Posts Tagged ‘Virginia’

Why is Dominion’s IRP important for Virginia’s future?

Friday, December 16th, 2016 - posted by Peter Anderson
Peter outside his landlords' home in Charlottesville.

Peter outside his landlords’ home in Charlottesville.

I recently moved into a basement apartment in Charlottesville, Va. The house has solar panels on the roof, and I must admit that knowing my electricity comes almost entirely from a renewable source feels pretty good.

My landlords are not wealthy, so getting solar on their roof was going to involve some sacrifice. They had to think strategically about their retirement funds, energy bills, and fees for staying connected to the grid. Fortunately, they made the numbers work. Now they’re living comfortably and sustainably, and they no longer have an electric bill (except for a modest draw from the grid in the dead of winter). This decision balanced their interest in financial stability with their desire for reliable electric power from a sustainable source.

I couldn’t help thinking about this decision as I began studying the long-term planning process used by Virginia’s electric utilities. Utilities providing public services are regulated to ensure that they — like my landlords — balance reliability, sustainability, and affordability. In return, utilities are guaranteed a profit. In Virginia, this balancing process is embodied by an annual integrated resource plan (IRP).

What’s an IRP and What’s at stake?

Simply put, an IRP is a long-term plan created to ensure that our utilities keep the lights on and avoid sticking customers with a bill for big investments that don’t pan out. This is sometimes referred to as “least-cost planning,” but that doesn’t mean the cheapest option is automatically selected. It means that by studying different alternatives, companies attempt to meet reliability and sustainability goals at the lowest possible cost.

It’s no simple task. With rapidly changing technologies, fuel prices, regulations, and customer-use trends, projecting how much electricity we’ll need and how much it will cost to provide can be quite complex. But an IRP shapes the energy mix and customer bills for several decades, so the stakes are high.

In April, Dominion Virginia Power, the largest electric utility in the commonwealth, submitted its proposed 2016 IRP to the Virginia State Corporation Commission (SCC) for approval. (See an update at the end of this blog.)

What’s in Dominion’s IRP?

Dominion published five alternatives, including four plans that would comply with the federal Clean Power Plan (CPP). Although the fate of the CPP now lies with the courts and the incoming administration, the company believes carbon emissions from power plants ultimately will be regulated.

Under the CPP, states are given an option to comply using either “rate-based” or “mass-based” approaches. Rate-based means a limit on the amount of carbon emissions per unit of electricity produced. In theory, carbon emissions can actually increase if electricity production increases. By contrast, mass-based compliance means a total cap on carbon emissions from the electric sector in the state. Many experts agree that such a cap would reduce climate pollution more effectively.

All five of Dominion’s options share some common elements. For example, each would add 500 megawatts (MW) of solar power produced in Virginia and 1,585 MW of gas-fired electricity at Dominion’s new Greensville power plant. They also would renew 20-year licenses for all four of Dominion’s existing nuclear units, and retire two coal-fired units at its Yorktown plant.

The main differences among the plans are summarized below. New capacity across these plans differs because each would retire different amounts of coal-fired capacity—the greater the coal retirements, the more new capacity.

  • Plan A: No CO2 Limit – A least-cost plan for the unlikely scenario in which there are no carbon regulations. All new generation would be gas-fired.
  • Plan B: Rate-based dual rate – Would add 1,100 MW of solar, plus an additional 3,641 MW of gas-fired capacity.
  • Plan C: Rate-based state average – Would add 3,400 MW of solar, plus an additional 2,049 MW of gas-fired capacity.
  • Plan D: Mass-based emissions cap – existing units only – Would add 2,400 MW of solar, plus 3,641 MW of gas-fired capacity.
  • Plan E: Mass-based emissions cap – existing and new units – Would add 7,000 MW of solar, plus 2,435 MW of gas-fired capacity, plus 1,452 MW of capacity at a new nuclear unit at North Anna

Without making an official recommendation, Dominion stated a preference for Plan B. Plan B would add the least amount of new solar generation, but according to Dominion’s analysis, it would also be the cheapest of the CPP-compliant options.

Why are These Plans Flawed?

