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Army Corps' draft review supports controversial Dominion transmission line

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Army Corps' draft review supports controversial Dominion transmission line

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Dominion Energy Virginia energized the 500-kV Surry-Skiffes Creek transmission line over the historic James River in late February 2019.
Source: Dominion Energy Inc.

Dominion Energy Virginia's 500-kV Surry-Skiffes Creek transmission line over the historic James River is the "least environmentally damaging" option of dozens of alternatives evaluated, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers wrote in a draft environmental impact statement.

The environmental review, which will not become final until after a period of public comment, was issued following a series of court challenges against the controversial transmission line.

Just days after Dominion Energy Virginia, known legally as Virginia Electric and Power Co., energized the transmission line in late February 2019, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled that the Corps' decision to issue a permit for the project without preparing an EIS was "arbitrary and capricious."

The federal appeals court remanded the case to the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia with instructions to "vacate the permit and direct the Corps to prepare an environmental impact statement."

The U.S. District Court in May 2018 dismissed lawsuits filed by historic preservation groups fighting to overturn the federal permit and stop construction on the transmission line. The complaints challenged the Army Corps' decision to issue a final permit for the Dominion Energy Inc. subsidiary's plan to erect 17 transmission towers up to 295 feet tall across the James River near historic Jamestown, Va.

As part of the draft EIS, the Corps said it reevaluated 28 alternatives as well as a new alternative proposed by the National Parks Conservation Association.

"Of these 29 alternatives, six and a component of a seventh alternative were determined to be not feasible as each relied on a reliable supply of natural gas, which is not currently available within the [North Hampton Roads Load Area] nor anticipated to be in the foreseeable future due to the lack of pipeline capacity," the Corps wrote in its Nov. 27 draft EIS. "An additional five alternatives were determined to be not feasible based on Virginia statutes because each would require the condemnation and removal of homes located in new or expanded transmission rights-of-way ... and because other alternatives are available that would not require taking of residential properties."

The Corps added that another alternative was not feasible because it relied on a generation source outside of the area, with 11 alternatives and "components of another alternative" eliminated for "not being able to meet the purpose and need."

The Corps found that five alternatives "are feasible and meet the purpose and need," with three of these options eliminated based on higher costs, a lack of technical benefits and greater environmental impacts. Of the remaining two options, including Dominion's existing project, or the "proposed action," the Corps found that an alternative that involves running the transmission line over the Chickahominy River to the Skiffes Creek switching station and Whealton substation could potentially impact 35 archaeological resources including 26 historic sites.

"The Corps determined that the cultural resources impacts attributable to the proposed action are approximately two times greater than the Chickahominy to Skiffes Creek to Whealton Alternative based on independently conducted analyses," the draft EIS stated. The Corps, however, found that "impacts to wetlands, public lands, and potential habitat/forested areas attributable to the Chickahominy to Skiffes Creek to Whealton Alternative are much greater."

Dominion Energy Virginia has argued that the transmission line allowed it to permanently shut down its Yorktown coal units in compliance with the Mercury Air and Toxics Standards rule without prompting rolling blackouts on the Virginia Peninsula.

The nearly eight-mile overhead transmission line extends from Dominion Energy Virginia's existing switching station near the Surry nuclear plant on the south shore of the James River to a new Skiffes Creek switching station in James City County. The project also includes a new, approximately 20-mile, 230-kV line from the Skiffes Creek switching station to Dominion's existing Whealton substation in Hampton, Va.