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GENERAL ASSEMBLY: Dominion wants to start burying lines, for a bit of a fee

RICHMOND —You’ve probably thought it after a big storm—if Dominion would just bury power lines, you would be sitting in air-conditioning, rather than sweating and emptying the freezer and cussing the sometimes dayslong wait for power to be restored.

Well, Dominion is ready to grant your wish. But it’ll cost you a bit more each month.

The company wants to start burying its most vulnerable lines, the ones that feed the most customers and experience the most outages.

The Senate on Friday passed a bill that will let Dominion apply a rate rider to customer bills—basically, an increase in the bill—to pay for burying lines underground. The company would still apply to the State Corporation Commission for approval for the rider.

According to bill sponsor Sen. Dick Saslaw, D–Fairfax, that rate increase would start at about 70 cents per month for every Dominion customer, and end up being about $4 per month.

“But it’s well worth it,” Saslaw said. “The overall purpose of the bill is an outstanding one that’s going to benefit everybody here.”

He recalled a wind storm more than a year ago that left some people without power for three weeks.

Dominion has previously said it would cost far too much to bury its network of 58,000 miles of “distribution” lines.

But this proposal targets only about 4,000 miles of lines. Dominion plans to bury about 350 miles per year over the next decade to finish the project.

It will cost about $175 million over 10 years. Dominion says that’s just 2 percent of what the State Corporation Commission said it would cost to bury all the lines. That’s what Dominion will recover by applying the rate rider.

About a third of Dominion’s network already is underground, as the company tries to bury lines in newer neighborhoods.

Dominion says burying those targeted lines should allow the company to restore power in outages up to 50 percent faster, although it cautioned that outages can still happen when lines are buried, since a large portion of the power system would still be above ground.

Saslaw’s bill passed easily with only one “no” vote. A House version of the bill passed unanimously last week, also with just one “no” vote.

Chelyen Davis: 804/343-2245