has emergency powers to override local objections and demand that needed grid upgrades get built (rather than shut down customer loads on the Peninsula). Whether the FERC can demand that EPA and the Corps of Engineers cooperate in all this has not, to my knowledge, ever been tested, but that could be where we are headed.

      1. LarrytheG Avatar

        re: Jim’s efforts at tracking down info and trying to make sense of out complexity –

        much appreciated…

        re: Replacement power for Hampton generated by new Gas plants in Southside – not Surry.

        Okay – I’d the first one to admit I don’t understand it all so perhaps that is true.

        re: PJM role with load-balancing vs Dominion decisions of what to build and where – wish I knew more

        re: base load and peak load can come from anywhere and go to anywhere – if so .. why is there a possibility of rolling blackouts in Hampton after they close the coal plant?

        re: natural gas in Hampton – on maps it looks like it comes from the west via a Virginia Natural Gas pipeline

        re: new technology/demand management – probably not done in concert with new proposals …seems like a risk if they don’t produce enough reduction

        1. The Atlantic Coast Pipeline is not necessary to provide more gas to the Hampton/Norfolk area. Columbia Gas is proposing an expansion to its system, requiring just a few miles of new pipeline that will add 1.3 billion cubic feet per day (Bcf/d) of capacity (the ACP is 1.5 Bcf/d). The Columbia gas pipeline goes through northern and central Virginia and connects to the Virginia Natural Gas pipeline in the Hampton area.

          The Transco pipeline, to which the two Southside gas powered plants will initially connect, is adding a connector in Pennsylvania to access gas from the Marcellus. This will add 1.7 Bcf/d to the Transco pipeline which can bring gas both from the Gulf Coast and the Marcellus into Virginia and North Carolina.

          The expansion of these two existing pipelines will provide twice the capacity of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and serve exactly the same areas proposed for the ACP – without the property and environmental impacts.

          The ACP is Dominion’s and Duke’s desire to pay themselves instead of someone else to transport the gas. The fact that they must damage someone’s property without permission seems not to be an issue.

          1. LarrytheG Avatar

            so.. DVP is using it’s monopoly status to justify eminent domain so it can not have to pay others for transporting gas to it’s gas plants?

            You’d think that Columbia, Transco and Virginia Natural gas would weigh in at FERC to show they already had capacity or could provide it much easier without cutting a new route and using the power of Eminent Domain to get their right-of-way.

            Of course, DVP is probably claiming they can keep electric rates even lower if they could supply themselves with gas and take out the middleman…

          2. Columbia and Transco (William’s Co.) are asking FERC for approval for their projects just as Dominion is asking approval for the ACP. Because the owner’s of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline have said they will be the customers of the pipeline, they have shown FERC that the need for their project is already fulfilled. If they had said they would be the customers of the Columbia and Transco pipelines, it would make it easier for those projects to be approved.

            FERC sets the rates for interstate transport of gas. Any financial benefit from transporting the gas goes to Dominion Resources not to the ratepayers. Basically they will get paid twice. The ratepayers will pay DVP and DVP will pay Dominion Transmission.

            The rates in the existing pipelines might be lower than for the ACP, because they were built some time ago and had a lower cost basis (I don’t know for certain). Even if Dominion reduced the rate to DVP (can you really imagine that they would charge less than what they were authorized to charge?) – the rate freeze legislation prohibits any refunds to customers for savings until after 2022.

            The pipeline is not being built for the advantage of Virginia ratepayers. This is purely a business opportunity for Dominion Resources, which does not meet the standards of the Virginia eminent domain law. However, FERC will grant them federal eminent domain status and they can avoid this threshold. I am guessing this is why the spur to Hampton connects just over the border in NC so it all is considered interstate.

          3. I wonder if you could provide a source for the pipeline expansions by Columbia and Transco, Tom? I do not believe there is any spare capacity on the VNG line that interconnects with Columbia, but maybe I’m misinformed.

          4. Rowinguy,

            I do not know the capacity of the AGL-VNG line that connects to the Columbia pipeline. Southern Company is buying AGL and will operate them as a standalone subsidiary. I was only trying to point out that sufficient gas could be available to the area through the Columbia Gas pipeline. If a larger pipeline was required for Virginia Natural Gas to serve the Hampton area, a much shorter new pipeline would be needed to connect to the Columbia line than the lengthy spur needed to connect to the ACP and they already own the right-of-way. Although, it would now be an SCC issue rather than FERC.

  7. The answer to your base load / peak load question lies in the fact that the energy that will flow over the Surry-Skiffes Creek transmission lines IS NOT being generated at Surry Power Station. Energy for S-SC is to be aggregated at a switching yard on the SPS site, but DVP states in their SCC application for the new Brunswick County plant, that it will be w primary source of the energy that flows across S-SC onto the Hampton Roads Peninsula.

    Thus, an even more ridiculous reason to bring the line across this internationally important historical stretch of the James River, Surry is merely convenient, not necessary.

  8. This is an intractable dilemma only because we are trapped in an old way of thinking. Both sides are viewing this using only the alternatives of a 20th century utility.

