Despite statewide resistance from over 40,000 Virginians who joined Appalachian Voices and the Wise Energy for Virginia Coalition in opposing it, Dominion Power’s Wise County coal plant in St. Paul went online this morning after four years of construction.
As Dominion says, the 585 megawatt plant is one of the “cleanest U.S. coal-fired power stations in terms of air emissions with one of the nation’s strictest air permits.” Dominion, however, fails to mention two key points.
First, “cleanest” is a relative term. Even a coal plant with strict air permits and modern pollution controls is a major contributor to smog, acid rain, and the accumulation of toxic mercury in our waterways. What’s more, these strict pollution controls do nothing to lessen the destruction of mountaintop removal mining to supply coal to the plant – or the plant’s massive annual greenhouse gas emissions, which will be equivalent to the annual emissions of nearly one million cars.
Secondly, while Dominion would like to take credit for the plant’s strict air emissions permits, it was the uprising of thousands of concerns Virginians, combined with legal arguments on behalf of the Wise Energy for Virginia Coalition, that led to the strict limits.
Thanks to these efforts, the plant will emit 94% less mercury and 82% less acid-rain producing sulfur than Dominion originally proposed.
The precedent set by these strict limits has made it more difficult to permit new coal plants anywhere in the U.S. In Virginia, this precedent led the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality to reject proposed emissions levels for the new coal plant currently proposed by the Old Dominion Electric Co-Op (ODEC) – ultimately leading ODEC to withdraw, at least temporarily, its air permit applications.
The Virginia City Hybrid Electricity Center, as the new plant is called, comes online at the same time coal-fired electricity generation is experiencing a steady decline (see image at left).