Sep 26, 2023 - News

Dominion Energy's plan to bury Richmond power lines

Trees vs. power lines after the 2012 Derecho. Photo: Ken Cedeno/Corbis via Getty Images

If you've received a notice from Dominion Energy about undergrounding your power lines in the last few years, chances are you're in one of the electricity provider's high-outage areas.

Driving the news: Dominion is midway to its long-term goal to bury 4,000 miles of outage prone lines within its Virginia and North Carolina service area.

  • It should hit the 2,000-miles-buried mark early next year.

Why it matters: Power outages are happening more often and lasting longer due to climate change and aging infrastructure.

  • Burying power lines helps alleviate the number one cause of power outages: downed trees hitting power lines.

Catch up quick: Dominion officially announced its $2 billion strategic undergrounding program in 2014, aimed at reducing the outage time for all customers by focusing on burying the lines in the areas that get the most outages.

It was the June 2012 Derecho when nearly 1 million Dominion customers lost power for an average of eight days that drove the company to study how to better respond to outages, company spokesperson Jeremy Slayton told Axios.

  • In the aftermath of the storm, Dominion studied 10 years of historic outages and found that 60% of them occurred on 20% of the lines.
  • By focusing on those lines, Dominion reasoned, the company could reduce outage time for all customers as crews would have fewer outages to respond to.

Worth noting: Their study was a follow-up to one the state commissioned after Hurricane Isabel in 2003, one of Virginia's costliest and largest outage-causing storms, that found at $83 billion it was too expensive to bury all the state's power lines.

By the numbers: When Dominion announced the program in 2012, 4,000 miles accounted for 11% of the company's overhead lines, the Times-Dispatch reported in 2014.

  • Since then, just over 250 miles of outage-prone overhead lines have been undergrounded in Richmond, Chesterfield, Hanover and Henrico, Slayton says.
  • A little more than 400 miles have been buried across Central Virginia.
  • $1.99 a month is the current charge on all Dominion customers' bills to pay for the program.

Zoom in: Current undergrounding projects in the Richmond area include 3.2 miles in Tuckahoe, 1.48 miles in North Chesterfield, and 1.2 miles in the Washington Park part of Northside, per Slayton.

Screengrab of some of Dominion's active underground work. Red is in construction; blue/green is project in process.

Slayton declined to share more specifics on current projects, but according to Dominion's interactive map, there are dozens more underway in the Richmond area in what appear to be micro-areas as small as two blocks.

Be smart: The undergrounding process can take years per project, according to an Axios analysis of the project map. Getting easements to bury the lines on each property appears to be one of the most time-consuming parts. And the project can be canceled for the area if enough neighbors don't sign off.

  • "Canceling is a last resort, but it can happen," Slayton says.
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