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Grid Reliability Projects
In July, 2018, Dominion Energy proposed a 10-year upgrade program for the electric grid in Virginia, made possible by the Commonwealth’s Grid Transformation and Security Act (GTSA). The undertaking would accommodate renewable energy from multiple sources. Among other things:
- We propose to move forward on our plan to deploy 2.1 million smart meters to give customers more control over how and when they use energy.
- We propose to deploy automated control systems and other smart-grid devices. These will speed the restoration of power during outages by quickly identifying and isolating the causes. They also will help protect the grid against cyber and physical attacks.
- New construction and material standards would improve grid resiliency and reduce outages caused by severe storms and other events. Hardening of substations will also improve our ability to keep electricity flowing without interruption.
Virginia’s State Corporation Commission approved only a portion of the company’s 2018 grid modification filing addressing cyber and physical security and related telecommunications. Dominion Energy filed a revised proposal in 2019.
Using a data-driven process, we continually analyze the performance of tap lines — the overhead wires that go into neighborhoods — over a 10-year period. Those most prone to outages are considered for placement underground. Tap lines typically sustain the most damage during storms and require the highest number of repairs. In addition to reducing outages for those served by the lines converted to underground, our Strategic Undergrounding Program has a broader advantage: It allows repair crews to move to other outage locations more quickly, therefore restoring power sooner for everyone.
In October 2018, the program placed its thousandth mile of power line — and nearly 3,000 individual tap lines — underground. Over the course of the calendar year, the company placed underground 844 individual tap lines spanning 300 miles, thereby avoiding 412 annual outage events. The process required partnering with customers to obtain more than 6,400 easements. The company plans to place another 3,000 miles underground in the coming years. We expect these measures to reduce the time it takes to restore service for all customers after a major storm by as much as 50 percent.
Storm Preparation and Training
These highlights don’t cover the many other efforts we make to sustain and improve power delivery — from replacing transformers and adding utility poles to installing new switches and sensors.
In 2018, we expanded on another tool in the reliability toolkit: storm preparation and training.
We have an obligation to serve all our customers, which means we have a duty to plan for severe weather. That starts long before the first cloud appears on the horizon, with annual training for everyone who will work on the front lines when a major event happens. The training takes place through both online learning modules and hands-on, face-to-face instruction, and covers topics such as damage-assessment patrolling, coordination with first responders, proper procedures to ensure safety around downed power lines, and the different responsibilities for each role in the company's storm-response system.
We practice and prepare all year long for severe weather. Among other things, we take part in the Southeastern Electric Exchange Mutual Aid Conference and exercises held by state departments of emergency management.
When a major storm approaches, we stage crews and equipment in the field so they can begin work as quickly as possible. In Virginia and North Carolina, our regional operational centers coordinate with the system-wide storm center in Richmond, and coordinate with local emergency management and jurisdictional authorities. We alert the public about the storm’s potential and offer advice on how customers can be prepared.
And when severe weather hits, we follow careful and detailed emergency restoration plans. These begin with an initial damage assessment within the first few hours, followed by swift action to restore power to critical public-safety and health facilities first, then residential and commercial customers.
Smart-grid improvements we are proposing as a result of the GTSA should enable us to locate and fix outages even more quickly in the coming years — helping to reduce service interruptions even under the most difficult conditions.
As technology, environmental concerns and energy consumption patterns change, our business does, too. Last year we placed into service more than $900 million of electric transmission assets.
The combination of increasing demand and the retirement of two coal-fired generation units in southeastern Virginia led to the installation of the Skiffes Creek 500-kilovolt transmission line, along with a new switching station (a kind of substation) to the south of Williamsburg. Much of the work on that project was carried out in 2018.
We also completed the rebuilding of two 500-kilovolt transmission lines, increasing their capacity by 57 percent and roughly 40 percent, respectively.
We methodically evaluate existing lines and replace them as necessary. In 2018, we replaced 128 miles of transmission lines. In response to increased demand from data centers and other consumers, we also built 74 miles of new line.
Resiliency and Security
For years, Dominion Energy has used the National Electric Safety Council’s (NESC) combined ice and wind loading criteria as the basis for design standards for typical distribution facilities. In order to harden the system even further against extreme weather, the company proposes to design all future construction to meet the stronger of the NESC’s heavy loading criteria for combined ice and wind, or the extreme-winds criteria of the American Society of Civil Engineers. This will lead to a stronger, more resilient distribution grid by dictating larger poles and shorter spans between them. Additional standards include establishing a minimum pole class across the system, requiring deeper pole setting or select backfill in areas with poor soil, expanding the use of fiberglass cross-arms and using upgraded insulators.
We also intend to further harden electric substations commensurate with the risks associated with ensuring reliable operations to the customers served by the substation. Additionally, the company maintains a concerted effort to harden boundaries and implement sophisticated asset monitoring around the perimeter of our substations.