Virginia hearing examiner recommends approval of 500-kV rebuild project

A Virginia State Corporation Commission hearing examiner, in a July 12 report filed with the commission, concluded that Virginia Electric and Power’s (Dominion) 500-kV Dooms-Valley Line #549 rebuild project in Augusta County should be approved with the use of single-circuit, chemically dulled, galvanized steel lattice towers, and subject to the state Department of Environmental Quality’s (DEQ) unopposed recommendations.

As TransmissionHub reported, the company proposes to:

  • Rebuild, entirely within existing right of way (ROW) that has been in use since about 1966, its 500-kV Line #549 from the existing Dooms substation to the existing Valley substation
  • Use double-circuit structures providing capacity for the 500-kV line and an additional, underbuilt 230-kV line to be installed at a later date

Regulatory staff, in a March report about the project, noted that according to the company, assuming that a CPCN is granted by September, the projected in-service date for the estimated $62m project is June 1, 2020.

As noted in the July 12 report, Dominion filed its application with the commission last September seeking approval of the project, together with the issuance of a certificate of public convenience and necessity (CPCN).

The report noted that 39 written comments were filed associated with the application, none of which supported the company’s project, as proposed. Many of the comments expressed concern regarding the project’s impacts on the environmental, scenic, and historic landscape of Augusta County, as well as the company’s intended construction of taller towers to support a future addition of a 230-kV transmission line. The report added that 14 commenters also expressed specific concerns regarding the shininess of the new towers and/or supported efforts to darken or dull their appearance.

The hearing examiner said in the report, “Based upon the evidence presented, I conclude that the replacement of the existing 500 kV Dooms-Valley transmission line (with the associated replacement of conductors and substation work to accommodate an increased rating) will have no material adverse effect upon the reliability of electric service, is required by the public convenience and necessity, and is not otherwise contrary to the public interest.”

Specifically, the hearing examiner said, the evidence reflects that there is a need to rebuild the existing Dooms-Valley line to replace deteriorating infrastructure and comply with NERC Reliability Standards. No evidence has been presented to support a contrary conclusion, the hearing examiner said.

“I do not, however, conclude that Dominion has established a basis for the approval of taller 5-2 Structures to support the possible addition of a 230 kV underbuild at some point in the future,” the hearing examiner said. “Instead, I conclude that the commission should approve the use of shorter, single circuit structures for the rebuild. In reaching this conclusion, I weigh the potential benefits of the taller 5-2 Structures against their overall impacts (including their cost and effect on the view sheds of Augusta County).”

As noted in the report, 5-2 Structures are taller lattice towers.

The state Department of Historic Resources has concluded that the 5-2 Structures will have a moderate detrimental impact upon several historic properties. The hearing examiner added that numerous public commenters, including the Augusta Board of Supervisors, have expressed a preference for the use of shorter towers with a less significant visual impact.

“In my assessment, and under the specific facts of this case, the ability to address an unspecified need that could arise at some time in the future at an incremental increased cost (and at a lower cost than is likely to be incurred should a future need arise) does not outweigh the actual detrimental impacts of significantly taller towers upon the scenic and historic assets of Augusta County,” the hearing examiner said.

Under the circumstances, the commission should approve the use of less expensive, shorter lattice towers for the rebuild, the hearing examiner said. The evidence supports the conclusion that the cost of single-circuit, “COR-TEN” H-frames would be about 7.5% higher than the cost of single-circuit lattice structures, the hearing examiner said.

“Moreover, because a portion of the rebuild will be co-located with other lattice towers, use of lattice towers for the project should, in my assessment, provide for a more harmonious overall appearance of the line,” the hearing examiner said.

The record of the case reflects that the replacement of the existing line will promote economic development in the state by maintaining the reliability of the transmission line and, in turn, continuing to ensure the delivery of sufficient supplies of electrical power, the hearing examiner said.

Noting that regulatory staff and numerous public commenters, including the Augusta Board, have expressed a preference for some form of darkening or dulling of the structures to lessen the visual impacts of the project, the hearing examiner said that under the circumstances, she concludes that the structures should be chemically dulled to lessen the visual impact of a new galvanized finish on scenic assets and historic districts.

The hearing examiner also noted that based upon the record presented, she concludes there are no adverse environmental impacts that should prevent the construction of the project provided that Dominion complies with the recommendations in the DEQ report, with one exception.

As TransmissionHub reported, the DEQ, in a Dec. 6, 2017, report filed with the commission, issued various recommendations for the proposed project, including that the company should conduct an on-site delineation of wetlands and stream crossings within the project area with verification by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

In her July 12 report, the hearing examiner said that she concludes that the company should be required to consult with the state Department of Conservation and Recreation for updates to the Biotics Data System only if there are material changes to the project, or 12 months from the date of the commission’s order approving the project passes before construction begins.

Also, the company should be required to obtain all necessary environmental permits and approvals that are needed to build and operate the project, the hearing examiner said.

Among other things, the hearing examiner said that the commission should issue a CPCN or the completion of the project and that the unopposed recommendations in the DEQ report should be adopted by the commission as conditions of approval.

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.