Corey Ste­wart’s power grab

The Washington Post Sunday - - LOCAL OPINIONS - BY ROBERT M. BLUE

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 Ama­ 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.

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