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Dominion officials field questions: Group demands alternative energy plan

WISE — Along with responding to specific questions about a proposed coal-fired power plant, Dominion Virginia Power officials confronted broad demands to boycott surface-mined coal or shun fossil fuel energy altogether.

Utility representatives Jim Browder, James Beazley and John Ragone met March 26 with several local residents and activists opposed to current plans for building a plant in Virginia City.

The group included representatives of Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards, the Sierra Club and Appalachian Voices, all of which are working locally to oppose many if not all forms of surface mining.

The Dominion officials faced numerous questions about a rumor that construction of the Virginia City plant would allow the shutdown of the heavily polluting coal-fired Clinch River plant in Russell County’s Carbo community.

Again and again, Ragone responded that American Electric Power owns the Carbo plant. Dominion has no say in what happens with it, he said.

AEP is a member of the informal consortium, led by Dominion, that formed to explore the possibility of building a new plant in the region, Ragone said. However, it remains to be seen whether AEP will become a formal partner in the plant’s construction and operation, he said.

Diana Withen said the Dominion representatives had talked about using clean-coal technology, but there is no such thing as clean coal.

She asked them if they had flown over the area and seen the effect of strip mining.

People have lost their homes to mining, Withen said. Coal is an energy of the past, she added.

This proposed plant would do nothing to sequester carbon dioxide and help curb global warming, Withen said. Why not use wind power instead? she asked.

Ragone replied that, in fact, Dominion just bought a wind plant.

The problem, he said, is that Dominion and other utilities can’t keep up with the exploding demand for electricity in Virginia.

A man in the audience asked: What exactly will the power plant do for him and others in the group?

That depends on who you are, Ragone said.

The man asked: Who wants the plant here?

“I don’t think you do,” Ragone said. “I suspect that’s why you’re here.”

Sierra Club field representative Bill McCabe offered the Dominion officials two suggestions.

First, he said, bring a factory to the area that will convert the power plant ash into building materials and employ local people.

It’s a good idea, Ragone said. Shipping ash out of the area isn’t economical for Dominion, he said.

Second, McCabe asked, why buy “mountaintop removal” coal?

Who says we will? Ragone replied. Dominion hasn’t firmed up its fuel strategy yet, he said.

McCabe and others urged the company to buy only deep-mined coal. Ragone and Browder promised to take that suggestion to higher-ups.

SAMS member Larry Bush asked: If the plant offers no benefit for “us,” why is Dominion coming here?

Ragone said the planned power plant is the result of state legislation. Lawmakers saw an economic benefit for the area, he said.

Bush said the plant will produce more strip mining and more gob piles. “I don’t want my grandkids living in it.”

Withen asked what Dominion’s alternative energy plan is.

Browder noted that, for example, the company has formed a new energy conservation program that will explore sources including solar. It remains to be seen whether some solar technologies will pay for themselves, he said.

David Rouse said solar power is costly because all the energy subsidies go to other fuels such as coal.

Sister Jackie Hanrahan told the Dominion officials that the crowd is skeptical because they’ve “been here before,” being told to have faith in promises about mining, landfills and more and getting disappointed.

“We’re not saying this is good for you,” Ragone said. “We’re saying we’re doing the best we can . . . If I lived next to Carbo, I’d be knocking on their door.”

On the other hand, Ragone added, the economic development community saw benefit in the taxes local government will receive from the plant.

By JEFF LESTER / News Editor
The Coalfield Progress





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