Aug 09, 2023
A 230-kilovolt line runs behind a Dominion Energy facility on Meetze Road near the Warrenton town limits.
Spurred by an increasing number of power-hungry data centers, the keepers of the electric grid in Northern Virginia are embarking on an ambitious, multi-billion-dollar plan to bring more electricity to the data center zones while shoring up other parts of transmission system.
This plan far exceeds the handful of new transmission lines that Dominion executives have been discussing with community leaders and activists in Prince William County. Some of the proposed projects are mammoth, and some contain surprises, including the resurrection of transmission lines opponents thought they had killed, risking the re-ignition of long-fought battles.
An example is a new version of the Wheeler-to-Warrenton transmission line that was dropped last year amid opposition to the Amazon data center approved for Warrenton. A version of that project can be found among the list of possibilities, although its proposed route, while not finalized, has shifted.
The project is among hundreds of miles of new 230- and 500-kilovolt transmission lines, the electricity-carrying backbones of the industry, crisscrossing large swaths of Virginia as well as Maryland and into West Virginia. It plans for new and improved substations and will likely require utilities to obtain new land and rights-of-way and demolish old power towers to make bigger ones.
The electric companies say the work is necessary to maintain reliable power to homeowners and businesses, as data centers demand more and more power from the grid. But the plans also portend angst, opposition and legal battles.
“This is impacting the entire region, and all because of Loudoun and Prince William counties approving data center after data center,” said Karen Sheehan, director of the Coalition to Protect Prince William County, which is battling what it sees as some ill-advised data center projects.
She noted that ratepayers across the region will pay for the improvements.
The roots of these developments lie in recent forecasts that show the power needs of Northern Virginia data centers growing by 7,500 megawatts by 2028 – a growth of about 35% over the 2021 load. One megawatt is enough to power about 250 households, so the additional power needed is equal to that of about 1.9 million households. For perspective, that’s more than half of the 3.6 million households in Virginia.
Dominion and PJM were slow to catch on to zooming power needs driven by data centers. This graph shows how far off early forecasts were for the coming 15 years. PJM adjusted its 15-year forecast (dotted line) this spring. Note: numbers of the left axis represent peak load; 43K means 43,000 megawatts of power.
Source: Dominion Energy
This spring, PJM Interconnection, which operates the grid across 13 Mid-Atlantic states, sought solutions from transmission contractors to increase capacity, reduce stress at key points and to import more energy from outside Northern Virginia. As a result, PJM is considering 72 proposals, some of which address small parts of the grid while others pose more comprehensive fixes.
“PJM can assemble a broad solution from among the competing proposals, some of them comprehensive, some not. We may use part of one proposal and part of another,” PJM spokesman Jeff Shields said in an email.
Shields said a “subset” of the projects would be built, but he couldn’t say how many. Still, with all of the proposals totaling more than $51 billion, the cost could easily run into the billions even if only a fraction is built.
It also appears likely that even more transmission projects are in the offing. Soon after PJM closed the bidding on the 72 proposals, it opened another bidding window to address needs outside data center alley. As Dominion Energy and PJM have forecast continuing growth in data center demand, PJM can be expected to invite more data-center driven solutions in the future.
The urgent need for additional power became clear last year when new forecasting tools showed the system that delivers power in danger of falling behind. In mid-2022, Dominion had to tell new data center customers it could not supply all the power they were requesting. It cut deals to supply less at first, and more later.
The new proposals being considered would add or beef up transmission from Pennsylvania to southern Virginia and from West Virginia to the Atlantic Ocean.
Some have a high impact on Loudoun, Prince William and Fauquier counties – which host the data center alley that is the cause of most of the forecast power demand. More than 40 of the proposals feature new 500-kilovolt lines, and 45 involve acquiring land or right-of-way, according to an analysis by the Coalition to Protect Prince William County.
