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Two proposals for powering the Peninsula, one of which includes transmission lines that cross the James River, have been identified as the most federally compliant and cost-effective options, according to preliminary findings from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The Surry-Skiffes Creek-Whealton 500kV Overhead power line, the preferred option of Dominion Virginia Power, and the Chickahominy-Skiffes Creek-Whealton 500kV power line “appear to meet the project purpose while reasonably complying with the evaluation criteria,” states the USACE Preliminary Alternatives Conclusions White Paper, which was published Oct. 1.
The Surry option includes a 500kV aerial transmission line that crosses over the James River to connect the Surry Switching Station the proposed Skiffes Creek Switching Station in James City County. Conservationists with the Save the James Alliance argue this option, which spans 7.4 miles, will disturb the historic viewshed of the James River.
The Chickahominy option would involve building transmission lines on land between the Chickahominy Substation in Charles City County and the proposed Skiffes Creek Switching Station. The 37.9 mile route would cross the Chickahominy River, not the James River, but residents have argued it could disturb Chickahominy Indian tribal grounds.
The Army Corps considered each option’s “ability to sustain sufficient power supply to meet current demand and predicted future growth, existing technology, implementation cost and ability to maintain/achieve compliance with federal laws.”
Both the Surry and Chickahominy lines were found to fully resolve violations of the North American Electric Reliability Corporation standards that Dominion would face if it closes the coal-fired plants at the Yorktown Power Station. Those plants are due to retire in April 2016 due to federal environmental quality regulations.
While the Surry line would cost $180 million to build with a construction timeline of 18 months, the Chickahominy line would cost $265 million to build with a 15-month timeline, according to the white paper.
In a statement, Dominion Virginia Power called the Army Corps’ preliminary conclusions “another step forward in meeting the energy needs of the Peninsula.”
“The Corps has confirmed previous findings of the Virginia State Corporation Commission on the limited options available to meet the Peninsula’s energy needs,” the statement reads. “The SCC approved the James River crossing not only because it is the least-cost option for customers, but also because it has the least impact on the environment and historic and cultural resources.”
The Army Corps considered several alternatives, including retrofitting the Yorktown Power Station, building new generation sources like wind power and placing powerlines underground, but none were determined to be “available” alternatives due to cost, engineering constraints or logistics, according to the white paper.
The Save the James Alliance submitted a hybrid alternative that suggested closing one of the two coal-fired plants at Yorktown while building an underground 230kV line across the James River and constructing future generation options. The Army Corps determined this alternative would not be compliant with the environmental regulations affecting the Yorktown Power Station.
Margaret Nelson Fowler, a founder and trustee emerita of the Save the James Alliance, said Dominion has the option to keep the power station open until 2017 and should spend the next few years devising a “more elegant, sophisticated solution” to the Peninsula’s energy needs that both incorporates clean energy and preserves the historic asset of the James River.
“A delay of three years is a blink of an eye in the history of this 400-year-old treasure we’re trying to save, and that’s what we’re trying to keep in mind,” Fowler said.
The Army Corps emphasizes that this determination is not a decision on whether Dominion can receive a permit from the Army Corps for the Surry-Skiffes Creek-Whealton option. Dominion submitted its original permit application in December 2013.
In an email to WYDaily, Tom Walker, chief of the USACE Norfolk District regulatory office, wrote that a permit decision will not be made until the Army Corps concludes an environmental assessment, which will include information on resources that may be affected by the construction of the power lines, such as historic properties, endangered species and aquatic resources.
The environmental assessment will help the Army Corps determine a Finding of No Significant Impact, or FONSI, or conclude that an Environmental Impact Statement is required before a permit decision can be made, Walker wrote.
The white paper compared the general effects of the two available options. The Army Corps found that the direct loss of tidal and non-tidal resources is estimated to be comparable, but a little more than half an acre of non-tidal wetlands would be converted for the Surry line, while 62 acres would be converted for right-of-way construction of the Chickahominy line.
Residents will have an opportunity to comment on the findings as well as the proposed power line during a USACE public hearing.
The hearing will take place from 6 to 9 p.m. Oct. 30 at Lafayette High School, located at 4460 Longhill Road in James City County.