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Workers install solar panels on Reston Fire Station 25 (courtesy Fairfax County Office of Environmental and Energy Coordination)

Fearing that new interconnection rules from Dominion Energy could derail its carbon reduction targets, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors has asked Virginia’s utility regulator to step in.

In a near-unanimous vote, supervisors authorized Braddock District Supervisor James Walkinshaw on March 19 to send a letter asking the State Corporation Commission (SCC) to evaluate whether the new regulations create unnecessary hurdles for small renewable energy projects attempting to join the power grid.

Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity was the only abstention.

Dominion maintains that the new regulations are necessary to ensure grid reliability and the safety of field workers, but Fairfax County and other stakeholders statewide remain skeptical, contending that they make renewable energy projects more expensive and less feasible.

“In the Hunter Mill District, I have an elementary school [project] that has been complicated by this requirement,” Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn said. “It’s gonna be coming to the Board of Supervisors here the next couple of months, but this is creating a real impediment to doing what we need to do.”

Cost added for dark fiber lines

Dominion says it updated its interconnection requirements in response to the 2020 Virginia Clean Economy Act, which increased the capacity limit for non-residential solar developments from 1 to 3 megawatts (MW).

As a result, Virginia experienced a surge in solar, wind and other renewable energy installations that generate over 1 megawatt looking to connect to the power grid. To accommodate more and bigger energy sources, Dominion began requiring smaller energy projects from 250 kilowatts (kW) to 3 MW to install a high-speed fiber optic communication line — known as “dark fiber” or “direct trip transfer” (DTT) — between the project site and the nearest substation in 2022.

Dominion spokesperson Aaron Ruby says dark fiber is “more reliable” than cellular communication, which is prone to receiving mixed or missed signals. This could lead to unnecessary power outages if a solar facility’s power is mistakenly cut off due to a weak signal.

In addition, if there’s an emergency, dark fiber can more reliably signal the power source to turn off, ensuring line workers can fix the problem safely.

“So, this is not an issue of being ‘pro-solar’ or ‘anti-solar,'” Ruby said by email. “It’s simply about having the same basic safety and reliability standards for all solar systems that connect to the grid. The standards for medium-sized systems (i.e., 250 kW-3MW) are the same standards that apply to all of our solar facilities. These standards ensure the reliable operation of the grid and the safety of our line workers when they’re out in the field.”

Ruby noted that Dominion has one of the largest solar fleets in the country, and solar will be “by far the largest source of new power generation in Virginia over the coming decades.”

Yet, Fairfax County officials argue that no other utilities in the region place the entire cost burden of installing dark fiber lines on developers.

“Our staff has gone and looked — we couldn’t find any other utilities in the region that require this level of cost and expense,” Walkinshaw said during the board’s March 19 meeting. “So, are they necessary? Other utilities have determined that they aren’t, and as to who bears the cost, given that there are benefits both to the new interconnection and the owner of that interconnection and everyone else who utilizes the grid…we would not accept that they are all necessary.” Read More

Vesper Trail will close for construction to underground a power line in the Spring Hill area of Tysons (via Dominion Energy)

Construction is about to ramp up on Dominion Energy’s undergrounding of a power line near the Spring Hill Metro station in Tysons.

The project will require an extended closure of the entire Vesper Trail from Route 7 (Leesburg Pike) to Vesper Street at Higdon Drive, starting Nov. 1, the utility company recently told residents in the area.

Expected to last until February 2024, the closure is needed so crews can work within the trail path, Dominion Energy said, noting that signs alerting users to the closure will be placed at the trail.

“We appreciate your patience and understanding as we work in your neighborhood,” Dominion said in a postcard sent to residents. “We are committed to completing this work safely and expeditiously to minimize disruptions to the Vesper Trail and your community.”

Preliminary construction activities on the Spring Hill project began this spring, necessitating a roughly five-day trail closure in late April as crews installed a manhole.

To increase the capacity of its power grid as Tysons continues to grow, Dominion is moving part of an existing, overhead electric transmission line underground. The 230-kilovolt line will run a half-mile from a Tyco Road substation to a transition pole near a new substation around the Vesper Trail’s midpoint.

Construction on the new, 75-foot-tall substation will begin after crews finish undergrounding the power line. The overall project is currently on track to be complete and in service by the end of 2025, according to Dominion spokesperson Peggy Fox.

Dominion says the project will “generally” serve its customers south of Leesburg Pike and outside of the Capital Beltway (I-495).

