The Cunningham Dooms transmission line crosses several roads in Albemarle County, including U.S. Route 250 near Crozet. Credit: Credit: Tim Dodson, Charlottesville Tomorrow

After several local residents raised concerns about the visual impact of an anticipated power line project in Albemarle County, the State Corporation Commission is requiring Dominion Energy to darken the transmission line towers.

The 32.7-mile Cunningham-Dooms transmission line runs between substations in Augusta and Fluvanna counties, but the bulk of the line is in Albemarle. At a public hearing and in written comments submitted to the SCC last year, numerous Albemarle residents and local officials called on Dominion to complete its rebuild of the line with a treatment that would limit the shiny appearance of the project’s galvanized-steel towers.

The existing 500-kilovolt line was built in the 1960s and is made of COR-TEN weathering steel, which helps it better blend into the environment. The company noted in its filings to the commission, however, that these towers require more maintenance than expected and that COR-TEN “has been found to have inherent corrosion problems that continuously deteriorate the steel members in lattice-type towers.” The rebuild will replace aging equipment.

Dominion responded to the concerns about the impact on the county’s scenic viewsheds by noting that the galvanized towers would dull on their own over time. Dominion also argued that a chemical treatment was unnecessary because it could potentially reduce the service life of the towers and increase maintenance costs.

In a November report, hearing examiner Howard P. Anderson Jr. recommended that the SCC approve the project without requiring Dominion to use a chemical dulling process. He wrote that such a condition was “unwarranted” because the towers would dull in two to three years and that “the potential detrimental effect of the chemical dulling process on the lifespan of the towers is also unknown.”

Over this past spring as it considered the project, the SCC examined the question of whether to require Dominion to dull the towers.

A report from the SCC’s staff did not make any specific recommendation to the commission, but it concluded that “existing, industry-accepted methods can ensure that chemically dulled structures are fabricated and used without negative impacts to service life and maintenance requirements.”

In its May 5 ruling, the commission authorized the project and said it was “justified by the public convenience and necessity,” but it also required that the towers be chemically treated.

“After consideration of the record, including the required supplemental filings, the commission will require chemical dulling of the tower finish for this particular rebuild project under the circumstances of this case to mitigate the visual impacts of the rebuild project,” the SCC’s order read.

Ann H. Mallek, who represents the White Hall district on the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors, said she was happy with the decision. She had previously questioned the impacts on viewsheds.

“I’m very pleased that the State Corporation Commission has recognized the concerns of Albemarle County residents and businesses and our Comprehensive Plan and ordered Dominion to darken the towers,” Mallek said. “This is what we were asking for — no one ever said, ‘Don’t built it.’ We always said, ‘Build it right.’”

“Receiving the final order regarding the Cunningham-Dooms project is an important step in maintaining reliable electric service for western Virginia and the commonwealth as a whole,” Dominion Energy said in a statement. “… We appreciate the diligent review by the SCC and will abide by the order, including pre-dulling the galvanized steel used for the lattice structures.”

A Dominion spokesperson said the chemical treatment most likely would be an acid wash applied to the galvanized-treated steel.

Moving forward, the company hopes to start construction this summer, with a targeted completion date of December 2018. The rebuild will be constructed within Dominion’s existing right-of-way.