Arlington, VA

(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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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.

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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.

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Thermostat(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.”

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Snow Falling in BuckinghamUpdate 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.

There are 250 customers without power according to Dominion’s outage map. Some of those are residual from Sunday’s ice storm, which knocked out power to about 1,700 Arlington customers.

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.”

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(Updated at 4:15 p.m.) The closure of a power plant in Alexandria may help improve air quality in Arlington.

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

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After years of waiting, it appears a wall is finally being built around the Dominion power substation (3245 Wilson Blvd) near Clarendon.

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.

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(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

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Dominion Virginia Power set an all-time record for peak demand for electricity on Friday.

The company’s 2.4 million customers used 20,061 megawatts of electricity between 3 and 4pm on Friday.  That broke the previous record of 19,688 megawatts set on August 8, 2007.  One megawatt provides enough electricity for about 250 homes.

Although the blistering heat and oppressive humidity from last week has died down, the continued warm weather means high electricity use.  Dominion has the following tips for keeping energy costs down and keeping homes comfortable:

  • Postpone activities requiring hot water to early morning or late evening to prevent heat and humidity from building up in the home.
  • If you are comfortable, raise the thermostat to 78 degrees.
  • Close drapes during the hottest points of the day.
  • Turn off unnecessary lights, which add heat to a home.  Consider switching to cooler, energy efficient CFL bulbs.
  • Make sure window air conditioners are sized correctly. Those that are too small will run constantly, but will not cool the room. Those that are too large use more energy than necessary.
  • Clean filters to window air conditioning units and clean or replace filters to central air conditioning systems. Clogged filters cause air conditioners to use more energy than necessary to keep a home cool.
  • Clear attic vents. If the home has an attic fan, make sure it is functioning properly.

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Last year, Dominion upgraded the power substation at 3245 Wilson Boulevard to help provide additional power capacity to the ever-developing Clarendon area. As part of the upgrades, Dominion promised a new containment wall that would make the facility easier on the eyes. So far, though, it’s still just a fence.

That has some locals worried. One resident contacted us and pointed out that the Dominion web site lists the project as “complete.” Would the prominently-placed substation remain surrounded by the “ugly” chain link fence?

No, says Dominion spokesperson Le-Ha Anderson. The wall is coming.

“Dominion is working with Arlington County, community members and an art consultant to select a vendor to create the artwork for the façade around the… substation,” Anderson told ARLnow.com. “We expect to have a design proposal by late November – early December.”

Anderson said she expects the wall to be built by spring 2011.

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Dominion Virginia Power is using parts of Arlington and three other Northern Virginia localities as an urban testing ground for its new smart meter system.

The company plans to install 32,000 advanced digital meters in Arlington, Alexandria, Fairfax County and Falls Church by the end of the year. Of the 32,000 meters in Northern Virginia, more than 19,000 will be installed in Arlington, according to Dominion spokesperson Le-Ha Anderson.

Unlike traditional meters, which must be read via on-site inspection or drive-by reading, the smart meters are capable of remote, two-way communication with Dominion’s control centers.

Dominion says that power usage data from the new meters will allow the company to improve its efficiency and conserve energy.

The new meters will also be able to communicate information about power outages, and will allow the company to shut off power to individual homes remotely.

More than 56,000 smart meters are currently being tested in the hilly and rural environs of Charlottesville and Midlothian.

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