Most would be completed by 2027, but a few stretches into 2030. PJM’s Transmission Expansion Advisory Committee (TEAC) will analyze the proposals and make recommendations at its meetings in October and November, and the board will decide which projects to pursue early next year. Those chosen in Virginia would be subject to approval by local authorities and the State Corporation Commission.
“Only a subset of the projects is required to resolve the reliability violations,” Shields said.
Projects with local impacts
Still, some of the proposals are huge. One project, dubbed Proposal 129, is a $3.1 billion offer from Dominion to build and enhance power lines and substations in Loudoun, Prince William and Fauquier counties and other counties to the south. It combines six separate proposals into one to deal with a projected “high data center load scenario.”
The plan includes a new 500-kilovolt transmission line from a substation near Ashburn that crosses the Potomac River to a major substation near Adamstown, Maryland – an area that is fast becoming another data center node. It includes upgrading a 500-kilovolt line that runs from Ashburn 70 miles south to the North Anna nuclear power station in Louisa County. It includes various new lines and upgrades in Loudoun’s data center alley and a second 500-kilovolt line from Lexington, Virginia, to a substation near Waynesboro, about 45 miles northeast.
The project also includes re-building a 500-kilovolt line through Fauquier County that runs 47 miles from Front Royal to Morrisville. To re-wire the line, 275 towers would have to be demolished and replaced and new high-efficiency cable installed, the proposal states. The cost of this segment alone would be $311.9 million.
Another proposal from Dominion (Proposal 711), has 42 parts that include upgrading lines and substations as well as building a new 500-kilovolt line from the North Anna power station through Spotsylvania County and on to Morrisville and Vint Hill in Fauquier County ending at a substation just west of Dulles International Airport. The cost would be more than $1.3 billion.
135-mile transmission line from Lynchburg to Remington
Transource Energy, a subsidiary of American Electric Power (AEP), which serves 11 states, proposes a 17-part upgrade (Proposal 904) that includes a 735-kilovolt line from a substation called Joshua Falls near Lynchburg to a new substation near Remington. It would pull power from AEP’s 735 kilovolt system in the Ohio Valley.
The route crosses 11 counties, including Culpeper and Fauquier, before arriving at its destination, where it ties into 500-kilovolt lines. The 135-mile route crosses the James River three times, eight other rivers and multiple high-voltage transmission lines. It would require 546 suspension towers. The 135-mile segment alone is pegged at $755.4 million.
Pageland Lane 500
Advocates of the Prince William Digital Gateway, proposed just northwest of the Manassas National Battlefield Park, have long suggested it could draw power from what Dominion calls its “trunk lines,” two 500-kV and two 230-kV lines that share towers along Pageland Lane. Plans for the gateway show it tapping into the 230-kV lines in at least four places to serve its substations.
Dominion has said that 500-kV lines are the mainstays that carry power from point to point on the grid and are not normally tapped to power businesses or developments. Because the gateway may contain up to 34 data centers, that has led to speculation that Dominion may need to create a new power corridor to serve them. Dominion executives have said in interviews that if the gateway creates loads that stress the system, they may have to build new lines to power the system as a whole, but they would not necessarily serve the gateway itself.
That may explain why several of the 72 proposals show new 500-kilovolt lines running in proximity to the proposed gateway, in lanes that appear to be outside the existing Pageland Lane power corridor.
One project (Proposal 325) proposes a new 500-kilovolt line running from Brambleton, a substation west of Dulles, through the gateway area continuing south. The route is 34 miles long and costs $201.7 million.
According to the bid documents, the line would be placed on a new route, heading southwest from Brambleton to a new station, running through urban and then rural lands. A GIS analysis was undertaken to route it away from public lands, the documents say. Right-of-ways would run up to 150 feet wide.
“Towers will be placed outside of wetlands, streams, known threatened and endangered species habitat and cultural/historical areas and floodplains to the greatest extent possible,” the project description says.
New Wheeler-to-Warrenton route
"Wheeler to Warrenton" opposition: A sign erected by opponents of the proposed "Wheeler to Warrenton" transmission line. The line would run from a substation near the Prince William-Fauquier county lines at Vint Hill, dubbed "the Wheeler substation" to a substation in Warrenton.
