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A national nonprofit and a Maryland-based research firm are calling on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to complete an environmental impact statement of the area affected by Dominion’s proposed power line project after concluding the electric utility is overstating the urgency of the project with outdated demand projections.
Joy Oakes, a senior director in the mid-Atlantic region for the National Parks Conservation Association, said the nonprofit commissioned a report from Princeton Energy Research International in October to see whether Dominion was “properly considering” energy-efficient ways to reduce electricity demand.
In the process of completing the report, she said researchers found the 1.9 percent growth Dominion projected in annual peak demand starting in 2012 “has not materialized.” Rather, researchers found a difference of 4,000 MW between forecasts in 2012 and the actual summer peaks since 2010.
“What we discovered was the very basis for Dominion’s advocacy for this power line is flawed,” Oakes said. “Peak demand is dropping. There is time to consider other options. A lot of other options have been left on the table by Dominion and should be taken into consideration.”
Researchers determined the demand Dominion projected may not happen until 2022, so the Army Corps should have enough time to complete an environmental impact statement before approving Dominion’s preferred plan to build power lines across the James River.
Oakes said historical and environmental resources are endangered by this project. For the most part, the area where the transmission towers would be built have been “preserved pretty much as it was” when the English established their first North American settlement, and the James River is home to species with threatened populations, such as the Atlantic sturgeon, she said.
“With the issues at stake, with the options that haven’t gotten a thorough and transparent review and with clearly time to consider these options, the Army Corps really needs to require this EIS and we will keep working to encourage them to do so,” Oakes said.
Daniel Ancona, vice president for renewable energy at Princeton Energy Resources International, said transmission lines over the James are not the best choice in light of the project’s potential environmental impact, but said he was not surprised Dominion preferred the “least-cost option.”
“We were surprised that Dominion did not look in more detail at some of the other options that were available to them,” Ancona said. “If they had done a more comprehensive environmental assessment, I think the overhead transmission line would not have been the first choice.”
Bonita Billingsley Harris, Dominion’s media and community relations manager, said Dominion officials have found inaccuracies in the report, including allegations that Dominion has not evaluated alternatives to the overhead line or studied the project’s economic impact.
She said Dominion intends to submit a response to the Army Corps.
She said while the PERI report accurately states the reduced energy forecast, Harris said the reduction only equates to half a percent of energy demand, or 100 megawatts (MW) out of the 20,000 MW annual demand on Dominion’s system. For the Peninsula, the impact is only 7 MW lower growth per year, Harris said.
“The load forecast is minimal in comparison to what we’ll be losing when we have to shut down the Yorktown units,” Harris said. “The reduction in growth, it will have a slight impact but it will just slightly lower the risk of time we have to manage power outages unless we have a new source of power.”
Dominion intends to close the two coal-fired plants at the Yorktown Power Station in 2017, pending approval of a one-year extension from the Environmental Protection Agency, to comply with federal environmental regulations, as retrofitting the units will be cost-inefficient. If a new source of power generation is not approved in time, Dominion would lose about 323 MW of power generation from the coal-fired plants.
Harris said the oil-fired plant at Yorktown can generate 818 MW of power, but it can only run intermittently due to environmental regulations and requires three days to start up. Dominion has determined the 1,141 MW unavailable at Yorktown when the coal-fired plants are closed and when the oil-fired plant is unavailable could result in rolling brown-outs affecting nearly 600,000 people who live and work on the Peninsula.
About 285,000 Dominion customers, including several military installations and manufacturing facilities, are served by the Yorktown plants, Harris said.
“This is an unprecedented situation our company is in, to be so close to not being able to provide reliable electricity,” Harris said, noting Dominion has been planning for new power generation since it started acquiring right-of-way in the 1970s. “We have to retire Yorkown, and that’s the urgency. We have to have new generation in place.”
The two plants provide the only local power generation on the Peninsula, covering 14 counties and 7 cities, including the entire Historic Triangle. Other sources of power generation are imported via transmission lines, which is what Dominion would continue to do with the proposed 500 kV overhead line if the plan is approved.
The NPCA submitted a copy of the report to the Army Corps on Nov. 13. Patrick Bloodgood, spokesman for the Army Corps, said the report is being reviewed alongside documents submitted by any party.
Correction: A previous version of this article denoted megawatts with the abbreviation for milliwatts. The article has been changed to indicate the proper abbreviation.