The SCC scrutinized Dominion’s IRP at a hearing in early October. In a “battle of the experts,” Dominion’s senior energy planning employees were cross-examined, followed by expert witnesses from other participants in the case, including Appalachian Voices.

Three major flaws in the IRP stood out:

1) Inflated Future Demand and Becoming an “Island”

Electricity demand in Virginia has been pretty flat for the past several years, and with ongoing efficiency improvements, many predict it to remain so, even as our population and economy grow.

However, Dominion’s model shows steady demand growth. One expert explained how the regional transmission organization, PJM, changed its forecasting model in 2014 because it observed in recent years that electricity demand no longer closely tracks economic consumption. PJM’s new modeling accounts for this decoupling of economic growth and energy demand. By contrast, Dominion’s model still uses the old assumptions, tending to produce an inflated picture of demand.

Testimony also revealed that Dominion fails to properly account for how quickly its customers adopt energy-efficient technologies. For example, Dominion’s model includes data from 30 years ago, meaning that 30-year-old lightbulb technology is still part of the calculation. How many 30-year-old lightbulbs are still burning? Dominion admitted that it needs to pay closer attention to the market penetration of LEDs and other technologies.

Dominion pairs this inflated demand forecast with another dubious assumption: the company states that it cannot rely on carbon credit trading or purchasing power on the wholesale market to meet customer demand and comply with carbon regulations. Instead, Dominion intends to generate most of the power needed itself. The company claims that this “island” approach to compliance is the prudent, conservative decision in a time of uncertainty.

SCC judges were sympathetic to Dominion’s view on credit trading, but not on purchases. Historically, Virginia has been anything but an island — buying and selling electricity in the PJM wholesale market, which includes parts or all of 13 states plus Washington, D.C. In fact, Virginia is usually a net importer, relying on power generated in other states to satisfy 10-15% of demand. Switching from being a net importer to purchasing virtually zero power from other states represents a major shift for the commonwealth, and the SCC judges were clearly sceptical.

Dominion’s assumptions that (1) demand will steadily increase and (2) that Virginia must be an “island” simply serve to justify the company’s preference for building new generation, most of it gas-fired.

Even if the company’s assumptions are accurate, why not meet all of this new demand with a greater reliance on utility-scale wind, solar, and other renewables? At the hearing, Dominion expressed concerns about the effect that adding large amounts of renewable generation could have on grid reliability. However, a 2014 study commissioned by PJM found that the regional grid “would not have any significant reliability issues operating with up to 30% of its energy (as distinct from capacity) provided by wind and solar generation.”

As a point of reference, solar and wind currently provide less than 1% of the energy for electric generation in Virginia. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the fuel mix for electric generation in Virginia is comprised of approximately 40% gas, 33% nuclear, 20% coal, 5% biomass, and less than 2% hydroelectric. In other words, there is room to bring a significant amount of renewable generation online before starting a discussion about reliability.

2) Inflated Cost of Solar Energy

The main reason that Dominion did not include more solar in its IRP is that it assigned solar a hefty price tag from the start. The plan adds an “integration charge” of $390.43 per kilowatt for all new solar generation. Several witnesses said this surcharge is higher than it should be — up to 35 times higher — creating an inherent bias against solar when it comes to least-cost planning and comparing alternatives.

Dominion witnesses were unable to support their number, essentially conceding that the company will need to do a new analysis. The effect of the inflated surcharge in the IRP is that adding solar to a plan immediately makes that alternative much more expensive than it should be. Therefore the plan is less likely to be selected.

3) Unwillingness to Make Big Shifts to Renewables

Dominion’s stated reliability concerns and its unsupported price tag for solar are in line with the company’s business-as-usual preference for fossil fuels. In fact, the company decided not to publish one of the plans it modeled because it relied too heavily on solar.

Through legal discovery and public testimony, Dominion revealed that an early version of Plan E contained an additional 15,000 MW of solar power and did not include a new nuclear unit. This was referred to as Plan S, and it cost over $1 billion less than the published Plan E. Experts testified that if Dominion had used a reasonable solar surcharge in its modeling, Plan S may have been up to $4 billion cheaper. When pressed, Dominion witnesses again cited their fear that deploying large amounts of solar all at once could present reliability issues.

