The Old Dominion Electric Co-op (ODEC) announced yesterday that it has suspended plans to build the largest coal-fired power plant in Virginia! While the ODEC plant was slated for construction in eastern Virginia’s Surry County, ODEC planned to fuel it with central Appalachian coal. It would have been a major contributor to mountaintop removal mining, air and water contamination, and climate change. When ODEC proposed the plant in December, 2008, it expected a quick and smooth path to securing the required zoning approvals and environmental permits, but our opposition stalled its progress. Now, in the face of overwhelming regional opposition combined with changing market conditions, ODEC has opted to cease work on the proposal.
For more than three years, Appalachian Voices’ Virginia program has led the grassroots fight against the plant in Hampton Roads, the coastal region of Virginia that already suffers from poor air quality and would receive the brunt of pollution if the plant were built. We worked closely with partner groups and extremely dedicated local residents combining tireless on-the-ground organizing with hard hitting advocacy before local governments. As a result, five localities (including Norfolk and Virginia Beach) have passed resolutions of concern or in opposition to the plant, more than 8,000 people have signed petitions opposing it, and hundreds of local residents have attended hearings to express their opposition in person.
We must continue to be vigilant and monitor ODEC. The process has only been, “suspended” and not halted. In a few years ODEC could decide to renew their efforts, though we hope the utility follows in the path of many across the county and abandons coal altogether. In the meantime the residents of Surry County, and Hampton Roads, who have spent the last three and a half years of their lives fighting this coal plant can breathe easy.
The effort to keep Hampton Roads air from suffering from a major new source of air and water pollution for next sixty years is picking up and your help is needed. On Tuesday Norfolk is going to vote whether to join the Consortium for Infant and Child Health (CINCH), The American Lung Association, Isle of Wight County, Southampton County, the Town of Surry and many others in opposing what could be Virginia’s largest coal-fired power plant built upwind of Hampton Roads.
If you live in Norfolk you can help steer the City Council in the right direction by sending a brief note or letter their way. You can do this easily by clicking here: http://wiseenergyforvirginia.org/norfolk/
The Norfolk City Council was originally going to vote last week but an apparent misunderstanding has led to a delay that is now allowing Norfolk Southern, which would benefit financially from the coal plant, to weigh in and offer their comments on the draft resolution of opposition. Please consider coming to their next meeting on Tuesday, April 24th. Get there by 6:45 to sign up to speak against the coal plant. You can read more about this unfortunate delay here: http://appvoices.org/2012/04/12/strange-happenings-in-norfolk/?
There are also efforts in Virginia Beach and Hampton City to pass resolutions of opposition to this massive polluting coal plant.
Norfolk could be on the verge of becoming the fourth Hampton Roads locality to officially oppose the largest coal fired power plant ever proposed in Virginia. It appears, however, that a few strange events occurred in the last couple weeks that kept it from coming to a vote and could potentially make the resolution of opposition language weak or not happen at all.
Members of the public, several Norfolk City Council members and I, were under the impression (based on discussion at the previous meeting) that the council was going to vote whether or not to adopt a resolution of opposition during their most recent, April 10th, council meeting.
Here is a great blog post from “Activist and Mom” Betsy Shepard who has been fighting a proposal to build the largest coal plant in Virginia a few miles from her family’s home in Surry County. She points out the incredible hypocrisy of the coal industry’s rhetoric around greenhouse gas emissions in the face of the new EPA rule. Be sure to check out her blog here.
When I first heard about the coal plant, I was fairly indifferent. I didn’t know much about coal or electricity generation.
What I did know was that coal had cleaned up their act significantly.
How did I know that?
Easy. I watched ad after ad telling me so during the presidential debates and election news.
The ads were the work of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE) – some sort of lobby/marketing group for the coal industry.
They were pretty convincing. All mom and apple pie and American ingenuity and welcoming and meeting any challenge.
Here’s Steve Miller, their president, talking about the launch of their 2008 campaign–the “I Believe” ads:
CO2 emissions? No problem! he says. “We’ll meet that challenge!” Boo-ya!
On Monday March 5th the Old Dominion Electric Cooperative received local zoning approval for what would be the largest coal-fired power plant in the state if built. The Dendron Town Council voted to approve local zoning unanimously and without once discussing the proposal publicly.
