(Updated on 8/18/23) After a late July tempest plunged roughly 35,000 Arlington residents into darkness, ARLnow posed a pressing question to Virginia’s largest electric utility: Why not move all power lines underground?
The short answer is red tape and price.
Local elected officials have been interested in burying power lines since the 1980s, as doing so can reduce power outages and restoration times after storm-induced outages. The trade-offs, however, include cost, customer buy-in and longer repair times.
Historically, cost has been the biggest deterrent. Virginia, Dominion and Arlington County have balked at spearheading efforts at their respective levels, citing costs. This has left the utility company and Arlington County to piece together a patchwork approach prioritizing vulnerable lines, willing property owners and deep-pocketed developers.
Whenever a storm blows through, however, causing power disruptions and requiring maintenance work, the question of a broader effort resurfaces.
Feels like we should maybe consider the possibility of planning how to under ground all of these lines 👀😳 pic.twitter.com/n8FS38DHO4
— Maureen Coffey (she/her) (@maureencoffeyva) July 30, 2023
In an interview, Dominion spokeswoman Peggy Fox underscored two obstacles.
First, the utility company needs permission from property owners, also known as an easement, to access their land. People do not always grant that permission because, Fox said, “not everybody wants the construction that goes along with it.”
“We can’t just come in and do what we want. These are people’s properties, and we want to work with them,” she said in a phone interview.
Second, burying power lines would cost billions of dollars.
After Hurricane Isabel devastated Virginia’s electrical grid in 2003, the Virginia General Assembly tasked the State Corporation Commission — which regulates utilities in Virginia — with studying the feasibility of relocating the state’s overhead distribution power lines underground.
The study says the project aimed to decrease weather-related utility interruptions, reduce maintenance costs and lessen “visual pollution.”
Elected officials scrapped the project after learning it could cost around $83 billion, to be borne by utility customers via higher taxes or rates, and could cause “significant disruptions.”
“The potential benefits, both to the utilities and to the economy, resulting from the elimination of tree trimming maintenance, vehicle accidents, post-storm restoration, and lost sales during outages, do not appear to be sufficient to offset the initial construction costs associated with a comprehensive program to relocate the currently existing overhead utility distribution lines to underground,” the report stated.
Fox said she cannot “pinpoint” how much it would cost to underground all overhead power lines in Arlington, let alone the state. Adjusted for inflation, $83 billion would be roughly $130 billion today.
Arlington County has also shied away from taking on this work over costs. In 2015, then-Arlington County Board Chair Mary Hynes said a local effort to bury electrical and telecommunication wires would cost billions of dollars the county did not have, the Sun Gazette reported at the time.
Nevertheless, Dominion and the county have taken steps to move underground several miles of power lines in Arlington.
In 2014, Dominion embarked on its Strategic Underground Plan (SUP) to bury 4,000 miles of vulnerable overhead lines throughout the state. So far, it has buried around 1,907 miles — nearly the halfway point.
All lanes of N. Glebe Road are closed just south of Quincy Street due to a crash involving an overturned vehicle.
The single-vehicle crash took down power lines, according to scanner traffic, and the southbound lanes of Glebe are expected to be shut down for an extended period of time as a result.
One person was reportedly taken to the hospital with minor injuries.
Police are on scene and investigating the cause of the crash and whether the driver might have been intoxicated.
Dominion, meanwhile, is reporting via its outage map that nearly 2,750 homes and businesses are without power in the area of the crash. The utility company expects power to be restored between 3-6 a.m.
LOCATION: N. Glebe Rd. at Henderson Rd.
INCIDENT: Traffic Collision
IMPACT: Southbound N. Glebe Rd. between Henderson Rd. and 4th St. N. will be shut down for an extended period of time. Seek alternate routes. pic.twitter.com/rTxxxNFRMc
— Arlington Alert (@ArlingtonAlert) September 21, 2022
LOCATION: 400-blk N. Glebe Rd.
INCIDENT: Power Outage
IMPACT: Power is out in the area of the 400-blk N. Glebe Rd. due to a traffic collision involving a power pole. There is no expected repair time. pic.twitter.com/qpWQcKqHaF
— Arlington Alert (@ArlingtonAlert) September 21, 2022
A project scheduled to begin this summer will tunnel under the Four Mile Run near the Route 1 bridge to move overhead power lines underground.
As part of the project, Dominion Energy will rebuild its Glebe Substation next year, modernizing the facility that was built in the 1970s and is reaching the end of its service life. The substation serves parts of Arlington and Alexandria.
“Everything will look a lot cleaner, a lot of the equipment will be a lot smaller,” said Ann Gordon Mickel, Dominion Energy’s communication and community lead for the project.
When work begins, a 250-foot by 250-foot area will be fenced off in the Potomac Yard shopping center parking lot in Alexandria to allow for a 40- to 50-foot deep pit for tunneling.
