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.
— Arlington Department of Environmental Services (@ArlingtonDES) March 19, 2020
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.
From a Dominion spokeswoman: A power crew was "doing planned maintenance when an unexpected outage happened. Most customers are back up now, but a few are still out while we investigate the issue." https://t.co/oZyB0Ydd8A
— Arlington Now (@ARLnowDOTcom) March 24, 2020
“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.
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.
(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
Arlington is looking for public input on a plan to use energy more efficiently.
Tonight (June 4) from 7-9 p.m. at the Central Library Auditorium (1015 N Quincy Street), county staff plan to host an open house during which the community can ask questions or offer feedback on an update to the county’s Community Energy Plan (CEP).
Goals for the project include:
- Increase the energy and operational efficiency of all buildings: By 2050, the plan aims to have total building energy usage in Arlington be 38 percent lower than in 2007. In the report, staff says both code-required reductions for buildings and incentives for voluntary efficiencies — a carrot and stick approach — will be required.
- Ensure Arlington’s energy resilience: The report notes — and anyone in Ballston two weeks ago can confirm — Arlington’s energy infrastructure is vulnerable to extreme weather and other factors. The report says Arlington will need to use new technologies to rely on more local sources of energy and potentially establish “microgrids” to make critical pieces of infrastructure like Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall and the Virginia Hospital Center more independent from blackouts across the county.
- Increase locally generated energy supply: The plan aims to have Arlington County follow the example of Discovery Elementary, which won accolades for using all its energy generated on-site, and establish more solar energy collectors and other green energy sites across Arlington.
- Move more people with fewer greenhouse gas emissions: The goal here is fairly self-explanatory, but the general idea is to get more Arlingtonians using buses, bicycles, and other non-car means of transportation, while encouraging those who are required to use cars to shift toward hybrid and energy-efficient vehicles.
- Integrate energy goals into all county government activities: The report says Arlington should aim at having government facilities reduce CO2 emissions to 71 percent below their 2007 levels by 2040. The approach would involve a mix of smaller efficiencies in energy and water usage and larger shifts in making new government facilities more energy efficient from a design standpoint.
- Support residents and businesses that reduce energy usage: The final goal of the report involves using county staff and resources to help encourage locals — from individuals to business owners — find ways to rethink energy usage in their own lives.
“We invite the community to drop in and spend as much time as needed to learn about the draft CEP update, CEP implementation details, and provide feedback on the proposed changes to the 2013 CEP,” Rich Dooley, Arlington’s community energy coordinator, said in an email.
Update on Friday, Aug. 14 — Washington Gas crews were on scene digging up the roadway near the manhole this afternoon. (Photos above.)
A manhole cover “blew up” in Rosslyn Thursday afternoon, and Dominion Power is trying to figure out what exactly happened.
The incident happened at the intersection of Wilson Blvd and N. Oak Street around 12:45 p.m. A witness said there was some sort of blast that sent the manhole cover airborne with “flames and everything.”
“[The] cover launched into the air and the flames that shot out were higher than the SUV next to it,” said Elizabeth Denton.
Despite the scary scene, no injuries, damage or power outages were reported.
A Dominion spokesman said the company is investigating but isn’t yet sure what exactly happened to “dislodge” the manhole cover. A fire department spokesman could only confirm that there was a “haze of smoke” in the manhole after the incident.
“We are looking into it,” said Dominion’s Chuck Penn. “We don’t know what the cause was.”
As of around 3:00 Thursday afternoon, four Dominion trucks were parked near the intersection and workers were peering into the hole. One lane of traffic on westbound Wilson Blvd was blocked.
This was the second time in a couple of days that something happened to dislodge the manhole cover, the fire department spokesman said. The first incident this week involved a faulty electrical line, we’re told.
(Updated at 2:55 p.m.) The cold temperatures have a lot of people cranking up the heat, but that’s putting stress on the region’s power grid. Dominion Power is asking customers to reduce any unnecessary use of electricity and alter the hours for major appliance use.
Dominion is one of the power providers in the 13 states and District of Columbia that use the PJM Interconnect power grid. PJM informed all of its clients that the power grid is currently under stress because of the increase in electric heat use due to the frigid temperatures. It’s asking customers to help conserve energy.
