By ROBERT ZULLO Richmond Times-Dispatch February 14, 2017
The House of Delegates’ Commerce and Labor Committee advanced legislation Tuesday that would direct the State Corporation Commission to view Dominion Virginia Power’s pricey plans to bury some of its outage-prone lines in a more favorable light.
The committee also moved forward a controversial bill that would allow utilities to bypass local zoning for certain “associated facilities” of 138-kilovolt transmission lines such as switching stations. Appalachian Power is currently the only utility with such lines, according to the commission.
Senate Bill 1473 by Sen. Richard L. Saslaw, D-Fairfax, comes about a year and a half after the commission rejected the initial phase of a Dominion plan to put about 4,000 miles of lines prone to storm outages underground at a cost to ratepayers of about $6 billion over the life of the new underground lines. The commission later approved a scaled-back pilot version.
Saslaw’s bill, which has passed the Senate and breezed through the committee Tuesday on a 21-0 vote, directs the SCC to consider moving underground tap lines that have had nine or more unplanned outages in the past 10 years “in the public interest” and also to presume the expense billed to ratepayers to be “reasonably and prudently incurred.” That presumption, however, is “rebuttable.”
Before the committee Tuesday, Saslaw retold a story that the bill had won him a standing ovation from an audience of constituents, who he said were more than willing to shell out more money for quicker restoration of power after outages.
“When you don’t have electricity for three or four days, you’re not going to sit there and negotiate rates,” Saslaw said.
Though moving the lines underground will happen only in certain areas, all Dominion ratepayers will share the cost, culminating at about $4 a month on the average bill by 2027, Dominion says.
The company said the project will make restoration of service after storms about 50 percent faster.
The committee also advanced Senate Bill 1110 by Sen. William M. Stanley Jr., R-Franklin County, which allows utilities to avoid local planning and zoning approval for substations and other facilities that accompany 138-kilovolt transmission lines.
The bill, which passed the Senate earlier this month and cleared the committee on an 18-3 vote, has been opposed by municipal and county groups as well as some lawmakers who say it strips localities of the power to make land-use decisions.
A companion bill, House Bill 1766 by Del. Gregory D. Habeeb, R-Salem, has passed the House and made it out of the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee on Monday.
The Coalition to Protect Prince William County, a group opposed to a 230-kilovolt Dominion transmission line and associated infrastructure that will run through Haymarket, has called the legislation “a Trojan horse aimed at stopping local elected officials and regulatory bodies from exercising their duties.”
Dominion has said it does not oppose or support the legislation.