Dominion Virginia Power yesterday began presenting testimony at a Virginia State Corporation Commission hearing showing that the proposed Meadow Brook-to-Loudoun transmission line is essential to keeping the lights on in Northern Virginia.

The company already has filed more than 1,000 pages of information with the SCC from itself and outside experts confirming that increasing demand for electricity in the region could result in blackouts beginning in 2011 if the 65-mile line is not built.

Independent consultants hired by the SCC staff have verified that a need for a line exists. The consultants have also said Dominion's proposed route -- next to or in the same right-of-way as an existing transmission line -- is the best for the environment as well as for local cultural and historical sites.

"The evidence is very convincing in support of the need to build this line without delay," said John D. Smatlak, Dominion vice president -- Transmission. "Our customers depend on us to provide reliable energy 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We are committed to meeting that obligation, and this transmission line is the only realistic solution."

Electric demand in Northern Virginia has grown by about 40 percent over the past decade and is projected to grow by another 8 percent by 2011. Six counties -- Loudoun, Spotsylvania, Culpeper, Stafford, King George and Prince William -- are among the 100 fastest-growing counties in the United States.

Proposed projects that are expected to increase dramatically the demand for electricity in the region include the addition of 22,000 employees at Fort Belvoir, the $3.4 billion expansion of Washington-Dulles International Airport, and a number of energy-intensive computer data centers.

The project may already be the most studied transmission line project in state history.

The SCC staff hired two consultants to review Dominion's application. Bates White LLC of Washington, D.C., concluded that demand forecasts continue to show the need for a new line exists. Bates White also said that energy conservation could not avoid the need for a line. A second consultant, Miller-Stephenson and Associates, P.C., of Virginia Beach, found that Dominion's proposed route would meet the need with least impact to the environment, cultural and historic resources.

Dominion's consultant, internationally recognized power engineering firm KEMA of Burlington, Mass., examined the complex dynamics of energy flow on the regional grid. It also found that the only practical solution to alleviate overloaded transmission lines beginning in the summer of 2011 and avoid "rolling blackouts" is to build the transmission line.

"KEMA found that Dominion would have to establish an energy conservation program that would reduce the region's electric load by almost half to avoid building this line," said Smatlak. "We will continue to encourage our customers to adopt energy conservation measures, but to expect this much conservation in less than four years is clearly not reasonable."

The SCC hearing is expected to last at least two weeks. The hearing examiner will take all of the information from the several rounds of public hearings, the pre-filed testimony and the evidentiary hearings and then make a recommendation to the three SCC commissioners. The commissioners will decide whether the line is built as well as the route.