Peninsula Still Needs Surry-Skiffes Project, Says PJM

View from the Surry nuclear power station of where the proposed Surry-Skiffes transmission line would cross the James River.

View from the Surry nuclear power station of where the proposed Surry-Skiffes transmission line would cross the James River.

PJM Interconnection may have lowered its forecasts for peak electricity load on the Virginia Peninsula, but the regional transmission organization still contends that the proposed Surry-Skiffes Creek high-voltage transmission line is still needed to avoid the risk of blackouts.

“It is PJM’s determination that the current Skiffes Creek 500 kV project remains the most effective and efficient solution to address the identified reliability criteria violations,” wrote Steven R. Herling, PJM vice president-planning, to the Norfolk district commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers earlier this month.

Dominion Virginia Power, which must obtain a permit from the Corps before it can commence construction, has encountered stiff opposition to the project. Preservationists say the highly visible power line will disrupt views of the James River little changed since the first English settlers arrived more than 400 years ago.

The project was precipitated by federal clean-air regulations that compels Dominion to shut down two of its aging, coal-fired generators at the Yorktown Power Station. Those units are scheduled to go offline next month, eliminating a major source of electric power on the Peninsula. The region is served by multiple transmission lines that can meet electric power demand under routine conditions. But the Peninsula grid lacks the redundancy to meet federal reliability guidelines designed to prevent another cascading blackout like the one that plunged 55 million in the Northeast and Canada into darkness.

Dominion selected the Surry-Skiffes route after examining numerous alternatives. Foes charged that the utility considered only a narrow range of options. Instead of building a 500 kV line across the James, it could have met reliability standards through a combination of measures: upgrade of existing lines, solar power, energy efficiency, demand-response, greater reliance upon the oil-powered Yorktown 3 unit, and/or building a less obtrusive, lower-voltage line across the James. Arguing that the 500 kV line was overkill, they also argued that Dominion forecasts for electricity demand were unrealistically high.

In October 2016, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, which has named the James River as one of the nation’s 11 most endangered historic places, published an alternatives report prepared by Richard D. Tabors, a consultant and former MIT professor. Using Dominion data and the same simulation model as PJM, Tabors outlined four alternatives.

Summary of four alternative scenarios prepared by Tabors Caramanis Rudkevich.

Tabors recommended upgrading existing 115 kV and 230 kV power lines feeding the Peninsula, getting greater use out of the Yorktown No. 3 oil-based generator, dropping load at selected feeders, and building new transmission lines, preferably along existing rights of way. Each scenario, states the report, “is generally less costly and can be implemented in a shorter period of time.”

Since publication of the Tabors report, PJM has backed off its earlier load forecasts. Reports David Ress with the Daily Press:

The latest PJM forecasts … suggest peak load demand during the summer would grow at an annual rate of 4 percent though 2027, to reach a total of 20,501 megawatts.

That’s 1,755 megawatts less than PJM’s forecast a year ago, nearly an 8 percent decline. Last year, Dominion’s summer peak was 19,539 megawatts.

But in Herling’s letter to the Corps, PJM stuck to its guns on the larger point, that the Surry-Skiffes line presented the optimum solution to the Peninsula’s needs. “PJM staff has reviewed the proposed alternatives and found that none of them resolved the identified reliability criteria violations that are being addressed by the Surry-Skiffes 500 kV project,” wrote Herling.

There are multiple, inter-related reliability violations, said the PJM planner.

Solving for a single violation does not address the panoply of reliability violations that are designed to be addressed through the Skiffes Creek project. For example, the continued operation of the Yorktown 3 generator as proposed by Dr. Tabors would not address thermal overload and voltage violations on the 230 kV and 115 kV bulk electric system that were identified by PJM. In addition, Dr. Tabors’ reliance on the Yorktown 3 generator as a solution ignores the significant environmental operating restrictions and limitations on plant operations associated with that plant.

Subsequent studies have re-confirmed the need for the Surry-Skiffes project even considering PJM’s updated load forecasts, Herling wrote.

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17 responses to “Peninsula Still Needs Surry-Skiffes Project, Says PJM

  1. Folks need to realize that PJM is controlled by the utilities. It would be very surprising if it did not parrot what Dominion wants.

    • I think it’s the other way around. PJM forecasts demand and plans the grid, and Dominion falls into line. Not to say that Dominion and other utilities don’t have plenty of opportunity for input — PJM is a stakeholder-driven organization — but PJM has the last word.

      • If push comes to shove, PJM’s planning conclusions can be appealed to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. PJM does not answer to the SCC, and certainly not to Dominion. Now I’m not going to defend the FERC as having any particular bias, such as for or against preserving the environment around Jamestown, but it’s certainly not a pushover for the big electric utilities like Dominion and it has given PJM a hard time in the past also.

  2. re: ” but PJM has the last word.” on Skiffes Creek?

    it sounds like PJM looked at Dominion’s proposal and at the alternative proposals and pronounced Dominion’s to be the better – as a recommendation to the Army Corp. I don’t think PJM approves or rejects proposals per se, do they?

  3. I don’t doubt for a minute that the PENINSULA “needs” more generation. As I recall, that was an issue even before Yorktown was scheduled to be closed. Even back then – there was said to be a problem supplying peak..

    The bigger question was – what region was Surry supplying power to back then since it obviously had been in existence for decades – and had not been supplying power to the peninsula.

