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One of Alexandria’s power outages in the West End (image via Dominion Energy)

(Updated 5:15 p.m.) As a severe thunderstorm sweeps through Alexandria, Dominion Energy says there are around 2,992 customers in the city without power.

Dominion’s outage map showed that there was a large outage — 3,705 without power — along Duke Street and southern Seminary Hill that has since disappeared from the map. Another large outage — 1,557 customers — is reported just west between James K. Polk Elementary School and Beauregard Street.

As of 5 p.m., Alexandria is under severe thunderstorm and flash flood warnings.

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Art On The Avenue on Saturday, October 2, 2021, was a hit, but local businesses suffered due to a power outage that lasted all day (staff photo by James Cullum)

In the run up to this fall’s 27th annual Art On The Avenue festival in Del Ray, Dominion Energy is starting off with better footing than last year.

The power company just approved a $20,000 sponsorship to embellish the festival’s Kids Art Corner, a popular activity at the festival where more than a dozen nonprofits provide art activities for kids and families.

“It’s a big deal for us,” festival founder Pat Miller told ALXnow. “Ten-to-14-year-olds wander around Art On The Avenue, but there isn’t really anything for them to do.”

Last year’s festival was disrupted by a 16-hour power outage, which ended up shuttering many businesses on Del Ray’s busiest day of the year.

“I don’t want to think about that (the outage),” Miller said. “This is about the kids.”

Subsequently, Dominion committed to millions in infrastructure upgrades in Alexandria to prevent future outages. The energy giant also gave grants this year to Runningbrooke, Rebuilding Together, the Four Mile Run Conservancy Foundation and the Alexandria Tutoring Consortium.

Dominion spokesperson Peggy Fox said the company is excited to participate as an exclusive sponsor.

“In addition to family favorites, such as pumpkin painting and scarecrow making, Dominion Energy’s sponsorship will bring brand new art styles and activities such as robotic art for kids 10-13 years old,” Fox said. “We’re also hoping to see a kinetic art activity at Kids Art Corner, which is held at the Mt. Vernon Recreation Center fields.”

Art On The Avenue is from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday, October 1.

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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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Restored power line in Alexandria, image via Dominion Energy/Twitter

While Dominion Energy warned earlier that repairs for large swaths of Alexandria could be delayed until Tuesday morning, most of those outages have been cleared up as of 3:30 p.m.

Around 176 Alexandrians remain without power, according to the Dominion website. Those outages are scattered around the city, though 144 of them are in Arlandria — which was hit with widespread outages last night.

The Dominion website said the Arlandria restoration is likely to be resolved between 6-11 p.m., but Dominion spokesperson Peggy Fox told ALXnow those estimates generally reflected the latest possible times those could be delayed.

The outage caused frustrations among Alexandrians, who said the post-storm power outage was a reflection of the poor state of utilities in Northern Virginia.

City Council member John Chapman said the outages emphasized the need to take another look at undergrounding more utilities in Alexandria.

Image via Dominion Energy

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Outages in Del Ray on May 23, image via Dominion Energy

Around 982 customers are currently without power across Alexandria as Dominion Energy scrambles to fix damage from a Sunday night storm.

Power outages already pushed two Alexandria City Public Schools to virtual classes. The Dominion Power website said the outages may not be fixed until 9 p.m. tonight (Monday) or 2 a.m. tomorrow.

Peggy Fox, a spokesperson for Dominion Energy, said the estimate represents hopes for the latest it may be restored.

“The [time of restoration] on there are the extended ranges, that’s as far out as it may take,” Fox said. “There’s a lot of damage.”

Fox said crews working in Arlington, for instance, are clearing away damage from fallen trees — which may take at least eight hours.

“We have to get out here and get our eyes on the damage,” Fox said. “It takes a little time. I know people are upset.”

This morning, Fox said Dominion Energy had 92 power outage projects it was working on.

Most of those outages are centered in Del Ray and Arlandria, which together account for 592 outages.  There are also 133 customers without power in the Taylor Run neighborhood.

The outages brought to mind old concerns about Dominion Energy’s local utility grid. While Dominion had previously tried to claim power outages were a fluke, in March, Dominion Energy said it would invest $17 million in the city to improve reliability. Those improvements could take up to three years, however, while outages continue.

Image via Dominion Energy

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Updated at 11:15 p.m. It took nearly five hours for the power to turn back on for thousands of Alexandria residents on a steamy Sunday night (May 22).

Alexandria got hit by a severe thunderstorm at around 6 p.m. At 8:36 p.m., Dominion Energy tweeted that there were more than 25,000 homes still without power in Northern Virginia.

According to Dominion Energy’s Outage Map:

  • More than 1,300 residents experienced an outage in the Rosemont area
  • There were about 2,600 outages in the Arlandria area

Jesse Thompson lives in a high rise Arlandria, and had no power or water for five hours.

“I’m doing about as well as I can right now,” Thompson said during the outage. “This is really something else.”

After a few rocky years outage-wise, Dominion has recently pledged to invest millions in Alexandria.

City Councilman Kirk McPike tweeted that Dominion Energy’s service “continues to be unacceptable.”

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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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