Both locals and people from the downwind communities of Hampton Roads were overwhelmingly opposed at every major public hearing (six in total) leading up to this final vote. The council is ignoring their own vocal constituents as well as the desires of the region. To date the town of Surry, Isle of Wight County, and Southampton County have come out opposed to the proposed coal plant because of the expected negative health and economic effects that another coal-fired power plant would have on the region. The press leading up to and resulting from the most recent vote definitely caught on to the fact that democracy has been put aside by the Dendron Town Council. Below is a list of recent press:
Locals and people across Hampton Roads have been overwhelmingly opposed to ODEC’s proposed coal plant. Photo at hearing by Jackie Carroll 2/27/12
In December 2008, the Old Dominion Electric Cooperative (ODEC) proposed to build the largest coal plant in Virginia, across the river from Williamsburg in Surry County. It was to be 1,500 megawatts, in the small town of Dendron (pop. 272). With Surry County residents leading the way, and advocacy organizations like Appalachian Voices and our partners backing them up, we have so far kept this project from moving ahead.
The regional opposition to the plant comes with good reason. In addition to adding to the demand for mountaintop removal coal, it has been predicted (using EPA approved methodologies) that this coal plant would cause serious health problems for those downwind over the course of its 60-year lifespan. Among other problems, analysts estimate that pollution from the plant would cause over 1,300 asthma ER visits and contribute to over 2,400 heart attacks and 200,000 lost workdays.
Blog by Beth Roach, a Surry County Native. To RSVP for the hearing on Monday, March 5th click here.
All I ask is for them to consider both sides. The powers that be in Surry have made it no secret that they are through hearing arguments and ready to vote, pass, and cash those checks. Numerous testimonies by local residents, environmental non profit groups, and regional neighbors have fallen upon deaf ears.
While a lot of locals have been a part of the fight for several years, there are others who are joining the opposition everyday. They are dismayed at the harmful effects that this process – from mountain top removal to coal combustion to fly ash storage – creates. They have difficulty understanding why the decision makers don’t take this information seriously.
The fight to stop the largest coal-fired power plant ever proposed in Virginia is heating up again, and your help is needed. Recently, local coal plant opponents prevailed in a lawsuit that nullified zoning approvals for the plant at the Old Dominion Electric Cooperative’s (ODEC) preferred plant site in Dendron, forcing the company to go through the zoning process again. Click on the video, made by locals involved in the fight, to get the story.
ODEC and the town of Dendron are wasting no time and have already scheduled the two required hearings: one before the Surry County Planning and Zoning Commission on February 27 and one before the Dendron Town Council on March 5.
Let’s use this as an opportunity to show our support for the locals who have put their lives on hold and fought tirelessly for the health and welfare of Hampton Roads and our planet. Details on the hearings are in the sidebar to the right —->>>>
Two years ago this month, ODEC’s attorneys advised the Dendron Town Council to go forward with a vote on zoning for the coal plant despite citizen concerns that they hadn’t provided sufficient public notice that a vote would take place. Taking ODEC’s attorneys’ advice, and ignoring the citizens concerns, the Town Council went forward with the vote, which turned out to be illegal.
When the citizens sued, ODEC tried to have the case dismissed and even tried to have the citizen plaintiffs charged for the company’s legal fees, but the judge ultimately ruled in favor of the citizens and nullified the zoning.
Although the Dendron Town Council is now likely to vote to grant local zoning approvals for the plant again, we are asking you to come out to support locals and to show ODEC that their terrible proposal will be met with major citizen opposition at every step.
The following message was sent to 13,000 Virginians this morning from the Wise Energy for Virginia Coalition of which Appalachian Voices is a part. To sign up for alerts form Wise Energy for Virginia click here
The state of Virginia has signed off on destroying Wise County’s Ison Rock Ridge through mountaintop removal coal mining. They have OK’d the leveling of 1200 acres above several communities – home to about 1,800 local residents. Many families’ back yards abut the slopes of Ison Rock Ridge. These families could be forced to live through explosions, dust, for years as they watch their mountain leveled, streams buried and lost forever.
Right now, further review of the permit by the Environmental Protection Agency is the only thing stopping the coal companies from planting explosives uphill of these families. The locals at the Southern Appalachian Mountains Stewards have been fighting hard, and many of you have sent several letters to the EPA, but now it’s time to step up the pressure.
This Wednesday, August 3rd, we need you to call the EPA and ask them to deny this permit and to keep Ison Rock Ridge standing. The EPA needs to hear from as many of us as possible so please recruit friends and family to also make calls.
Early on Wednesday morning you will receive another email with the number to call and some points to bring up. Once you make the call please ask your mom, your spouse, your uncle, your coworkers and your friends to also make the call. It is a simple call to make, no expertise is necessary, and it could help protect the heritage and quality of life for those living near, and downstream of, Ison Rock Ridge.
