After devastating snowstorm, Fredericksburg power lines bolstered

The devastating winter storm in January that left drivers stranded for hours on Interstate 95 in Virginia was particularly destructive to the Fredericksburg area — now Dominion Energy is in the midst of efforts to “harden” its power grid to prevent future outages.

On Wednesday, WTOP was there as Dominion Energy crews worked to upgrade equipment in a 4.5-mile circuit in the Fredericksburg area.

Workers with Dominion Energy upgrade equipment in the Fredericksburg, Virginia, area. (WTOP/Neal Augenstein)

”They replaced the existing pole with a new taller, fatter pole with a fiberglass crossarm,” said Stephen Dulin, program director of Dominion’s grid resiliency program. “By installing the fatter poles, they’re able to better withstand higher wind loading and ice loading.”

Installing stronger poles will improve the ability to withstand a major contributor to outages: trees falling on lines, which causes poles to break.

”If we should have a large storm that brings down trees, from a hurricane or an ice storm, this will significantly reduce the amount of time it takes to replace the existing equipment and get the lines energized,” Dulin said.

With an augur to drill new holes near existing poles, and crews in bucket trucks to transfer wires to the new stanchions, Dominion is replacing approximately 100 miles of equipment in 2022, statewide, including installing 3,000 of the new poles with their higher engineering standards.

The recent storm caused long-lasting outages in rural portions of the state, including the Fredericksburg area — they are among those being replaced.

”The circuits that we’ve selected for this have historically been our worst performing circuits,” said Dulin. The upgrade is being paid for by customers in their monthly bills.

Dulin said a circuit near Richmond, which had been upgraded before last January’s storm, had far fewer outages with the hardened equipment than the original poles.

”Hopefully, moving into this hurricane season and this upcoming winter storm season, with the completion of this 100 miles, these circuits will see a significant [improvement] from any potential storms this season.”

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a reporter at WTOP since 1997. Through the years, Neal has covered many of the crimes and trials that have gripped the region. Neal's been pleased to receive awards over the years for hard news, feature reporting, use of sound and sports.

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