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Hearing Draws 1,000 As Dulles South Residents Oppose Rt. 50 Power Lines

© Leesburg Today - 10/30/2015

The moment provided some levity but also summarized the sentiment.

When a speaker at a public hearing Thursday night asked for a show of hands from those who oppose placing power lines along Rt. 50 in the Dulles South area, nearly every arm in the room went up.

""Let the record reflect that … I didn't see any hands down,"" said State Corporation Commission Hearing Examiner Michael Thomas.

The meeting over which Thomas presided was held at Freedom High School to gather comment on a plan by Dominion Virginia Power to build a 230 kV transmission line that would mainly serve a cluster of four data centers planned near Rt. 50. It was the second of two public hearings this week at which speakers asked the SCC to rule that the power line not be put along Rt. 50.

The power line would connect to an existing line east of Racefield Lane and Rt. 50 and generally span the Rt. 50 corridor southeast to a new substation east of the intersection of that highway and Poland Road.

Dominion's proposed route would place the infrastructure close to the highway. That doesn't sit well with nearby residents, business leaders and politicians from both sides of the aisle. The 4-mile transmission line would be a blemish leading into one of Loudoun County's gateway corridors, they have said.

Forty people testified Thursday-none in favor of Dominion's proposal-and another 18 spoke Tuesday night at the county Government Center in Leesburg. A crowd of 1,000 people or more attended the hearing at the high school, and 4,600 letters against the proposed route also were entered into the official record.

Loudoun County supervisors voted in July to suggest alternative routes, and the SCC is considering two of those. The agency, which has the final say, isn't expected to rule on the power line's route for months.

Comments Thursday ranged from concern about the power lines causing harmful health effects to worries that the towers holding up the lines would discourage businesses from locating in the Rt. 50 corridor.

The latter was one issue brought up by Del. David I. Ramadan (R-87). He said that the community has worked hard to attract commercial development to the corridor, and that it would be terrible if the power line caused developers to take their projects elsewhere.

""The towers, high towers on 50, will certainly do that,"" the lawmaker testified.

Dr. Jill McCabe, medical director of three departments and vice president of the medical staff at Inova Loudoun Hospital, spoke about a potential public health issue.

Representatives from StoneSprings Hospital Center, which is under construction in the area, have pointed out that power lines in the 50 corridor could interfere with the flights of emergency helicopters.

And anything that slows down those helicopters could put the patients they're transporting in peril, said McCabe, who's also the Democratic challenger to state Sen. Richard H. ""Dick"" Black (R-13) this year.

""Those minutes absolutely count,"" said the doctor, who noted that she has even ridden on helicopters with patients to make sure they could be cared for between hospitals.

Some speakers also denounced Amazon.com, which is building the data centers. Dominion hasn't identified the company as the one needing the additional electricity, citing a need to protect the privacy of its customers, but the name gradually got out among those interested in the issue.

Michael Lo Presti, who runs the engineering firm Presti & Co. Inc., testified that data centers nowadays are actually less energy-efficient than they were in the 1980s.

""If they were efficient,"" he said of Amazon, ""they would not need the new transmission line.""

County Supervisor Matthew F. Letourneau (R-Dulles), who represents the area where the power line would go, didn't pan Amazon, but he did point out the rarity of the situation.

With more than 60 data centers, Loudoun officials and others refer to the county as the ""data center capital of the world."" However, Letourneau said the difficulty of getting additional electricity to the company's data centers without causing negative impacts is new for the locality.

""We've never had a situation like the one we have now,"" he said.

His colleague, Supervisor Janet S. Clarke (R-Blue Ridge), also testified that the new transmission line wouldn't be necessary if Amazon were building only two data centers at the south Loudoun location. The third and fourth centers trigger the need for more power.

Letourneau's opponent on the Nov. 3 election ballot, Anjan Chimaladinne, was also among the handful of candidates for office who spoke.

The Democrat said that while he and his family are ""proud to call South Riding our home,"" he's concerned that placing the power line near the development would make for a ""negative landmark.""

Dominion executives attended Thursday night's meeting but didn't speak. Outside the hearing, however, spokesman Greg Mathe noted that the company has concerns about the supervisors' proposals for alternative routes for the power line. One of those is the length of time it might take to get approval to place the line on land owned by the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, which runs nearby Dulles Airport.

A third public hearing on the power-line proposal will be held in Richmond on Feb. 2 at 10 a.m. in the SCC's second-floor courtroom in the Tyler Building, 1300 E. Main St.

Written comments on the proposal, however, must be submitted by Jan. 6. All correspondence should be sent to the Clerk of the State Corporation Commission, Document Control Center, P.O. Box 2118, Richmond, VA 23218-2118, and refer to case number PUE-2015-00053.

Electronic comments may be submitted at scc.virginia.gov/case. Click on the ""Public Comments/Notices"" link and then the ""Submit Comments"" button for case number PUE-2015-00053.

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