I would like to explain my opinion of the what and why of Dominion Resources’ general philosophy in dealing with customers, under any and all circumstances. Dominion’s basic business is service. I write from 40 years’ experience (1948-1988) of employment by Vepco – now a Dominion subsidiary — to provide that service.
I am a Virginia Tech educated electrical engineer — major electronics, minor 60 cycle power systems. By virtue of the well planned internal training philosophy of the company, my job varied functionally, first as an FCC licensed mobile-radio technician, through the ranks of electric distribution and transmission, electrical operations (at the Outer Banks and northeast North Carolina), human resources, executive level administration, information technology, business systems analysis, telecommunications and staff engineering.
Among these jobs was the rebuilding of the Outer Banks distribution system after “The Great Ash Wednesday storm of 1962,” planning and location of increased/expanded facilities, both electric and gas, as Vepco served gas customers in the tidewater area (Virginia Natural Gas Company). Later Dominion had to divest itself of VNG in order to purchase the much more extensive gas holdings from Pennsylvania up to New England, now being profitably “fracked.” To the best of my knowledge, Dominion may now serve more gas customers in New York State than any other utility.
Dominion doesn’t arbitrarily decide to build new facilities – customer demand decides it. In every state, Dominion is ruled by a state charter, which always first requires the satisfying of customer demand within reasonable financial, technical, and governmental boundaries. This requires extensive and continuous long-range planning as parameters evolve over time. The odds are that the facilities to provide your services today were initially conceived perhaps 15 years ago. That initial concept is studied, re-studied, and modified on a continual basis, almost month to month, certainly yearly.
Dominion’s basic philosophy in dealing with customers and property owners is similar to the medical genre of “First – Do No Harm”. If disruptions to existing terrain, property, property rights, environment MUST occur, then every effort is made within cost latitudes, and other constraints to do the absolute minimum damage possible guided through public input, political considerations, geographic constraints, and new technologies. While assisting in planning the location of a new transmission line in northeastern North Carolina, I was able to guide route engineers through 30 miles (as the crow flies) of tobacco, cotton, peanut fields, and forest without crossing a single crop-producing field. It required many changes in route using more expensive dead ends and corner structures, but the possibility of destroying any crop in the event of possible required repair from storms and hurricanes was eliminated. Right-of-way was purchased with almost no problem.
All high-voltage electric, high pressure/volume gas transmission facilities are on purchased rights-of-way as access for maintenance, repair, and expansion must be absolute. Low voltage-low pressure distribution facilities rights-of-way are almost always obtained through various types of “easements,” wherein ownership of property remains with current owners. During my 40 years of employment just after World War Two, growth occurred almost exponentially. Evolving electronic and computer and agricultural facilities that are now in common use drove this demand. In order to serve the growing demand, electric operating parameters had to change. Increased operating voltages allowed continual usage of expensive circuitry, helping to keep customer billing low. Increases in operating voltage often required increased spacing for insulating purposes, thus more right-of-way. In 1948, the typical distribution voltage was 2,300 volts AC (alternating current).
Today it is 34,500 volts AC. In 1948, many small industrial customers (as in Richmond’s Shockoe Slip) were using 230/240 volt DC (direct current) for freight elevators, manufacturing motors, etc. The DC service was a holdover from the trolley system that was the initial electric service provided by Vepco’s predecessors. It fell to my lot to participate in the changeover from DC to AC for many of these unhappy customers. DC motor controls were cheaper and more effective than AC. However, the DC service had always been provided by antiquated hydroelectric generators on the James River canals. Their useful life was over. In 1948, high voltage transmission ran at 66,000 volts AC to 110,000 volts AC. Now we often use 500,000 volts AC. Some companies use 750,000 volts AC.
The costs for building electric or gas transmission in tidewater Virginia is quite less than building the same facilities in the Alleghany and Blue Ridge Mountains. However, customer demand dictates that these facilities must be built. Some of these customers may now be far removed from you. However, Dominion will pull out all stops to build the least offensive facility at the most practical cost.
Dominion must also satisfy stockholders, customers, employees and various governmental agencies, and the funds must come from available capital. Utilities operate almost completely on borrowed funds with cash reserves usually being only enough to pay bills on a day-by-day basis, using “cash management” techniques — quite complicated. Customer receipts go mostly to pay interest on loans and daily operating expenses such as salaries and supplies.
To accomplish all of this, I can attest that Dominion “runs a tight ship,” clean, efficient, reliable customer service always being the first consideration.
Calvin Lucy, Jr. is an 88-year-old Richmond native who retired in 1988 after 40 years with Dominion Virginia Power. His father was one of the founders of WRVA radio, present WWBT-TV, and WCVE public television and the first President of the CBS Affiliates Advisory Board. Calvin remains active in the community, church, Dominon Retirees, and the John Marshall High School Class of 1943. He is married, is father and step-father of seven, and lives in Chesterfield.
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