Virginia State Corporation Commission (SCC) staff, in a Dec. 21, 2016, motion, asked the SCC to take judicial notice of an October 2016 hearing examiner’s ruling approving the implementation of a pilot program being conducted by Virginia Electric and Power d/b/a Dominion Virginia Power to test a darkening chemical agent called “Natina” on certain galvanized tower structures located on the company’s Dooms-Lexington transmission line.
As noted by staff, the company last March filed with the SCC an application for approval and certification for transmission facilities in connection with the proposed rebuild of the Cunningham-Dooms Line #534 (PUE-2016-00020). The company proposed to rebuild, entirely within its existing right of way (ROW), about 32.7 miles of its existing 500-kV Cunningham-Dooms line in Fluvanna, Albemarle and Augusta counties, located between the company’s existing Cunningham switching station in Fluvanna County and its existing Dooms substation in Augusta County.
The company anticipates an in-service date for the proposed rebuild project of June 1, 2019, staff added, noting that the project’s estimated cost is about $59m. The rebuild project includes replacing the existing 172 “COR-TEN” weathering steel lattice towers with 173 new galvanized steel lattice towers and an increase in the range of structure height, staff said.
Staff noted that in testimony it filed last July, it concluded that the company has sufficiently demonstrated the need for the project, and recommended that the company’s rebuttal testimony provide information responsive to concerns expressed in the public comments including whether using structures with a dulled finish is a feasible alternative and if so, provide the incremental costs associated with that change.
In rebuttal testimony, the company said that while technically and commercially feasible, it does not support using a chemical post-treatment process to dull the galvanized finish of the rebuild project transmission towers, citing concerns that the post-treatment dulling process poses a risk of shortening the life of the galvanized coating of the steel. Staff also said that regarding cost, the company said that one-time chemical dulling would cost about 5% of the total cost of the tower steel material for the rebuild project, or about $266,000.
Public witnesses, during a local public hearing held last August in Charlottesville, Va., expressed concern about visual impact of the shiny galvanized steel towers and the associated scenic, historic, and economic impacts, staff said. The company, in supplemental testimony filed last September, reiterated its position regarding the use of chemically-dulled galvanized steel towers. Last November, staff added, the hearing examiner issued a report, recommending approval of the rebuild project and finding that chemically dulling the tower structures was unwarranted.
Staff said that it is aware of a ruling (Case Nos. PUE-2015-00073, PUE-2015-00074, PUE-2015-00080, and PUE-2015-00087) approving implementation of a pilot program to be conducted by the company involving the darkening chemical agent, adding that that information is not currently included in the record of the proceeding. The pilot is testing the feasibility of the darkening chemical agent on certain galvanized steel tower structures along the company’s Dooms-Lexington 230/500-kV transmission line, which is contiguous with the Cunningham-Dooms Line, under an interim settlement agreement approved for implementation by the senior hearing examiner in the ruling.
The pilot involves applying the darkening chemical agent to two structures on the Dooms-Lexington Line and observing the color, aging, and effects on the galvanized steel structures for a period of six months “in order to ensure that the galvanized coating continues to satisfy specification thickness requirements and to confirm that the Natina® treatment achieves the desired visual mitigation,” staff said.
The “Natina” treatment was applied to the two tower structures last November, staff said, adding that it is its understanding that the treatment shows promise in mitigating visual impacts and that the darkening chemical agent may be applied during or after the installation of tower structures.
Staff noted that the interim settlement agreement contemplates that ultimately all of the galvanized steel tower structures along the Dooms-Lexington Line will be darkened in some manner, subject to SCC approval.
Staff said that the color produced by the darkening chemical agent is expected to resemble the color of the existing “COR-TEN” structures more closely than would the galvanized steel or dulled structures considered in the present record of the case. However, at this time, the costs and results of the darkening chemical agent are not known, and will not be known for at least several months, staff said.
Given the ongoing nature of the pilot, neither the staff nor the company is in a position to provide additional evidence in the Cunningham-Dooms proceeding concerning the darkening chemical agent, staff said. However, it is possible that the entirety of the Dooms-Lexington Line will be darkened either through the use of “Natina” or some other darkening agent. Staff added that if the SCC were to delay the rebuild project until the results of the pilot are known, then it would be more difficult for the company to meet its in-service date for the rebuild project.
Among other things, staff said that it requests that the SCC take judicial notice of the ruling approving the pilot for implementation in order to provide the SCC with a record basis for consideration of an additional option to address pertinent issues which other evidence has been adduced in the proceeding.
Dominion Virginia Power is a subsidiary of Dominion Resources (NYSE:D).