Updated April 30.
The federal government intelligence installation at Warrenton’s edge has accelerated the need for electrical transmission line upgrades here, Dominion Virginia Power representatives confirmed Thursday.
“One of the government facilities that we serve in the area (of the Warrenton substation) has given us confidential information about its expansion plans,” Dominion’s Carla Picard told a citizen advisory committee reviewing options for transmission system upgrades.
On April 3, Dominion showed the group a graph that projects a surge in Warrenton’s electrical demand, driven by “a large customer,” which utility representatives refused to identify.
Tuesday night, Dominion representatives maintained that position as Piedmont Environmental Council staff member Julie Bolthouse pressed them at a Southern Fauquier Business Owners Association meeting.
By Thursday, however, Virginia’s largest utility company had permission to identify the big customer as a government agency, Dominion’s Le-Ha Anderson said.
A National Communications System installation, the training center serves the Central Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency and other clandestine branches of government. After decades of construction, the Warrenton Training Center has extensive underground facilities. It also has a new electrical substation.
On April 3, Ms. Piccard mentioned “25 megawatts” as an example of the electricity a “small data center” might use. That equals about one-third of the existing electrical demand on the Warrenton substation, which serves central Fauquier and Rapphannock Electrical Cooperative, which has customers in Fauquier and Culpeper counties.
“I’m not sure what that would be,” PEC Senior Energy Policy Analyst Rob Marmet said Friday of the need for that much electricity for one user in Warrenton.
Even without the big user, Dominion’s projections of 1.8- to 2-percent annual demand growth for the Warrenton substation seem high, Mr. Marmet added.
But, if national security in fact drives the demand for upgrading the transmission network here, PEC suggests the federal government should pay to “mitigate” the impact and bury the transmission lines.
Dominion has identified a new transmission line east of Warrenton — on 80-foot poles in a 120-foot-wide right-of-way — as “Option A.” That line would run from the Warrenton substation off Meetze Road to the Wheeler substation in Prince William, near Vint Hill.
That area includes five public schools, thousands of homes, large farms and several Civil War battlefields. Finding a power line route, with minimal impact, through some of Fauquier’s most densely-developed land stands as a daunting challenge.
“I don’t think people here should bear the burden” if national security drives the need for a new transmission line, Mr. Marmet said. “All 350 million of us ought to pay for it” to be buried.
But, building transmission lines underground costs $10 million a mile, versus $1.75 per mile overhead, Dominion officials told the advisory group Thursday.
Underground transmission lines have a “life expectancy” of 35 years — half that of overhead lines, they added. Buried lines also take three times as long to build and longer to repair.
“An overhead line we can repair in a matter of hours,” Dominion’s Transmission Engineering Manager Mark Allen said. “We don’t have our own underground crews. There’s only a handful of underground crews in the country.”
Dominion has built three underground “demonstration projects” in Virginia, on which it bases the comparative analysis, company officials said.
Also at Thursday’s meeting, Fauquier representatives pounded utility representatives on alleged lack of detail in maps depicting the study area east of Warrenton.
The maps need more information about battlefields and cemeteries, for example, Sue Scheer and Lori Payne said.
“It’s disappointing,” committee member David Blake, who owns historic, 550-acre Buckland Farm in Fauquier and Prince William, told Dominion representatives. “If you want us to start marking this up, you should have that level of detail.”
Dominion’s consultant has put multiple layers of data from both counties and the Virginia Department of Historic Resources into the mapping program. But, sometimes data fails to “line up” and displaying all of it simultaneously makes the maps almost impossible to read, said Doug Lake of the National Resource Group in Minneapolis.
Still, Mr. Lake will add more information to the system for the advisory group’s next meeting, tentatively scheduled for May 21 at Lord Fairfax Community College near Warrenton.
That meeting, the group’s third, will focus on specific, potential routes.
“Is there anything here for this group to say our community doesn’t want this?” Mr. Blake asked a Thursday’s session began at George Mason University’s Manassas campus.
“At the end of this process, we intend to submit an application to the State Corporation Commission,” Ms. Picard said. “The SCC has its own engineers and analysts. They will evaluate all that.
“If they decided it’s needed, they will go about selecting an appropriate route. They will decide if the project is needed, where it should be constructed,” Ms. Picard added. “Our job, working with this group, is to select the best option, to work with you all to put together the best application.”
Because of increasing demand and stricter federal reliability standards, the Warrenton and Gainesville areas need greater transmission line capacity and redundancy, Dominion officials said.
Otherwise, a catastrophic event could cut electrical service to huge areas, they explained. In the case of the Gainesville substation, which serves parts of Fauquier, as many as 75,000 customers could lose service.
The issue doesn’t involve generation; it focuses entirely on high-voltage transmission, according to the utility.
Attempts to reach Warrenton Training Center representatives failed. Three local phone numbers for center contacts no longer work. Web searches return no contact information.