The Alexandria City Council wants more than answers from Dominion Energy for a recent power outage on the busiest day of the year in Del Ray — they want restitution.
After a 2020 hiatus, the weather was perfect for Art On The Avenue on October 2 along Mount Vernon Avenue. But a 16-hour power outage that morning ended up shuttering many businesses throughout the festival, which brought an estimated 50,000 visitors to Del Ray.
“We couldn’t believe what happened,” Alexandria City Councilwoman Amy Jackson told three Dominion representatives at Tuesday night’s Council meeting. “Honestly, there was no reason for it. There wasn’t any wind, there wasn’t any rain, there wasn’t anything like an act-of-God scenario… Is there anything that you’re doing for those businesses aside from (saying), ‘We’re so sorry, we’ll do better next time,’ because they’re so sick of that, I can tell you.”
Robert Wright, Dominion’s director of grid planning and asset management, told Council that a “perfect storm” of underground switch and cable equipment failure was to blame. Wright also presented Council with a map of current and future spot improvement projects that Dominion is working on throughout the city.
“I completely understand the frustration with customers,” Wright said. “A 16+ hour outage on what sounds like one of the busiest, or most important days of the year.”
Alexandria Vice Mayor Elizabeth Bennett-Parker said that Dominion “raked in” $1 billion in excess profits between 2017 and 2021, and that it would be “cruel and shameful” if the utility giant does not compensate the affected businesses for their losses. Also, earlier this month, Dominion reached a settlement agreement with the Virginia Attorney General to refund $330 million to customers for outages and reduce rates by $50 million throughout the state.
“I think our restaurants are struggling, our businesses are struggling,” Bennett-Parker said. “I think to not do something would be cruel and shameful, in addition to obviously this additional work that we need.”
Joe Woomer, Dominion’s vice president of grid and technical solutions, said that no impacted businesses have been contacted and that such issues should be sent to Dominion’s Claims department.
“We have not had an outreach to the residents out there,” Woomer said.
Councilman John Taylor Chapman recommended that Dominion establish a way to reach out to affected businesses after widespread outages.
“I think it would help the business owners in particular,” Chapman said, “…and helping them pick up the pieces after they’ve had huge power outages.”
At the meeting, Dominion provided two maps of areas throughout the city that are planned for tech upgrades and equipment replacements over the next several years. Wright said that multiple projects to improve service have been in the works throughout sections of the city since last year, prompting Chapman to note that it was only just before the meeting that City staff were presented with the maps for the projects.
“I’m just amazed that today is the first day anybody from the city is seeing this,” Chapman said.
Councilman Canek Aguirre said it was concerning that no work is outlined for the Chirilagua (Arlandria) and Beverly Hills neighborhoods.
“You guys got nothing going on down in Chirilagua,” Aguirre said. “We want to make sure that we’re paying attention to… that section of Beverly Hills, which is just south of West Glebe (Road) because on both maps, there’s a strong section there that’s kind of missing.”
Wright that there has been an “increase in expectations” from Dominion customers in recent years.
“We’ve seen an increase in expectations in recent years,” Wright told Council. “If you think about the shift to more technologies, even during the pandemic, teleworking and remote learning have pushed reliable electric service to the forefront.”
Wright said that Dominion is inspecting its underground equipment, identifying needed equipment upgrades, and also “applying the lessons learned with that experience of equipment failure and our findings during inspections to make decisions about our broader population of equipment when we need to take action to maintain reliable service.”
Mayor Justin Wilson has been critical of Dominion for several years, and wants the utility to invest more money toward Alexandria.
“Money makes sense to me,” he said. “You’re able to tell me that you invested $39 million last year (in reliability upgrades throughout Alexandria). If you come to me and you say, ‘Hey, next year we’re gonna invest $60 million,’ That would mean something to me. That would be important.”
Earlier this month, Wilson voiced his disapproval on how city residents “have been adversely impacted by Dominion’s declining reliability in recent years,” in a meeting with the State Corporation Commission. Wilson asked that the Commission consider a downward performance adjustment to Dominion’s authorized return on equity.
I will say it again:
We have a right to expect more from @DominionEnergy
Plunging a central business district into darkness for the better part of their biggest day of the year, with no inclement weather, is UNACCEPTABLE.https://t.co/3rxX316pZS
— Justin Wilson (@justindotnet) October 2, 2021
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