The debate about the 230-kilovolt transmission line being proposed by Dominion Energy continues.
Last weekend, members of the Carver Road community and the Alliance to Save Carver Road protested in front of a Dominion facility in Herndon, donning neon colored shirts and posters with slogans like “PWC Supervisors Carver Road Needs Your Help” and “Save Carver Road”.
As we mentioned in our last story on the transmission lines, Carver Road is one of the potential communities where Dominion is looking to build the transmission line, to bring power to an Amazon data center facility and the surrounding residential area.
Chuck Penn, a spokesman from Dominion, asserted that while Carver Road residents have expressed concerns about losing their homes, he was adamant that would not be the case if the route was ultimately chosen.
“Can I understand why the anxiety of the Carver Road community is experiencing right now? Absolutely…The Carver Road community is being exploited by people with an agenda and one agenda alone – that is to obstruct and sabotage the Haymarket transmission project at all costs,” said Penn.
Dominion’s website states that there were initially more than five proposed routes for the line. While the State Corporation Commission (SCC), a body which acts as the decider in this case, had selected what has been dubbed the “railroad route”, the “Carver Road route” would be next on the list.
Differing perspectives on the project
From the outside looking in, it appears as though two “camps” have formed – one wanting above ground transmission lines either on the aforementioned “railroad route”, and another wanting what’s been dubbed the “I-66 hybrid route” which would bear a higher cost, as the transmission line would need to be partially placed underground.
Projections show that the Carver Road route would cost $55 million, the railroad route would cost $62 million, and the I-66 hybrid route would cost $167 million.
“Right now, the status of this project is on hold,” said Penn.
This is where the two “camps” come into play.
While the SCC selected the railroad route initially, the Commission then changed the selected route to Carver Road, due to a required land easement that would need to be given to Dominion by Prince William County for the route.
“Dominion does not want to be in the Carver Road community…the SCC only selected the Carver Route when the Prince William County Board of Supervisors blocked the ‘railroad route’,” said Penn.
By all accounts, Prince William County has stated they will not provide that easement, as they have concerns about using any route outside of the I-66 hybrid.
“They want a piece of land to run a transmission line – we don’t want to give up that piece of land. We have a right to that land…They don’t want to consider the hybrid route because it costs too much. We have only, as a board, has only endorsed the hybrid route because it’s the only one that really tries to look at the residents, the property values, the impact the transmission lines may have,” said Prince William County Communications Director Jason Grant.
Who needs the additional power infrastructure?
Another point that has come up in the extensive debate on the transmission line project is – who is the beneficiary of the power line project? Is it solely being done for the benefit of one customer – like Amazon – or does it have a greater impact?
There are differing opinions on this as well.
According to Penn, there are many customers that the transmission line will impact.
“It’s been bandied about that this line is an extension cord for one customer…it services 460 customers, including the Novant Health Service in Haymarket, and then an additional 6,000 customers will have their reliability enhancement,” said Penn.
The SCC held a similar opinion.
“That was all litigated before the Commission, and the Commission determined that it simply wasn’t a line extension to a single customer, that there was going to be an added benefit to the provision of electric service in that Northern Virginia area,” said SCC Division of Information Resources Director Kenneth Schrad.
In regards to reliability, Penn asserted that the transmission line is needed to help in the event of outages in the Haymarket and Gainesville area.
“If there’s a major outage right now in that area, say a major storm comes through…and there’s a major outage, those folks are just out…if we had this transmission and substation in place, we could have the vast majority of those customers back on in minutes,” said Penn.
And while Grant offered no challenge to the intended users and beneficiaries of the power lines, he stated that regardless, the county was standing by their position that if the transmission project is going to be done, it needs to be done in a way that doesn’t negatively impact residents.
“If more power’s needed for that third data center to be there…if that’s the case, Prince William County Board of Supervisors has been very clear – we support that. We’ve also been very clear about what Dominion is trying to sidestep – it is, ‘How are you going to build transmission lines through communities, particularly communities where there’s high residential development’?” said Grant.
Grant also stated that just because the county has taken issue with the proposed and selected power line routes for the project, does not mean that the county should be considered “against” data centers.
“So the question is, what is [Dominion’s] motivation? For us, yeah we want data centers, and there’s other data center sites…we have a Data Center Overlay District where there are areas where data centers can exist that wouldn’t require additional transmission lines being run,” said Grant.
Who’s going to pay for the transmission line?