In Arlington, a pit will be constructed at the substation and there may be temporary intermittent closures on S. Eads Street, as well as on nearby sidewalks and pedestrian paths. Electric service will not be affected.
The underground line will run between the substation and the Potomac Yard Transition Station, which will be decommissioned at the end of the project. The rebuilt Glebe Substation will incorporate new technology, requiring less maintenance and making it more reliable, the power company said.
“Any time you address aging infrastructure and replace it with new technology the reliability always enhances,” said Greg Mathey, a manager of electric transmission communications for Dominion Energy. “The transmission system feeds the distribution system, so the more reliable and hardened we can make the transmission system, the better the distribution system can perform.”
The construction to convert to underground lines is scheduled to continue through 2024. The whole project should be completed by late 2025.
The entire project is expected to cost about $122.8 million. The State Corporation Commission, which regulates utilities in Virginia, approved the project in 2019. It was originally scheduled to be up and running by this month, but due to the nature of the construction, the timeline was pushed back.
Using a trenchless microtunneling method will increase costs by about $16 million — but it shortens the construction timeline, according to project documents.
This type of tunneling will also reduce construction-related impacts to the Potomac Yard shopping center, as it won’t require as much space for pipes above ground.
The overhead lines that can be seen over Four Mile Run will be removed at the end of the project.
(Updated at 1:45 p.m.) A man suffered injuries that are reported to be life-threatening after an on-the-job accident in the Old Glebe neighborhood.
Police and medics were dispatched to a large, under-construction home on the 4600 block of N. Dittmar Road around 1 p.m. Initial reports suggest a worker was carrying a ladder when it made contact with power lines, electrocuting him.
The man is being rushed to a local hospital by Arlington County Fire Department medics.
Police are now investigating the accident. A Dominion power crew is also being requested to the scene.
(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.
Electrical Emergency – 3400 block of 14th St North (bet Lynbrook Dr and Kenmore St) will be blocked for Emergency Electrical line work. Power may be affected in the area. Please stay clear until crews are finished. pic.twitter.com/REcWX5AiMb
— Arlington Fire (@ArlingtonVaFD) September 30, 2019
Map via Google Maps
Police Searching for I-66 Wrong-Way Driver — Police are still looking for the driver who crashed into another vehicle while driving the wrong way on I-66 near Rosslyn early Sunday morning, after being chased by a uniformed Secret Service officer who spotted the car driving the wrong way in D.C. [Fox 5, WTOP, Twitter]
Vehicle Crashes into House in Barcroft — A vehicle that was driven into the side of a house in the Barcroft neighborhood Sunday morning caused only minor damage to the building, according to the fire department. [Twitter]
Truck Brings Down Power Lines in Long Branch Creek — “Downed power lines caused around 1,000 customers to lose power in Arlington County on Saturday. Dominion Power said a truck ‘snagged’ the lines and broke two of the power poles around 8:15 a.m. It also damaged some vehicles in the area.” [WJLA]
Runner Struck By Car Hopes to Run Marathon — A local runner who was struck by a car while running recently hopes to run the Marine Corps Marathon in the fall despite suffering two broken bones in her foot. [Twitter]
Projects to Transform Crystal City — Six major transportation projects “will play a significant role in transforming the Crystal City area in the coming years.” [Bisnow]
Arlington Teens Arrested in Ocean City — Three teens from Arlington were arrested in Ocean City, Maryland after they pulled over to ask police officers about parking in the area and the officers “immediately recognized the strong odor of marijuana emanating from the vehicle.” They searched the car and found “roughly a half a pound of marijuana along with prescription drugs, methamphetamine, brass knuckles, an assisted opening knife and several items of drug paraphernalia,” plus “a full face mask in the vehicle [and] a .25 caliber handgun.” [The Dispatch]
Dems Still Distributing Print Newsletter — Print may be waning as a medium, but the Arlington County Democratic Committee is still going all-in on its printed campaign newsletter, “The Messenger.” The party is recruiting more than 400 volunteers to distribute the newsletter to homes throughout the county. [InsideNova]
Garbage Truck Crash — Among a number of other potentially weather-related crashes this morning, a garbage truck ran into a utility pole on the 4600 block of 27th Street N., near Marymount University. Dominion crews responded to the scene for a report of downed power lines. No injuries were reported.
