Bull Run Observer: SCC hearings on power line proposal similar to court proceedings

By Terri Erwin-Fitz

Virginia’s State Corporation Commission (SCC) will hold hearings in Haymarket Feb. 24, at 4:30 and 7 p.m. and March 14, also at 4:30 and 7 p.m., on the route for Dominion Virginia Power’s (Dominion) proposed Haymarket 230kV transmission lines and substation.

The electric utility filed its application with the SCC on Nov. 6, 2015, and this series of hearings is in response to that application.

The company’s preferred route is the Interstate 66 overhead route, which will run parallel to I-66.

The hearings will be at the Battlefield High School Auditorium, located at 15000 Graduation Drive in Haymarket.

The process of application for transmission lines and the final arbiter of the decision lie with the SCC.

Ken Schrad, spokesman for the commission, said that the hearings are at set times, but they may run into one another as SCC staff understands that people are coming from work and making their way to be at the hearings.

He reminded the public that although they may be in a high school auditorium, the proceeding is a court proceeding. All witnesses and testimony will be “transcribed by a court reporter.”  He said there is no time limit, but SCC staff asks speakers to be courteous to those waiting in line and refrain from being repetitive.

There are no sign-ups prior to the hearings. As people arrive, they are given a “public witness” sign-in form where they record their name and address; a bailiff will go for them for testimony.  Witnesses are sworn in to ensure they are telling the truth as it is a “court proceeding.”  No demonstrations, no cheering and no signs are allowed.

The hearing will follow an orderly process. SCC staff will be taking public comments.  If a witness raises something the staff wants clarified or wants to hear more information, the witness can be questioned and “cross-examined.”

The SCC website has a PDF with tips for witnesses, including Schrad’s advice.

Everyone should be prepared to stay for as long as it takes to have his/her name called for testimony. Witnesses will be asked to state full name, address, and any representation of a group; and the transcript of the proceedings will become a part of the “case record.”

SCC staff will be at the hearing, including the hearing examiner.

The SCC has four hearing examiners on staff. For these hearings, Glenn Richardson, who has been with the SCC for about 30 years, will be presiding as hearing examiner.  He recently retired but was called back to preside over this particular case.  State statute grants SCC permission to call back retired examiners.  SCC attorneys and Dominion Power staff and attorneys will also be present.

Schrad explained that hearing examiners hear many different cases including banking, securities, telecom or anything regulated by the SCC. Cases are given to the chief examiner, Deborah Ellenberg, who assigns cases based on workload.  The SCC can hear approximately 100 cases a year.

Residents unable to attend the hearings may make comments on the SCC website through May 3. Schrad said that written comments to the commission carry the same weight and are meant to develop a record on the case.  Written comments can be made at http://www.scc.virginia.gov/case/PublicComments.aspx.

The Evidentiary Hearing will be held in Richmond on May 10. Schrad said at that time Dominion Power will prove the need for the line and lay out the best routing option.  Formal expert witnesses will testify and be cross-examined before the SCC makes a final decision.  Dominion Power has reminded the public many times that the SCC is the “final arbiter” of the case and will make the final decision on the placement and need for the lines.  Schrad said the final decision of the SCC can be appealed to the Virginia Supreme Court.

More information of the project is available at https://www.dom.com/corporate/what-we-do/electricity/transmission-lines-and-projects/haymarket-230kV-line-and-substation-project.