By: Michael Campbell, News Editor
12:03 p.m. | August 10, 2017
PRINCE GEORGE – A planned rebuild of a key transmission line over the James River linking Prince George and Charles City is slated to undergo some much-needed rehabilitation following state approval to rebuild the aging line.
According to industry publication Electric Light and Power, the Virginia State Corporation Commission gave the green light to Dominion Energy, formerly Dominion Virginia Power, rebuild a portion of their 500-kilovolt Chickahominy-Surry Line No. 567 as part of a project known as the “Wilcox Wharf to Windmill Point Transmission Rebuild Project.”
In late December of last year, Dominion sent a letter to Prince George letting them know of their intent to move forward with the project and to provide some background on why the rebuild was needed.
According to the power provider, Line 567 is a 500-kilovolt line that was originally built in the late 1960s. One of the reasons for the proposed rebuild is tied to the COR-TEN lattice structures and their age, with officials saying they have reached the end of their lifecycle and the existing conductor has “an extremely limited availability.”
Dominion Energy said that a failure of this line as it crosses the James River, “repairs could take 12 to 18 months,” which is why crews are taking action now, letting both Prince George and Charles City officials know of their intent to rebuild the river crossing between the two counties.
“Dominion has discussed the project with local county officials and department representatives and is committed to continuing dialogue on this project,” senior site and permit specialist Diana Faison for Dominion said in a statement.
At that time, officials stressed that work will take place within Dominion’s existing corridor and no additional right-of-way will be required.
As part of the project, the two new steel structures would stand approximately 429 feet, including the foundations, making them “the two tallest transmission line tower structures in Dominion’s service territory.”
In public comments, questions were raised about the environmental and historic impacts the new structures would have along the James River. In a report from the SCC’s Division of Public Regulations, they note, “[w]hile the [Rebuild] Project area includes or is near multiple environmental, historic, or scenic resources, the Staff agrees that the [Rebuild] Project as proposed has minimal impact on these resources.”
One issue brought up by staff was in regards to possible mitigation of visual impacts and the possibility of “chemically dulling” the towers to reduce the impacts. While the SCC “did not specifically ‘recommend’ that chemical dulling be required by the Commission for the Rebuild Project,” they noted that “chemical dulling has been used for years in the electric utility industry as a means to reduce the visual impact of transmission lines.”
That dulling is done in one of two ways, either by immersing the structures in an acid bath, which reacts to the zinc coating to rapidly dull it, with the acid being washed off following application or through the use of a product called Natina, which which produces a “dark brown patina that is similar in appearance to oxidized COR-TEN steel,” at a cost of $78,400 and $780,000 respectively.
According to Dominion’s Diana Faison, following a pair of open houses to discuss the project with the community, “none of the participants requested any visual mitigation measures, such as the chemical dulling of the towers or anchor structures.”
The project was initially estimated to cost approximately $10.9 million to complete, but, according to a May 2017 report from the Virginia SCC, that cost has risen to nearly $37 million.
When asked by officials what caused the increase in costs, Dominion Energy’s Frederick Harmeling told the SCC that “[t]he majority of the increase in estimated costs are for specialized equipment sourced [from] outside of Virginia and utilized for the anticipated five-month construction duration, as well as [for] material removal/disposal . . . costs.”
As part of the project, “given the significant understatement of the original estimated cost,” the SCC asked Dominion Energy to file annual reports to show “variations in costs during the preceding calendar year that are greater or less than 10 percent of the company’s estimated costs for its pending transmission line projects.”
Additionally, the rebuild project will remain within Dominion Energy’s current right-of-way and would not require the acquisition of additional property from landowners, according to the SCC’s report.
“While the Rebuild Project will not have any significant impact on long-term job creation, the Rebuild Project will improve the reliability of Line # 567, thus reducing the possibility of electric outages that could adversely impact the economic interests of the Company’s customers,” the SCC’s report stated. “The Rebuild Project will also maintain sufficient transmission line capacity to serve future economic development in Virginia … [thus it] will have a positive impact on economic development in Virginia.”
The in-service date for the rebuild project is February of 2018, roughly two months later than the original December 2017 proposed earlier in the project’s life. According to the SCC, the delay resulted from “difficulty and complexity of removing and replacing the existing corroded towers in the James River.”