Portion of Power Line to Be Buried

By Jonathan Mummolo
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 9, 2008

A segment of a planned power line in Loudoun County would be built underground as a result of a bill that has passed both houses of the General Assembly and awaits Gov. Timothy M. Kaine's signature.

The bill, sponsored by Del. Joe T. May (R-Loudoun), also calls for three other underground pilot projects involving transmission lines, at sites to be determined later.

The 12-mile, 230,000-volt Dominion Virginia Power line will run from Leesburg to Hamilton. Under May's bill, the underground portion of the line would be about 1.8 miles along the Washington & Old Dominion Trail -- a segment of particular concern to homeowners and conservationists in the area.

The bill initially called for four underground pilot programs but allowed only proposals submitted to state officials after July 1 to qualify, which would have precluded the line between Leesburg and Hamilton. May said later that the July 1 date was a drafting error and that he had intended for that line to be included.

As the bill was making its way through the General Assembly, Dominion received approval from the State Corporation Commission to construct the line overhead. The SCC regulates power lines in Virginia.

May said the revised bill was crafted with input from the SCC and Dominion. Spokeswoman Le-Ha Anderson said the company has agreed to the underground construction of the segment along the W&OD Trail.

Overhead portions of the line would cross the trail at two points but would not run alongside it, Anderson said.

Because Dominion is anxious to move forward, citing a need for additional power in the area, a clause calls for the bill to take effect as soon as Kaine (D) signs it rather than on July 1, which is typically the date when new state laws take effect. As of Friday, Kaine had not signed the bill, spokesman Gordon Hickey said.

Dominion wants to start construction in December.

For advocates of underground lines -- who argue that they preserve property values, are less of an eyesore and are less susceptible to weather-related outages -- the bill was a modest but noteworthy achievement.

"From a public policy standpoint, this is a pretty significant piece of legislation," said May, who has long been an advocate of underground lines and has traveled to Europe with Dominion representatives to study them. "I believe we are going to see a lot more underground transmission lines in the years to come."

The bill also stipulates that the pilot projects include a double circuit, which Anderson said would ensure greater reliability in case one circuit failed. Dominion officials maintain that if a malfunction occurs, it is more difficult to locate the source of the problem and make the repair if the line is underground.

Anderson said Dominion views the bill as a fair compromise.

"We worked closely with Delegate May to try to come to a decision that everybody would feel comfortable with," she said. "We're going to learn everything we can from this pilot and the three remaining pilots."

Brin Luther, president of Save the Trail, which has fought to keep the line away from the W&OD Trail, was pleased to hear of the bill's progress.

"It is thrilling that Virginia is entering the 21st century," Luther said. However, she said she was still concerned about language in the bill that calls for "approximately" 1.8 miles to be put underground. She said she was eager to see final plans to ensure that the underground section covers the entire segment of the trail on the power line route.

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