“We are asking customers to consider altering their normal pattern of power usage to mitigate the draw that is on the electrical grid right now,” said Dominion Power spokesman Chuck Penn. “We are confident today, as we were yesterday, that we have sufficient power capacity to meet the demand, there are just some steps utilities are asking customers to take to ease the load. We are just responding to the request from PJM Interconnect.”
Customers are asked to avoid using major appliances — such as stoves, dishwashers and clothes dryers — during the peak morning hours of 6:00-9:00 a.m. and the peak evening hours of 3:00-7:00 p.m. Customers are asked to lower their thermostats to between 65 and 70 degrees during the day in order to conserve energy. Dominion has additional energy saving tips on its website.
Arlington’s Emergency Winter Shelter in Courthouse (2049 15th Street N.) opened for around-the-clock services on Monday and will stay open, as a wind chill advisory remains in effect until 6:00 p.m. The shelter has been used by 75 people during the cold snap, and another 10 were provided with cots and blankets in the lobby of the nearby Detention Center. On Tuesday afternoon, DHS made the decision to keep the shelter open continuously on Wednesday as well.
“The good thing about this cold snap is that we had plenty of advance warning so we were able to let people know they needed to get off the streets and come inside,” said Department of Human Services spokesman Kurt Larrick. “A-SPAN did a great job of letting unsheltered homeless people in the community know that it was going to get really, really cold, and that we would have a warm bed for them.”
Update at 4:00 p.m. — The Department of Environmental Services says all of its trucks are back out this afternoon to spread salt and make sure snow and ice are melting on residential streets. A small team will remain on standby overnight to address any possible areas that may re-freeze.
Earlier — All of the weather advisories for Arlington County have been cancelled and the snow has stopped falling, but the storm’s effects still linger around the county.
VDOT reports having more than 1,900 trucks clearing state roads throughout Northern Virginia. Arlington County sent out crews on its streets beginning at 4:00 a.m. to treat primary and secondary roads. Traffic cameras show most major roads are clear and traffic is largely moving smoothly throughout the county as of 2:00 p.m. Drivers are encouraged to exercise extra caution through tomorrow because temperatures will drop and slush on the roads could freeze.
The Arlington County government remained open but the following services have been affected:
- Trash/Recycling/Brush collection crews are performing collection services. If they are unable to get to certain streets because of the street conditions, they will go back and complete collection tomorrow.
- Vacuum leaf collection has been canceled for today. Collection will resume in zone three tomorrow.
- Bag leaf collection crews are out collecting leaves today. If crews are unable to get to certain streets because of the conditions, they will also go back and complete the collections tomorrow.
- Mulch deliveries for today have been rescheduled for tomorrow. Customers have been notified.
ART buses had been operating on a limited schedule earlier today and they returned to normal by late morning.
According to the Arlington County Police Department, Public Service Aides still will enforce parking regulations. Parking enforcement is in place every day the county government is open for business. However, Public Service Aides only will be used for parking enforcement duties today when they are not busy assisting police with necessary functions related to winter weather.
Although officers and emergency responders are out in full force to assist with emergencies, residents are asked to remain off the roads for safety reasons.
“Residents are encouraged to stay off the roads today and minimize their traveling if possible,” said ACPD spokesman Dustin Sternbeck. “If they need to go out then they are encouraged to use public transportation in an attempt to minimize accidents, road congestion and so that county staff and road crews can perform their jobs as safely as possible.”
Arlington Public Schools closed today and so far no decision has been made about Wednesday. From APS:
“APS will continue to monitor the road conditions in collaboration with Arlington County and our regional partners throughout the remainder of the day, tonight and early tomorrow morning. If APS opens on time on Wed, Dec. 11, we will go forward with the previously-announced school calendar, including the scheduled countywide elementary early release. If schools have a two-hour delayed opening tomorrow, the elementary early release will be cancelled and school will end at the normal dismissal time, in accordance with our normal procedures.”
The GenOn Potomac River Generating Station, a 63-year-old coal-fired power plant on the Potomac River, north of Old Town Alexandria, permanently shut down this week. The plant closed after dogged efforts by local residents and environmental activists, who argued the 482-megawatt plant was harming local air quality and endangering residents.
The Washington Post called the plant the “largest single source of air pollution in the Washington region.” The plant’s smokestacks emitted fine particulate matter and sulfur dioxide, occasionally at levels that could temporarily harm sensitive individuals, according to a recent air quality study.
