Dominion Virginia Power believes that Loudoun County may have potential electrical supply problems by 2007 if a new substation and power lines are not installed, and soon.
However, one group of Loudoun citizens has organized to protest the project’s proposed route through the Loudoun countryside, saying it would ruin the scenery and threaten the quality of life for those who live near the power lines.
“I noticed an article in the paper about a proposed southern route for the power lines that would go through the Woodburn subdivision, where I live,” said Dave Sarver, spokesperson for the Save Scenic Loudoun/Neighbors against the Southern Transmission Line.
The original proposal for the power line, which would consist of an 11 mile path, 100 to 150 feet wide with 110-feet-tall steel poles to carry the 230 kilovolt transmission line, was on the Washington and Old Dominion bike trail, but was protested so heavily by the Save the Trail group that Dominion has been forced to find alternate routes to carry electricity from a southern transmission station, around Rt. 15 and back up to the proposed Hamilton Substation.
One of the proposed routes would run right through Sarver’s driveway.
WHEN HE LOOKED over the plans, available on www.dom.com, Dominion Virginia Power’s Web site, he called his neighbors and held an impromptu meeting to discuss what action could be taken.
“Our first goal is to convince the power company not to build the southern route at all,” Sarver said. “We’re also in favor of putting the power lines underground, or perhaps along part of Route 7.”
The route would “go through the scenic countryside of Loudoun County and it would destroy the beauty of the countryside,” he said.
Sarver said he doesn’t believe the power company’s claims of needing more power for the western portion of the county. “From my understanding, those claims might be disputed by some people,” he said.
He’s also frustrated by those who worked to prevent the line from being installed on the W&OD trail. “With everyone doing work to save the trail, they forced the power company to change plans,” he said. “The power company owns the right of way on the trial and have the right to put the power lines there. The W&OD group moved the problem off the trail and into our neighborhood.”
“We don’t want to put it in anyone’s backyard. We’re adamantly opposed to the southern route and would rather have it underground,” Sarver said.
John Bailey, the coordinator of siting and permitting with Dominion Power, said that the project is needed to fulfill a possible lack of power in the Purcellville/Round Hill/ Hamilton area of western Loudoun due to rapid growth.
“WE SERVE that district with four circuits and we’re rapidly running out of capacity. By May of 2007, if we lose one of those four lines the other three will not be able to carry the extra power needed to carry the extra power to give our customers reliable service,” Bailey said. “That area is at the end of those four lines and it’s not a good electrical system.”
“We’re looking to maybe parallel Rt. 7 for the southern route up to Hamilton, and this is the route that Mr. Sarver’s group is opposed to,” he said.
The request to take the power lines underground has three major problems, he said.
“If there’s a power outage on an above-ground line, you can find it easily and repair it, but with an underground line you have bring in special crews to find and repair it. We had an underground line go out in Alexandria and it took five weeks to repair,” he said.
Secondly, the costs are “eight to ten times higher” to install underground power lines, “and we’re trying to keep our costs reasonable,” Bailey said.
Finally, there are operational difficulties to take into consideration. “Underground energy lines are offer less resistance and the flow of energy tends to gravitate underground from overhead lines, which creates an unbalanced flow of energy which is not efficient,” he said.
HOWEVER, NO PLANS, regardless of preference by Loudoun County or Dominion, will go into effect until the State Corporation Commission makes a decision.
“We’re still in the information gathering stage, we want to get feedback from the residents so we can make our best proposal to the SCC that we can,” Bailey said. “They have the final approval.”
The utility is going to the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors to discuss the issue and will also hold public information sessions on Oct. 25 and 26 at the Ida Lee Recreation Center from 4 p.m. until 8 p.m. to get feedback and suggestions from residents. “We want the public to understand the project and so they can see their homes in relation to our proposals,” he said. Public hearings before the board will also be held in the future.
“These are just ideas for right now,” Bailey said. “We must have a total of 20 routes if you put all the possible links together.”
Le-Ha Anderson, spokeswoman for Dominion, said the power company is used to running into opposition on projects like this.
“People are concerned about their health and property values, there are some who don’t want to live near a substation because they say it takes longer to get your power back after an outage,” she said.
But people tend to be “reasonable” when it comes to the final plans. “They know they rely on electricity for just about everything they do,” she said.
“We want to find a plan that’s workable for everyone, but the SCC could still tell us to go back onto the trail,” she said. “It’s important for people to have confidence that we’re going to take everyone’s input into consideration. We are genuine about getting information from the public.”
“We’re urging Dominion to look at the underground route,” said Robert Lazaro, assistant to Board of Supervisor’s chairman Scott York. “A resolution will be discussed that will encourage putting the route underground along Rt. 7, which has been what the board has wanted all along. The only ones not listening are [Dominion],” he said.
He said it’s “disappointing” that Dominion has “blinders” on for taking the power lines underground because it’s a policy that’s been adopted by other utility companies nationwide.
“This is Dominion’s march to cut down as many trees as possible,” he said. “The technology has changed (in underground utilities) over the past few years and they’re using expenses as an excuse. We’ll be prepared, as this matter goes to the SCC, to prove that it’s less expensive.”
He appreciates the residents’ concern about keeping the natural beauty of the county in tact.
“People don’t want to look at power lines,” he said.