FORT LEE, Va. (June 10, 2021) – The opening of an $18 million electrical substation here June 9 is viewed as the monumental conclusion of a long and arduous effort to increase the installation’s energy security and resilience.
Garrison Commander Col. Karin L. Watson emphasized the significance of the substation during remarks that followed a ribbon cutting in front of the facility that is located along Sisisky Boulevard. She was joined by members of her staff and representatives from Dominion Energy, a state utility provider and project partner.
“We started talking about this in 2015, but it’s really gone on … for years, trying to work the funding and all the issues,” Watson said. “So, reaching this moment has just been awesome. You understand it when comparing the old substation and the new and amazing replacement you see here.”
The old substation served Fort Lee and parts of neighboring Prince George County for 62 years and had clearly outlived its usefulness. To keep power up and running, parts often had to be salvaged from deactivated substations elsewhere. Leaders here recognized the looming possibility of a catastrophic failure that would put Fort Lee in jeopardy of experiencing a prolonged blackout that would stall vital training activities and community support functions.
Gary Ogden, chief of the Energy and Utilities Branch under the Directorate of Public Works, emphasized the criticality of the project and touted the advantages of the new state-of-the-art substation that’s dedicated to Fort Lee and capable of exponentially increasing its energy security.
“From a control center in Richmond, Dominion Energy can monitor loads on the circuits, and if it sees one getting overloaded – before we experience a brownout or blackout – it can switch the loads over to another circuit,” Ogden said. “Dominion can literally do that with the press of a button. So, we’re not going to lose training time, and we won’t have to send people home from work. We’ll be able to operate and carry on as normal.”
Furthermore, in the event of failure, Ogden said the installation will be spared the challenge of finding parts for the new substation. They will be available on-site or stored in close proximity. “If something happens now, we can get parts immediately,” he added.
Work at the site began in December 2019, according to Ogden. The last circuit was transferred in April without power disruptions to residents or organizations on the installation.
Taber Finstad, DPW’s chief of Operations and Maintenance, headed the project for the installation. He said members of his team were persistent and unwavering in seeing it through.
“They are awesome,” he acknowledged. “They’re incredibly hard workers who are very capable at what they do. I’m tickled to death I have a team with those capabilities.”
During her remarks, Watson also lauded the DPW team and commended the partnership with Dominion Energy as a productive unity of effort.
“We could not have done this without everybody working together to get this off the ground,” she said.
Charlene Whitfield, senior vice president of power delivery at Dominion Energy, said the project’s success is rooted in teamwork.
“We have a lot of folks on the Dominion Energy team, and our job is to make recommendations on how we can improve the reliability and resiliency of the electric infrastructure here at the base,” she said. “We can’t do that unless we have that relationship with the leadership at Fort Lee that allows us to make those recommendations in confidence – that we know what we’re talking about – and the finished product is going to meet their needs and allow them to execute their critical missions.”