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May 08, 2012

New Dominion electrical substation gets approval from city planners

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DailyProgressBy Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Tuesday, May 8, 2012

A plan by Dominion Virginia Power to increase the reliability of Charlottesville’s electric grid took one step forward Tuesday as the city Planning Commission voiced approval.
Design Development LLC was hired to create a model that shows how the substation would fit on the existing site 
Dominion required a special use permit in order to build what is known as a “backbone structure” at the back of its Charlottesville headquarters on Hydraulic Road.
“Electric substation facilities act as a conduit between high voltage lines and [the] lower voltage lines that which serve homes and businesses,” said Jonathon W. Schulitis, a site specialist with Dominion.
“What a substation does is provide an off ramp from the interstate of the electrical transmission system,” Schulitis added. “The substation will take power from that system and break it down to the distribution voltage. The more access you have provides for more [reliability].”
The permit is required because the structure will be 15 feet taller than that the 80 feet currently allowed in highway corridor zoning. However, there are existing utility poles that are already higher than that.
Staff recommended approval of the permit because the station is located along an existing transmission corridor and will increase the reliability of electricity in the area.
“The proposed substation will support the commercial growth the highway corridor is intended to facilitate,” said city planner Michael Smith. “In order for Charlottesville to continue promoting land use policies encouraging dense, urban development, the city must have adequate infrastructure.”
The upgrade was first publicly discussed during an August 2011 City Council meeting after then-Mayor Dave Norris invited Dominion to explain frequent power outages following storms.
Dominion hired Design Development LLC to produce 3-D simulations using a modeling tool called Google Sketchup to explain how the backbone would look as viewed in real terrain via Google Earth.
“A substation facility is difficult to describe, particularly in a public forum,” Schulitis said. “These visual simulations allow people to really see what it is that we’re talking about.”
Schulitis said city staff initially had questions about the height of the tower, triggering a question about whether the highway corridor zoning would allow a new structure.
“After the visual simulation was portrayed, I think it was cleared up pretty well, and people realized the substation wasn’t quite as large and not as imposing a feature as they had in their minds,” Schulitis said.
Dominion has agreed to build a visual buffer to block the view of the substation from Hydraulic Road.
No one spoke at public hearing. The commission voted unanimously to recommend the city council grant the special use permit.
Schulitis said Dominion hopes to complete construction of the backbone structure by the summer of 2013.


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