Corey Stewart’s power grab
Prince William Board of County Supervisors Chairman Corey A. Stewart (R) recently dismissed the need for a new electric transmission line in western Prince William County. Ironically, a county news release touted Prince William’s rapid and continuing economic growth, based in part on continued access to even more reliable power.
However, Stewart, who announced this month that he is running for U.S. Senate, said he would accept building the line if it were partially buried, which would cost $167 million. Not for reliability reasons but to keep his constituents from seeing it. That could mean instead that a young family in Fairfax County or a widow in Portsmouth would see higher electric bills to make Stewart happy. Stewart said, “Not our problem.” The Virginia State Corporation Commission (SCC) has emphatically said “no.”
We hope this political showmanship does not harm the county’s growth prospects or, worse, jeopardize the reliable electric service of the people he was elected to serve.
At issue is the need for Dominion Energy to build an electric transmission line to serve increased energy demands in the Haymarket area, including for a data center. Stewart bragged in 2015 about rapid growth in the Route 15 corridor and that it “is going to trigger the need for more power.” So which is it, Stewart? Which direction are the political winds blowing today?
Electric transmission lines are a fact of life. Without them, there are no lights, air conditioning, smartphones, apps or jobs. How do we help maintain the quality of life that electricity affords while reasonably minimizing the impacts of necessary infrastructure improvements? Customers help pay for the collective benefits of preserving a healthy and robust energy grid, which is why we must be prudent and responsible. In this case, the SCC has determined underground transmission lines fall short.
In 2014, Dominion focused on a route that primarily parallels a railroad, limiting the number of homes that would be near the transmission line. But a homeowner’s association collaborated with Stewart to block that path by deeding a parcel of land to the county, even after we advised the county on at least two occasions that alternate overhead routes probably would have more negative impacts. As a result, we proposed to the SCC an overhead route that parallels Interstate 66 in an existing infrastructure corridor, which the SCC encourages.
Routing a new electric transmission facility is often a very difficult process for the company, for the communities along its route, for local government and for the regulators who must make the final decision on the project. To say finding a buildable path is a challenge, even when local government is committed to helping, is an understatement, but it is a responsibility we don’t take lightly.
The circulation of misinformation creates even more needless confusion. Let us be clear on three points. First, we have already shown and the SCC has already determined the clear need for and broad public benefit of this project: 450 customers would be served directly from the new substation, and it would maintain reliability for more than 6,000 customers in the area. The need has not gone away. Second, we are not looking to take anyone’s homes or force people off their land. That is not our desire, nor is it needed. Third, the Carver Road route was developed as a direct result of the county chairman’s side negotiations, not because of poor planning, race, ethnicity, income or anything of the sort.
Stewart’s decision to block the railroad route caused the SCC to select the Carver Road route, which runs through a neighborhood with a strong legacy and on land held dear for generations. It wasn’t our preference; it wasn’t the SCC’s first choice. We offered it to the SCC as an option only after the railroad route was blocked and because we have an obligation to provide alternatives. Yet we find ourselves again with Stewart seeking to thwart the SCC’s impartial authority in siting transmission lines. That leads one to question how the county expects power to reach an area it was instrumental in developing.
Stewart’s actions have created anxiety unnecessarily and haven’t moved us closer to a resolution. We are committed to finding a collaborative solution regarding the Haymarket transmission line — one that continues reliable service for all of our customers and enables future prosperity through economic development.
We ask Stewart to set aside his personal political goals and come to the table with a willingness to reach a real solution. County residents and all of those throughout the commonwealth who value reliable energy and reasonable electric rates are counting on us.
[Editor’s note: Public records show the data center would be owned by VAData, an Amazon.com subsidiary. Jeffrey P. Bezos, founder and chief executive of Amazon, owns The Washington Post.] The writer is president and chief executive of Dominion Energy Power Delivery Group.