As utility companies expand and upgrade Virginia’s electrical grid, the Virginia Outdoors Foundation has been involved in the review of upgrade projects to determine and mitigate any potential impacts to existing VOF open-space easements. In several recent cases, VOF has helped to influence the eventual design of a project to reduce and minimize impacts to conservation lands.
Dominion Energy’s Remington-Gordonsville transmission project aims to resolve electric reliability issues in the Piedmont region west of Interstate 95 and east of Shenandoah National Park. The company has proposed using its existing 38.2-mile transmission corridor from the Remington substation in Fauquier County to the Gordonsville substation in Albemarle County.
The project originally proposed to replace single-circuit wooden “H-frame” towers with double-circuit steel monopole towers. The wooden towers are about 50 feet tall on average, whereas the steel towers would be more than 100 feet tall. The existing right of way passes through 26 VOF easements, and in some cases the right of way would have needed to be expanded from 70 feet to 100 feet.
As part of its review of the project, VOF submitted comments to the State Corporation Commission (SCC) outlining its concerns regarding the potential impacts to VOF open-space lands and their viewsheds. VOF asked Dominion Energy and the SCC to consider, among other things, shorter towers and non-glare materials to minimize impacts.
On June 13, 2017, the SCC hearing examiner issued a report that included VOF’s recommendations where feasible. The final decision rests with the three SCC Commissioners, who are responsible for issuing the certification of public convenience and necessity that would allow Dominion to begin construction.
VOF has written to VOF easement landowners along the line where it has been determined to be technically feasible and reasonable to install shorter towers. If landowners are interested in the shorter tower option, they may work with Dominion and VOF to determine if additional right of way can be accommodated on VOF easements.
“We are pleased that the SCC and Dominion have been receptive to our recommendations,” says Martha Little, VOF’s deputy director of stewardship. “We look forward to working with them and the landowners to find ways to reduce the impact to the surrounding landscape as much as possible.”
VOF also provided comments to Dominion Energy and the SCC on the Cunningham-Dooms rebuild project, which affects portions of the Piedmont. Project details can be found here.
VOF expressed concerns about the use of galvanized steel lattice towers in this area and the impacts to conservation resources. VOF asked for alternatives to be explored for siting, height, and tower construction materials that would avoid or minimize visual impacts.
On May 5, 2017 the SCC issued its final order for the rebuild project and required that Dominion Energy use chemical dulling of the tower finish to reduce visual impacts.
Norris Bridge Project
VOF staff was requested to provide testimony at the SCC hearing on this rebuild project, which would upgrade a power line that crosses the Rappahannock River at Norris Bridge between Lancaster County and Middlesex County. The section of line to be replaced is one of two crossings of the Rappahannock that form part of the Dominion transmission network providing power to the Northern Neck. Details can be found here.
In its testimony, VOF expressed concerns about new towers obscuring views of Parrot’s Island, a VOF easement in the Rappahannock River that is visible from the bridge. Because of its high visibility to the traveling public, the Parrot’s Island easement included “preservation of scenic open space”.
The SCC hearing examiner’s report for the Norris Bridge project has not yet been released.
8/23/17 update: The hearing examiner’s report has been published and recommends placing the power line underground. The report now goes to the SCC commissioners for consideration.
12/22/17 update: On December 21, the SCC issued an order directing Dominion to build the line underwater, finding that “underwater construction reasonably minimizes adverse impacts of the replacement line.” Approval is conditioned upon Dominion obtaining any other approvals necessary for underwater construction.
Dominion Energy contacted VOF for comments about the Dooms-Valley rebuild project in June 2017, ahead of formally filing its application with the SCC and independent of the state environmental impact review process.
VOF provided a preliminary response on July 12, 2017, advocating for steps to reduce the visual impact of new structures on the landscape, or at a minimum, to emulate the existing towers in height, size, color and reflectivity as much as feasible.
VOF will likely submit further comments on this project during the official comment period as administered by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality.