State-Hired Consultant Cites Necessity of New Power Line

By Sandhya Somashekhar
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 10, 2008

A controversial high-voltage power line planned for Northern Virginia is necessary to satisfy the region's growing need for electricity, a consultant hired by the state to study the issue has concluded.

The authors of the report have asked for more time to study recent developments, such as power plants, that could reduce the need for the line from Dominion Virginia Power.

"However," they wrote, "the mid-Atlantic region and the Northern Virginia area face reliability issues in the near term that must be addressed with a high level of certainty. It would be highly risky to rely on [other developments] to resolve reliability issues."

Dominion proposed the line in 2006 as part of a 240-mile transmission line connecting power plants in Pennsylvania to a substation in Loudoun County. Company officials said it was needed to bolster the region's electricity grid, warning that without it, the area could experience rolling blackouts by 2011.

But the project, which must be approved by the State Corporation Commission before construction can begin, immediately prompted an outcry from landowners and environmentalists, who accused Dominion of seeking profits at the expense of the landscape and property values in rural Northern Virginia.

Deep-pocketed environmental groups such as the Piedmont Environmental Council have hired their own experts, whose lengthy testimonies arguing against the need for the line have been filed with the state.

Yesterday, officials with the Piedmont group said the report, released late Tuesday, casts doubt on the need for the line because it uses outdated information and fails to study certain alternatives.

"There's no ringing endorsement there," said Robert W. Lazaro Jr., a spokesman for the group. "We don't see any refutation of our case, so we're very comfortable where we are."

Dominion officials said they were pleased with the consultant's findings.

"We believe the consultant reports confirm what we've been saying all along: that the need is real, that without this power line there's unacceptable level of reliability risk and that our proposed route is the best route for the SCC to approve," said Jim Norvelle, a spokesman for Dominion.

The report, penned by the Washington-based finance firm Bates White, came just as the commission begins deliberating over the proposal. Hundreds of speakers are expected to weigh in for and against the project at a public hearing Monday in Richmond, and a hearing similar to a trial will begin Feb. 25 in Richmond. A similar proceeding is about to start in West Virginia, where part of the 240-mile line would be built.

In another report filed this week, an environmental consultant endorsed Dominion's proposed route, which follows existing power line paths through Loudoun, Prince William, Fauquier and Warren counties to avoid sensitive areas.

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