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A rendering of what the view over Four Mile Run will look like after the power lines are undergrounded (via Dominion Energy)

project scheduled to begin this summer will tunnel under the Four Mile Run near the Route 1 bridge to move overhead power lines underground.

As part of the project, Dominion Energy will rebuild its Glebe Substation next year, modernizing the facility that was built in the 1970s and is reaching the end of its service life. The substation serves parts of Arlington and Alexandria.

The project comes after Dominion Energy has promised to invest millions in the area after years of frequent and sometimes devastating power outages.

“Everything will look a lot cleaner, a lot of the equipment will be a lot smaller,” said Ann Gordon Mickel, Dominion Energy’s communication and community lead for the project.

A virtual community meeting will be held tonight (Wednesday) at 6:30 p.m. to discuss the status of the project and what to expect during and after construction.

When work begins, a 250-foot by 250-foot area will be fenced off in the Potomac Yard shopping center parking lot in Alexandria to allow for a 40- to 50-foot deep pit for tunneling.

In Arlington, a pit will be constructed at the substation and there may be temporary intermittent closures on S. Eads Street, as well as on nearby sidewalks and pedestrian paths. Electric service will not be affected.

The underground line will run between the substation and the Potomac Yard Transition Station, which will be decommissioned at the end of the project. The rebuilt Glebe Substation will incorporate new technology, requiring less maintenance and making it more reliable, the power company said.

“Any time you address aging infrastructure and replace it with new technology the reliability always enhances,” said Greg Mathey, a manager of electric transmission communications for Dominion Energy. “The transmission system feeds the distribution system, so the more reliable and hardened we can make the transmission system, the better the distribution system can perform.”

The construction to convert to underground lines is scheduled to continue through 2024. The whole project should be completed by late 2025.

A chart showing the timeline for the Glebe Electric Transmission project (via Dominion Energy)

The entire project is expected to cost about $122.8 million. The State Corporation Commission, which regulates utilities in Virginia, approved the project in 2019. It was originally scheduled to be up and running by this month, but due to the nature of the construction, the timeline was pushed back.

Using a trenchless microtunneling method will increase costs by about $16 million — but it shortens the construction timeline, according to project documents.

This type of tunneling will also reduce construction-related impacts to the Potomac Yard shopping center, as it won’t require as much space for pipes above ground.

The overhead lines that can be seen over Four Mile Run will be removed at the end of the project.

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Five months after a 16-hour power outage disrupted Del Ray’s Art On The Avenue festival, Dominion Energy says it will invest $17 million over the next three years to improve reliability in the city.

That was the gist of an hour-long update from Dominion to City Council Tuesday night (March 22), where Bill Murray, Dominion’s senior vice president of corporate affairs and communications, informed City Council that the energy giant plans on spending $3.4 million this year, $8.5 million in 2023 and $5.2 million in 2023 on 20 “incremental reliability investments” in areas affected by outages in Alexandria, and will begin planning with city staff next month.

“We’re going to plan in April to have some workshops with your staff around the first five,” Murray said.

There have been few outages in Alexandria since Art On The Avenue on Oct. 2 — forcing businesses to close for the the busiest day of the year on Mount Vernon Avenue in Del Ray. The weather was nearly perfect that day, with clear blue skies. Since the event, Murray said, Dominion has replaced 1,000 feet of power cables in the area, and will give future Art On The Avenue festivals the same attention as it gives to polling places on Election Day.

“Any of your polling places, regardless of the weather forecast on Election Day, whether it’s bad weather, good weather, whatever it might be, we always have a plan for each individual polling precinct,” Murray said. “We recognize things happen, and we don’t want the marching democracy being interrupted by an outage. So, we’re going to adopt that approach with this particular festival.”

Dominion did not present a PowerPoint presentation to City Council, and did not present details on which areas of the city need improvement, which irked some members.

“I’ll be honest, we were a little hampered by not having something to kind of look at tonight,” said Mayor Justin Wilson, who has been critical of Dominion for years.

Council Member Kirk McPike said that a PowerPoint presentation would have been useful after “repeated failures of our electrical system over the years.”

“We need the people of Alexandria to be able to see what we’re discussing here, what point you’re raising, have a better sense of what’s going on here,” McPike said. “Right now I don’t think they do.”

