Powerful peace of mind

Published 10:27 pm Tuesday, October 28, 2014

For many a savvy resident of Hampton Roads, the news of an approaching hurricane or nor’easter prompts eyes to shift up to neighborhood power lines for a quick assessment of the likelihood a falling branch will leave the block without power.

For the most part, there’s nothing average folks can do to mitigate the potential danger, as cutting low-hanging branches threatening lines comes with its own significant danger. And there’s no guarantee it will be a falling branch that takes down the neighborhood’s power, anyway. Often, the lines come down when whole trees fall over. Still, though, many a Tidewater resident has watched the nearby power lines as the winds picked up, wondering how long it would be until the lights went out.

The situation is no less frustrating for Dominion Power, whose officials have teams on call, ready to head out as soon as it’s safe to do so in the aftermath of those storms. Often, those teams are quite familiar with the areas where they wind up repairing lines, as they’ve spent previous hours in those same areas, repairing lines after other storms. Some places, it seems, are especially prone to problems. And fixing those problems means repair crews are that much longer getting to other parts of Hampton Roads that have lost power.

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That’s why the company has identified a variety of locations in Suffolk and throughout Hampton Roads where it wants to bury the tap lines that distribute power from its main lines, down side streets and into neighborhoods. Doing so, officials say, will help make the entire Tidewater electrical grid more robust, and it will improve repair times and accessibility following major storms.

The company is seeking approval from the State Corporation Commission for burying some 4,000 miles of power lines across the commonwealth, including in 16 initial locations in Suffolk. Dominion already buries most of its new lines, so this project would be about retrofitting some of Virginia’s existing lines, a move that would have widespread positive consequences.

The project would come at a cost to consumers, though. Dominion expects additional charges to range from just under a dollar a month per customer to about $5 a month as the project reaches full speed.

Nobody wants to pay more for their electricity. But anyone who spent two weeks or more without power after Hurricane Isabel — or a week without power after Hurricane Irene — can also recall how much it would have been worth to them to have power during the cleanup.

Even at $5 a month, the peace of mind would be worth it.