Dominion spent several months refining the plan, creating cost-benefit estimates and interviewing stakeholders about priorities. It submitted the new version, which is slightly less costly than the original, on Monday.
“We believe that these investments are very important for our customers and our commonwealth,” Ed Baine, Dominion senior vice president for electric distribution, said Monday in an interview.
Environmental groups had lauded the goals of the original plan but said the company needed to demonstrate that it was a good deal for consumers. Dominion has come under criticism from consumer advocates who say the utility finances costly projects on the backs of its customers while maximizing value for shareholders.
The plan spells out the first three years of a 10-year road map for modernizing Virginia’s power grid. A major component is installing “smart meters” for all of the utility’s customers, a process that would take six years and involve 2.1 million new meters across the state.
Such meters — which are already being tested in Alexandria, Herndon and Charlottesville — allow the company to interact with individual customers online. Instead of sending technicians out to take usage readings every month, Dominion can read the meters remotely.
The technology would give users more flexibility, Baine said. If someone was moving out of an apartment, for instance, Dominion could switch the account over to a new occupant online without having to go through a lengthy physical process, he said.
The plan also would create an online platform for customers to interact with the utility, replacing 12 separate systems now used for various aspects of the business, and it would improve Dominion’s telecommunications network.
Another major part of the plan filed Monday involves “hardening” the grid to help it survive storms. “The weather threats, as we’ve seen across the nation, continue to get more severe,” Baine said.
With people relying on constant Internet access, and with Virginia hosting more and more data centers that provide the backbone of the Internet, customers require increasingly reliable service, he said.
The updated grid would also allow for wider use of alternative energy sources that send power back into the network, such as solar and wind farms. Dominion, which recently announced plans for the nation’s biggest wind farm off the coast of Virginia Beach, has said it supports Gov. Ralph Northam’s goal of getting 30 percent of the state’s energy from renewables by 2030 and being carbon-free by 2050.
The new plan proposes increasing the infrastructure available for charging electric vehicles and making it easier for owners to charge them during off-peak hours. “What we want to make sure is that we encourage the proliferation of electric vehicles but do it in such a way that we manage the impact on the grid,” Baine said.
Virginia passed a sweeping overhaul of utility regulation last year, setting alternative energy as a priority and giving Dominion leeway to plow profits into project investments instead of returning excess payments to customers.
Under that law, Dominion has to submit a 10-year transformation plan to the SCC, which it did in January. The commission accepted parts of the plan that involved improving cyber- and physical security and updating some telecommunications projects, totaling about $150 million over the next three years.
“While we find the Plan elements related to Cyber and Physical Security are well-conceived, well-supported and cost-effective, we find that the remaining Plan elements, which will cost customers hundreds of millions of dollars, are not,” the SCC judges wrote at the time. “Dominion has failed to include in its Petition a well-developed and comprehensive plan to maximize the potential” of new technology, they wrote.
The SCC left the door open for the company to take another swing at the plan, showing more detail about benefits and explaining how it would educate consumers to understand all the changes.
Dominion said it hired outside firms to help survey customers and stakeholders over the summer and to conduct cost-benefit analyses of its proposals. It said that the study showed that consumers would see about a dollar’s worth of benefit from every dollar spent and that the plan would take Virginia from middle-of-the-pack in grid technology to a leadership position.
Dominion pledged to undertake a massive public education campaign that includes the use of social media, email, bill inserts and public events.
The SCC has six months to review the plan, take public comment and issue a ruling.