Fauquier residents may be surprised to see that two proposals (904 and 977), include an 8.8-mile stretch of 230-kilovolt lines from Warrenton to the Wheeler substation near Vint Hill. Once discussed as a way to send power to the Amazon data center being planned for Blackwell Road, Dominion dropped the idea in the face of strong opposition from citizens and businesses whose land it would traverse.
Now, it is back on the table, connecting to new or upgraded lines from the Loudoun County line south to Morrisville in Fauquier County.According to documents, it would exit the current Warrenton substation on Old Auburn Road and head northeast to the Wheeler substation. The line would cost between $36 and $38 million.
Asked about this segment, Dominion spokesman Steve Precker noted that the proposal came from Transource and not Dominion, which was well aware of community sentiment over the line. Asked if PJM might select it to be built, Precker said it’s up to PJM. But a PJM spokesman declined to speculate on what proposals might be chosen.
West Virginia PATH
Another zombie project (part of Proposal 23) is a transmission line from West Virginia’s Fort Martin Power Station, a coal burning plant near Morgantown owned by First Energy. The line would run 150 miles east to a major substation in Maryland and then cross the Potomac River to data center alley.
A similar line, known then as the Potomac-Appalachian Transmission Highline or PATH, was proposed by PJM in 2009 but was opposed by citizens who argued that it was not necessary. “The premise was reliability, but we showed that it was not needed,” said former PATH opponent Keryn Newman, who lives near Shepherdstown, West Virginia.
State regulatory boards in West Virginia, Maryland and Virginia agreed, and in 2012, the PJM board withdrew the project from its plans.
Newman was also involved in a six-year legal battle to overturn PJM’s attempt to have ratepayers pay for the public relations battle over the PATH line. Her group finally won.
She said what galls her is that the main benefit of data centers – their tax revenue – doesn’t benefit her county, yet the cost of the transmission lines is borne by all ratepayers.
“The thing is, I'm going to pay for these lines to fuel the data centers and what do I get out of it? I get another transmission line to look at," she said. "And my husband gets to fish under a second one."
Reach Peter Cary at [email protected]
Surging power demand in Northern Virginia, driven by the proliferation of data centers to su…
The two latest utility-scale projects proposed for Fauquier County are off to a rough start. Back in April, the planning commission rejected both an 832-acre solar facility proposed near Midland as well as a 466-acre project sited near Bristersburg.
In June 2022, Loudoun County staffers met with Dominion Energy officials to hear their plans to increase power reliability for data centers. Dominion said it was “contemplating system upgrades,” according to a county report. But three weeks later, with no warning to the county, Dominion started telling data centers new power delivery would be severely limited until January 2026 as it temporarily paused hookups for new data centers.
Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd,racist or sexually-oriented language.PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.Don't Threaten. Threats of harming anotherperson will not be tolerated.Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyoneor anything.Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ismthat is degrading to another person.Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link oneach comment to let us know of abusive posts.Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitnessaccounts, the history behind an article.
It's time to vote for the best of Prince William County!
Stay locally informed your way. Digital and Print Subscription memberships available.
The future of Prince William Times now depends on community support. Your donation will help us continue to improve our journalism through in-depth local news coverage and expanded reader engagement.
Keeping you connected to the Community. Find or Submit your local event here..
Success! An email has been sent to with a link to confirm list signup.
Error! There was an error processing your request.
Would you like to receive our breaking news alerts? Signup today!
Would you like to receive our daily news? Signup today!handful of new transmission linesCoalition to Protect Prince William Countyrecent forecasts72 proposalsProjects with local impacts135-mile transmission line from Lynchburg to Remington Pageland Lane 500 New Wheeler-to-Warrenton route "Wheeler to Warrenton" opposition:West Virginia PATHKeep it Clean.PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.Don't Threaten.Be Truthful.Be Nice.Be Proactive.Share with Us.Success!Error!Signup today!Signup today!