Arlington, VA

It’s not a zombie apocalypse, but surely some have wondered about the lights staying on during the coronavirus crisis.

Good news: those who generate your electricity, treat your water and collect your trash are still working, even as many Arlington residents — with the notable exception of healthcare workers, public safety personnel and grocery store employees, among others — stay at home.

There are plans for keeping these unsung heroes safe and on the job, officials say.

Arlington’s Dept. of Environmental Services, which is responsible for waste collection, water service, road maintenance and other critical infrastructure, says it is implementing plans drawn up for disaster situations.

“We have implemented a continuity of operational services plan (COOP) to ensure operations and critical services continue, and are practicing social distancing to protect staff, including staggering start times to avoid large groups,” DES spokeswoman Katie O’Brien tells ARLnow. “Crews are also being encouraged to follow CDC guidelines like washing hands for 20 seconds or using an alcohol-based sanitizer when water isn’t available.”

Waste collection workers are keeping their distance from one another, when possible, and wearing more protective gear, O’Brien said.

“Residential trash, recycling and yard waste curbside collection is expected to continue,” she noted. “Currently, our hauler has suspended bulk curbside collection for residential customers until further notice. This includes furniture, mattresses and any appliances larger than a standard microwave.”

To keep water infrastructure — everything from water mains to sewer lines to the county’s water treatment plant — running at a time when everyone is being encouraged to wash their hands frequently, planned maintenance involving water outages are being avoided.

DES has “limited or postponed planned water shutdowns to minimize service impacts on customers and focus our resources on maintaining our systems,” O’Brien said.

Other mitigation steps in place include modified schedules and rear boarding for ART buses, and reduced staff and schedules — but continued operations — for traffic signal maintenance and repairs, sign fabrication and repairs, markings, and meter repairs.

Dominion Energy, meanwhile, says it is prepared for situations like this.

Customers “can expect continued, reliable service,” said spokeswoman Peggy Fox. “Our crews are standing by to respond to any customer-service issues.”

That includes outages, like the one the Ballston area experienced earlier today.

“Our line workers will still be responding to service interruptions,” Fox said. “If you experience a power outage, the best way to report it is online or through our mobile app.”

On the electricity generation side, power plants are still humming and Dominion says procedures are in place to ensure employee safety and continuity.

“We are staffing our power stations to ensure we continue to provide our customers with reliable energy 24/7 [and] have adjusted our staffing plans so employees who perform the same roles are spread across different shifts or days of the week,” she said. “For employees who cannot work remotely, we are sanitizing our facilities at the end of each shift and encouraging safe hygiene practices. To limit exposure, we have restricted access to our facilities.”

As for Dominion workers who become ill with the virus, Fox said that they will be told to self-quarantine for 14 days.

“Other employees will step in to ensure essential work gets done, just as they do when a colleague goes on vacation,” she said.

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(Updated at 5:20 p.m.) More than 500 Dominion customers — mostly homes — were without power in several North Arlington neighborhoods Wednesday morning.

The outage affected portions of Virginia Square, Cherrydale and Donaldson Run, among other neighborhoods, according to Dominion’s outage map. Power was expected to be restored at some point in the afternoon.

As of 10 a.m. Dominion reported 529 customers in the dark, down from an initial 2,600+ customers without power reported earlier.

Dominion spokeswoman Peggy Fox said the outage was caused by a tree that fell onto power lines.

“The outage was caused by a 3rd party (not associated with Dominion Energy) trimming trees,” Fox told ARLnow via email. “A tree came down on our lines and broke two cross arms and a pole… It caused significant damage and left many customers without power today. We are lucky nobody got hurt.”

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Arlington County is set to take a big step toward meeting some of its ambitious renewable energy goals.

The county, which is working to become carbon-neutral by 2050, is joining Amazon in purchasing power from a new solar array in rural Virginia. The County Board is set to vote tonight on purchasing 31.7 percent of the output of a planned, 120 megawatt facility — dubbed the “Amazon Arlington Solar Farm Virginia” — in Pittsylvania County.

