CFFC Goes Head to Head with Energy Conglomerates
In its 50 year history, CFFC has had to fight the power, and sometimes the power company.
To the corporations who make money providing energy to the endless sprawl in and around Washington DC, Fauquier County is Shangri La, full of wide-open land to exploit and clean air to sully. In the early 90’s, not one but two mega-watt power plants were built in Southern Fauquier County, both constructed for “peak” needs. This meant that the plants were designed to handle growth that was still but a glint in developers’ eyes.
The first plant, a Virginia Power turbine plant, was passed by the Board of Supervisors under duress. The Board was told that that a hasty decision was necessary because Caroline County was also in competition for the plant, which promised a $2 million annual tax income. So without a public hearing, or a full understanding of the plant’s impact to the county’s air and water, the BOS approved the project.
Less than two years later, Old Dominion Electric Cooperative expressed interest in building a larger plant at the same complex. This time, CFFC was ready. Taking out large ads in the newspaper, the group appealed to the public’s outrage over the Virginia Power plant and the decline in air quality the county was already experiencing.
The existing — and proposed plant — were quite adept at evading the EPA Clean Air standards by holding emissions to 249 tons, just under the 250 tons that would carry large fines and operations-interrupting penalties. The property in question sat adjacent to farmland, discouraging farmers from working to create continuous agricultural districts and preserving their way of life.
Ultimately, and despite strong opposition to the plant, the BOS was hoodwinked once more. Old Dominion convinced the Board to approve the second plant’s construction by promising development rights for the surrounding land.
With those disappointments in the rear view, 2014 found CFFC waging a PR war against the massive power lines threatening to mar the Fauquier County horizon. Dominion Power’s high-voltage electrical line was slated to cut across the eastern portion of the county, imposing on the grounds of six schools and one retirement home on its way to fuel huge, windowless data centers in Northern Virginia. Wetlands, forests, historic districts, and Civil War battlefields would all be threatened by the towers, which would stand more than 150-feet high and claim a right-of-way 120-feet wide.
CFFC’s Sue Scheer met and worked with dozens of groups from Fauquier and Prince William Counties to convince Dominion that the proposed path of the power lines was bad for people and bad for the environment. The land easements CFFC has for so long endorsed served as a powerful deterrent to the energy giant. Impressively, the group was able to convince Dominion to commit to an alternate route, one that would build upon lines already in place.
But the State Corporation Commission (SCC) objected. Because the new route would be more expensive — and leave a gap in the state’s “transmission backbone” — the Commission, in an unprecedented move, ordered the discarded route be reconsidered.
The reaction was one of the largest coalitions of citizens groups in Fauquier County’s history. Homeowners’ associations, school boards, preservation stalwarts, and environmental warriors came together to fight the power lines.
Speaking in front of the SCC, Sue Scheer testified to the exceptional unity of the coalition, “I was probably the biggest skeptic that this could work. But in the end, I was greatly impressed because it was a sincere attempt to respect all the communities involved to find the right route with the least constraints. Dominion, NOVEC, Prince William County and Fauquier County representatives — I never would have believed we could all agree.”
Ultimately, the alliance of community voices could not be ignored. SCC ceded their preferred route, and the gargantuan transmission lines were scrapped, once and for all.
Now that’s power to the people.