    The utility claims that they are shutting down over 1000 MW of capacity. But they admit that the oil unit is almost never used and my guess is that the old coal plants were not used all that often either. If they shaved the peaks, perhaps they really only need 40 – 100 megawatts of power.

    They could establish a cheaper more reliable energy system for the peninsula for a fraction of the price of a new transmission line. They would lower customer bills and make friends with the environmentalists. Einstein reminded us that we cannot solve problems using the same level of thinking that we used to create them.

    Three simple steps could be accomplished in the next year and a half. The energy efficiency could be financed by the utility and repaid over time through monthly bills. Everybody wins.

    1) Concentrate on large buildings such as government buildings, hospitals, office complexes, commercial centers, industries, etc. Install energy efficient windows and other basic efficiency savings.

    2) Put solar arrays on the rooftops of these large buildings at 10-100 kw per location (whatever the roof or parking lot will accept), so that a total of about 40 -50 MW is installed. Thousands of acres of land are not required. Where a number of these buildings are clustered together in a town or industrial center, add 1-3 MW of utility scale battery storage units in maybe 5 or 6 locations around the peninsula. The batteries plus the geographic dispersion of the panels would even out the variability of the solar output.

    3) In these large buildings install gas-fired microturbines to generate electricity and provide heating and cooling services. All that is needed is commercial/industrial gas service. No huge gas pipelines are required. These units would provide baseload capacity and could be remotely controlled from the Dominion power control center to follow variations in the output from the solar panels. A total of 15-25 MW might be required.

    This would introduce Dominion and the SCC to the modern age of utilities, conserve energy, reduce CO2, save ratepayers money throughout the system, and avoid the impacts and expense of a new transmission line. The peninsula would have more reliable energy service because the power is not coming from just one plant or one transmission line subject to failure. Communities would have lower costs and many more jobs putting this system in place. All the technology that is needed already exists.

    We have to shift our thinking from doing less “bad” to doing more “good”.

    1. TomH, you are partially correct. Yes, much of what you say would be cost effective for the customer if done efficiently, and therefore customers and commercial builders should be looking into it on their own initiative. But no, there’s no way in hell you’d get that much done in 1 1/2 years, even if the GA mandated tomorrow that customers must allow these installations by DVP on their property (or must do them themselves), which ain’t gonna happen in VA. And no, that wouldn’t solve all of the Peninsula reliability problem anyway, because, for example, DVP is a winter-night peaking utility; solar and most efficiency improvements won’t help with night-time loads like the 24-hour shipyards and hospitals and other institutions on the Peninsula, and it takes decades to make a significant dent in homeowner inefficiencies like poor insulation.

      As for gas-fired microturbines, they can be very useful and their output can be sold to the grid operator today for scheduled operation, but they are definitely neither designed nor intended as a substitute for “base load generation.” And you mentioned batteries; that, I’m afraid, is pie-in-the-sky these days, at least on anything like the scale needed here.

      1. First, I must apologize. When I read about the peninsula I thought it was DelMarVa. Apparently there is more than one peninsula in Virginia. I live up in the mountains – what do I know.

        Second, any energy efficiency reduces the peaks winter or summer. I was not suggesting any residential work , only large buildings. The Combined Heat and Power units supply the winter heating and summer cooling loads without electricity, so the electrical load for both of those peaks is significantly diminished. These units would be in the shipyards and hospitals and are definitely designed for 24-hour operation (baseload). Typically multiple units are installed. They all run at the same time only for peaks. Then they are used in rotation for lower periods of use to allow for maintenance (which isn’t much) and to spread out 24 hour use and prolong the life of the equipment.

        Third, no need for DVP to be involved in the solar except to connect it to the grid. Independent installers can do all of this work. Dominion would only finance it and take the customer payments out of the bill, which lowers the cost of financing.

        Fourth, utility scale batteries are not pie in the sky. They have been in use use for several years. In 2015, 220 MW of battery storage is expected to be installed in the U.S. Two-thirds of all the batteries installed in 2014 were in PJM territory.

        It is an issue whether it would all be done on time. I don’t understand why this is being dealt with so late in the game. Utilities are supposed to be long-term planners, which includes extra lead time for controversial projects. The solar pipeline is jammed with people trying to complete projects before the expiration of the tax credit at the end of 2016.

        That doesn’t mean a project like this should not go forward. it does not require a lot of lead time for the energy efficiency and solar, just a commitment to do it. But from what I read, we are not talking about inability to serve the load – it was a reliability issue. Projects that would reduce the peak would definitely improve reliability.

  9. It is nice to hear perspectives from folks with such deep knowledge of how electric transmission systems work, and the various complications and rules impacting grid formation. I’m trying to sort through these concepts myself, but it will take much further study for me to be able to speak intelligently about these technical nuances. Kudos to Jim as well for his expert handling of all of the thorny issues while remaining impartial to either side. This is truly first-rate journalism made even more difficult by the complexity of subject matter and sponsorship of one of the parties in the dispute.

