Dominion Energy recently announced it was shuttering its Orange distribution district office on Route 15 in an effort to be “more efficient in resource deployment.”
And Orange officials aren’t happy with the news.
“This is something else that Orange is losing and that won’t be coming back,” Orange Mayor Martha Roby said. “We can’t just lie down and let this roll.”
The Dominion site in Orange is approximately 12 acres and home to two dozen employees, many who are part of field crews that repair and maintain lines and equipment in the Dominion central Virginia service area.
Dominion media representative Daisy Pridgen did not know the size of the Orange site, nor how long it had operated out of its 13000 James Madison Highway location next to Virginia Tractor.
She said closing the Orange site was a “company decision” made in an effort to “consolidate work load,” and acknowledged saving money also was a consideration.
“Our way of doing business is changing, our industry is changing and the counties we serve are changing,” she said. “This is a business and cost decision.”
The move should be complete by September, when calls for service in Orange will be answered out of the company’s Charlottesville office.
The Orange distribution district office is the only one closing at this time, Pridgen said, though she suggested the company may consider other location closings in the future.
In a corporate news release, the company said the Orange employees would be offered other positions within the company. “We have very dedicated employees and we will not leave them high and dry,” she added.
Meanwhile, she noted, Dominion’s transmission office will remain at the Route 15 site. Distribution lines are service lines that delivery electricity to businesses and homes. Transmission lines are the larger lines that deliver larger quantities of electricity to regional substations. Approximately 10 employees work in the transmission office and they are not included among the 24 departing positions.
Pridgen said the change should not impact customers.
“This was a difficult decision, but one that will help us be more efficient in resource deployment, balancing workload and emergency response while achieving cost savings,” she said.
Dominion currently has approximately 6,300 customers in Orange County.
Mayor Roby isn’t buying the argument this won’t affect residents in town or the county.
“When there’s an outage now, they’re here. They’re on the spot and able to help,” she said. “Now, they’re going to be answering calls out of Charlottesville. How is that improving efficiency? This site in Orange serves a lot of people.”
Pridgen counters that Dominion customers will continue to receive safe and reliable service from the utility. “This is all very transparent,” she said. “This will not have any effect on our response time or our reliability. Our crews will continue to do what it takes to address any disruption in service.”
Roby, who expressed frustration that the town found out about the departure through a news report in The Daily Progress, said the town would be addressing the issue as best it can.
“We’ll be contacting government officials, legislators and the SCC,” she said. “Who made this decision? Sometimes, the board of directors doesn’t know what the company is doing. We feel this needs to be addressed and we want them to know we’re concerned. We want some answers.”
While Pridgen didn’t have figures on the Orange site, and since, as a public utility its information is not part of the county’s online geographic information system (GIS), the State Corporation Commission, which regulates Dominion and other electricity providers statewide, values the property at $3,261,358. Countywide, Dominion’s assets are valued at more than $48 million.
Roby said the company’s tax liability in town was inconsequential—a comment confirmed by town manager Greg Woods. “The tax implication of their departure is minimal,” he said. “Our machinery and tools tax is one of the lowest in the state. The county will feel more of an impact than we will.”
Instead, he said, the impact will be much more topical. He recalled the recent storm in late April that felled trees near Preddy’s Funeral Home and in Taylor Park. Those trees also brought down power lines.
“Those guys were here,” he said emphasizing their proximity and availability. “Now, they’re going to have to send someone from wherever and our local folks will be waiting.”
Roby worries about the implications for local emergency service crews who are working scenes where power lines are down and danger exists. “I hate to think they’ll be at risk while someone responds from Charlottesville or wherever,” she added.
Woods said he feels like Dominion could have come to the town and at least entertained a discussion of the implications of its departure even if it ultimately decided to pack up shop and leave anyway.
“We could’ve gotten our two cents worth in,” he said, conceding the company likely would still do what it planned to do. “We’ll write letters and ask them to reconsider, but that’s about all we can do,” he admitted.
Pridgen said Dominion had been in contact with county officials about the move when it notified its employees about the closure May 15, which county administrator Bryan David confirmed. Roby said the town was notified a week later after officials asked about the news story published.
Both Roby and Woods confirmed Dominion recently invested in upgrading its waterline on the site, and wondered whether it was considering selling the parcel and its buildings there.
Pridgen said the company was considering selling the office, buildings and land at the Route 15 Orange location.
David said the county economic development office could help Dominion market its Orange property to prospective buyers or tenants.