Forecasting a Sunny Future

Despite all this, I remain hopeful that the SCC will hold Dominion to a higher standard. As an investor-owned utility, Dominion has an obligation to its shareholders. But it’s also a regulated utility, so the company must consider sustainability when balancing reliability and cost concerns. However, the company will only do that if the SCC holds it accountable.

The good news is we have a great recent example of how that’s done. Shortly after Dominion’s SCC hearing, Minnesota gave the country a glimpse of what a successful balancing effort looks like. The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission approved an Xcel Energy IRP that would double the state’s wind and solar capacity while retiring two coal-fired plants by 2030. According to the Sierra Club, the plan will add “no new gas without a deeper analysis into other options,” and the plan stands to reduce Minnesota’s carbon emissions by up to 60 percent.

Perhaps the key to getting more companies to take sustainability seriously in their IRPs is to show them why doing so makes financial sense. Groups working on the Minnesota plan used data to make “a persuasive case that renewable energy was the most affordable, economic path forward for the utility — not propping up aging coal plants or adding new gas.”

Just like my landlords installing solar on their roof — once the numbers made sense, choosing sustainability was obvious.

Update: On December 14, the State Corporation Commission approved the Dominion IRP, including all of the scenarios, as a long-term planning guide. Under state law, however, Dominion still will need SCC approval to implement any of the individual projects in the IRP, for example, building a particular power plant or adjusting rates. The good news is that next year the SCC is requiring Dominion to model plans without placing caps on the amount of power that can be bought or sold on the wholesale market. The order also says that Dominion must model “regional” as well as “island” approaches to CPP compliance next year for comparison. Unfortunately, the order does not address Dominion’s method of modeling future demand, nor does it address the company’s approach to pricing solar resources.

Electric Cooperatives Initiate Community Solar Projects

Wednesday, December 14th, 2016 - posted by molly

By Tristin Van Ord

“We’re at an age where we need to start looking at alternative energy,” says Olivia Haney, a member of the BARC Electric Cooperative since 1989.

The BARC electric co-op in Virginia and the Appalachian Electric Cooperative in Tennessee have both launched community solar projects to help members save money while reducing carbon emissions.

Community solar is a cooperative alternative to installing solar panels on an individual residence. Instead of dealing with the upfront and maintenance costs of solar panel installation on their house, homeowners can invest in a solar farm, or array of solar panels, provided by the BARC electric cooperative. BARC’s solar farm is a grid that consists of 1,750 solar panels. Now members of BARC can invest in solar and avoid dealing with personal solar panel installation.

Solar farm

BARC’s solar farm contains 1,750 solar panels and produces 550 kilowatts of energy. Photo courtesy of the BARC Electric Cooperative

Mike Keyser, the CEO and general manager at BARC, explains that there was a lot of interest in solar by members of the cooperative, but there was no real increase in the installation of solar panels on individual houses. Keyser adds that certain aspects were preventing people from investing in renewables, including physical barriers such as shading and positioning of the house, along with financial barriers including upfront costs and commitments.

The new solar project provides up to one-fourth of the total energy needs of each of the 220 households that have a membership in the cooperative.

Not only does this option allow any member to invest in solar, it also prevents the possibility of future rate increases through a 20-year fixed rate at only a dollar more per month than what standard customers are paying.

BARC sells its solar energy in “blocks,” which are made up of 50 kilowatt hours each.

“We rolled the subscriptions into something called ‘solar energy blocks,’” Keyser explains. “If it’s an average customer, 25 percent of their consumption would be five blocks, which is an easy thing for people to wrap their mind around.”

Community members who live in the five rural counties in Virginia that BARC covers can apply to be a part of the program, including all of Bath County and parts of Highland, Alleghany, Augusta and Rockbridge counties. BARC member Haney joined the community solar program after learning about the environmental benefits of renewable energy.

When it comes to the growth of the project, Keyser is optimistic about the possibilities.

“We have room on the site to triple the size. It’s 550 kilowatts, and we can go up to about a megawatt and a half, so we are hoping to expand in another year or so,” says Keyser. “Once we feel like we’ve given the option to every member that wants an opportunity, then we would increase the percentage.”