    I do think that DVP kicked a hornet’s nest here, and not just run-of-the-mill NIMBYism but a reaction on order of what this place is: the historic cradle of the Commonwealth which carries with it unique considerations and federal rules that must be dealt with. I understand this burden from DVP’s standpoint but, in echoing other commenters, it appears this exercise called for a good faith examination of alternatives along with an accompanying olive branch to the historic/tourism community so vital to the economy of the Colonial Williamsburg/Jamestown/Yorktown area. I am not sure that happened here.

    I feel that much effort was exhausted by numerous authorities and private sector partners to create an experience in this place, and while I do believe that certain jurisdictions overstep their bounds from a regulatory standpoint (James City County in particular, now trying to zone out a switching station), the S-SC proposal is a textbook example of an externality that must be reckoned with. Unfortunately it seems that in our current political economy we lack the will and/or means to resolve such a problem, for various reasons but perhaps none more so than that of compromise being equated with defeat. And stemming from our winner-take-all political system, the corruption of said entity by special interests, and the helpless/defeated feeling of folks who once felt they had a say in our democracy when it came to issues such as this. This is happening not only in Virginia but all across the country. I believe it represents the breakdown of a social compact which once promised limited governmental intrusion in return for good corporatism and the stewardship of the land and natural resources. Both sides have failed miserably to uphold their end of this compact and our society has suffered dearly for it.

    1. John S.,

      There are those moments when compromises are not possible. Determining if compromise is possible is what the Army Corps of Engineers has been attempting for the past two years in their required 106 Process of the National Historic Preservation Act. If you are not familiar with this exercise, please visit the Advisory Council of Historic Preservation for further info.

      If it is determined that compromise is possible, and the word used in this process is “mitigable,” the parties work together to achieve such. However, if the impacts of a federal permitting project are unable to be mitigated, compromise is not possible. Mitigate can not be qualified. Either something can be mitigated, or it can’t. The construction of 17 towers over the most historic river segment in the U.S. is NOT mitigable.

      And, it is not just the instaneous impact of the construction of this project, but the impacts that cumulate over time. The cumulative impacts are the most damaging. This expanse of river is part of a planned submission to UNESCO for World Heritage status. The 17th century evocative experience, similar to what the early colonists experienced, can still be had by visitors along the Colonial National Historic Parkway, at Jamestown Island, site of the original James Fort and a world class archaeological dig and boaters upon the water. You tell me how you mitigate the intrusion of 17 lattice style extra high voltage electric transmission towers on this priceless landscape.

      Regarding James City County’s deliberations about the Skiffes Creek Switching station, you must understand that the proposed site of that station is not currently zoned for its construction. Building such an industrial element in the middle of a low-income residential section of the county does not comply with the James City County master plan, as eloquently explained by the Planning Commissioners when they voted not to recommend approval. But, most of all, at this point, approving the switching station would be like approving the bridge to no where. The Army Corps has not determined that this project will be approved, at all, or at least as currently configured. Once that determination is made, the County can then make an informed decision about the necessity of the construction of this station.

      More importantly, and to your point, DVP is using mid-20th century technology at the precise moment when we are at the precipice of new and exciting achievements in energy generation, distribution and conservation. Once these 20th century towers are built, they will mar for generations to come a site that has remained relatively unscathed by modernity, and long after their use is no longer needed.

      If only the compromise you speak of were possible. It is not. And, S-SC is not a fait accompli. It is essential that the Army Corps understand all of the impacts, now and long-term, before allowing this to be built. This is why an Environmental Impact Study is imperative. There is far too much to lose here. As the saying goes, “Poor planning on Dominion’s part does not constitute an emergency in the part of saving this site.” And, the Army Corps essentially has told DVP just that.

  10. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
    Reed Fawell 3rd

    This is quite a story! Its weakness as a story – the complexity woven into what appears a Gordian knot of detail at its core, is its most powerful element. Bringing it to the surface reflects the skill of its writer.

    I can’t begin to delve into this like others have done here but can only offer a few general impressions gathered on a single reading from start to finish.

    1. The enormous complexity and scale of what Dominions does in its business long and short term, and the vast amounts of money at risk,

    2. the absolutely critical nature of its services and how those services are woven into and impact the success and failure of so many other businesses,

    3. how simultaneously Dominions services impact the cultural, environmental and social special and conflicting interests of so many different stakeholders,

    4. how Federal Regulations and Regulators that are distant from the local interests and problems of Dominion and its customers, and their perhaps cavalier approaches about both in their decisions, can set in train enormous unintended consequences on the local level. Ones that are highly expensive and perhaps likely often to do great and unnecessary harm that may well far exceed the good they are intended to accomplish,

    5/ and how so little of this is well understood or appreciated by Dominions customers and stakeholders, or politicians and regulators whether they be state or Federal,

    And in light of all this what a remarkable good job Dominion appears to be doing in terms of service and costs as compared to so many other providers of public and quasi public services (mass transit for example) today.

    Surely there are lessons in all of this.

Leave a Reply