Dominion last spoke with the council shortly after the Art On The Avenue outage, and provided the city with maps on where it plans on making improvements in the city.

Council Member Alyia Gaskins said she appreciates Dominion’s plan to prevent an Art On The Avenue outage from reoccurring, but that the city hosts multiple large-scale events throughout the year.

“I’m also thinking about the fact that we have so many big, really important events in the city, beyond Art On The Avenue, and that was catastrophic and devastating,” Gaskins said. “Maybe there’s a top five list of events that we know are huge economic generators for the city, and having that same type of pre-scan, pre-assessment, as well as a point person who is on-site would be critical for those events as well.”

Vice Mayor Amy Jackson said that Dominion is a valuable partner, and that she would appreciate its representatives to be on the ground for large festivals.

“I don’t know how you would have enough manpower and boots on the ground to do that for every festival,” Jackson said. “That’s close to impossible, but I’d like to see you try. If you’re promising one to Art On The Avenue, then then absolutely, I’ll take you up on all of them. We’ll give you the calendar.”

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LED streetlight (photo via City of Alexandria)

Travellers along some of Alexandria’s arterial streets might see things in a different light now.

Transportation and Environmental Services has been working with Dominion Energy to swap out the city’s street lamps with LED lights. So far, the city said around 40% of the city’s streetlights have been swapped.

“As of October 2021, many arterial streets have been successfully retrofitted, including Van Dorn Street, Eisenhower Avenue, Duke Street, Washington Street, and N. Quaker Lane,” the city said. “In addition, all of the fixtures in the Cameron Station neighborhood and the Carlyle area have been transitioned to LED.”

The next phase of the project will involve continuing retrofits on main streets, like Route 1, King Street, Braddock Road and Glebe Road. The city said the transition to residential neighborhoods is likely to start in early 2022 once the lights on the arterial and collector streets have been changed. The project is expected to be completely finished in around 12-18 months.

The city said the new LED lights are brighter than existing streetlights, last five times longer and reduce energy consumption by 90%.

Via City of Alexandria

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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 tothat 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.

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A power outage on Saturday set off a week of concerns about city infrastructure, even as the city was ranked one of the best small cities in the country.

The power outage that derailed the Art on the Avenue celebration is just the latest in a long chain of outages that have hit Alexandria over the last year, giving the lie to Dominion Energy’s claim that a large outage almost exactly a year ago was a fluke. Mayor Justin Wilson has previously called the state of frequent outages unacceptable and urged Dominion to do more to upgrade its infrastructure.

Power outages are just one of the infrastructure issues Alexandria is grappling with. This week the state also announced it would be funding some flooding mitigation work in Alexandria, while some in city leadership are hesitant about the price tag for some specific waterfront flood prevention plans.

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Photo via Dominion Energy/Facebook

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The power went out on the busiest day of the year in Del Ray on Saturday (October 2).

An estimated 50,000 people descended on Mount Vernon Avenue for the 26th annual Art On The Avenue festival that day, but many restaurants and other businesses were forced to shut down due to the outage.

Homegrown Restaurant Group’s Pork Barrel BBQ Restaurant, The Sushi Bar, and Holy Cow Del Ray lost a combined $30,000 in sales, co-owner Bill Blackburn told ALXnow.

“It was disappointing,” Blackburn said. “It was a lot of work for nothing.”

Dominion Energy reported that the outage was due to underground switch and cable equipment failure, and eventually restored power at around 10:30 p.m. — after the event was over.

Mayor Justin Wilson says the city is now considering a “variety” of options to improve service.

“We are exploring a variety of options to improve the reliability of Alexandria’s electricity service,” Wilson said. “We continue to believe that Dominion can and should do more to build a more reliable and resilient infrastructure to serve the City.”

Wilson did not get specific on the options, and said that the City will release more information this week. During the outage, he tweeted out a strongly worded post, and said it was unacceptable that a central business district was plunged in darkness.

Blackburn said business was strong the following day, on Sunday, with support mainly coming from local customers.

“Once again, we are lucky to do business in such a great community,” he said.

The Dairy Godmother, on Facebook, said that it lost “400 kolaches and 1,500 donuts… due to the power outage.”

