James River Respondents discuss alternatives to Dominion Virginia Power’s proposed project

The James River Association and the Save the James Alliance Trust (together referred to as the “James River Respondents”), in a Dec. 1 filing submitted to the Virginia State Corporation Commission, responded to Virginia Electric and Power’s (Dominion Virginia Power) recent update regarding the company’s Surry-Skiffes Creek 500-kV transmission line, Skiffes Creek-Whealton 230-kV transmission line, and the Skiffes Creek 500-kV-230-kV-115-kV switching station.

As TransmissionHub reported, Dominion Virginia Power in June 2012 filed with the SCC an application for approval and certification of an electric transmission project, proposing to build the new, overhead, 500-kV electric transmission line from the company’s existing 500-kV-230-kV Surry switching station in Surry County to a new 500-kV-230-kV-115-kV Skiffes Creek switching station in James City County (Surry–Skiffes Creek Line); the Skiffes Creek switching station; a new 230-kV line in the counties of James City and York and the City of Newport News, from the proposed Skiffes station to the company’s existing Whealton substation located in the City of Hampton (Skiffes Creek–Whealton Line); and additional facilities at the existing Surry switching station and Whealton substation (collectively, the “certificated project”).

The SCC in November 2013, February 2014 and April 2014, issued orders in the proceeding that, among other things, granted the company’s application and approved certificates of public convenience and necessity for the certificated project, subject to certain requirements. The SCC, in a Feb. 8, 2014, order amending certificates, said that the approved construction must be completed and in service by Dec. 31, 2015, provided, however, that the company is granted leave to apply for an extension for good cause shown.

As noted in the company’s Nov. 29 filing providing an update on the project, the SCC orders were appealed by BASF Corporation and jointly by James City County, Save the James Alliance Trust and James River Association (JCC Parties) to the Supreme Court of Virginia, which issued its unanimous opinion in those appeals in April 2015, affirming the SCC’s approval and certification of the transmission facilities, which comprise the certificated project.

The court also reversed and remanded the holding in the SCC’s November 2013 order that the term “transmission line” includes transmission switching stations such as the Skiffes station under “Va. Code § 56-46.1 F,” which exempts transmission lines approved by the SCC under that section from “Va. Code § 15.2-2232” and local zoning ordinances. The court in May 2015 denied petitions of the SCC and the company seeking rehearing of that aspect of the court’s opinion, and as a result, the company must now obtain local land use approval from James City County to build the Skiffes station.

The court in June 2015 issued its mandate and remand, returning the case to the SCC for further proceedings, the company added.

The James River Respondents, in their Dec. 1 response filed with the SCC, said that the NEPA and the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) require the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to consider alternatives to the project.

The company’s update does not mention the alternatives recently proposed by the National Trust for Historic Preservation (NTHP), nor the report presented on behalf of the NTHP and received by the Corps in late October, the James River Respondents said, noting that the NTHP retained the firm of Tabors Caramanis Rudkevich (TCR) to identify alternatives to the company’s proposed plan to build a 500-kV overhead transmission line over the James River.

The NTHP retained the firm to explore alternatives because it asserts that the company’s preferred overhead transmission line would create significant harm to nationally significant historic resources along the James River, the James River Respondents said.

In the event that additional time is needed to evaluate any alternatives, there are other ways to address system reliability and the company’s concerns regarding the threat of electricity grid systems emergencies such as load shedding and rolling blackouts in the North Hampton Roads Area caused by its planned Yorktown unit retirements in 2017, the James River Respondents said. For instance, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is authorized to order electricity generating facilities to operate on a short-term basis under certain circumstances, the James River Respondents said.

To the extent that the Corps concludes that more time is needed for an environmental impact statement or to review alternatives that have been identified that do not include a James River crossing, the company may file an application with DOE to have Yorktown Units 1 & 2 be available temporarily on a standby basis to avoid the threat of load shedding, the James River Respondents said.

According to the report, the NTHP has been advocating against construction of a 500-kV overhead transmission line proposed by Dominion Virginia Power. To identify the four alternatives, TCR used information that Dominion has filed with FERC or has provided through the federal permit review process being led by the Corps, the report said, adding that TCR also used power flow modeling software that is standard in the industry.

The four alternatives require a mix of reconductoring (upgrading wires on existing towers), reconfiguring (operating the electrical system differently), and operating Yorktown 3 (oil-fired plant not required to close by MATS) to meet summer peak demand and/or as a voltage regulator. The fourth alternative is a construction option that would involve building new 230-kV lines in existing rights of way (ROWs) or along highways, the report added.

The report claimed that each of the alternatives costs less to build, can be built more quickly, meets all relevant reliability standards and energy needs in the region, and protects the historic landscape and resources along the James River.

“Alternative A – Reconductor and Reconfigure” includes reconductoring the 230-kV Lightfoot-Kings Mill line, the 115-kV Lanexa-Toano line, the 230-kV Chuckatuck-Newport News and Newport News-Shellbank lines, and the 230-kV Poolesville-Winchester line.

The report added that “Alternative B – Yorktown 3 on Summer Peak” includes starting and dispatching Yorktown 3 at 310 MW under summer peak conditions.

“Alternative C – Yorktown 3 Standby” includes starting and dispatching Yorktown 3 at 310 MW (minimum load) under summer peak conditions upon the occurrence of a critical single-element contingency, and reconfiguring the system under summer peak conditions (pre-contingency): energizing the existing 115-kV Toano-Kings Mill line, as well as energizing the 115-kV Lanexa-Dow Tap line and splitting the 115-kV Skiffes Creek so that the Lanexa-Dow Tap is not connected to other facilities at Skiffes Creek.

Among other things, the report also said that “Alternative D – New 230kV Paths” includes building a new 230-kV line between Brookwoods and Slaterville and a new 230-kV line between Hayes and Harmony, as well as reconductoring/rebuilding the 230-kV Lanexa-Slaterville line.

In a statement provided to TransmissionHub on Dec. 2, Scott Miller, vice president of Electric Transmission of Dominion, said: “Finding the right, long-term solution to maintaining reliable electric service on the peninsula is an ongoing and urgent priority for Dominion. While the Federal Power Act does provide the Department of Energy with discretionary authority to grant temporary 90-day relief in limited circumstances when emergencies exist, that is not a permanent solution. Dominion has analyzed and concluded the recommendations put forth by the consulting firm hired by the NTHP do not meet the project purpose and need, and are not reasonable or practicable. Dominion has studied numerous other alternatives and the James River crossing is the best option.”

Dominion Virginia Power is a subsidiary of Dominion Resources (NYSE:D).

About Corina Rivera-Linares 3286 Articles
Corina Rivera-Linares was TransmissionHub’s chief editor until August 2021, as well as part of the team that established TransmissionHub in 2011. Before joining TransmissionHub, Corina covered renewable energy and environmental issues, as well as transmission, generation, regulation, legislation and ISO/RTO matters at SNL Financial from 2005 to 2011. She has also covered such topics as health, politics, and education for weekly newspapers and national magazines.