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March 28, 2013 · OPINION

Conservation would delay need for new power lines

By Michael Rainger
Broad Run
“High-voltage line may go through eastern Fauquier,” the headline reads.

Connections between energy generation, distribution, conservation, new power lines and outages are profound.

Dominion Virginia Power recently announced plans for new transmission lines near Warrenton.

A subsequent snowstorm downed lines, causing outages, incidents and serious emergency situations for residents.

NOVEC, Dominion and Rappahannock Electric Cooperative provided different levels of service in restoring power and providing accurate information to Fauquier customers.

Personal experience — with a home in Broad Run on NOVEC and an office in The Plains on Dominion (about eight miles between the two) — gives higher marks to NOVEC, where power was out for eight hours. Dominion took three days to restore power. NOVEC said, “Power back at 7:30 p.m.” on its website, while Dominion had much less detailed information. Footnote: Power in The Plains has been out four times since May 2 for extended periods.

We each deal with stressful power outages in different ways. Generators work, but imagine everyone using one. Quiet neighborhoods become noisy and potentially polluted. Fuel is costly and in one neighborhood four homes consumed $500 of gasoline during a sustained power outage lasting over two weeks following the 2012 derecho.

During the snowstorm, we found that a woodstove safely provides heat and oven-like capabilities. During the intermittent power outages in Broad Run, we cooked beef in a crock pot, warmed frozen green beans and enjoyed baked potatoes and heated rolls in foil, thanks to child hood memories of annual Nov. 5 Guy Fawkes celebrations and baking potatoes in the ashes of (huge) bonfires. The thermostat showed only a 4-degree drop in temperature had occurred when power was restored.

Eating the cooked meal by candlelight was amazing! Coffee was enjoyed throughout the day. Power came back later that evening. We turned a negative into a positive while our son built a jump and snowboarded in the front garden.

Non-electric alternatives for winter heating and cooking are available today. Current technologies include natural gas, propane, oil, solar, wind and geothermal in varying combinations for future “off-grid” periods when power is out.

In addition to weather-related power outages, we have been advised by Dominion that it needs another power line. Local results indicate the possibility of postponing construction if we get serious about community-wide energy conservation NOW!

With one substation approaching and one already exceeding 100 megawatts and 2 to 3 percent annual growth in electrical power consumption in the area, what else can we do except build new power lines?

Communitywide option: Energy conservation from Warrenton to Gainesville including Vint Hill and Brookside. It’s feasible, practical and cost-effective.

Fauquier County’s 20 public schools have saved about $2 million over four fiscal years through energy conservation of 14 percent. County government, with 32 buildings, saved $220,617 or 9 percent in three years. Vint Hill saved $20,000 per year or 16 percent since 2010. Chestnut Forks Tennis and Fitness Club saved $3,500 or 8 percent in the past four months. The Windy Hill Foundation in The Plains has all-electric heating and cooling in a two-story, three-bedroom, 2.5-bath geothermal, EarthCraft-certified apartment for under $50 a month or about 8 to 12 kilowatt hours per day.

At a 1985 home, electrical energy consumption has been reduced by 75 percent over the past 18 years, from over $500 to under $200 per month, for total savings exceeding $30,000. One family reduced electrical consumption by 82 percent in less 30 days in a four-bedroom Fairfax home. Another cut consumption 50 percent overnight in a Richmond rental.

The average savings in electrical energy of 10 to 25 percent per year in existing buildings is a proven result of targeted local energy conservation efforts. Public school energy savings were a result of an excellent team effort by school / county employees, volunteers, subject matter experts, parents, teachers and principals!

Case studies are available at, a free, volunteer-maintained website.

With communitywide conversations and expanded electrical energy conservation initiatives, we can postpone the need for new power lines by at least 10 years at current growth rates.
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