Thank you for all that you do.
Wise Energy for Virginia
To sign up for alerts form Wise Energy for Virginia click here
The following is a blog post by Betsy Shepard of Surry County, Virginia. The largest coal plant ever proposed for the state is proposed within the small town of Dendron, in Surry County and upwind of nearly 2 million people in Hampton Roads, a region already suffering from poor air quality. Somehow Betsy finds time in between raising her kids, running a business with her husband and living life to fight this proposed coal plant and to write awesome blog posts like this one.
Recently the issue of “modeling” has come up as it pertains to the proposed Surry Coal Plant.
No, this is not another ad campaign by the “Clean Coal” folks showing scantily clad models pretending to be coal miners—or coal plant operators in this case.
This kind of modeling has to do with making accurate predictions about air pollution from a proposed source —a key component in understanding the impacts of the largest coal-fired power plant proposed for Virginia. And an essential consideration for the 1.8 million Hampton Roads residents who live directly downwind.
According to the EPA, modeling refers:
“. . . to a general technique that uses mathematical representations of the factors affecting pollutant dispersion. Computers are used extensively to help scientists model the complex systems responsible for transport and dispersion of air pollutants.
In modeling air pollution transport and dispersion, specific information is gathered for an emission point. This information includes the location of the emission point (latitude and longitude), the quantity and type of pollutants emitted, stack gas conditions, the height of the stack, and many meteorological factors that include wind speed, ambient temperature profiles, and atmospheric pressure. Using this data as input for a computer model, scientists can predict how pollutants will be dispersed into the atmosphere. Concentration levels can be estimated for various distances and directions from the site of the stack.” Source: EPA
Modeling the pollution from the coal-fired power plant proposed by the Old Dominion Electric Cooperative (ODEC) will provide vital information for these downwind communities as they seek to understand the impacts they could expect from such a proposal.
Wise Energy for Virginia is a growing coalition of national, regional and local organizations committed to securing a clean energy future for Virginia. Since 2007 Appalachian Voices, the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, the Sierra Club’s Virginia Chapter, the Southern Environmental Law Center and the Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards joined together to fight against newly proposed coal-fired power plants in Virginia and raise awareness of the benefits of clean, renewable and efficient energy choices.
In 1921, more than 10,000 coal miners marched through southern West Virginia for their right to unionize, for their right to a decent wage, for reasonable hours and other rights that we take for granted today. On Blair Mountain the march erupted into a violent skirmish between the marchers and local authorities and hired coal company union busters. The violence finally ended when federal troops were called in but not until bombs were dropped from planes on miners, an estimated million rounds were fired and over 100 people died.
This mountain is now slated to meet the same fate that over 500 other Appalachian peaks have met. There is coal in Blair Mountain and the coal industry has decided it is best retrieved through mountaintop removal coal mining. Much of Blair Mountain may be blasted to bits and dumped into the adjacent valleys to expose the coal seems that lie within.
For many Appalachian people, local community members, miners, environmentalists, laborers and historians this is simply unacceptable. Earlier this month, a couple hundred people retraced the miners path to Blair Mountain in a 50 mile march through southern West Virginia. At the foot of the mountain, the march culminated in a rally to save Blair on Friday and Saturday, June 10th and 11th.
The rally attracted 1,000 people from the coalfields and all over the United States who would rather see Blair Mountain preserved than flattened for a few seams of coal.
The following is a speech by my friend Betsy Shepard of Surry County, Va given on the evening of Friday, June 10th at the culmination of the Blair Mountain March.
Local Residents March in Downtown Appalachia to Celebrate Ison Rock Ridge and Protest Mountain’s Pending Demise
Appalachia, VA – Over 50 people marched through downtown Appalachia, calling on the Environmental Protection Agency to deny the proposed surface mine permit for Ison Rock Ridge and keep the ridge standing. People marched with puppets of Ison Rock Ridge, King Coal holding Governor McDonnell and Representative Morgan Griffith, and signs saying “Keep Ison Rock Ridge Standing,” and “Friends of Mountains and Miners,” while musicians played traditional Appalachian tunes.
Last week shareholders of one of the nation’s largest utilities, Dominion, which serves Virginia and 13 other states, introduced several resolutions intended to move the massive energy company toward greener energy. The shareholder resolutions included one to get Dominion to commit to installing 20% renewable energy by 2024, another would stop the planned construction of a third reactor at the Lake Anna Nuclear plant in Virginia, another would decrease Dominon’s reliance on coal, yet a fourth would require Dominion to look into phasing out mountaintop removal mined coal from their fuel mix.