“We are so sorry we were closed,” the shop wrote. “We have the greatest staff in the greatest neighborhood with the worst power company (except for Texas), we will open at 9AM with Just Fine Donuts, today we have Pumpkin Cake donuts, plus all of our usual flavors of yeast and cake donuts. With luck by 10 we will have Sausage Cheese Kalaches. Custard by Noon with Pumpkin as the Flavor of the Day, Apple Crisp is the Treat of the day.”

Alexandria also sent a letter to Dominion asking them to step up their game earlier this year. There were 16 large-scale outages in 2020 affecting thousands of residents.

The following businesses lost power, according to Visit Del Ray:

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A power outage in Del Ray has shut down a number of businesses, although the annual Art on the Avenue festival today (October 2) is still happening. The event is one of the biggest events in the city and draws tens of thousands of people.

“We have a right to expect more from @DominionEnergy,” tweeted Alexandria Mayor Justin Wilson. “Plunging a central business district into darkness for the better part of their biggest day of the year, with no inclement weather, is UNACCEPTABLE.”

The Alexandria Health Department has shut down a number of businesses due to the outage, although most of the art vendors don’t need power to operate along Mount Vernon Avenue. The Del Ray Business Association’s set-up team was out at 5 a.m. working in the dark.

“For some of those businesses this is literally the busiest day of the year,” said Del Ray Business Association Board member Gayle Reuter. “Restaurant staff are just waiting there with all the food they bought, and it’s very frustrating. But the festival is unbelievable. It’s one of the biggest crowds I’ve seen. It’s just really sad for local businesses without power. They’re the ones who have been hurting.”

The festival ends at 6 p.m.

Via Dominion Energy

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Updated at 12 a.m. Thousands of Alexandria residents are currently without power, as a thunderstorm continues to affect the city, according to Dominion Energy’s outage map.

There are more than 3,400 people without power in Old Town. There are also more than 150 residents without power in North Ridge due to a downed power pole, and more than 300 without power in Del Ray. Crews have been dispatched to impacted areas.

Alexandria and the surrounding area were hit by a thunderstorm at around 4:30 p.m.. A Hazardous Weather Outlook remains in effect until 10 p.m.

Map via Dominion Energy

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Update at 6:20 p.m. — Outages remain in Taylor Run, but the Arlandria outage has been fixed.

Several thousand Alexandrians are currently without power as a result of a “wall of wind.”

According to Dominion Energy, 2,915 customers are without power in Arlandria.

There are other scattered islands of power outage throughout the city, including 1,349 customers in Taylor Run without power. In the West End, 857 customers are without power near John Adams Elementary School.

There’s no indication yet when power could be restored.

From the National Weather Service:

BULLETIN – IMMEDIATE BROADCAST REQUESTED
Severe Thunderstorm Warning
National Weather Service Baltimore MD/Washington DC
439 PM EDT Fri Apr 30 2021

The National Weather Service in Sterling Virginia has issued a

* Severe Thunderstorm Warning…

* Until 515 PM EDT.

* At 438 PM EDT, severe thunderstorms were located along a line extending from Montgomery Village to near Chantilly to Warrenton, moving east at 65 mph.

HAZARD…60 mph wind gusts.

SOURCE…Radar indicated.

IMPACT…Damaging winds will cause some trees and large branches to fall. This could injure those outdoors, as well as damage homes and vehicles. Roadways may become blocked by downed trees. Localized power outages are possible. Unsecured light objects may become projectiles.

* Locations impacted include… Arlington, Alexandria, Germantown, Centreville, Waldorf, Dale City, Rockville, Bethesda, Gaithersburg, Reston, Bowie, Severn, Annandale, Clinton, Olney, Springfield, College Park, Crofton, South Riding and Fort Washington.

People attending the FEMA Greenbelt Metro mass vaccination site should seek safe shelter immediately!

PRECAUTIONARY/PREPAREDNESS ACTIONS…

For your protection move to an interior room on the lowest floor of a building.

Image via Dominion Energy

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Alexandrians are starting to get suspicious that the repeated power outages aren’t just the fluke that Dominion officials claim.

Old Town was hit with another power outage last week that left over 2,000 customers in the city’s southeast corner in the dark for hours. It was the latest in a series of outages over the last year.

Dominion officials told the City Council that the incidents were unique and unrelated to broader structural problems, but officials disagreed and Mayor Justin Wilson wrote a letter to Dominion formally requesting greater investment in reliable infrastructure.

Photo via Dominion Energy/Facebook

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