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Dominion discusses power line routes, urges Prince William leaders come back to negotiating table

A new data center under construction near I-66 and Routes 55 and 15.

HAYMARKET — Dominion will take a breather when it comes to building a new overhead power line in Haymarket.

The utility has met stiff opposition from residents its plan to build a 230,000 kv transmission line to power a new data center reportedly owned by Amazon, Inc. along Carver Road, an area where many freed slaves first owned property.

“We are asking the [Virginia State Corporation Commission] to hold the current proceeding for 60 days. This will give additional time for the company and [Prince William County] to continue our discussion of these issues. It should also provide enough time for us to receive a formal answer to our requests related to the Carver Road Route and go back to the SCC to ask them to reconsider other routes in the case, if need be,” stated Dominion Energy Director of Electric Transmission Project and Execution Bob McGuire in a letter (PDF) to the Prince William County Board of Supervisors. “However, it would appear the county is working to obstruct, at all costs, the needed power to reach a project which it was instrumental in luring.”

The last part of that statement, about luring data centers, is key to Dominion’s latest argument in what has become a three-year back and forth between the utility, county leaders, and residents. Dominion says Prince William County wants the data centers but doesn’t want it to build the cost-effective infrastructure to support them.

It’s no secret that county leaders want data centers. They’re on the county’s targeted industries list of businesses to attract. The county is now home to 3.5 million square feet of data centers, bringing more than $6.2 billion in investment to the region.

“This is a high-performing growth industry that supports high-paying STEM-related jobs and a talent pipeline for other fast growing enterprises,” said Jeffrey Kaczmarek, Executive Director, Prince William County Department of Economic Development in a press release. “The ever increasing demand for data at the speed of light now transcends every aspect of everyday life – from appointment-setting to video-watching – and it is this demand that continues to drive industry momentum.”

The process to get a new transmission line needed to power two new data centers located near the intersection of Routes 15, 55, and Interstate 66 in Haymarket has been ongoing since June 2014, when Dominion first began speaking with residents about the project.

This is the second 60-day pause on the power line project. The first was when the SCC in April gave Dominion 60 days to work out a deal with Prince William leaders to build the line along the utility’s preferred route along a railroad line in Haymarket or build along the SCC-approved Carver Road line.

The discussion went nowhere as the Railroad Route would have crossed some 52 acres of land given to the county in 2014 for protected trail use by the adjacent Somerset Crossing neighborhood HOA.

“Our Board of Supervisors isn’t blocking a data center from being built, they’re advocating for the construction of the hybrid route,” said Prince William County spokesman Jason Grant.

The hybrid route, not chosen by the SCC, would have forced Dominion to build its power line partially above ground along I-66, and partially below ground as the line drew closer to the data center. The line was estimated to cost $162 million, about $100 million more than an above ground line — costs that the utility would eventually pass along to its customers.

“We are the regulated, not the regulator,” Dominion spokesman Chuck Penn said on Thursday, noting that by moving forward with the Carver Road route the utility is simply doing what it was told.

Now Dominion will “request consultation” with the county’s public works department to identify what approvals it needs when it comes to stormwater regulations to build along Carver Road route. It also urged county leaders to come back to the negotiating table to discuss building the line along Dominion’s preferred railroad route in “a right of way that would not preclude [walking] trail development,” or to reconsider the I-66 overhead route.

McGuire’s letter also contained an ominous statement for residents who, until now, have not been in the center of the proposed power line debate.

“…we emphasize that the Carver Road option was by no means our preferred route, but we are obligated to carry out the mandates of the [SCC]. As a result, the county’s action could now push the route onto the Madison Route (PDF) given its similar characteristics as the SCC rationale for its Railroad Route and Carver Road route preferences. If this occurred, the county would be responsible for even more Prince William residents being affected by the line, and the line still being routed through a portion of the Carver community,” McGuire’s letter states.

It took three years from the inception of the power line for the SCC to approve the Carver Road route. Penn said he doesn’t want to speculate on the process, or how long it would take the SCC to determine if the Madison Route was a better alternative than Carver Road.

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  • TaddCWilson

    There’s some nuance and context missing in this story that are worth considering. First, PWC is not standing in the way of infrastructure and data centers. Chris Price (in his former zoning capacity) developed and won board approval for the Data Center Opportunity Zone that guarantees hi-tech use and necessary infrastructure go together. Amazon knows this, since they’ve opened data centers elsewhere in the county since the Haymarket fiasco started. So have others, including Iron Mountain. Second, PWC has well-defined areas where high-voltage transmission lines are suitable and supported by county governing documents.

    The real issue is actually a pair of issues. Amazon selected a specific site because it wants cheaper land and access to the secure national security / intel backbone running up from Culpeper. The lack of available infrastructure was well-known, and a tough fight to supply it should have been anticipated – really, a company providing services to agencies who shun the limelight should have been far, far less careless and clumsy across the board. Given the site’s mission, tripping over oneself and guaranteeing the entire community knows about a site seems counter-productive. Enter Dominion: first the site was needed for one large “block load customer” and Dominion spokespeople stated that fact repeatedly, as did their application. Then the argument began to shift as Dominion realized that sticking rate payers with the bill for a private extension cord wasn’t playing well. Unfortunately for them, Amazon has said on the record it doesn’t need the extra power to support current plans, and isn’t sure when / if it ever will.

    Dominion also talks out of all three sides of its mouth. It claims to be worried about costs to rate payers, but fought aggressively at the SCC to avoid having Amazon pay for the incremental cost of burying the line (socialized costs are only a problem when what’s being ‘costed’ isn’t what Dominion wants). Dominion claims to worry about resident impact, but rejects the impact-minimizing hybrid route that commenters on the case – including the SCC staff – recognized as a such. And again, the dancing around on need shows Dominion doesn’t have THE reason, they just want A reason to “get it done” and move on to the next project.

    Last point: Dominion pointing out the possible negative impact if it has to pursue a different alternative such as the Madison route amounts to little more than “stop me before I kill again.” Dominion seeks to wash its hands of ugly choices and untrue statements, and its target of choice is the PWC BOCS. It will fail. And Dominion has options. It could agree with Amazon that the need for the project has not been demonstrated. It could agree with numerous state, local, and community groups that the hybrid route is the only route that protects homes and habitat. It could listen to the past words of its own spokesman, Chuck Penn, that this is all just for one customer. But like a petulant child, Dominion wants what it wants, without the burden of responsibility. Unlike a child, Dominion has political clout and through the SCC the power of eminent domain. A simple “timeout” or “go to your room” won’t cut it here, and the community, our elected officials, and other regulatory bodies have realized that.

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