A few weeks ago Duke Energy in North Carolina committed to leaving mountaintop removal coal out of the mix when the price is the same as coal mined underground. Though Duke’s action was only a first step and won’t stop mountaintop removal, it will lead to less demand for coal from the morally deplorable, community destroying practice. This shareholder resolution was asking Dominion to at least consider this possibility.
The mountaintop removal shareholder resolution, introduced with the help of Sierra Club’s corporate accountability team and some awesome shareholders, received 9% of the vote whereas the breakdown of the others was as such:
– 20% renewable energy production by 2024-5% in favor
– Decreased reliance on coal-6% in favor
– No new nuclear reactor at North Anna, Va-4%
With 9% of the vote, It appears that among Dominion shareholders, mountaintop removal is becoming an issue of concern.
Everyone knows that mercury is a toxic substance. We have all been told to never hold the mercury from a broken thermometer and to handle broken compact fluorescent light bulbs with care for the miniscule amount of mercury they contain. Mercury thermometers are now no longer allowed on many public school campuses. You may have heard the somewhat antiquated expression, “he/she is as mad as a hatter” and know that it is derived from the fact that hatters used to use mercury in making hats. Mercury poisoning can lead to neurological disorders, mood swings, lack of ability to speak, aggressiveness and a wide assortment of ailments that can cause a person to be perceived as ‘mad’. To this day mercury poisoning is sometimes referred to casually as, “Mad Hatters Disease”.
Coal-fired power plants are one of the largest sources of pollution in our country. They emit thousands of pounds of toxic mercury pollution every year, as well as arsenic, lead and acid gases, putting families at risk. Coal fired power plants produce approximately 48 tons of mercury into the air each year across the country.
Mercury from coal-fired power plants is released into the air and then rains down into our lakes, streams, and other waters. Mercury in water is converted into the most toxic form (methylmercury) by aquatic organisms, which are eaten by fish, poisoning them and the animals that eat them, causing death, reduced fertility and reproductive failure. Mercury can also make its way to our dinner tables via contaminated fish. Once ingested, mercury acts as a potent neurotoxin and can cause damage to the brain and nervous system.
Pregnant women and children are at greatest risk from mercury exposure, especially if they consume large amounts of fish and seafood. Exposure to mercury in utero can contribute to birth defects including neurological and developmental disorders, learning disabilities, delayed onset of walking and talking, and cerebral palsy.
Over 30 people, many of them either pregnant or of child bearing age came out to Virginia Beach’s Best Body Company last week to take part in the Sierra Club’s and the Wise Energy for Virginia Coalition’s free mercury hair testing event. Though they won’t have the results for three more weeks, they wanted to see what their individual levels of mercury are, as well as their children’s. Luckily, if a woman is in the high risk zone for fetal complications due to mercury poisoning, she can phase out mercury laden foods to bring her levels down and bring her to a low risk level. However, most people are not that conscious of their mercury intake or knowledgeable of what fish are high in mercury. In Hampton Roads seafood and freshwater fish are on dinner plates and served in restaurants in high numbers.
There are currently 8 significant mercury emitters in and upwind of Hampton Roads, most of them coal-fired power plants. While we may be stuck with several existing coal plants concentrated in and around Hampton Roads we are fortunate enough to have developed new, non-polluting technologies such as wind power which, according to the Virginia Coastal Energy Research Consortium, can provide 20% of our electricity needs. In Virginia, we also have tremendous potential for energy efficiency -making our houses, schools, factories, and workplaces actually decrease their electricity use through increased insulation, and more efficient windows and appliances. What is also great about investing in energy efficiency is that it could create as many as 10,000 Virginia jobs while keeping electricity demand absolutely flat, despite a growing population, for the foreseeable future.
A sign on the Blackwater River
Knowing the alternatives, it is very curious then that the Old Dominion Electric Cooperative (ODEC) is currently pursuing permits to build what would be the largest coal-fired power plant in the state, a whopping 1,500 megawatts, in Surry County. Since Dominion Virginia Power services the vast majority of Hampton Roads, almost none of this power would be going to serve the region, yet it is Hampton Roads that is going to be receiving the brunt of the pollution. In addition to emitting regionally problematic pollutants such as nitrogen, which we are spending millions to clean out of the Chesapeake Bay, and ground level ozone which make it hard on asthmatics, the proposed coal plant would emit 44 pounds of mercury into the air each year.
