Virginia court says major Dominion transmission line needs local approval
Energize Weekly, April 22, 2015
The Virginia Supreme Court has ruled that local approval is required over a key element of a major Dominion transmission line over the historic James River.
The court said that while regulators with the State Corporation Commission (SCC) did not err when they approved the path of the 8-mile, 500 kilovolt (kv) line between Surry and James City County, a switching station at the end of the line near Skiffes Creek was subject to local zoning ordinances. The station’s site has already been rejected by the James City County Board of Supervisors, which means in order for the line to be built the location of the station either needs to be changed or battled over in court.
Dominion says that they need to complete the line in order to avoid rolling blackouts or brownouts due to the planned retirement of coal units at the nearby Yorktown Power Station in April, 2017. Opponents of the line say that the planned construction of more than a dozen towers to carry the line would be a visual blight over the scenic river, where European colonists first set foot in America over 400 years ago.
The court did not take issue with either the need for power or the proposed route, which was approved by the SCC in March of last year; however the court maintained that the proposed Skiffes Creek switching station will be subject to local zoning decisions. According to the Virginia Daily Press, the James City County Board is strongly opposed to an over-the-river high-voltage line.
In lieu of the court decision, Dominion could either change the location of the station or battle the County in court over the legal issue of whether current zoning laws allow for the station or if Dominion would need a special permit. If a court decides a special building permit is required, Dominion would need the county to approve such a permit, though that decision also could be appealed in court.
Dominion says that they have several other routing options for the line; however the company insists that the route approved by the SCC last year offers the least impact on views along the river. At least four other underground options have been discussed, however all run into safety, cost, and environmental problems. A route going under the river could harm oyster grounds and local fish populations, while it would also have to bypass a natural gas pipeline and avoid an area where ships and barges frequently pass with limited visibility, as well as an area of the river restricted by nearby Fort Eustis.
Most importantly, the other options would take longer, while Dominion says time is of the essence. The company told the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers last month that construction on the line must begin by the end of this summer or else the Peninsula could face rolling blackouts or brownouts in early 2017. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has ordered that Dominion close down its Yorktown Power Station for violating federal air quality standards, and April, 2017 is likely as late as the EPA will allow the utility continue to operate the station. Without the plant to provide power for the region or a high-voltage line connecting it to the rest of this grid, Dominion says it is not sure whether it can supply enough power to the Peninsula when demand is high.
Opponents of the line say that the warnings about blackouts are “scare tactics.”