Near capacity and overloaded transmission lines in Fauquier and western Prince William could mean extended power outages to tens of thousands of customers should something go wrong.
Dominion Virginia Power and the Northern Virginia Electric Cooperative know this, and engineers have studied more than a dozen options for how to improve reliability on one high-voltage line from Remington to Warrenton in Fauquier and another feeding thousands of customers in Gainesville.
The power companies have picked what they say are two workable options, both creating a loop of overhead lines and both possibly requiring cutting through private property.
Now they want the public’s input.
NOVEC and Dominion on Thursday announced plans to create a community advisory group to help study what they’ve dubbed the Warrenton-Wheeler-Gainesville project and its impact on residents and businesses in those areas.
The group will include business people, members of environmental groups, representatives from homeowners associations and residents. An outside agency, the Natural Resources Group, will oversee the advisory group.
“We want to engage the community in this process,” Dominion spokeswoman Le-Ha Anderson said.
The first line facing reliability issues is NOVEC’s 115,000-volt Wheeler line in the Vint Hill area, which feeds through Dominion’s Gainesville substation on Balls Ford Road. It’s an older line serving 16,000 customers and, though it hasn't had a power outage in 10 years, it is already overloaded, NOVEC spokeswoman Priscilla Knight said.
The Gainesville substation, too, is nearing capacity. If there’s an outage there, the result would be dramatic, Anderson said.
“The substation would lose 75,000 customers for hours or even days,” she said. “We don’t want to get to the point that the substation goes down.”
The other line in question is the 115,000-volt transmission line from Dominion’s Remington Power Station to the Warrenton substation. The line is 30 years old and is the only line available to feed power to the area.
During outages, Dominion will often reroute power to another line to get customers’ lights back on until the problem can be fixed. But from Remington to Warrenton, there is no other line to feed to.
The power companies are proposing two options to upgrade the lines and create a regional loop to get power where it needs to go.
The first, at an estimated cost of $75 million, would upgrade both the Remington and Wheeler lines to 230,000 volts and link them together. Doing so would require erecting steel towers through a patch of land from near Warrenton into western Prince William County.
The only problem? Dominion does not have right-of-way in the area and the project would cut through personal property. Dominion has not identified a specific route, but has picked a swath of land where the line could go.
The second option, at an estimated cost of $95 million, would rebuild the existing Remington and Wheeler lines for a double circuit, increase the voltage of both to 230,000 volts and link both to a substation in Loudoun County.
To accomplish this, Dominion would have to increase the size of existing towers 25 feet and build a temporary transmission line, which may cut through the property of some near the existing lines
“These are only two options,” Anderson said. “We are open to others.”
The power companies expect to extend invitations for the community advisory group by mid-March and begin meetings in April. There will be at least six meetings through October, and the public is invited to attend.
Dominion hopes to submit an application to the State Corporation Commission – which must approve any work – by the end of the year.
If approved, the project would be complete by may 2017.
Dominion has launched a website about the project. Click here for more information.