According to Keyser, most subscribers in the solar project have shown interest in increasing the percentage of their electricity covered by solar.

Tennessee’s Turn

Appalachian Electric Cooperative, an electricity provider based in New Market, Tenn., is also starting a community solar program. According to Mitch Cain, the co-op’s director of member services, the solar array will be operational after Dec. 12 and consists of 9,471 panels at 145 watts each. Any residential or commercial member of Appalachian Electric, which covers Grainger, Hamblen, Jefferson and Sevier counties in Tennessee, can take part in this new initiative.

Subscribers to Appalachian Electric’s solar program can invest in individual solar panels. Members pay $125 per 145-watt panel as an upfront cost. There is a cap at 5,000 watts per residential customer and 10,000 watts for commercial subscriptions. Members begin receiving solar energy credits on their bills the month after they start the program. The time needed to recover a member’s investment is estimated to be about 12 years.

Community Solar’s Effect on Carbon Emissions

United States businesses have installed enough solar energy to offset almost 890,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide each year, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association. Solar panels convert energy from the sun into electricity that can be used in place of other non-renewable sources such as coal and natural gas.

BARC’s calculations state that their solar project will prevent 11,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide from being released into the atmosphere.

Appalachian Electric’s program projects that 202 pounds of carbon will be offset per year for each panel installed. Over 20 years, one panel will keep 3,866 pounds of carbon from entering the atmosphere.

“Solar is here. It is something we can harness and use to help us and help the environment,” BARC co-op member Olivia Haney says. “Hopefully we will see more of this, and hopefully we will see more than just the co-ops looking to do this.”

Devastating Forest Fires Ignite Southeast

Wednesday, December 14th, 2016 - posted by Elizabeth E. Payne

By Tristin Van Ord

The Party Rock Fire rages near Lake Lure, N.C., in November.  Photo by John Cayton

The Party Rock Fire rages near Lake Lure, N.C., in November. Photo by John Cayton

Numerous forest fires continue to burn across Southern and Central Appalachia due to dry weather conditions. According to USA Today, over 119,000 acres of forest have already burned throughout the region this fall.

Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia and West Virginia have all been affected.

At least 300 homes and business were damaged or destroyed after wildfires tore through the city of Gatlinburg and Sevier County, Tenn., on Nov. 28. Fourteen people lost their lives in the blaze and its aftermath.

The Southeast is currently experiencing a “once in a generation drought,” according to PBS News. While drought has increased the spread and intensity of the fires, arson is to blame for many of them. The Associated Press announced that multiple people were arrested for intentionally starting fires. A Kentucky resident was arrested after he started a wildfire to gain popularity on his Facebook page through a forest fire video.

Over 200 homes in the Nantahala National Forest in Western North Carolina were evacuated, and N.C. Governor Pat McCrory issued a state of emergency in 25 counties.

Smoke from the fires is also a public health hazard. According to the Weather Channel, at least two people in Kentucky died from respiratory complications due to the fires, while hundreds have been hospitalized.

Thousands of volunteers are working to stop the spread of the fires, including firefighters from across the country.

Citizens should check to see if their county is under an open burning ban. The North Carolina Forest Service advises keeping a shovel and water at hand if burning outside is necessary.

Editor’s note: The print version of this article stated that seven lives were lost in the Gatlinburg fire at press time. That figure has been updated in this version.

Southwest Virginians Challenge Mine

Tuesday, December 13th, 2016 - posted by Elizabeth E. Payne

Six-year-old Levi Marney was the first to speak out against the proposed Doe Branch mountaintop removal coal mine near Haysi, Va., at a public meeting on Nov. 7.

“God gave us the water so we can stay clean, and so we can drink it,” he said. “I don’t want poison in the water.”

Appalachian Voices was proud to stand beside him and the other community members who attended the meeting and addressed their concerns about the mine to the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy.

The 1,100-acre surface mine is proposed by Contura Energy, a new mining company that was formed when Alpha Natural Resources emerged from bankruptcy, and threatens to discharge sediment and other mining-related pollutants into the Russell Prater Creek.

This meeting focused on a potential renewal of the operation’s water pollution discharge permit.
These permits allow facilities such as the proposed mine to legally release specific amounts of various pollutants into public waterways like the Russell Prater Creek and the Russell Fork River.

