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    SCC slashes plan to fortify outage-prone linesRegulators slash Dominion's plan to fortify outage-prone lines

    September 21, 2023 - DAVE RESSRichmond Times-Dispatch

   !.PDF" target="_blank">Regulators slashed" target="_blank">Dominion Energy's three-year plan to make some of its most outage-prone lines less vulnerable to outages, cutting some $351 million from the company's!.PDF" target="_blank">request to approve $508 million of work.

      For customers, it will mean an additional $1.38 on a benchmark 1,000 kilowatt-hour bill, which now stands at $125. If the SCC had approved all of the work, that additional cost would have been $1.88.

      While Dominion said it wanted to harden 111 "mainfeeder" lines, serving customers who have suffered twice the outages experienced by its average customer, the SCC said the company's data did not support its request.

      Mainfeeders link neighborhoods to the substations that tie into Dominion's high-voltage transmission lines.

      The company has seen cost overruns for the work already done, which typically involves installing sturdier poles, more up-to-date safety and voltage managing equipment, and sometimes re-routing a line, the commission said.

      "In one case, costs overran estimates by 427%," the SCC said.

      Regulators approve work on 44 lines

      While the company's cost-benefit analysis showed a benefit from reduced outages on a pilot program involving 11 mainfeeders, the SCC said data from last year showed outages on those circuits, totaling 352.3 million minutes last year, were 20.3 million minutes more than the 2015-2019 average for those circuits.

      "Simply put, the company has not sustained its burden of providing these costs are reasonable and prudent," the commission said in its order on Dominion's three-year spending plan for work on its grid.

      The SCC did approve work on some 44 lines that started in 2022 and 2023, setting a spending cap on them of $182.7 million. These lines run over about 261 miles and serve 102,323 customers.

      Dominion had wanted to start on 67 additional mainfeeders by 2026. The SCC order said spending on any additional mainfeeder work beyond the 44 lines would be at the company's risk.

      "Our mainfeeder hardening program strengthens the resiliency of the grid in outage prone areas and is critical to providing safe and reliable power to our customers," said Dominion spokesman Jeremy Slayton.

      He said the company is pleased the SCC approved completing the 44 projects now underway.

      "We look forward to coming back to the Commission with additional data and cost benefit analysis to approve additional projects," he said.

      The mainfeeder hardening program was the biggest portion of a $1.1 billion spending plan for work on Dominion's grid, and the SCC approved the other elements as the company proposed.

      Those include a $215 million effort to more tightly manage voltages on the grid, targeting a systemwide 2-volt reduction - roughly what it takes to power two hearing aids - in order to reduce Virginia's total energy consumption.

      $25 million to fix so-called voltage islands

      The utility has got elements of the system installed at 145 premises and expects to add 2,315 more by the end of this year, at which point the control systems fed by the continuous stream of voltage readings from those modern meters will be operational.

      It aims to add 28,000 more premises to its voltage optimization network over the next three years - work that will also mean adding or upgrading transformers at its substations and other work on its lines and voltage-regulating gear.

      The plan also includes $144 million to upgrade the voltage controls and safety equipment at its substations, while the commission approved a $50 million plan to install five battery systems for storing energy, intended to meet demand when wind turbines and solar panels are not pumping electricity into the grid.

      Dominion's plan also includes $25 million to fix so-called voltage islands, which are substations with only one transformer - typically, a truck-sized gray box with pine-tree-like bushings linking it with the substation's overhead wiring. Transformers step down voltages to safe levels for the station's mainfeeder circuit. Backups exist in most of the Dominion system.

      The SCC approved the $71 million in Dominion's plan for security measures at its facilities and a total of $23.2 million of investment in advanced meters and $23.3 million to cover operating costs for the devices.

      Dave Ress (804) 649-6948


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