The “who” behind “who is going to pay for the project” has also come up time and time again.
According to Penn, Dominion’s position is that the company will need to charge Virginia’s rate payers for the cost of the project, which has been one of their primary concerns for selecting the more expensive hybrid route.
While other infrastructure projects Dominion has completed have been funded by the rate payer, there is no legal or regulatory requirement for only the company’s rate payers to foot the bill.
Some have broached the idea of having Amazon chip in some funds to pay for the project, regardless of the route selected.
“If you start forcing businesses that are relocating in the area to pay for an infrastructure project that not only benefits them, but it benefits the whole area, how are you going to get businesses in there,” said Penn.
Grant acknowledges that the hybrid route will cost more, but highlights that it is important to many residents in Prince William County.
“Dominion has made the claim they do not want to spend the money for the hybrid route. They didn’t say that the hybrid route can’t work, they didn’t say that the hybrid route was problematic, they said the hybrid route was too expensive…why would they not want to build transmission lines consistent with how the community would like to see that,” said Grant.
Grant also highlighted that Dominion is a for-profit entity.
“It’s not a requirement that any cost that goes to the utility provider has to be borne by the rate payers. Because it is a profit driven business. Dominion doesn’t exist in a vacuum outside of profit…they generate revenue by the rates people pay,” said Grant.
Schrad was reluctant to comment on the funding sources that Dominion could use for the project.
“Dominion has an obligation to provide electric service, and it’s only going to do that if it can recover those costs from ratepayers. This is not a project that stockholders are going to be obligated to pay…that doesn’t mean someone couldn’t still continue to raise that issue…I can’t answer for something that would be outside the jurisdiction of this Commission…a company can choose – there’s two buckets of money from which the company would do anything. And it’s either money from stockholders or ratepayers,” said Schrad.
Schrad did broach that as an additional funding mechanism for projects like these, localities can use a tax to cover a gap in the cost of undergrounding a power line.
“They have an authority to levy a local tax for undergrounding a line, if that is what the locality believes is in the best interest of the locality,” said Schrad.
Penn asserted that while the local tax was possible, it was past the point in the project where that would be feasible.
Grant stated that to the best of his knowledge, this idea was never part of the Prince William Board of County Supervisor’s (BOCS) discussion.
“I don’t believe that ever came up in the dialogue,” said Grant.
“…because of Corey Stewart’s politics”
As an added element to the situation, this week Dominion placed several print and online ads in local publications including The Prince William Times and InsideNOVA, as well as the Washington Post, talking about BOCS At-Large Chairman Corey Stewart’s position on the transmission line project.
One online ad in the Washington Post read, “A new power line will run the Carver Road route, because of Corey Stewart’s politics,” directing readers to a Dominion page on the project.
Penn defended Dominion’s decision to run the ad.
“If you’ve got a lot of misinformation that’s being disseminated to the Prince William County residents about this project, and you want to get to what the core and causation of this is, then you take whatever steps you need to take, in order to draw attention and provide context,” said Penn.
Stewart defended his stance on the project.
“Despite trying and failing to pit communities against each other to destroy private property to enrich themselves, Dominion is now shamelessly spending ill-gotten money taken from overcharged ratepayers to destroy me personally and override the will of the board and the communities, who overwhelmingly prefer the I-66 Hybrid Route. I will not back down and I will continue to stand up to protect citizens’ property rights,” stated Stewart in an email.
The next steps
At a recent BOCS meeting, the board set aside $30,000 to provide funding for legal assistance, that will be given to whichever community organization or HOA is impacted by the final route the SCC chooses.
According to Schrad, Dominion has until August 16 to file responses on the project to the SCC. Then by September 8, the impacted communities will need to submit their responses to Dominion’s filed reports. And by September 22, Dominion is slated to advise the SCC of what they learned from Prince William County in relation to the Carver Road Route.
Dominion and the county are set to meet in the coming weeks, but it’s not clear if both parties are willing to compromise.
“They want to meet and discuss using the railroad route. They don’t want to discuss the hybrid route as an option. Or how do we bury transmission lines somewhere to make something work. That’s not what they’re going to the table to try to discuss,” said Grant.
Grant did state that the county does want Dominion to work with the community.
“We want [Dominion] to be good corporate citizens with the community, work with the community, and how do we make sure that we have a route that works for the community…there’s properly value issues, there are quality of life issues,” said Grant.
“Dominion is not this monolith, it’s not an abstract monolith, Dominion is made up of people,” said Penn.