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Putting power lines underground would reduce outage repairs, utility says

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Putting power lines underground would reduce outage repairs, utility says

Putting Dominion Virginia Power’s most frequently damaged power lines underground would sharply speed power restorations after major storms, according to the company’s preliminary analysis.

“We’ve taken a fresh look at undergrounding,” said Rodney Blevins, Dominion Virginia Power’s vice president of distribution operations.

Almost all the company’s storm-caused power outages occur on lines mounted on utility poles, Blevins told a forum in Richmond on Virginia’s energy future Thursday.

“Targeted investment in strategic undergrounding provides the most cost-effective improvements in reliability,” he said.

Undergrounding 20 percent of the company’s worst-performing residential lines could reduce by 63 percent the number of repairs required to restore power to all customers as a result of damage from major storms, the company’s preliminary studies indicate.

The lines — termed tap lines and service drops — carry electricity from distribution lines to individual homes. “We’re only talking about the smallest lines,” Blevins said at the forum organized by the Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy.

While Blevins did not give a projected cost for undergrounding lines, the State Corporation Commission has estimated that putting overhead electric lines underground statewide would cost $83.3 billion — an average cost per customer of $27,000 — and take decades to complete.

Though residential customers overwhelmingly have favored placing utilities underground, the SCC said, those same customers indicated they were not willing to pay for the work.

Dominion Virginia Power has to balance customer expectations for reliable service and charging responsible rates, Blevins said. And, he noted, “there’s no single answer for improved reliability.”

The Richmond-based company is the state’s largest electric utility, serving 2.3 million customers. Its system includes 63,300 miles of electric transmission and distribution lines.

Dominion Virginia Power will spend $180 million this year to improve the reliability of its system, Blevins said. Since 2005, the company has reduced the average customer interruption by 22 percent, down to 105 minutes.

But “natural disasters are going to continue to happen,” Blevins said.

Four of the five storms that have produced Dominion Virginia Power’s largest power interruptions hit in the past decade, he said. Hurricane Isabel in 2003 was the worst, leaving 1.8 million of the company’s customers out of power, some for as long as 15 days.

Ninety-nine percent of the utility’s storm-related outages happen on its overhead power lines. Of those interruptions, 74 percent are on tap lines to homes, with only 26 percent on main power lines, Blevins said.

While underground lines are significantly more expensive to install and maintain than lines strung on poles, restoring power after a storm also is expensive, he said, typically costing the company $4 million to $14 million per day of outage.

The forum ranged over other energy issues.

Reduced pollution from coal-burning power plants is “one of the greatest stories never told,” said Jade Davis with the Washington-based American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity. In the past 40 years, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide pollution from coal plants have been reduced by 80 percent, he said, calling the cleanup an “environmental success story.”

Thanks to recent discoveries of large natural gas and oil resources, the U.S. has become “the 5,000-pound energy gorilla,” said Greg Kozera, president of the Virginia Oil and Gas Association. “The only thing that will stop us is ourselves.”

More than 90 percent of all U.S. natural gas and oil wells have been developed using hydraulic fracturing, he said. Environmentalists worry that that technology could pollute groundwater and ultimately accelerate global climate change.

Though at least 1.5 million wells have been fracked in the U.S., no case of groundwater contamination from fracking has been documented, Kozera said. And without hydraulic fracturing, he said, “goodbye oil and gas industry.”

America cannot depend on the current low natural gas prices or alternative power sources for its energy needs, said Rob Hartwell of Berken Energy LLC, based in Fort Collins, Colo. “A suite of balanced strategies are needed,” he said.

And Virginia, with its energy resources, nuclear industry capabilities, technology centers, Hampton Roads port and favorable location on the East Coast, “can lead the way.”


(804) 649-6813


Written by vaphc

July 19, 2013 at 8:12 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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