Burying power lines throughout Virginia remains out of the question economically, Dominion officials told local residents during a town hall meeting Tuesday night.
About 75 people attended the town hall, convened by Del. Scott Surovell and state Sens. Adam Ebbin and Toddy Puller, at . The meeting provided a forum for locals to discuss Dominion’s response to the June 29 derecho, which left some area residents without power for up to a week.
Rodney Blevins, Dominion vice president of operations, said a 2005 study on estimated conversion to buried lines found it would cost $80 billion statewide, or $800,000 per mile for an average cost of $27,000 per electric customer. A 2009 study found underground lines cost five to 10 times more than overhead lines, at a cost of $80,000 to $2.1 million per mile, depending on the type of construction, he said.
“It’s still cost-prohibitive to talk about putting the entire system under,” Blevins said.
However, communities can request buried lines in their neighborhood, but at a cost, he noted. “If a community wants to have it underground and it willing to pay the cost, we can do that,” he said.
About 63 percent of Northern Virginia customers lost power during the storm. Restoration of service after the June 29 derecho was not complete until the next week, on July 6.
Not all people attending the meeting eyed Dominion officials in a friendly manner. One man complained that presented statistics on the average power loss did not include power loss during major storms.
“I lost my power for six days,” a woman cried out.
But another woman, who also lost power for days, complimented the repair team that came to her neighborhood.
Blevins said more than 65 percent of distribution facilities in the region are already underground. Benefits of buried lines include reduced exposure to outages and better aesthetics and reliability. Challenged include required easements, access to pad-mounted equipment, complicated future upgrades or additions to facilities and cost to customers. Some lines have been buried upon the request of property developers.
“Frankly, we’ve had more opportunities where we’ve tried to do it but have been unsuccessful, because of the challenges,” Blevins said.
Rob McIntyre, Dominion manager of reliability for the region, said the cost to repair above-ground lines is much less than what it would take to bury the lines.
Jay Spiegel, a Stratford Landing resident, asked why Dominion had ended a program under which people could get home generators and get interest-free financing from Dominion. Blevins said electricians are now offering that service. Bill Murray, managing director of public policy for Dominion, added that regulators are wary of legal monopolies offering services that can be offered by the private sector.
Other attendees asked various questions as to why their neighborhoods seemed to lose power more frequently or for longer durations than in other communities. Dominion officials promised to review some of the specific questions raised.
The meeting was at times tense, but the crowd politely gave Blevins a round of applause at the end of the meeting.
“What we hoped for was to be able to present factual information and have a frank conversation with the community, and I think we were able to do that this evening,” said Dominion spokeswoman Le-Ha Anderson.