44 pounds may seem like a small amount until you consider that as little as gram of mercury (about a drop) falling on a 20 acre lake annually for just a few years can cause the fish to have high enough concentrations of mercury to contaminate humans that eat them. Eight Hampton Roads rivers and lakes are already under federal fish consumption advisories for mercury contamination. We are advised to eat no more than one fish a month from some of these waterways. In other waterways women of child bearing age and children are warned against eating a single fish at any point. The swamps that feed the Blackwater and Nottaway Rivers, Lake Drummond, and the Dismal Swamps are all rife with the conditions and bacteria that convert mercury from coal-fired power plants into the ingestible and more dangerous methylmercury that bio-accumulates up the food chain until it gets onto our plates in the form of dangerously tasty tuna, shellfish, or bass. The 44 pounds of mercury that the proposed ODEC plant in Surry County would emit translates to 19,958 grams of mercury a year. In the map below you can see the mercury impaired waters in red.
Old Dominion Electric Cooperative is working hard to gain approval for their behemoth of a coal plant through the Army Corps of Engineers and is also working hard to publicly defame Surry County land owners who are suing ODEC because they refused to properly advertise the vote that lead to local zoning approval of the project back in February of 2010. They have even been sending their team of high powered lawyers to lobby downwind communities like Virginia Beach trying to convince them not to publicly oppose the project for the health and financial detriments it would bring to Virginia’s largest city. Luckily Virginia Beach listened to their constituents and health groups has committed to publicly oppose the project. ODEC is actively pursuing approval.
ODEC is actively trying to add insult to injury by trying to get approval to build a seemingly unnecessary coal-fired power plant upwind of an area already violating federal standards for ground level ozone and with 8 existing bodies of water that are dangerously contaminated with mercury.
The permitting process is a slow one, and ODEC doesn’t expect a decision from the Army Corps for at least a year. This gives everyone in Hampton Roads a great opportunity to weigh in with their City Councils and County Board of Supervisors about this ill-conceived project. All the communities in the region sit on the Hampton Roads Regional Planning District Commission, including those that approved the project in Surry County (and hastily I might add) despite a massive public cry for the opposite from their own constituents. Surry has already upset regional communities by refusing Isle of Wight’s request for an independent study of the downwind economic effects from the pollution. A Surry Board of Supervisor, with tax dollars on his mind, said that such a study would, “only mess up our decision making process.” Localities like Hampton City, Newport News, Portsmouth, Chesapeake, Franklin, Norfolk, etc can join Virginia Beach (and the town of Surry, in Surry County) in opposing this project -but they won’t do it on their own. Every Hampton Roads government needs to hear from their constituents of every age and race, that they need to publicly oppose this project.
If you live in Hampton Roads please take the time to speak at a City Council or Board of Supervisors meeting. If public speaking isn’t your thing, call them up or write a letter. You can also write letters to the editor of your local newspaper on the subject, educating thousands.. There are several of us that would love to help you accomplish any of these things. If you are interested contact me, Mike McCoy at 434-293-6373 and mike(at)appvoices.org and I, or one of my colleagues, can walk you through one of several ways to help.
The first and easiest way for everyone to help, no matter where you live is to sign the letter to the Army Corps of Engineers. You can sign it by clicking HERE.
You can also help support the EPA’s effort to create stricter mercury limits, and learn a ton more about mercury on the Sierra Club’s website here.
To learn more about this proposed coal plant click here.
The Consortium for Infant and Child Health (CINCH), the Virginia Asthma Coalition, and the American Lung Association came together with a joint statement of opposition stating that the coal plant proposed for Surry County would add a troubling amount of pollution to the already troubled air in Hampton Roads and Richmond and significantly affect the health of the citizens especially children, the elderly and those with respiratory problems. You can see their joint statement and sign on to it on the American Lung Association website.
Old Dominion Electric Cooperative’s announcement on Wednesday to delay plans for a massive coal-fired power plant in Hampton Roads offers a ray of hope that Virginia can still get on track toward a cleaner energy future.
The temporary halt of what would be one of the dirtiest industrial facilities in the state will allow the company, its customers, government officials and the conservation community to explore alternatives that will cost less and be less harmful to the environment.
The Wise Energy for Virginia Coalition has long opposed the $6 billion coal plant proposed in Surry County, and has mobilized tens of thousands of citizens across the state who are concerned about air pollution, mercury poisoning of waters, mountaintop removal coal mining and the consequences of a warming planet.