A Virginia State Corporation Commission (SCC) hearing examiner, in a Sept. 22 report, recommended that the SCC grant an application filed by Appalachian Power Company (APCo), as well as issue a certificate of public convenience and necessity to the company to build and operate the proposed transmission line and substation.
As noted in the report, APCo in March 2016 filed with the SCC its application regarding the new South Abingdon 138-kV transmission line and new South Abingdon substation. The line would be about 3.8 miles long and terminate at the new substation. The project would be located in Washington County and the Town of Abingdon. The hearing examiner further noted the company estimates that it would need 12 months to place the project in service at an overall estimated cost of $40m. Additionally, the company is recommending that a 4,500-foot segment be placed underground to avoid hazardous impact to aviation navigation at the local regional airport.
“I find that the proposed project, including the underground transmission line segment, is needed and should be approved,” the hearing examiner added.
By placing that section of the line underground, all aboveground structures that would or could have resulted in creating a hazard to aviation navigation are eliminated, the hearing examiner said, adding that the $10m incremental cost is justified by avoiding hazards to the regional airport, which is a major economic benefit to the entire region.
The substation would be located on a 20.7-acre parcel owned by the company that is in an ideal location relative to the company’s local electrical infrastructure, the hearing examiner said.
The proposed project would have minimal impact on scenic assets and historic districts, the hearing examiner said.
The hearing examiner noted that the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), in a separate report, issued various recommendations concerning the project, including a call for an on-site delineation of all wetlands and stream crossings within the project area with verification by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Also, SCC staff in its own report said that overall, it supports the project and the company’s preferred route with the underground portion (referred to as the, “Modified Project”) as the least costly viable option, and that it resolves the needs identified in the application.
The hearing examiner added that the company, in its May rebuttal testimony, concurred with the recommendations listed in the DEQ report, with certain exceptions, including DGIF’s recommendation that the company conduct significant tree removal and ground clearing activities outside of the primary songbird nesting season of March 15 through Aug. 15.
The hearing examiner said that the restriction on significant tree removal between March 15 and Aug. 15 should not be approved because it would unduly restrict the company’s ability to complete the project on time, thereby, potentially increasing cost and raising concerns for worker safety due to the increased likelihood of clearing trees under adverse weather conditions.
The hearing examiner also said that the company should utilize selective clearing methods to retain low-growth shrubs and other compatible vegetation within 50 feet of all year-round streams, ponds, or wetlands; 50 feet of road crossings; 100 feet of water supply wells; and 25 feet of karst features and outcrops of limestone or dolomite rock.