Graphic via Dominion Energy

Tysons to Spring Hill transmission line construction phases (via Dominion Energy)

(Updated at 12:15 a.m. on 4/27/2023) Preliminary construction activities will kick into gear this weekend on a long-gestating project to move part of an electric transmission line underground in the Spring Hill area of Tysons.

Starting this Friday (April 28) evening, Dominion Energy will close the Vesper Trail from Route 7 (Leesburg Pike) to Vesper Street so its crews can install a manhole needed for the project, spokesperson Peggy Fox said. The trail closure will last until Tuesday (May 2).

“This closure is necessary to keep community members safe while we install a manhole,” Fox told FFXnow.

Replacing an existing above-ground line, the new 230-kilovolt transmission line will span approximately half a mile from Dominion’s Tyco Road substation to the vicinity of a planned Spring Hill substation just southwest of Leesburg Pike and Spring Hill Road.

An underground line will be safer and less visually obtrusive, while helping Tysons meet the demand for electricity as the area continues to develop, Dominion has said. Removal of the existing overhead line will also “facilitate” construction on The View, a mixed-use development planned next to the Spring Hill Metro station, according to documents filed with the State Corporation Commission.

The project was endorsed by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors in March 2020 and approved by the SCC on June 24, 2021.

Dominion notified residents in the area on April 14 that construction on the power line would begin this month, noting that the county has waived noise restrictions for the project until Oct. 31 since some work will occur at night.

“To limit traffic impacts on major roadways, particularly Leesburg Pike, construction will be performed at night,” the utility company said. “This allows our crews to obtain necessary lane closures to complete the work safely and efficiently.”

Split into five phases, the project includes the installation of two manholes, which will occur throughout the day and night so they can be completed “as expeditiously as possible.”

“There will be more impacts to the trail in fall 2023 when we begin installing the underground line in this area, and outreach will take place prior,” Fox said by email. “No impacts to electric service are anticipated as a result of this work.”

Including the addition of a transition pole at the end of the new line and removal of the old overhead line, the project is expected to finish in late 2024. At that point, Dominion says it will begin construction on the Spring Hill substation, which will occupy a 1-acre site near Raglan Road Park.

The new substation will support customers south of Route 7 (Leesburg Pike) and outside of I-495, according to Dominion.


Morning Notes

Bella Mack of Vienna spins and jumps on roller blades at Wakefield Skate Park in Annandale (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Underground Utilities Proposed for Route 1 — Mount Vernon District Supervisor Dan Storck has joined many residents, businesses, and state Sen. Scott Surovell (D-36) as an advocate for moving power lines along Richmond Highway underground, though that isn’t in the current designs for widening the road. Advocates say undergrounding would limit storm damage and bring economic benefits. [On the MoVe]

Metro Plans for Budget Shortfall — “Metrorail has only recovered 42% of its ridership and Metrobus has recovered about 60%. This time, Metro officials are not banking on the cavalry — in the form of a federal bailout or additional local dollars — to arrive. Later this summer, board members and new Metro General Manager Randy Clarke will begin to calculate how to plug a $356 million operating budget gap.” [DCist]

Police Investigate Gunshot in Fair Oaks — “Fairfax County Police are investigating a shooting that occurred early Tuesday morning in the Fair Oaks area, according to the weekly crime report. Police responded around 3:18 a.m., for the report of a man firing a handgun into the air in the 12000 block of Thompson Road.” [Patch]

Bailey’s Crossroads Library Volunteer Honored — “Fairfax County officials gathered Saturday to honor Carmen Fernandez, a longtime pillar of the Culmore community. A conference room at the Woodrow Wilson Library in Falls Church now bears plaques in Fernandez’s honor.” [Fairfax County Public Library]

McLean Theater Group Retakes the Stage — “McLean Community Players is back after a three-year hiatus and will hit the Alden Theatre’s stage July 22 to 24 with ‘The Show Must Go On! A Musical Revue.’ The effort features an array of songs from past productions and shows the company hopes to perform in the future.” [Sun Gazette]

Local Hummingbird Photographers Get Focus — “I have been promised hummingbirds. I am, after all, at Green Spring Gardens, in the Alexandria area of Fairfax County, prime hummingbird territory…Jane [Gamble] takes me somewhere we’re guaranteed to find hummingbirds: inside the house, where 46 hummingbird photos hang on the walls.” [The Washington Post]

It’s Tuesday — Rain in the evening. High of 87 and low of 70. Sunrise at 5:55 am and sunset at 8:36 pm. []


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