The state approved the initial discharge permit for the Doe Branch mine back in 2012. But, as several individuals in attendance pointed out, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has maintained an objection to the project from its outset.

The Doe Branch Mine has already received the other permits it needs. The EPA objection is one of the only things currently preventing the mine from moving forward.

“Many members of our family are in coal mining, but we know the future of Dickenson County is in tourism, and it’s in taking care of our environment better than we have in the past,” said Gail Marney, Levi’s grandmother.

America’s miners deserve better than this; time to do your part

Thursday, December 8th, 2016 - posted by thom
Time is quickly running out for Congress to pass the Miners Protection Act. Photo by Ann Smith, special to the UMW Journal

Time is quickly running out for Congress to pass the Miners Protection Act. Photo by Ann Smith, special to the UMW Journal

America owes a debt to the nation’s coal miners. Not just a debt of gratitude, but a financial debt as well.

The good news is that there is a bill in Congress that would allow this country to begin to pay that debt: the Miners Protection Act. The bad news is that the opportunity to pass the bill is quickly slipping away.

The Miners Protection Act would provide retired members of the United Mine Workers of America the pensions they’ve been promised and the health benefits many of them and their families desperately need. There is broad bipartisan support for the bill — the Senate Finance Committee passed the Miners Protection Act earlier this year by a whopping 18 to 8 margin.

But Congress is on the verge of passing a budget that would leave out pensions altogether, and only provide a band-aid solution for the health benefits. As UMWA president Cecil Roberts explains:

The inclusion of a mere four months of spending on health care benefits for retired miners and widows is a slap in the face to all 22,000 of them who desperately need their health care next month, next year and for the rest of their lives.

Further, the complete exclusion of any language to provide help for the pensions of 120,000 current and future retirees puts America’s coalfield communities on a glide path to deeper economic disaster.
The miners are calling on “any and all allies” to join them in fighting for the pensions and health benefits they have earned. We hope you will join us in becoming one of those allies.

Please call your senator today and tell them that you support the Miners Protection Act, and that they need to pass it before Congress goes on recess. Tell them it is the right thing to do, and going home without doing it is totally unacceptable.

North Carolina – Richard Burr (202) 224-3154
Note: Sen. Burr is a cosponsor of the bill. We need him to show his support by insisting the entire bill passes before he goes home.

Kentucky – Mitch McConnell (202) 224-2541 Note: He is failing the miners by not working to secure their pensions. He needs to support the entire bill and bring it up for a vote before he goes home.

West Virginia – Shelley Capito (202) 224-6472 Note: Sen. Capito is a cosponsor of the bill. She needs to keep fighting, and do everything she can to get this entire bill passed before she goes home.

Tennessee – Bob Corker (202) 224-3344 Note: Sen. Corker needs to show support for the miners. It’s the right thing to do, and he should help get the entire bill passed before he goes home.

Virginia – Tim Kaine (202) 224-4024 Note: Sen. Kaine is a cosponsor of the bill. He needs to do everything he can to make sure the miners get their pensions before he goes home.

Rest of the country – Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (202) 224-2541 Note: He is failing the miners by not working to secure their pensions. He needs to support the entire bill and bring it up for a vote before he goes home.

Southwest Virginians speak out against Doe Branch Mine

Tuesday, November 15th, 2016 - posted by willie
A map of the Doe Branch Mine and watershed connections to the Russell Fork River. At a recent hearings Southwest Virginians shared their concerns about Doe Branch with state regulators.

A map of the Doe Branch Mine and watershed connections to the Russell Fork River. At a recent hearings Southwest Virginians shared their concerns about Doe Branch with state regulators.

“God gave us the water so we can stay clean, and so we can drink it. I don’t want poison in the water.”

Those are the words of 6-year-old Levi Marney, spoken on the evening of Nov. 7, to representatives of the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy (DMME) at a public meeting about the proposed Doe Branch mountaintop removal mine in Haysi. The mine, proposed by Contura Energy, would raze over 1,100 acres near young Levi’s home and discharge sediment and other mining-related pollutants into the Russell Prater Creek where children like Levi and his siblings play during the warm months.