Jeff Harn, the Bureau Chief of Arlington’s Office of Sustainability and Environmental Management, said the plant’s closure is a positive development for local air quality.
“I think generally it’s a good thing,” he told ARLnow.com. “We sort of look at that plant as a regional source of air pollution. It affects the whole region. [The closure] would be beneficial, I’m sure.”
At a press conference on Monday, Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) said the closing of the plant will benefit the health of local residents.
“Today marks the conclusion of a long fought but well won victory for Northern Virginia residents and the health of citizens in the National Capital Region,” he said. “What once was the largest stationary source of air pollution in the metro area will be no more. With the extinction of this dinosaur, our air will be cleaner. As much as 600,000 fewer tons of carbon dioxide, 1.9 million lbs of nitrogen oxide, and 325,000 lbs of sulfur dioxide will be in the air we breathe.”
Harn said the areas closest to the plant — parts of Alexandria, as well as parts of South Arlington and Crystal City — should see some air quality improvement as a result of the plant’s closure. D.C. should also benefit, he said, as prevailing winds often carried the plant’s emissions across the Potomac and into the District.
Since there is not much heavy industry in the area, Harn says most of the air pollution in the D.C. area is transportation-related — from sources like cars, buses and airplanes.
Flickr pool photo by Afagen
Workers have been spotted using heavy equipment to add beams along the perimeter.
Dominion had promised to upgrade the current fence with a more robust containment wall after replacing the substation in 2009. Residents had been worried not only about the aesthetics of what they consider an unsightly chain link fence, but also about safety due to the existing fence’s integrity, or perceived lack thereof.
Completion of the wall had originally been slated for spring of last year, but construction didn’t even start until a couple of weeks ago. So far, there’s no word on when the project will be completed.
(Updated at 12:25 p.m.) The GenOn power plant along the Potomac River in Alexandria will be retired next year, in a victory for local environmental advocates who railed against the coal-fired plant’s carbon emissions.
The 62-year-old plant is expected to close by Oct. 1, 2012, according to a City of Alexandria press release. Alexandria will release $32 million that was being held in escrow to pay for environmental controls at the plant, in order to facilitate its closure.
“Today’s announcement is a path forward for both Alexandria and the power company that works for everybody, and truly reflects the interest of both parties,” Alexandria Mayor William Euille said in a statement. “Both the Alexandria City Council and community have worked extremely hard toward this goal, and we are very proud of the final result. This news strengthens Alexandria’s future and opens the door to an enhanced quality of life for our residents.”
No word yet on what might eventually happen to the prime waterfront property on which the plant is located. The land is owned by Pepco, according to the Washington Business Journal, but there has been talk of using the land for a nearly half-billion dollar mixed-use project.
Rep. Jim Moran, meanwhile, released a statement praising today’s announcement.
This was a long fought but well won victory for the citizens of Alexandria and the nation’s capital. What once was the largest stationary source of air pollution will be no more. Through citizen involvement and committed city officials, the Potomac River Generating Station and its 1949 coal-fired boilers will finally be shuttered.
Forced to reduce its emissions and scale back its operations to comply with the Clean Air Act as a result of a lawsuit and enforcement actions, Mirant and GenOn were ultimately unable to compete with cheaper and cleaner natural gas powered electricity. Tougher federal regulations now in development may have also convinced GenOn’s management that the $28 million in settlement funds that had been set aside to meet the cleanup terms of the settlement were better than the losses their shareholders were taking trying to keep the outdated plant in operation.
Northern Virginia stands as an example of a prosperous and environmentally-conscious community. Today’s action maintains our commitment to a better, cleaner environment for our region’s next generation. The extinction of this dinosaur of a facility is heartily welcomed.
Del. David Englin, who represents parts of Alexandria and Arlington, also released a statement.
“Every human being has a basic and fundamental right to breathe clean air, which is why so many of us have fought for so long to shut down this dirty, old coal-fired power plant in our midst. This is a major victory for the people of Alexandria that will strengthen our quality of life, and I congratulate all of the officials involved.”
“Our community owes a great deal to the citizen activists who have worked with such unfailing dedication and perseverance to get us to this point. While there is reason to celebrate, the agreement does allow some wiggle room on the closing date, which means we must continue to be vigilant until the day the plant finally and permanently closes its doors.”
Flickr pool photo by Chris Rief