The Virginia State Corporation Commission (SCC) on Nov. 26 approved, with conditions, Virginia Electric and Power’s d/b/a Dominion Virginia Power’s proposed 500-kV Surry-Skiffes Creek transmission line, finding that the project is required by the public convenience and necessity.
According to a Nov. 26 SCC statement, the first segment of the project will be a new overhead 500-kV transmission line between a Dominion switching station in Surry County, Va., and a new switching station at Skiffes Creek in James City County, Va. From the Skiffes Creek switching station, a new 230-kV line will be built through James City and York counties, Newport News and ending at the Whealton substation in Hampton, Va.
“The commission understands the importance of this case to the many people who cherish Virginia’s historical and natural assets and to those who depend on the reliable electric service so critical to Virginia’s economic strength, safety and quality of life,” the SCC said in its order.
The evidence is clear that the proposed project is necessary to continue reliable electric service to the hundreds of thousands of people who live and work across the region, the SCC added.
Dominion Virginia Power in late August urged the SCC to approve its proposed 8-mile line and other facilities, while others, like James City County, Va., remained steadfastly opposed to the project.
A Dominion Virginia Power spokesperson told TransmissionHub on Nov. 26 that the SCC’s order was the final approval needed for the project and that construction would begin later this year or in early 2014.
The project would be energized in the summer of 2015, he said, adding the project’s estimated total cost is $150.6m – in 2011 dollars – representing $56.3m for the 500-kV line, $46.4m for the 230-kV line and $47.9m for the Skiffes Creek switching station and other substation work.
The SCC said in its order that Surry-Skiffes Creek line offers a reasonable path into the highly constrained Peninsula where an overhead 500-kV line is needed to reasonably ensure reliability, the SCC said.
The line would begin at the existing transmission switching station near the Surry nuclear power station on the south shore of the James River, cross that river in a way designed to avoid, among other things, ship traffic and the airspace of military aircraft from a large nearby military installation, and then come ashore on the BASF Corporation property in an industrial area that includes active environmental remediation sites.
The proposed project, using a tower alignment identified as “Variation 4,” is required by the public convenience and necessity, reasonably minimizes environmental impacts and otherwise satisfies state law requirements, the SCC added.
“Even ignoring the other industrial, commercial and military sites in this part of the James River, the area where the Surry-Skiffes Creek line would fall within the ‘Historic River’ designation is an extension of existing electric infrastructure and operations at the Surry nuclear power station, which contains significant electric transmission infrastructure and electric generation dependent on, among other things, water from the James River,” the SCC added.
Among other things, the SCC said that Dominion is authorized to build and operate the project with Variation 4, and construction must be completed and in service by June 1, 2015, provided, however, that Dominion is granted leave to apply for an extension for good cause shown.
The reliability risks presented in the case are significant, the SCC said, noting that engineering studies show that when Dominion’s transmission system is stress-evaluated under federal and Virginia requirements, a number of transmission system overloads result. Those overloads, which appear under the reasonably contingency conditions modeled in the case, identify a broad swath of the state where the loss of electric service can be expected as early as 2015 unless Dominion’s electric system is reinforced.
The identified overloads affect 14 counties and seven cities, which are referred to collectively in the order as the “North Hampton Roads Area,” and include the counties of Charles City, James City and York, as well as the cities of Williamsburg, Yorktown and Newport News.
The SCC further noted that it has considered the environmental impact of transmission lines, including the impact of overhead transmission on viewsheds from the James River and various locations in the vicinity of the proposed project.
While it has also considered all record evidence highlighting the Historic Triangle of Jamestown, Williamsburg and Yorktown, the SCC said it cannot ignore the change that has transpired from colonial times to date in the area where the proposed project would cross the James River.
All the developments in the vicinity of the proposed project’s route, including neighborhoods, multiple military installations and theme parks, depend on the same reliable electric grid to maintain the quality of life, health, safety and prosperity to which the state and nation are accustomed, the SCC said.
Numerous electrical alternatives have been offered, explored and developed for the SCC’s consideration, such as generation options, demand-side management and underground transmission.
The engineering evidence in the case is overwhelming that as a result of generation retirements prompted by stricter federal environmental regulations as well as normal continued load growth in the North Hampton Roads Area, an overhead 500-kV line needs to be built soon to ensure that a large part of the state continues to have reliable electric service.
“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 for addressing those problems,” the SCC said. “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 kV overhead transmission line, are simply too great.”
For instance, the SCC noted that the record does not support suggestions by James City County that offshore wind or liquefied natural gas generation could satisfy the fast-approaching reliability criteria violations in the North Hampton Roads Area.
“Because these types of projects are exceptionally complex and, in some respects, may represent uncharted territory for developers, the risk that such generation will be unavailable to address a need arising as soon as 2015 is too great to warrant further consideration in the instant case,” the SCC said.
Dominion Virginia Power is a subsidiary of Dominion Resources (NYSE:D).