Levi was the first of 10 individuals to speak that night. As he sat down, his grandmother Gail stood up, and with a hand on Levi’s shoulder said, “I’m here to speak against this mine for five reasons and this is one of them. He is one of my five grandchildren. He’s the seventh generation of our family on our property in Dickenson County. Many members of our family are in coal mining, but we know the future of Dickenson County is in tourism, and it’s in taking care of our environment better than we have in the past.”

The particular matter under question at this public meeting — called an “informal conference” by the state — was a renewal of the operation’s National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit. The NPDES permitting process is the method by which point sources of pollution are monitored and legally allowed to release various pollutants into public waterways like the Russell Prater Creek and the Russell Fork River. The DMME approved the initial NPDES permit for the Doe Branch mine back in 2012. But, as several individuals who spoke out at the informal conference pointed out, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has maintained an objection to the project from its outset, citing the likelihood that the mine would cause further harm to the Russell Prater Creek, which is already listed by the state of Virginia as being impaired by mining-related pollution.

In addition to concerns over water quality, many individuals spoke to the urgent need to develop new economic opportunities that utilize exactly the natural assets that large-scale surface mining destroys. Underscoring her opposition to the Doe Branch project, Sister Jackie Hanrahan, a nun representing the Appalachian Faith and Ecology Center in neighboring Wise County said, “A healthy economy can only happen when we have a healthy ecosystem. We’ve focused on only extractive industries for so long, but now we’re finally at a point where we have people working together over different philosophies to build a healthy economy.”

“I can show exactly what mining has done to this area,” said Tammy Owens, an organic farmer with nearly 30 acres of reclaimed strip mine on her farm. “This is my top soil,” Owens said dropping a plastic bag of what appeared to be little more than sand and rock on the table in front of the DMME representatives. “There is no topsoil. Nothing grows on the mined areas of my farm. Here in our area is where ginseng grows the best. It’s where bloodroot, and yellow root grow best. These are highly valuable medicinal herbs. What we can get for an acre of ginseng is astronomical compared to what other row crop farmers would get but can we grow those medicinal herbs any more on our farm land?”

The Doe Branch mine has already received the other permits it needs to move forward. The EPA objection is one of the only things currently preventing the mine from moving forward. Cooperation between state and federal agencies in making permitting decisions is an intentional system that creates checks and balances in weighing factors that impact industries, communities and the environment. That’s exactly what is happening with the Doe Branch permit. But it could change quickly under a Trump presidency.

While many personnel will remain at the EPA, changes in high-level staff, budget, or regulations could alter how the agency handles permitting decisions for mountaintop removal coal mining. Market forces are another largely independent factor. There is no magic wand that can suddenly put more coal in the ground, or make the coal that remains more economically feasible to mine and burn in the face of stiff market competition from natural gas and increasingly competitive renewable energy sources. In light of this reality, it is difficult to gauge how eager Contura Energy is to begin work on an operation of this size.

Environmental justice in Buckingham County

Thursday, October 13th, 2016 - posted by Lara Mack

NO Compressor Station = NO Atlantic Coast Pipeline

Andrew Tyler, from the Cherokee and Pamunkey nations and a representative of the Coalition of Woodland Nations, gave words of support to local residents and discussed the importance of fighting pipelines across the country for native peoples before the public hearing started.

Andrew Tyler, from the Cherokee and Pamunkey nations and a representative of the Coalition of Woodland Nations, gave words of support to local residents and discussed the importance of fighting pipelines across the country for native peoples before the public hearing started.

Stand with community members in Buckingham County on Monday, October 17 at the next Planning Commission meeting.

On Monday, September 26, the Buckingham County Planning Commission held a public hearing about the special use permit for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline’s 57,000-horsepower compressor station. Dominion Resources and Duke Energy’s joint project, the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP), is proposed to carry fracked gas 600 miles from West Virginia, through Virginia, into North Carolina. The ACP’s three proposed compressor stations would run engines 24/7 to provide the pressure to push the gas through the pipeline. This permit would allow for huge industrial construction in an otherwise very rural and agricultural community and county. If approval for the construction of these compressor stations is denied, it would severely impact the viability of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline project overall.

