Virginia business establishments heated by electricity will be allowed to resume normal hours Sunday and 49 gas-heated schools in Northern Virginia will be reopened on Monday as a result of orders issued yesterday by Gov. Mills E. Godwin and the State Corporation Commission.
At the same time, the pipeline company that provides natural gas to the Washington Gas Light Company said it will lift its gas curtailment on Wednesday, allowing WGL to resume normal service to some 15,000 commercial and industrial customers in the Washington area affected by the gas shortage.
The new fuel directives from Richmond are the first relaxation of controversial orders issued last weekend that probihited all retail stores and services from being open more than 40 hours a week unless they are heated by firewood or coal.
Legislators, businesses and utility officials have increasingly questioned the need for the orders, especially the rationing of abundant electricity. Northern Virginians particularly, demanded to know why they were under more strigent orders than Maryland and the District of Columbia, where business hours were not curtailed and few schools closed.
Washington Gas spokesmen said yesterday that the firm could resume service Wednesday to commercial and industrial users who had been asked to reduce heat to the minimum necessary to keep pipes from freezing. WGL said its supplier, Columbia Gas Transmission Co., built up supplies during the curtailment, Part of the reason Columbia was able to do this, they said, is that the weather has not been as cold as expected this week.
Although WGL spokesmen said Thursday that Washington firms generally were not complying with the order to curtail usage, an average of 10 per cent less, natural gas has been used this week than was expected for this time of year, they said yesterday.
WGL has about 540,000 customers in this area, of which about 30,000 are classified as commercial or industrial. Of these, about half were considered "essential" services like hospitals; the other half are those who have been asked to keep their thermostalts below 55 degrees.
An aide to Godwin said the governor had not been informed of the WGL announcement and would have no comment on its possible effect on Northern Virginia. An aide to Gov. Marvin Mandel said the State of Maryland would adopt a "wait and see attitude" on the WGL Situation.
All customers are still asked to keep thermostats at 55 degrees during he night and 65 degrees during the day, WGL spokesmen said yesterday. "The crisis is not over," one added.
Speaking at a press conference, Godwin said no special relief (from his 40-hour-a-week order) is yet planned for Northern Virginia, whose businesses and residents share common fuel oil and natural gas supplies with business and residents of the District and Maryland.
When asked why Virginians sharing common supplies with other jurisdictions should be singled out for special restrictions, Godwin deferred to James C! Dunstan, director of utility regulation for the SCC.
Dunstan said, "The justification for that is that there is an interconnection between (demand for) gas, electricity and fuel oil. It was the judgement of people in the state that there was such a scarcity of total energy supplies that it was in the best interest of the state to limit consumption of all."
Godwin, in his press conference, opening said retailers served by electricity only could return to normal hours beginning Sunday because state officials have determined that there is an adequate supply of electricity and the fuels - mostly coal and nuclear fuel - used to generate it in Virginia.
He said the 40-hour ceiling will continue to apply to retailers using oil or gas for heat, but those using no fuels at all heat their businesses can remain open without restrictions.
The State Corporation Commission agreed yesterday to allow schools to open in Arlington and Fairfax Counties and Alexandria and Falls Church cities. Acting in response to a telegram sent jointly by the four school boards, the SCC first said that if schools were open in defiance of Godwin's order, they would be "subject to termination of (fuel) service."
Late yesterday however each jurisdiction was informed that gas-heated schools have been closed for the past week. Falls Church's four schools were all closed, affecting some 1,475 children.
In Fairfax, four schools - Robinson Secondary, Forest Edge, Belleview and John C. Wood - were closed and students transferred to others. In these jurisdictions all schools will be open as usual on Monday, but in Arlington students are advised to dress warmly.
In Alexandria, however, students are asked to report to the schools to which they were transferred this week. Students will collect their materials at these schools Monday morning and be bused to their regular schools during the day. All schools will close at their normal times.
Specifically, Charles Barrett students are to report to Jefferson Houston, Douglas C. MacArthur students to Robert E. Lee, and students from the occupation training center to T. C. Williams. Afternoon kindergarden classes will be held at students' regular schools.
It is not known precisely how many businesses will affected by the new order. At Landmark Center, for example, shopping center manager Howard Glienke said that only about a dozen of the center's 51 stores are heated by electricity. The others are heated by gas and must adhere to the 40-hour a week limit.
"People are so confused about when the stores are open that they don't know when to shop," Glienke said. The situation is complicated because Sears and Woodies can never get along. Sears is open on Tuesday and closed on Sunday, and Woodies does the reverse. I tell you, trying to place an ad is like writing a train scheduled."
Glienke said the shopping center's business is off about 50 per cent this week because of the 40-hour limit. The stores using electricity are small ones, he added, who need the large department stores to attract business. Thus, they will probably not be helped greatly by the change.
These small stores, most of which are independently owned, asked Glienke tto reduce their rent in proportion to the revenue they lost as a result of the 40 hour week, he said. "I feel for them, but we can't do that," he said. "Our taxes are still the same, and so are all our operating costs."
Reports on compliance are also sketchy. Fairfax County reported receiving 45 complaints about businesses that were not complying, investigated each, and issued no citations, according to a police spokeswoman.
On the other hand, an unfortunate service station owner in Newport. News was fined $100 yesterday for violating the exemption for gas stations that are within three miles of an interstate highway testimony police testified that the station is 3.1 miles from Interstate 64. Not so, a surveyor for the owner argued in his defense, the station is 2.5 miles from the interstate " as the crow flies."
The surveyor argued that as measuring distances " as the crow flies" is as reasonable as the Governor's wording of his order - an argument that exemplifies the atmosphere of confusion and rapidly fraying tempers exhibited throughout the state.