“The proposed agreement would support construction of a significant solar electricity-generating installation on tree-less rural land,” says a county staff report. “Dominion Energy Virginia (DEV) acquired the project from Open Road Renewables, and the project has all necessary local permits… After construction is completed, the project is scheduled to produce electricity beginning in 2022.”

Amazon will purchase the rest of remainder of the solar farm’s output, helping it to meet its renewable energy goals for HQ2.

More from the county staff report:

Arlington will purchase 31.7 percent of the energy produced by the solar farm, or about 79 million kWh annually. In a separate transaction, Amazon is purchasing 68.3 percent of the energy produced. The broad scope of Arlington County government operations – buildings, streetlights, traffic signals, water pumping and wastewater treatment – consumes about 95 million kWh per year. Thus, the energy production purchased by the County from this project represents approximately 83 percent of the total amount of electricity used by County government each year.

The outcome of this agreement advances key Arlington County policy goals. On September 21, 2019, the Arlington County Board adopted a revised Community Energy Plan (CEP) as one of eleven elements of the Comprehensive Plan. Goal 3 of that Plan is to Increase Arlington’s Renewable Energy Resources, and Policy 3.1 states “Government operations will achieve 50% Renewable Electricity by 2022, and 100% Renewable Electricity by 2025.

This power purchase agreement would not only surpass the County government 2022 renewable electricity milestone, but also substantially satisfies the 2025 goal of 100 percent renewable electricity for County operations. Closing the remaining gap (less than 20 percent of our electricity use) will involve a combination of onsite solar installations, reduction in electricity needs through energy efficiency, and perhaps a supplemental agreement for additional offsite renewable energy.

There will be no upfront costs for the county and county staff expects the solar power to be no more expensive than the county’s existing electricity, thanks to some of the power generated by the solar farm being sold wholesale into the electrical grid. Staff says there’s a possibility, depending on market dynamics, that the solar power could be up to $100,000 more or less expensive annually.

“Staff confidence in the financial prudence of this agreement is based on due diligence performed in terms of understanding the wholesale power market in general (and in Virginia in particular); consideration of key factors affecting future wholesale power prices; and the use of an analysis of wholesale price projections for Virginia from a third-party expert,” the staff report says.

The Board is expected to approve the agreement with Dominion Energy at its Tuesday night meeting.

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Nearly 5,000 Dominion customers in Arlington are currently without power as a result of a large outage.

The outage is affecting parts of the Virginia Square, Ballston, Bluemont, Arlington Forest and Glencarlyn neighborhoods, according to a Dominion map. As of 10:40 a.m. Dominion reported 4,798 customers without power in Arlington, and a few hundred more across the border in Fairfax County.

In addition to affecting homes and businesses, numerous traffic signals are said to be dark.

Initial reports suggest the outage was caused by a vehicle that crashed into a utility pole. Dominion is currently estimating restoration of power between 1-4 p.m.

Update at 11:05 a.m. — The number of affected customers is down to 770, according to Dominion.

Update at 12:35 p.m. — The outages are down to 51 in Arlington. An Arlington County Police spokeswoman provided the following information about the crash that might have led to the outage: “At approximately 8:32 a.m., police were dispatched to a single-vehicle crash at N. Carlin Springs Road at N. Kensington Street. Upon arrival, it was determined that a utility van struck a telephone pole. Two occupants from the van were transported to area hospitals with non-life threatening injuries. Dominion Energy was contacted to repair the pole. The investigation into the crash is ongoing.”

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This fall, a pair of electric school buses will replace two older diesel buses in the Arlington Public Schools fleet, the first trickle of an expected wave that could convert the fleet to 100 percent electric by 2030.

Dominion Energy is helping to supply the two buses, and 48 others, to 16 Virginia localities, including Arlington. Alexandria, Fairfax County, and Prince William County are among the jurisdictions receiving new buses from Dominion.

“We will be getting two buses sometime in the fall,” APS spokesman Frank Bellavia confirmed to ARLnow this afternoon, following the Dominion announcement. “They will replace two buses that are next in the replacement cycle.”