Dominion, the project’s lead developer, has already purchased the land for the Buckingham County compressor station from plantation-owner descendants in a largely black historic community called Union Hill. Over the last two years, Buckingham County has received much less media attention than other counties fighting the ACP. When we held a press conference before the public hearing, only one reporter attended from a local newspaper in a neighboring county.

This is an environmental racism and justice issue at the core. If built, this compressor station would be one of the largest in the country. Surrounding communities would be severely impacted by noise pollution, air pollution, and disruption of the community’s culture. Dominion is doing its best to take advantage of a historically marginalized, low-income, rural and isolated community by locating the compressor station in an area where people are less likely to have the resources to resist. Despite Dominion’s efforts, word is getting out about Buckingham’s fight. Friends and neighbors are rallying to support the effort against the compressor station and pipeline there.

Members of the Buckingham County Planning Commission look over a packed room of people speaking out against the Atlantic Coast Pipeline compressor station.

Members of the Buckingham County Planning Commission look over a packed room of people speaking out against the Atlantic Coast Pipeline compressor station.

The September public hearing served as an opportunity for those of us working against the pipeline to support Buckingham County residents on the ground. Local folks, neighboring activists and friends flooded the County Administration Building, with almost all attendees wearing “No Compressor Station” stickers to give the planning commission a clear sign of where we stood on the issue.

Fifty-four people signed up to give public comment, nearly all of them local residents concerned about the potential compressor station. The public comments lasted so long that the planning commission took the rare step of setting up another meeting to hear the rest of the community input. This means that we also delayed the progress of the compressor station a couple more months. The planning commission will hear the rest of the public comments on October 17 and will eventually give a recommendation to the Board of Supervisors, which will make a final decision on whether or not to allow Dominion the special use permit to build the compressor station.

Allies from Richmond hold up a supportive message to Buckingham County: Heart of Virginia, we’ve got your back.”

Allies from Richmond hold up a supportive message to Buckingham County: Heart of Virginia, we’ve got your back.”

Though a lot of work needs to continue to support and amplify the most marginalized voices in Buckingham County and along the ACP, local residents appreciated the show of support and were invigorated by the strong presence against the compressor station.

“It was amazingly heartening and inspiring to see all the people that showed up,” said Chad Oba, a local resident and member of Friends of Buckingham. “Every time we come together it gives us all energy to keep the momentum going and it sends a message that we are here and we care about what happens to our air, our water, our homeplaces and all that we hold dear.”

Standing Against the Mountain Valley Pipeline

Friday, October 7th, 2016 - posted by interns
Hundreds  of concerned  Virginians attended  a series of meetings about the proposed pipeline.

Hundreds of concerned Virginians attended a series of meetings about the proposed pipeline.

Throughout September, we met with hundreds of concerned residents along the path of the proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline in places such as Summers and Monroe Counties in West Virginia and Roanoke and Montgomery Counties in Virginia. The pipeline would carry natural gas from fracking operations in West Virginia for 301 miles, crossing through public lands, private properties and more than 1,000 waterways.

At the meetings, which were held along with the Sierra Club Virginia Chapter and the Protect Our Water Heritage and Rights coalition and their local member organizations, we discussed the pipeline’s timeline and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s permitting process, as well as current and upcoming opportunities for public comment. We also reviewed county-specific threats including water quality, vulnerable karst geology, property rights and community safety.

In mid-September, federal regulators released the draft environmental impact statement for the Mountain Valley Pipeline. The draft fails to adequately assess the public need for the project — a recent report shows that existing infrastructure could meet demand until 2030. The federal review also discounts the widespread threats to private property, public lands, local communities, water quality and the climate. Read more about the pipelines here.

“Running a massive gas project through the steep, rugged terrain laced with dozens of rivers and headwater streams is a perfect storm for major damage to our water resources,” says Lara Mack, Virginia Campaign Field Organizer with Appalachian Voices. “FERC also fails to meaningfully address the safety issues and other concerns so earnestly voiced by hundreds of homeowners and landowners along the route.”

