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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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The combination of high winds and heavy, wet snow is already starting to topple large branches and whole trees in the Arlington area.

Wind gusts in excess of 30 miles per hour are currently being recorded at Reagan National Airport. Along with the wind have come reports of downed trees and downed power lines. At least one tree was reported to have caught on fire after falling on live wires.

As of 3:00 AM, Dominion Power was reporting 44,849 outages throughout Northern Virginia. Several hundred of those outages were in Arlington.

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