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Supervisors grant commission permit for Dominion to upgrade, expand in Leesburg

Loudoun supervisors approved a commission permit Oct. 19 for Dominion Energy that will allow the company to upgrade and expand its compressor station in Leesburg with the aim to supply more natural gas to the greater Washington region.

The board’s approval comes as the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) is still in the process of reviewing Dominion’s Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity (CPCN) permit to construct and operate the project. FERC is expected to grant the certificate later this fall.

The company’s expansion is within an existing facility off Watson Road and Waxwing Drive near the Greene Mill Preserve residential community.

The Leesburg expansion is part of the company’s Eastern Market Access (EMA) Project -- an infrastructure upgrade that will help bring more natural gas to Washington Gas customers and Mattawoman Energy for its new electric power-generation facility in Maryland.

About a dozen residents and environmentalists attended the Oct. 19 board meeting urging supervisors to deny the company its request. They said they feared it would harm nearby residents’ health and contribute to climate change.

“This project is far from sustainable as it pollutes the air with climate changing gases,” said local environmental activist Natalie Pien of 350 Loudoun. “ … This project requires scrutiny greater than the commission permit can provide.”

Pien said she was skeptical that the project complied with the county’s Comprehensive Plan.

But Supervisor Tony Buffington (R-Blue Ridge), who represents the area where the compressor station is located, argued it did.

“The board’s authority when considering commission permits is to determine whether or not they are in substantial accord with the county’s Comprehensive Plan, and if so to approve it,” Buffington said. “In this case, the Planning Commission has found that we are in substantial conformance with the Comprehensive Plan, and they unanimously approved it. Staff has found that the application is in substantial conformance with no outstanding issues and recommends approval, and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is conducting a review.”

Supervisor Kirsten Umstattd (D-Leesburg) also questioned the project’s compliance with county’s Comprehensive Plan.

“I am not persuaded that this is a benefit to Loudoun County, and I think there is room for disagreement about whether this is in compliance with our Comprehensive Plan, so I will not be supporting it,” Umstattd said.

The board ultimately approved Dominion's commission permit request 6-2-1 with Chairwoman Phyllis Randall (D-At Large) and Umstattd opposed, and Supervisor Koran Saines (D-Sterling) abstaining from the vote.

With the vote, Dominion won the approval for a new 3,806-square-foot building to house an electric reciprocating compression unit, the replacement of coolers and compression cylinders, a switchgear building and a new, 1,170-square-foot power distribution center building.

As part of EMA, the company will install 7,000 horsepower of additional compression electric in a new building within the existing Loudoun Compressor Station fence line and construct a new building at the Loudoun Metering and Regulation Station. It will also add a new compressor station at an existing facility in Charles County, Maryland, and install two new taps for Washington Gas Light Company along an existing Dominion Pipeline.

The gas that will pass through the EMA project will likely be hydraulically fractured gas from where Dominion operates in the Marcellus and Utica Shale fields that run through West Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York and Ohio.

Hydraulic fracturing --- or fracking --- is a controversial drilling technique used for extracting oil and natural gas from places deep underground. Advocates of the technique say it is a safe and clean source of energy, while opponents say it leads to the destruction of drinking water supplies and causes other pollutants.

Other supervisors wondered whether an expansion of the site would mean the company would conduct more natural gas ventings.

Last year, Dominion came under fire for conducting an unexpected venting procedure. The Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office received a high volume of calls from residents who reported the smell of natural gas in the air as a result of the venting.

But representatives from Dominion told supervisors expanding its facility would not necessarily mean more ventings would occur, and that it would notify the county whenever they took place.

Joseph Bono, a resident of the nearby Greene Mill Preserve community, said although he did not support Dominion’s request, his community was not opposed to approving the commission permit because the company promised to install filters on its venting system. Bono also said the company pledged to wrap its pipes to prevent the further spread of a colorless, smelly gas known as mercaptan on the community.

”I view this as a first step toward fixing [the compressor station]. Stopping it is unrealistic, fixing it is a reality,” Bono said.

Buffington admitted that while some of the public’s concerns were valid, they were “outside of the scope of the county’s criteria of review for commission permits.”

Buffington also pointed out that Dominion made “numerous financially significant community concessions” to address concerns about the project.

“As a result I feel the board has a legal obligation to approve this application,” Buffington said.


Contact the writer at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or on Twitter at @SydneyKashiwagi.

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