Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

July 19, 2013

Dominion looking at underground power lines in Va

Associated Press

RICHMOND, Va. —  Dominion Virginia Power is taking a fresh look at putting some of its power lines underground.

The energy provider says a preliminary analysis shows that putting the most frequently damaged power lines underground would sharply speed power restorations after major storms.

Undergrounding 20 percent of Dominion’s worst-performing residential lines could reduce the number of repairs required to restore power to all customers as a result of damage by 63 percent.

The Richmond Times-Dispatch reports that company officials didn’t provide a projected cost for undergrounding lines. But Virginia regulators have estimated that putting overhead electric lines underground statewide would cost $83.3 billion, an average cost per customer of $27,000. And it would take decades to complete.

The State Corporation Commission said that while residential customers overwhelmingly have favored placing utilities underground, the customers indicated they were not willing to pay for the work.

The company has to balance customer expectations for reliable service and charging responsible rates, Rodney Blevins, Dominion Virginia Power’s vice president of distribution operations, told a forum in Richmond on Virginia’s energy future Thursday.

“There’s no single answer for improved reliability,” Blevins said at the forum organized by the Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy.

Dominion — the state’s largest electric utility, serving 2.3 million customers — will spend $180 million this year to improve the reliability of its system, Blevins said. Since 2005, the company has reduced the average customer interruption by 22 percent, down to 105 minutes.

Blevins said that while underground lines are significantly more expensive to install and maintain than lines strung on poles, restoring power after a storm also is expensive, typically costing Dominion $4 million to $14 million per day of outage.