JCC to Officially Consider Power Line Plan for First Time

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A simulated view of the over-river power line from the Kingsmill area. (Photo courtesy Dominion)
A simulated view of the over-river power line from the Kingsmill area. (Photo courtesy Dominion Virginia Power)

After years of legal wrangling with Dominion Virginia Power, James City County is getting its first crack at a controversial power line over the James River.

The James City County Planning Commission will consider a proposal by the utility to construct a switching station at Skiffes Creek as part of a plan to construct a 500kV power line across the James River.

The commission’s hearing will be the first official consideration of the plan by the county.

Dominion is seeking approval to rezone three parcels of land along the river to industrial uses to allow the construction of the switching station with a Special Use Permit. In a memo to the Planning Commission, county staff recommended approval of the rezoning request to allow the switching station to move forward.

The recommendation ahead of Wednesday’s meeting is the first official staff comment on the power line plan since it first emerged in 2012.

With the looming retirement of the coal-burning Yorktown Power Station due to federal environmental quality requirements, Dominion proposed building a 500kV line to maintain the Peninsula’s electricity access. The utility offered four sites, with the Skiffes Creek location as its preferred location for a switching station.

The proposed line would originate from a switching station near the Surry Nuclear Power Station, and would be visible from Carter’s Grove, the Colonial Parkway, the southern tip of Jamestown Island and residence in Kingsmill. Dominion has rejected alternatives to the Skiffes Creek plan as prohibitively expensive or technologically unfeasible.

Dominion initially said the power line needed to be finished by 2019 to prevent brown outs on the Peninsula, but pushed that date forward to 2015 three years ago. They have since revised that deadline to 2017, corresponding with a federal extension for the Yorktown Power Station.

The proposed above-ground power line, which would be carried by a 4.1 mile long series of nearly 300-foot-tall metal towers, has been met with resistance by historic preservation groups in the area.

The Board of Supervisors has also opposed the plan in the past. In April 2012, the supervisors passed a resolution calling for Dominion to construct an underground power line beneath the James River. Speaking of the plan in 2012, Supervisor John McGlennon (Roberts) said he did not take Dominion’s protests “at face value.”

“Even if it is more expensive to run the lines under the river, it is important to remember that this project would be constructed as part of a consortium of power companies covering some 14 states, and the cost would be spread across the entire base of customers over the 60-year life span of the lines,” McGlennon said at the time.

In 2013, Dominion filed a site plan with the county for the Skiffes Creek switching station, but the plan was rejected, as the utility also did not file for the required Special Use Permit.

The State Corporation Commission approved Dominion’s plan for the Skiffes Creek site in March 2014, and the utility began construction on the line despite not having permits from the county. Under Virginia state code, the SCC’s approval was deemed to satisfy local zoning ordinances, but the county took the case to court, arguing the switching station was not part of the power line.

In April, the Virginia Supreme Court ruled the route of the power line would not damage historic assets in the area, but sided with the county on its objection to the switching station.

At the present time, county staff and the Planning Commission are limited to considering the local impact of the switching station, not the power line, and may only recommend the Board of Supervisors adopt or reject the proposal.

The Board of Supervisors must approve the proposal before construction on the switching station could begin.

Even if the switching station is approved, it would not clear the way for the power line. The Army Corps of Engineers must also approve Dominion’s proposed route for the line before construction can begin.

The Planning Commission meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. Wednesday at the James City County Government Complex. Historic Jamestowne has announced plans to rally opponents at the meeting through its Facebook page.

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