Public comments on the MVP draft environmental impact statement are due Dec. 22. To submit a comment, visit appvoices.org/fight-mvp

Ben Bristoll: Bike Delivery Brings The Voice to Roanoke

Friday, October 7th, 2016 - posted by Elizabeth E. Payne

A growing mine is a growing problem for the Russell Fork River

Tuesday, September 27th, 2016 - posted by Erin

Editor’s Note: This post, by Appalachian Voices’ Erin Savage, originally appeared on American Rivers’ blog. Earlier this year, the nonprofit named Central Appalachia’s Russell Fork among America’s Most Endangered Rivers due the threats posed by mountaintop removal coal mining to water quality and surrounding communities.

The Russell Fork snakes through Breaks Interstate Park along the Virginia-Kentuky border.

The Russell Fork snakes through Breaks Interstate Park along the Virginia-Kentuky border.

The Russell Fork River is threatened by a new coal mine. A bankruptcy saga with the mine’s owner had stalled development in the past year, but things appear to be getting back on track.

The history of the Doe Branch Mine in Southwest Virginia is long and complicated, and its future remains unclear.

The mine is owned by Paramont Coal Company, once a subsidiary of Alpha Natural Resources. Until recently, Alpha was one of the largest mining companies in the country, but is now emerging from bankruptcy. The Doe Branch Mine started with plans for a 245-acre surface coal mine in 2005, but it now has the potential to grow to 1,100 acres. If the current plan moves forward, the mine would include five valley fills and 14 wastewater discharges that would drain into tributaries of the Russell Fork River — a renowned resource in the region for river recreation and the star attraction of the Breaks Interstate Park.

While there is a long history of coal mining in the Russell Fork watershed, water quality in the river has improved over the last several decades due to better regulations and the watchful eye of local residents. At a time when coal mining is declining in Appalachia, the Doe Branch mine is among the largest mines still being pursued in Southwest Virginia, and it would undoubtedly lead to significant water quality impacts.

The Doe Branch Mine and watershed connections to the Russell Fork River.

The Doe Branch Mine and watershed connections to the Russell Fork.

The mine is also part of a large, controversial highway construction project known as the Coalfields Expressway. Some believe the Expressway will bring much needed economic development opportunities to the region, but others believe it unnecessarily enables additional surface mining and does not adequately consider what is best for nearby communities. Though a portion of the Doe Branch Mine has been approved by state and federal agencies, the expansion does not have final approval. Little work has been started on any portion of the mine over the last decade, beyond some tree clearing.

In 2012, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued an objection to the company’s application to increase the size of the mine. Specifically, the EPA objected to the application for additional wastewater permits under the Clean Water Act. The wastewater would be discharged into several tributaries of the Russell Fork that are already impaired by mining-related pollutants, according to Virginia’s list of impaired waterways. In order to secure discharge permits, the company must show that it will not increase the overall impairment of the watershed.

Trends for coal production in Central Appalachia. The decline has continued into 2015 and 2016.

Trends for coal production in Central Appalachia. The decline has continued into 2015 and 2016.

Since hitting its peak in 2008, coal production in Central Appalachia has declined precipitously. Alpha’s dominance in the Central Appalachian coal market has not shielded it from the economic downturn. The company declared bankruptcy in August 2015, creating a lull in the Doe Branch permit application process.

On July 26, 2016, Alpha announced its emergence from Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The plan to emerge from bankruptcy involves the formation of two new companies. One is a privately held, smaller Alpha, which will retain most of the Central Appalachian mines. The other is Contura Energy, formed by Alpha’s senior lenders, which purchased Alpha’s Wyoming, Pennsylvania and better-performing Central Appalachian mines. Doe Branch is included in the short list of Central Appalachian mines that Contura will own.

Before emerging from bankruptcy, Alpha stated that the Doe Branch Mine is not part of its 10 year plan. Now that Contura owns Doe Branch, the mine may be more likely to move forward. Just last month, a new Clean Water Act permit draft was issued by the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy. This new draft may be an attempt to address the objections raised by the EPA. Given the importance of the Russell Fork, the damage already done to its tributaries by mining, and the need for a serious economic shift in the region, the EPA should uphold its objection to this mine. Urge them to do so now.

Join Appalachian Voices and American Rivers in asking the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy to deny Contura’s permit request for the Doe Branch Mine.