Neighbors Dismayed at Power Line Approval

A sign at Rectortown and Rokeby roads in Fauquier County opposes Dominion Virginia Power's plan to build a high-voltage line.
A sign at Rectortown and Rokeby roads in Fauquier County opposes Dominion Virginia Power's plan to build a high-voltage line. (By Tracy A. Woodward -- The Washington Post)
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By Nick Miroff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 12, 2008

Opponents of Dominion Virginia Power's plan to build a massive transmission line through parts of western Prince William County reacted with disappointment and resignation last week to the announcement that state regulators have approved the project.

The 500-kilovolt line would enter the county in the Nokesville area before heading north through the Linton Hall area and east of Gainesville and Haymarket en route to a substation in Loudoun County's Arcola area.

The line would be built along a route where Dominion already operates a transmission line, but county residents and supervisors expressed frustration at the unanimous decision by the three-member Virginia State Corporation Commission to green light Dominion's proposal. They cited safety, environmental and efficiency concerns, as well as a fear that additional unsightly transmission towers would further diminish their property values.

"We have kids playing here, and we paid a lot to live in a nice neighborhood," said Stephanie Slater, a mother of three who started a group called Moms Against Power Lines and gathered signatures opposing the project at Safeway in the Braemar subdivision.

"We don't want [our neighborhood] to become known as 'The Power Line Development,' " said Slater, who also said she worries about unknown but potentially adverse health effects from the line. "I don't think power lines belong in neighborhoods."

Board of County Supervisors Chairman Corey A. Stewart (R-At Large) directed his criticism of the commission ruling at Democratic Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, drawing attention to Kaine's appointment in August of James C. Dimitri, a former lawyer for Dominion, to the commission.

"If the Governor claims this decision isn't tainted by his appointment of an advocate for an industry to its regulating body he's crazy," Stewart wrote in a statement.

In its decision, the commission expressed sympathy for the argument by Dominion's opponents that meeting the region's energy needs requires better conservation and cleaner energy. But because the company demonstrated a critical need for more power in the region, the commission said it was compelled by state law to approve the project.

According to Dominion, demand for electricity in the region has increased 8 percent in the past decade, and Northern Virginia could face rolling blackouts by 2011 if the transmission line isn't built.

"This line is absolutely critical to being able to provide reliable electricity to customers in Northern Virginia," said Le-Ha Anderson, a spokeswoman for Dominion. The project would be part of a $1.3 billion joint venture with Pennsylvania-based Allegheny Energy to build a 250-mile transmission line that would begin in Pennsylvania, cross West Virginia and enter Virginia in Frederick County. The 65-mile Virginia portion would also pass through Fauquier, Warren, Rappahannock, Culpeper and Loudoun counties.

"We've done a lot of homework and looked at a lot of options," Anderson said. "This is the best answer to the electricity shortage in our region."

In Prince William, Anderson said, the new transmission line would require a second set of towers, or poles as Dominion calls them, that would run parallel to the existing line in some parts of the county. In other locations, both sets of transmission lines could be mounted on a single pole. Dominion's poles currently range from 12 to 15 stories, and Anderson said the company's engineers have yet to determine how tall the new poles will need to be.

Imagining the new wires and metal poles, Supervisor W.S. Covington III (R-Brentsville) said he is worried about the "industrialization" of western Prince William's farms, neighborhoods, forests and historic areas. "How do you interpret a battlefield with an industrial area next to it?" he asked, noting the route's proximity to Manassas National Battlefield Park.

Haymarket resident Jake Frank said he thought Dominion should be looking at smaller-scale and cleaner methods of generating power locally with natural gas. "I think it's a wasteful project," he said.

Approval of the project by Pennsylvania regulators is pending, but Frank and other Dominion opponents said they won't be surprised if it goes through.

"I think it's essentially a done deal," he said.

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