Augusta Free Press

Dominion Virginia Power plans $9.5 billion in infrastructure, upgrades

Dominion Virginia Power plans to invest nearly $2 billion per year through 2020 to add new, clean generation, including solar energy, and to expand, secure and upgrade the electric grid in Virginia and northeastern North Carolina.

The planned $9.5-billion spend builds on a substantial record of new capital investment by the company in recent years for new electric infrastructure designed to meet growth, enhance reliability and promote cleaner air and water.  The company made $1.8 billion in similar investments in 2015.

The investments are in addition to the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline, a $5 billion natural gas pipeline that is being built by a sister company to serve Dominion Virginia Power and other electric and natural gas utilities.

“We know our customers expect high reliability, clean energy and reasonable rates,” said Robert M. Blue, president, Dominion Virginia Power. “We focus on that in everything we do, from building new infrastructure to day-to-day maintenance and fast storm response.”

Blue said that since 2008, the company has invested more than $8 billion in new electricity infrastructure, including environmental control equipment designed to reduce fossil power station air emissions.

“Over the same period, our reliability has improved 25 percent,” he said. “Our reliability in 2015 was 99.98 percent – which translates into approximately 2 hours of outage time per customer over the whole year.” To get good comparative year-to-year data across the industry, Dominion and other utilities typically do not include outages from major storms in reliability measures.

Virginia Power’s electric rates remain significantly lower than national, regional and state averages even while making major expenditures for new infrastructure.

In recent years residential rates have increased by an average of less than 1 percent annually. This was achieved in part by the company increasing its efficiency and holding down operating costs.

“Our customers have saved money on their electric bills through that effort and it led to cleaner air and a stronger grid,” Blue said.

Of the $9.5-billion planned capital expenditures through 2020, $2.4-billion is slated for the company’s distribution system, $3.6-billion for transmission lines and substations, and $3.5-billion for new generation and environmental improvements. Included in those amounts are $700 million for new solar generation and additional funds for undergrounding vulnerable distribution lines, if approved by the Virginia State Corporation Commission.

The company has the fastest growing demand for electricity in the Pennsylvania-New Jersey-Maryland (PJM) Interconnection, which serves 13 states and the District of Columbia. Dominion Virginia Power currently serves 2.5 million customers in Virginiaand northeast North Carolina. More than 430,000 customers – the size of a large city – have been added in the past decade.

“Our modern way of life requires lots of energy – and that means infrastructure,” Blue said in the letter. “To keep up with energy demand and meet new clean air requirements, Dominion Virginia Power and its parent company are constantly building everything from power stations to power lines, substations to natural gas pipelines.”

Construction of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline is scheduled to begin in late 2016, subject to Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approval. The project is being built by Dominion Transmission, a sister company of Dominion Virginia Power, for a partnership that includes Dominion.

“We believe the additional supplies of clean-burning natural gas to be brought by the Atlantic Coast Pipeline are essential to the company’s plans to meet the goals laid out in the federal Clean Power Plan to substantially lower carbon emissions from power production,” Blue said.

The pipeline would connect public utilities and their customers in Virginia and North Carolina with natural gas from the nationwide interstate transmission grid, including prolific new supplies in the Appalachian region.

The project will bring both economic and environmental benefits to Virginia. Construction alone will create more than $1.4 billionin new economic activity and 8,800 new jobs. Using natural gas instead of coal to produce electricity could reduce carbon dioxide emissions in the state by about 5 percent by 2022 and help each state meet its Clean Power Plan goals.

“However, our job is not just pipelines and wires, gas molecules and electrons,” Blue said. “It’s about the people, the neighborhoods and communities we serve.  It’s about being good neighbors, too.”

Dominion’s EnergyShare program is being significantly expanded with $57 million from Dominion over five years, with a special focus on needy veterans and people with disabilities.

Some of the Dominion’s other community programs in 2015 included: