By Tom Jackman June 29, 2015
Dominion Virginia Power has released a new set of proposed routes for a high-voltage power line through western Prince William County , but a county supervisor said Monday that the reported destination of that line is no longer welcomed by its landowner.
Opposition to four of the five proposed routes for the line, which local officials have said is being built for Amazon.com, is strong among Prince William activists and politicians. But if a line from Gainesville must be built, county residents largely agree, it should track Interstate 66 through Haymarket, partly above and partly below ground, in what Dominion calls “the I-66 hybrid alternative.”
Much of the opposition stems from skepticism over whether a high-voltage line is needed to power the “rural crescent,” a western part of the county where development is largely discouraged and has not shown signs of taking off, according to Supervisor Peter K. Candland (R-Gainesville).
“In the last four years, we’ve only approved about 400 new homes and one senior living community,” Candland said. The line would sit on 100-foot-tall towers surrounded by 120-foot-wide cleared rights-of way.
“I don’t see any other developments on the horizon,” he added. “We’re in a holding pattern.”
Mayor David Leake said Haymarket did not need the amount of electricity that the power line would bring to the town of 1,900. He said in a public meeting with Dominion that the utility acknowledged the six-mile, 230,000-volt line was “really for one customer, for one need.”
That customer is Amazon, Candland said he confirmed after meeting with attorneys for Midwood, which owns property along John Marshall Highway across the street from a new Wal-Mart near Route 15. Amazon already operates one data center on Marshall Highway, and Candland said Prince William economic development officials had asked Midwood to include a data center and a Dominion substation in their proposal to develop property there.
E-mails obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request by Del. Robert G. Marshall (R-Prince William) and a county economic development report in December 2013 show that county officials “undertook a marketing trip to Seattle and California in collaboration with Dominion Virginia Power to showcase the county’s Data Center proposition,” the report states.
In January, Marshall and Sen. Richard H. Black (R-Loudoun) sent a letter to Amazon chief executive Jeffrey P. Bezos urging him to choose another location or have the power lines buried. Bezos did not respond. Amazon officials did not return messages Monday seeking comment. (Bezos owns The Washington Post.)
But after hearing that Candland and other local politicians would not support a data center on their property, Midwood officials told Candland that they would not seek zoning permission for one. “They are not going to allow Amazon or Dominion to use Midwood for the substation or data project,” Candland said.
Lawyers for Midwood did not return messages seeking comment Monday.
Some supporters still feel there is a need for more electricity in western Prince William, even without another Amazon data center. Among those is Board of County Supervisors Chairman Corey A. Stewart (R-At Large), who said, “The reality is the western end of the county continues to grow. We’re getting more and more commercial development in the Route 15 corridor, and any major commercial expansion there is going to trigger the need for more power.”
Stewart does not favor any proposed route for the line other than the hybrid I-66 route. “Even if the data center doesn’t come, that doesn’t mean the neighborhoods can rest easy, that there’s not going to be a power line coming through. So we may as well get it right now,” he said.
For Dominion, “the determination has been made that the need is there,” spokesman Chuck Penn said. Dominion’s latest map classifies a route north of I-66 through the Heritage Hunt senior community and two routes near the Fauquier County line as “not recommended.” Penn said the final decision will be made by the State Corporation Commission, not Dominion, and it can select a route even if Dominion doesn’t support it.
Elena Schlossberg, leader of a citizens group called “the Coalition to Protect Prince William County ,” noted that there are now 10 possible routes, whether recommended by Dominion or not, “and nearly twice the number of residents at risk.” As the proposal has slowly moved toward consideration by the state, Schlossberg said, “our homes have come under threats of taking of private property, deflation of property values and destruction of habitat for humans and wildlife alike. Taxpayers should not have to sacrifice their property in order to support business development in Prince William County.”
Leake, Haymarket’s mayor, said Dominion is already constructing huge power poles to increase the amount of electricity delivered both to Haymarket and to the existing Amazon data center, “truly plaguing our town and tearing up our beautiful streetscape.” Marshall said a new line was not needed because “the rural crescent does not allow such growth that would require such a huge degree of electricity.”
Dominion scheduled an information session at Battlefield High School in Haymarket on July 15 at 5 p.m. to discuss the power line. A letter sent to residents said the “project will support a new high-tech sector business expansion proposed in the western Prince William area.”
Tom Jackman has been covering criminal justice for The Post since 1998, and now anchors the new “True Crime” blog.