Virginia Electric and Power d/b/a Dominion Energy Virginia on June 27 provided an update to the Virginia State Corporation Commission (SCC) on its project that includes the Surry-Skiffes Creek 500-kV Transmission Line.
As noted in the filing, by a November 2013 order, as modified by a February 2014 order and confirmed by an April 2014 order, the SCC approved and certificated the construction and operation by Dominion Energy Virginia of the electric transmission lines and related facilities proposed by the company in its application filed in June 2012. The project also involves the Skiffes Creek switching station and the Skiffes Creek-Whealton Line.
The 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, the company added.
The court’s opinion also reversed and remanded – by a 4-3 vote – 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 company said.
The court in May 2015 denied petitions of the SCC and the company seeking rehearing of that aspect of the opinion, and as a result, the company is required to obtain local land use approval from James City County to build the Skiffes station. The court issued its mandate and remand in June 2015, returning the case to the SCC for further proceedings, the company added.
The company noted that it must obtain permits from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act to place fill material in the James River for construction of the transmission line towers and Section 10 of the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899 for resulting obstructions to navigation.
The company said that it filed a joint permit application (JPA) for the Corps permits in March 2012 for the Surry to Skiffes Creek portion of the certificated project and a separate JPA for the Skiffes Creek to Whealton portion in June 2013.
In August 2013, the company submitted a combined JPA for the Surry-Skiffes Creek Line and the Skiffes Creek-Whealton Line, and that combined JPA superseded the permit applications for each line that had been submitted.
The company added that the Corps on June 12 issued a provisional permit to the company that was conditioned upon the issuance of a permit by the Virginia Marine Resources Commission (VMRC), as well as certification by the state Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) that the company has obtained a Section 401 Water Quality Certification/Virginia Water Protection Permit.
The two Corps permits required for the placement of fill and obstruction to navigation prompt review under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the company said, noting that the Corps has indicated that it will prepare an environmental assessment (EA) to satisfy that requirement. Among other things, the company noted that the Corps on March 30 published its updated “Preliminary Alternatives Conclusions White Paper,” which concluded, in relevant part, that based on its review, it appears that only Dominion’s proposed project and the Chickahominy-Skiffes 500-kV alternative meet project purpose and need, and are practicable.
The company noted that the Corps will make its final selection of alternatives when it issues the EA, which will accompany the permit decision.
The two Corps permits also prompt review under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), the company said. The United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) on April 12 concurred with the Corps’ conclusions regarding the Northern Long Eared Bat (NLEB), indicating that the Corps would permit project construction without a time-of-year restriction on tree clearing. The company added that the Corps on May 11 sent out a request for the USFWS to update its concurrence for all species.
The company noted that the two Corps permits prompt review under the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA), adding that Section 106 of the NHPA requires the Corps to take into consideration the effect of permitted activities on historic properties. The company noted, for instance, that the Corps has hosted five consulting parties meetings to date to discuss alternatives to the certificated project, identification of, and impacts to, historic properties, and potential mitigation opportunities.
The company also said that it must obtain an authorization from the VMRC for encroachment on subaqueous beds of the state in James River. The VMRC considered and unanimously approved the company’s JPA at a June 27 public hearing.
The company further noted that it submitted an application to the USFWS for the removal of an inactive bald eagle nest on one of the 230-kV structures that is proposed to be replaced – that application is awaiting approval.
The company also said that consistent with the court’s opinion, it filed in June 2015 a special use permit application (SUP), a rezoning request, a substantial accord determination request, and a height waiver application for a switching station in James City County associated with the certificated project.
The James City County Planning Commission in August 2015 voted against recommending approval of the switching station, and the company subsequently filed an appeal of the substantial accord determination to the James City County Board of Supervisors – the JCC Board, which will make the final determination on the SUP, rezoning and height waiver requests, and will hear the appeal on the substantial accord determination, the company added.
The company said that it has sought – and obtained JCC Board approval for – several deferrals. With additional delays in the Corps process, the company said that it submitted another deferral request dated Nov. 14, 2016 until the June 27 JCC Board meeting, which the board approved on Nov. 22, 2016, the company said.
On May 23, the JCC Board granted the company’s request to move the hearing date of the applications to July 11, in accordance with the JCC Board’s January policy change regarding public hearings – the JCC Board has made a policy change so that public hearing matters would be scheduled only during the first meeting of the month and that work session matters that do not require a public hearing would be scheduled for the second meeting of the month.
Among other things, the company added that the inability to begin construction for the past several years has made it impossible for the proposed facilities to be completed and in service by Dec. 31, 2015, as provided in the SCC’s February 2014 order. As permitted by federal environmental regulations, the company obtained from the DEQ a one-year extension of the April 16, 2015, deadline for Yorktown Units 1 and 2 to comply with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) regulation that will be achieved by retiring the units, which drove the original June 1, 2015, need date for the new transmission facilities.
The EPA in April 2016 issued an administrative order authorizing the company to operate the Yorktown coal-fired units (Units 1 and 2) through April 15, 2017, under certain limitations, the company added. PJM Interconnection on June 13 filed a request for emergency order under Section 202(c) of the Federal Power Act with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), and on June 16, DOE granted an order to PJM to direct Dominion Energy Virginia to operate Yorktown Units 1 and 2 as needed to avoid reliability issues on the Virginia Peninsula over the next 90 days, the company said.
Among other things, the company said that PJM plans to request renewals of the DOE order on a rolling basis until the certificated project is placed into service.