By Terri L. Erwin-Fitz – Observer Staff

Virginia’s State Corporation Commission (SCC) staff completes its own investigation as part of the process when an application is made for construction of power lines and substations. As part of the SCC process to complete Dominion Power’s Haymarket Substation and 230kV transmission lines application, the staff submitted its recommendation on June 2.

The SCC is always the final arbiter of the application and makes its own decision based on evidence from Dominion, public comments, and its own investigation.

In its application, Dominion Power investigated five routes and recommended the I-66 overhead route as the “preferred route.”

After its own investigation, the SCC staff recommended the I-66 hybrid route be used. This would include burying transmission lines with an impending cost of $115 million which could be paid for by the customer, thought to be Amazon, but not confirmed.

The staff concluded that the underground placement of lines would “protect the residents and the environment.” Staff also suggested that Dominion could not justify the need for the project without the prospective customer’s request for service to the Haymarket area, according to a press release from Del. Bob Marshall.

The proposed project was also researched by an independent consultant, Mid-Atlantic Environmental. It noted the “I-66 Hybrid Alternative Route offers the least environmental impact to the area.”

Le-Ha Anderson, media manager with Dominion Power, said that Dominion is reviewing the staff recommendation and is required to issue a rebuttal on June 8. She said this is all part of the process in any application made to the SCC.  An evidentiary hearing will be June 21.  Three judges from the SCC will make the final decision as to the route that Dominion will use.

Anderson said that before Dominion makes its rebuttal, its staff will take into consideration all input and comments that the utility has received.

She also noted that there is a distinction between distribution and transmission lines. Distribution lines are sometimes paid for by customers because the customer’s needs or wants are beyond what is provided.  Transmission lines, however, are “integrated into the grid” which makes it a benefit to the entire area, Anderson said.

When questioned, she said she was not aware of a situation in which a customer has had to pay for transmission line costs.

Del. Bob Marshall (R-13) said that the SCC staff recommendation is the direction that he has been aiming for. He commended the community on an unwavering one message that the only route, if the prospective customer is to put its data center in Haymarket, is I-66 and buried.  He argued that the cost should not be added to the monthly bills (of) residents.

Marshall also noted the prospective customer whom, he said, has not acknowledged the community nor letters sent by himself and Sen. Dick Black, in regards to the data center which, he pointed out, is located outside of an industrial area.

He added that the staff’s recommendation is a “great start” in the protection of the Prince William County community.

Sen. Black said he was “pleased” with the staff’s recommendation. He said that it is clearly unjust for the prospective customer to diminish the property values of the community and pocket the money.  He said that if the prospective customer wants to build in Haymarket, it needs to pay and was happy that the staff seemed to agree.

Marshall and Black equated themselves to “two dogs with a bone” who fought for the citizens they represented in this case.

Elena Schlossberg, executive director of the Coalition to Protect Prince William County, equated the data center’s location in Haymarket to building a house on a mountain. She said that to provide powerlines, she would have to pay for it and this location is equivalent to the prospective customer’s house on a mountain and the customer should pay for the power lines to reach it.

Though this is a step in a positive direction, Schlossberg, Marshall, and Black agree that it is not the finish line. Public comments will be taken by the SCC until June 17.

Schlossberg says it is time to “pile on,” not time to become “complacent.” She encourages public comments and letters.  She said the Coalition’s website can help at http://www.protectpwc.org/.

Public comments can still be made to the SCC at http://www.scc.virginia.gov/case/PublicComments.aspx/.  Find the Haymarket case, PUE-2015-00107.

For more information see

https://www.dom.com/corporate/what-we-do/electricity/transmission-lines-and-projects/haymarket-230kv-line-and-substation-project.