Four Mile Run Valley Meeting Cancelled — A meeting of the Four Mile Run Valley Working Group, scheduled for tonight, has been cancelled. The cancellation is due to county staff reviewing “key pieces of the 4MRV transportation analysis,” the county wrote. “Staff will provide an update on the process schedule and timeline at the next scheduled meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 6.” [Arlington County]
Lee Highway Planning Moving Forward — “Funded with two county grants, donations and sponsorships, the Lee Highway Alliance is now back on the front burner of Arlington’s planning agenda, said county board Chairman Katie Cristol, who promised forward movement in the next couple of months.” Meanwhile, businesses along Lee Highway are generally supportive of redevelopment, according to the alliance. [Falls Church News-Press]
ACFD Helps Battle Fairfax Fire — Arlington County firefighters assisted Fairfax County on an apartment fire near Tysons Corner early this morning. About 34 residents were displaced by the fire. [Twitter, Twitter]
Photo courtesy Dennis Dimick
Power is out in parts of Seven Corners after a truck brought down power lines behind the Eden Center in Falls Church.
The incident happened around 2:30 p.m. in the rear of the shopping center. Two utility poles were snapped in half as a result of the collision.
At one point, nearly 2,500 Dominion customers were without power in the area, including in parts of Arlington County. As of 3:30 p.m. Dominion was no longer reporting any outages in Arlington.
The Arlington County Fire Department responded to the scene for sparking power lines and a spill of mineral oil from the transformers. ACFD has since turned over the scene to Dominion, which will be cleaning up the spill, according to scanner traffic.
Some traffic signals in Seven Corners may be affected by the outages, according to Fairfax County Police.
— Fairfax Co. Police (@fairfaxpolice) August 24, 2017
Update at 2:30 p.m. — The fire has been extinguished and Four Mile Run Drive is expected to reopen shortly. The access road is expected to remain closed until the fallen tree is removed.
Update at 2:15 p.m. — Electricity has been shut off to the fallen power lines and firefighters are now working to extinguish the brush fire.
Earlier: A tree has fallen on power lines and sparked a growing brush fire along Four Mile Run Drive.
The incident was first reported by a passerby just after 1 p.m.
Initial reports suggest a large tree fell across the Four Mile Run Drive access road, striking a power line. That sparked a brush fire in the dry grass below, which as of 1:20 p.m. continues to burn.
The fire department cannot extinguish the wildfire around the power line until Dominion Power crews arrive and shut off the power, according to scanner traffic. As of 1:40 p.m. the flames were nearing vehicles parked along the access road.
Residents should expect “a lot of smoke in the area,” according to a police officer on scene. Police have shut down traffic in both directions on the access road near S. Wakefield Street and are preparing to shut down the mainline Four Mile Run Drive.
Photo courtesy Alex Chamandy, John Chandler
Nearly 900 Dominion customers are still without power in Arlington as of 5 p.m. Monday, with numerous small outages scattered across the county.
That’s down from more than 6,500 outages last night, after an initial line of 60+ mile per hour wind gusts swept through the area. The strong winds continued through this afternoon but have since died down.
Dominion’s power outage map shows the two biggest power outages are in the Highgate/Colonial Terrace community in the Rosslyn area, and along 26th Street N./31st Street N., near Marymount University, where photos (above and via Twitter) show at least one tree down in the roadway and a power pole snapped in half.
Dominion is estimating that power will be restored by 11 p.m. and 8 p.m., respectively, for each outage.
In all, around 3,000 Dominion customers are still in the dark around Northern Virginia.
Update at 8 a.m. — Thousands of Arlington residents are waking up to no electricity this morning. The number of outages in Arlington is only down to around 4,900. Marymount University is still without power and portions of the Rosslyn/Courthouse area, including traffic signals at some busy intersection, are dark.
Numerous trees, power lines and utility poles are said to be down across parts of Arlington, primarily in north Arlington. Several transformer fires have also been reported.
In some cases, trees are leaning against live lines and catching on fire. In other cases, power lines and poles are down across roadways, blocking lanes. Glebe Road, Military Road and Williamsburg Blvd are among the roads reported to blocked.
On Williamsburg Blvd, a fire department vehicle was damaged, possibly by falling branches or debris.
A large portion of Arlington north of Lee Highway — from Cherrydale up to McLean, including the Marymount University campus — is in the dark, according to a Dominion outage map.
There are also portions of Shirlington, Fairlington and other areas of south Arlington without power, according to the map.
In all, more than 34,000 Dominion customers throughout Northern Virginia are without power, including more than 7,000 in Alexandria. High winds are expected to continue throughout the day on Monday.
— ᴊᴀsᴍɪɴᴇ (@Parks_Jasmine) February 13, 2017
Dominion power estimates 2am-4am for power restoration. Phones and Internet remain operational. Updates will follow.
— Marymount University (@marymountu) February 13, 2017
Power outage on campus. Internal phones remain operational. Updates will follow.
— Marymount University (@marymountu) February 13, 2017
— Russell Imrie (@tweedyBard) February 13, 2017
1121pm: 66 mph wind gust at Reagan Airport!
— NWS DC/Baltimore (@NWS_BaltWash) February 13, 2017