Dominion Energy is set to begin building a controversial power line in western Prince William County that has attracted opposition since 2014.
Dominion plans to start clearing land and putting in access roads in October to officially begin construction of its 5.3-mile power line project through Gainesville. Dominion officials say the new line is necessary to help power a data center in Haymarket owned by an Amazon subsidiary and to keep the system reliable.
The project consists of about 2.2 miles of overhead lines and 3.1 miles of underground line, according to Dominion.
Dominion’s original proposal would have cost an estimated $55 million, according to Dominion officials. The approved project is estimated to cost $175 million.
The Coalition to Protect Prince William County formed in 2014 after Dominion proposed building 100-foot tall transmission towers and a new substation for the data center tied to Amazon. The coalition opposed adding overhead lines through rural private property, including a proposed route through Carver Road, a historically black community with roots dating to those freed from slavery.
The Virginia State Corporation Commission approved the I-66 hybrid route project in July 2018.
The approved route was an imperfect solution to a complicated land-use issue, said Elena Schlossberg, executive director of the coalition. The data center should not have been built near Haymarket, because infrastructure, including the electric transmission lines, wasn’t there to support it, she said.
After local opposition began in 2014, the Prince William Board of County Supervisors created a data center opportunity zone overlay district, intended to promote development of data centers in areas where there is existing infrastructure that can support them. The overlay district does not include Haymarket.
“The community didn’t just respond with compromise,” Schlossberg said. “We demanded that the government and citizens work to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”
The coalition and its allies fought the proposed route and also wanted Amazon to pay for the project.
Although the route was partially buried as part of a pilot program, Amazon was not singled out to pay.
Del. Tim Hugo, a Republican whose district includes parts of western Prince William, introduced a bill in the 2018 General Assembly that was eventually passed as part of the Grid Transformation and Security Act of 2018. Hugo’s legislation directed the State Corporation Commission to approve Dominion’s I-66 hybrid route. The SCC was also directed to approve a rate adjustment clause to allow Dominion to recover project costs “that are not otherwise recoverable under existing provisions” from Virginia customers.
Dan Glicoes, the board president for the Parks at Piedmont homeowner’s association, which worked with the coalition, said property values won’t be as severely impacted thanks to the hybrid route. However, he noted, Dominion customers will have to pay part of the cost of the project.
“Somebody’s paying and it’s us and not Amazon,” he said.
The project was driven by the need to supply a data center, but it will positively affect reliability for all customers, said Greg Mathe, a Dominion spokesman.
“When we have new demand, we’re obligated to serve it and manage the reliability for the grid as a whole,” Mathe said.
Mathe said project costs will be paid for by customers broadly, but he said he can’t say whether the project will lead to higher electricity rates.
Dominion officials do not expect electric service to be disrupted during construction. The project will be in service by Dec. 31, 2021, Mathe said, adding that some work will continue through 2022 to restore right of ways and replant grass.
When construction needs to cross I-66, the Virginia Department of Transportation will establish the work schedule, Mathe said, adding he expects work will be outside of commuting hours. Once that schedule is known, Dominion will share that information with state police and local officials and through signs, Mathe said.
Earlier this year, Del. Danica Roem, D-13th, introduced House Bill 2469, which would have prevented future above-ground power lines near the Haymarket power lines project. She said she introduced the bill because her constituents in Gainesville and Haymarket have been opposed to above-ground power lines for years.
The bill failed to make it out of committee in the House of Delegates earlier this year, but Roem said she plans to reintroduce it until it becomes law.