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Dominion Power says ‘outlandish cost’ prevents city-wide power line undergrounding in Alexandria

After a Sunday storm that knocked out power to much of the city, some locals suggested Dominion Energy look into undergrounding more of its utilities, but the power company says costs and other factors keep that from being a viable option on a city-wide scale.

Alan Bradshaw, vice president of strategic partnerships for Dominion Energy, said commissioned studies found the cost of undergrounding all utilities to be “outlandish.”

Northern Virginia Magazine previously reported that the price tag for state-wide undergrounding is around $80 billion.

“Undergrounding is frequently brought up, especially during storms,” Bradshaw said. “The state corporation commissioned a study but installation cost is outlandish and would impact customers and their bills.”

Instead, Bradshaw said Dominion has been “strategically undergrounding” to protect some of the more vulnerable power lines.

“We took the opportunity a few years ago, not to underground everything, but to underground some of the more outage-prone lines,” Bradshaw said. “We use ten-year outage histories to identify most outage-prone lines and target the neighborhood lines we go to frequently. We’re undergrounding that for much less cost than undergrounding the entire system.”

Bradshaw did note that undergrounding isn’t viable in every location and — while not citing Alexandria specifically — did say areas that are prone to flooding also make poor candidates for utility undergrounding.

“Of course, not every area is perfect for undergrounding,” Bradshaw said. “If an area is prone to flooding, that’s probably not something we’d do there.”

Meanwhile, Dominion Energy is warning more outages are likely as the year moves into hurricane season.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has said conditions are ripe in the Atlantic Ocean for a busy hurricane season.

“The forecast is that we do expect a busy tropical season,” said Alan Bradshaw, vice president of strategic partnerships for Dominion Energy. “The setup is conducive for some of those tracks to come up the coast.”

Bradshaw said Dominion has been upgrading its storm infrastructure, though in ways that may not be immediately apparent to someone driving past. Wooden cross arms, for example, are bein replaced with a lighter but more durable polymer.

“There’s bigger poles, stronger cross arms… a lot of new technology on the grid,” Bradshaw said. “A lot of folks that may drive down the road may see poles and wires and it may look similar to what it did 60 years ago, but there’s a lot of new technology [like] devices that monitor and tell us when there’s damage.”

Bradshaw said recovery efforts prioritize critical infrastructure like hospitals and 911 facilities. Dominion also works in tandem with local agencies on public safety hazards like downed wires.

For locals, Bradshaw said the best thing they can do to help with storm recovery is to report outages, either through an app or through the city website.

The power outages this week were met with frustration from the community.

Dominion Energy has previously told the City Council that it would invest $17 million into infrastructure in Alexandria over the next three years as part of an effort to improve reliability, though this pledge was met with some frustration from city officials at the meeting for failing to include any details on what type of improvements that investment entails.

“It’s important to know: our teams are constantly training to be the best when our customers need us most,” Bradshaw said. “When the product we provide is not available it causes issues for our customers. We’re very sensitive to that and motivated on that to get the lights on.”

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