    I think it was supplying power to Southside Va and other regions south of the James.

    so why now is it being proposed to supply power North of the James and what will provide power to the places Surry now serves but will switch to the peninsular if Skiffes Creek is approved?

    The answer may be that Dominion is building two new gas plants in some of the least populated regions in Virginia.. so that Surry generation can be re-directed to provide power for the peninsula.

    So the decision has already been made – in fact probably more than a decade ago… and now it’s all over but the shouting in terms of getting Surry power north of the James and letting the two new gas plants in southside take over providing power to that region.

    and it looks like the opposition just shot their wad…. so onward!!

    • LG, the primary reliability issue is not obtaining, or replacing, power specifically from Surry, but beefing up the connection between the Peninsula and the rest of the extra-high-voltage (500kV/765kV) transmission grid that holds PJM together. That’s why the connection to Chickahominy sub. east of Richmond, which wouldn’t even cross the River, would be a better way to go even than the Surry connection if it weren’t for the environmental problems crossing the Chickahominy swamp and battlefield parks in that area.

  4. Setting aside the merits of the various alternatives, what I find really discouraging is the time this has taken, the starts and stops and delays. There is reason to fear that a decision by the Corps in favor of the river crossing will not end the argument. The apocalyptic hysteria notwithstanding, this is not the first time somebody has strung power lines across a river. I have no investment in any particular approach but PJM and the SCC looked at this as engineers would and concluded the line across the river is the most cost-effective and most reliable solution, short of continuing to burn coal or oil at that old plant – which I’m shocked to see proposed. Me, I believe clean air is the more important consideration.

  5. “The project was precipitated by federal clean-air regulations that compels Dominion to shut down two of its aging, coal-fired generators at the Yorktown Power Station. ”

    Typically, this statement is misleading — part of the propaganda blast against clean air. These two units were built about 60 years ago. They are really, really old. Let’s say that you are driving a 60-year-old car every day. And then when you realize that maintenance costs are way too high, you blame emissions rules.

    Honestly, I get so sick and tired of these ridiculous statements that are tossed off as fact constantly. People start to believe them.

    • Peter, are you maintaining that Dominion would have retired the Yorktown plant by 2017 even in the absence of the MATS standards? Perhaps that fact can be documented in the public record, but I haven’t seen it. Can you back up your charge with facts?

  6. This is a NIMBY issue, not to say NIMBY is always a bad thing. I’ve been to the geographic spot, so I can visualize the power line crossing the river. Someone here suggested the solution was a more expensive under-water cable, so that the locals would have less objection.

    • Yes, and I’ll say it again, they should have buried the line under the River. But the window of opportunity to cut a settlement with all the parties on that basis, get the Corps of Eng. to sign off on the settlement (they love it when all the controversy goes away), and get it all done in a timely manner, has been frittered away. I blame Dominion for ever thinking the CE would stick their necks out to make a controverted decision (without Congressional pressure, that is).

  7. I believe Dominion announced the closures in 2011 or so, well before Obama’s Clean Power Plan, which is now dead.

    The imply that regulation is responsible for closing plants built around 1957 is crazy.

    Why don’t you check with Dominion?

    • Nobody but nobody is blaming the closure of Yorktown on the Clean Power Plan. They’re blaming it on the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) regulations, which would have required the coal-fired units to install expensive pollution control devices. Sure, the plants are old and inefficient, so Dominion closed them down rather than install the scrubbers. And sure, Dominion undoubtedly planned to shutter them eventually. But the imposition of the MATS standards were the precipitating event for shutting them down sooner rather than later.

  8. All other things being equal, it’s in the ratepayers’ interests for Dominion to postpone investment in big new plants. I thought that is a major factor in the argument for using many smaller renewable sources of power. If the costs for bringing the plants up to speed on the MATS regulations outweighs the costs, the prudent thing to do is to shut down those plants. Otherwise, they should be retrofit and kept in service.

  9. Re: NIMBY – agree.

    re: PJM

    did PJM say that the two gas plants in Southside Virginia were needed for “reliability” similar to their input on Skiffes Creek?

    what “need” is being met by the two southside va gas plants?

  10. Check out this story by David Ress of the Daily Press:

    http://www.dailypress.com/news/politics/dp-nws-dominion-yorktown-20170317-story.html

    This raises all kinds of questions:

    Why would PJM order Dominion to run two coal-fired units at Yorktown to prevent blackouts on the Peninsula?

    Why didn’t Dominion have a plan to add power to serve that area? The must have known that the ancient coal-burning units were running on borrowed time long ago.

    Why is the James River power line the only option?

    Could it be that Dominion deliberately let its power planning slide so as to drum up pressure for the solution it likes best — the James River line?

  11. you know – if you look at this map – you wonder why they simply could not
    run the powerlines directly across the river from Surry to the actual mouth of Skiffes Creek. At that angle it appears that most if not all of it would be out of the view of Jamestown.

    it bothers me a lot – that Dominion is making these fatuous claims that the ONLY place is the place they picked – and other alternatives seem to have been purposely picked as to not be suitable. And it’s not that PJM is AGREEING with the crossing. What PJM is saying is that the connection from Surry to the Peninsula will meet the reliability requirements.

    PJM is not agreeing on the path of it nor the money part – that’s not their role.

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