The new buses will be manufactured by Thomas Built Buses, a traditional school bus manufacturer that is now producing electric models. Dominion is offsetting additional expenses associated with the electric school buses beyond the cost of a standard diesel bus.

The power company is working on a multi-phase plan to move Virginia school divisions to all-electric school bus fleets by 2030. Beyond environmental benefits, Dominion says the buses will be used, essentially, as batteries on the power grid to help supply more electricity during peak times.

More from a press release:

The electric school buses will serve as a grid resource by creating additional energy storage technology to support the company’s integration of distributed renewables such as solar and wind. The “vehicle-to-grid” technology leverages the bus batteries to store and inject energy onto the grid during periods of high demand when the buses are not needed for transport. The buses also provide environmental and health benefits through reduced emissions and reduce operation and maintenance costs for schools by up to 60 percent.

“We are excited to move forward with our commitment to bringing the benefits of electric school buses to the customers and communities we serve,” said Dominion Energy Chairman, President and CEO Thomas F. Farrell, II.  “This is an innovative, sustainable solution that will help the environment, protect children’s health, make the electric grid stronger, and free up money for our schools.”

This initial deployment will bring electric school buses to each of the company’s operating regions. Localities were selected based on the benefit the batteries would bring to the electric grid. […]

This is just the first step in a larger initiative to replace diesel-powered buses with electric buses. Phase two of the project, with state approval, would expand the program to bring at least 1,000 additional electric school buses online by 2025. Once phase two is fully implemented, the buses’ batteries could provide enough energy to power more than 10,000 homes. Phase three would set the goal to have 50 percent of all diesel bus replacements in Dominion Energy’s footprint be electric by 2025 and 100 percent by 2030.

Photos via Thomas Built Buses/YouTube

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(Updated at 6:30 p.m.) Nearly 400 Dominion customers are reported to be without power in the area around Wakefield High School on this snowy Tuesday night.

The outage follows a report of a live wire that fell across S. Chesterfield Road, prompting a road closure near the high school, according to police radio traffic. Dominion says the outage is caused by a tree on a power line and the estimated restoration time is between 7-10 p.m.

Currently, the outage is mostly affecting the Claremont neighborhood. Earlier, some 3,500 customers were said to be without power in Claremont and portions of surrounding neighborhoods like Shirlington and Fairlington.

Arlington County Police tweeted video of power lines sparking and an apparent transformer explosion on Chesterfield Road near Route 7, encouraging residents to “stay clear of downed trees and power lines.”

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Update at 5:15 p.m. — Power has been restored to the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor, but another, separate outage has been reported near Wakefield High School.

Earlier: Nearly 9,000 Dominion customers in Arlington are without power this morning.

A widespread outage is affecting portions of Rosslyn, Courthouse, Clarendon, Virginia Square, Ballston and neighborhoods to the north, including Cherrydale and Donaldson Run.

As of 8:45 a.m. Dominion’s power outage map lists 8,844 customers without power and an estimated restoration time of 11 a.m.-2 p.m. There’s so far no word on what caused the outage.

Police are working to control traffic as some intersections with dark traffic signals, according to scanner traffic.

Update at 9:10 a.m. — The number of customers without power is down to around 3,800, with the outage now running from Virginia Square to Rosslyn, north of Clarendon Blvd, according to Dominion’s map.

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Update at 10:45 p.m. — Power has been restored to most of the outage area, but additional outages are possible overnight. On the heels of a Severe Thunderstorm Warning that just expired, a Wind Advisory is now in effect until 4 a.m.:

