Virginia Beach senator vents concern about bill on siting electric transmission lines
Stalled legislation to require consideration of historic and other sensitive resources in siting electric transmission lines struck a spark with a Hampton Roads legislator frustrated by opposition to a power line proposed across the James River.
Sen. Frank W. Wagner, R-Virginia Beach, vented his concern on Wednesday that electricity ratepayers will bear an estimated $85 million to mitigate the effects of the Skiffes Creek high-voltage transmission line proposed by Dominion Virginia Power between Surry and James City counties.
“Make no mistake, the ratepayers of Virginia will pick up the $85 million,” Wagner fumed in a meeting of a joint legislative subcommittee considering a dozen bills carried over from this year’s General Assembly session for further study.
The potential mitigation costs are part of an ongoing regulatory assessment of the transmission project by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, but proponents of the legislation, House Bill 908, said those costs have nothing to do with the proposal to ensure that new transmission line routes “reasonably avoid” harming historic, scenic or environmental resources.
“The legislation is looking for a more sensitive siting of transmission lines to make sure all reasonable avenues to avoid these impacts have been taken,” said Dan Holmes, director of state policy for the Piedmont Environmental Council, who called the comparison to the Skiffes Creek mitigation costs “a little bit of a stretch.”
The legislation, proposed by Del. J. Randall Minchew, R-Loudoun, and co-sponsored by a bipartisan group of legislators, would not block the State Corporation Commission from approving proposed transmission line routes that affect historic and other resources, as long as the projects attempt to avoid damaging them.
“If, however, the commission determines that no reasonable route or corridor exists that can avoid such adverse impacts, the commission shall choose the corridor or route that minimizes such adverse impacts to the greatest extent reasonably practicable,” the latest version of the bill states.
The SCC approved the Skiffes Creek project, estimated to cost $170 million to construct, not including the costs of the possible mitigation settlement.
But Wagner urged members of the joint subcommittee of the Senate and House Commerce and Labor committees to consider the bill “with extreme caution” because of the difficulties of providing reliable power supplies to the Peninsula and Hampton Roads with the pending closure of a coal-fired Dominion power plant in Yorktown and the regulatory impasse over the proposed 500-kilovolt line from the Surry nuclear plant.
If the line is not allowed or delayed behind the scheduled closure of the Yorktown plant next April, “there will be rolling blackouts,” he warned.
Other members of the subcommittee were sympathetic to what Sen. Richard H. Stuart, R-Stafford, called Wagner’s “real-world arguments” about building utility projects.
Del. R. Lee Ware Jr., R-Powhatan, said the House committee decided the legislation “deserved more scrutiny” and Del. Jackson H. Miller, R-Manassas, said his preference would have been to kill the bill outright.
The subcommittee took no action on the legislation or other 11 carried-over bills, which deal mostly with energy efficiency and metering of utility customers who generate a portion of their own electricity.