Dominion Virginia Power gets court permission for 65-mile line

By James Hohmann
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 6, 2009

Virginia's Supreme Court on Thursday unanimously upheld the approval by state regulators of a 65-mile power line through six northern counties, turning aside environmentalists' objections and clearing the way for construction to continue.

In October 2008, the three-judge Virginia State Corporation Commission, whose members are selected by the General Assembly to oversee utilities, agreed to Dominion Virginia Power's proposal to place a 500-kilovolt line along 15-story towers through farms, forests and suburban areas.

The Piedmont Environmental Council (PEC), which is named as the lead appellant in the Supreme Court case, sued to block the project. It has long warned that installing the power lines will damage some of the area's natural treasures.

In his 35-page opinion, Justice Lawrence Koontz Jr. wrote, "The Commission's decision to approve the applications is supported by the evidence in the record and proper interpretations of the law."

Dominion, which has warned of rolling blackouts if its proposal was rejected, said the line is critical to provide electricity to the area's growing population.

"We are pleased the court concluded the SCC's review was thorough and that its decision was fully supported by the facts," said Dominion spokesman David Botkins.

The Virginia section is part of a 240-mile project that Dominion, based in Richmond, is jointly working on with Pennsylvania-based Allegheny Energy. That $1.3 billion line will begin in Pennsylvania, cross West Virginia and enter Virginia in Frederick County. Dominion is building from the Appalachians to its substation in Loudoun County.

Dominion began construction in February, and crews have erected towers in Loudoun, Prince William and parts of Fauquier and Culpeper counties. The company said Thursday after the Supreme Court decision that the line is on track to be energized by summer 2011.

What the court approved is a separate project from the controversial Potomac-Appalachian Transmission Highline, which the PEC is currently opposing.

PEC spokesman Robert Lazaro likened the environmentalists to David in a fight against Goliath.

"We're disappointed," he said. "It's an endorsement of business as usual. . . . At the end of the day, I'm not surprised. We knew it was an uphill battle all the way. We gave them a good fight."

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