No need to delay transmission lines

Published 7:53 pm Tuesday, April 28, 2015

By Robert M. Blue 

It is time to begin moving forward with construction of a 7.4-mile transmission line over the James River, because the facts are clear and indisputable.

The Peninsula region will need a new source of electricity, once the coal-fired units at Yorktown Power Station close in early 2017. The Virginia State Corporation Commission unanimously chose the transmission line over the James River between Surry and James City counties as the best solution for reliability, economics and the environment after examining dozens of potential solutions. On April 16, the Virginia Supreme Court unanimously upheld the SCC’s routing decision for the overhead 500-kilovolt line.

Email newsletter signup

Some groups are now calling for a delay. That’s a mistake. Delays could result in rolling blackouts dozens of times a year in the Peninsula region. The negative impact that could have on the energy needs of 500,000 people, medical and public safety facilities, vital military installations and thousands of businesses is hard to imagine.

Here’s what we know: The Yorktown coal units must shut down by April 2017 to comply with federal law. Dominion began analyzing how to replace Yorktown’s production in 2011. Based on that analysis, we filed our application with the SCC in June 2012.

Every reasonable solution was considered. Switching Yorktown to natural gas isn’t cost-effective, nor does the timing work. Conservation measures are not sufficient. Other transmission routes had a greater environmental impact and higher costs for customers.

One much-discussed alternative was installing a transmission line under the James River, but that would require using uncertain technology and would require multiple smaller lines, and erecting large structures on each side of the river. This approach would result in much higher costs without providing a long-term solution. In addition, burying any cable in the riverbed could result in other environmental consequences.

The SCC gave careful consideration to the region’s important historic and cultural assets.

“The Commission can no more ignore the severity of fast-approaching reliability problems than it can the environmental, scenic and historic impacts associated with the many different possible alternatives explored in this case,” the SCC wrote.

“In this case, the risks associated with the construction of a lower-voltage project, either underground or overhead, or other alternatives that do not include a 500-[kilovolt] overhead transmission line, are simply too great.”

The facts also show the river crossing is much less pristine than it is portrayed. A sewage treatment plant, a former industrial site, the “ghost fleet,” a boat dock, our Surry Power Station, and the top of a roller coaster are along the banks or in sight.

Those calling for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to conduct an environmental impact statement on the project need to understand that a study would add another 12 to 18 months to the approval process. That would almost certainly make it impossible to have the new line in service in time to avoid repeated rolling blackouts starting in 2017.

An EIS would not add anything substantive to the discussion. The Corps has been considering the project since August 2013 and is working on an environmental assessment that will address historical, cultural, environmental and other issues.

Environmental assessments have been used to review numerous projects much larger and more complex than this one. They are thorough and comprehensive, based on many hundreds of hours of work and thousands of pages of documentation.

The issues here are simple.

The Peninsula needs more electricity. We want to protect our historical and cultural assets. We also want to protect our customers from power outages and unreasonable costs.

One viable option has been identified. We need to move forward now. The consequences of delay are too severe.

Robert M. Blue is the president of Dominion Virginia Power. Email him at