…WIND ADVISORY IN EFFECT UNTIL 4 AM EDT FRIDAY… * WHAT…WEST WINDS 15 TO 30 MPH WITH GUSTS UP TO 50 MPH EXPECTED. * WHERE…PORTIONS OF THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, CENTRAL, NORTH CENTRAL, NORTHERN AND SOUTHERN MARYLAND, NORTHERN AND NORTHWEST VIRGINIA AND PANHANDLE WEST VIRGINIA. * WHEN…FROM 6 PM THIS EVENING TO 4 AM EDT FRIDAY. * IMPACTS…GUSTY WINDS COULD BLOW AROUND UNSECURED OBJECTS. TREE LIMBS COULD BE BLOWN DOWN AND A FEW POWER OUTAGES MAY RESULT. PRECAUTIONARY/PREPAREDNESS ACTIONS… USE EXTRA CAUTION WHEN DRIVING, ESPECIALLY IF OPERATING A HIGH PROFILE VEHICLE. SECURE OUTDOOR OBJECTS. &&

Earlier: Some 2,250 Dominion customers are in the dark this stormy Halloween night, even though the bulk of the storm has yet to move through.

The outage extends from Ballston to the south to the Donaldson Run neighborhood in the north. Power flickered even farther north of the outage area earlier tonight.

The cause of the outage is pending investigation, according to Dominion’s outage map, though breezy conditions have preceded the storm over the past two hours.

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Update at 2:45 p.m. — The outage no longer appears on Dominion’s map.

Earlier: More than 1,000 Dominion Energy customers are without power in the Ballston and Bluemont neighborhoods due to emergency utility work.

As of 1:15 p.m. Dominion’s outage map reported 1,258 outages and an estimated restoration time of 4-7 p.m. Generators could be heard running in Ballston and power was flickering off and on — or out altogether — at local stores, restaurants and offices, including the headquarters of ARLnow.

A number of Dominion trucks could be seen parked at the corner of N. Stuart Street and 9th Street N., near the Ballston Metro station. Local offices have been told that crews are working on a transformer and more power interruptions are possible this afternoon.

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(Updated at 1:50 p.m.) Three out of four lanes of Wilson Blvd in Ballston were blocked by utility work Monday morning.

The work, at the intersection of Wilson and N. Randolph Street, near the mall, was to replace a blown electrical transformer in a utility vault that’s in the middle of the westbound lanes of Wilson. Crews from Dominion Energy were on scene, along with a large, mobile crane.

We’re told the transformer went out Sunday, knocking out power to an adjacent apartment building.

All westbound lanes of Wilson Blvd were blocked approaching Ballston Quarter mall, while only one eastbound lane was closed. The lane closures caused minor backups during this morning’s rush hour.

Residents in the area have been complaining for years about excessive noise caused by vehicles — particularly trucks — driving over the utility vaults.

“The plates have been there for years, but starting in October 2018, they began making absurdly loud noises whenever cars/buses/trucks drive over them,” one tipster said in July. “Dozens of complaints have been filed on the county’s ‘reporting tool’ website… The result of the noise is that local residents at Ava Ballston Square, Origin Ballston, and other apartments are disturbed through the day and awakened at night.”

Today’s work is not expected to alleviate the noise issue. A Dominion spokeswoman noted that the vault itself is maintained by the owner of the nearby building, not the utility company.

“The grates are not ours and the work has nothing to do with replacing them,” a Dominion spokeswoman told ARLnow. “The grates top our underground vaults containing our transformers that serve the buildings along the street… Normally, you will see our transformers sitting at ground level or up high on a utility pole. The developer wanted them underground.”

As of 1:30 p.m., all lanes had reportedly reopened.

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(Updated at 8:40 p.m.) An “electrical emergency” — reportedly a utility pole being burned by a malfunctioning power line — has prompted an extended road closure in Virginia Square.

Police have closed 14th Street between N. Lincoln Street and N. Kirkwood Road, near Arlington Science Focus Elementary School, to both vehicular and pedestrian traffic.

“It was just called in and it is a very dangerous situation,” a firefighter could be heard telling a resident along N. Kirkwood Road around 4:30 p.m. “We don’t know how long it will be closed. It could take one hour or six, we don’t know.”

Dominion Energy crews are on scene to work on the line and the pole.

As of 8:30 p.m., 26 Dominion customers in the neighborhood were reported to still be without power.

Map via Google Maps

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