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Dominion officials quizzed by citizens, environmentalists

WISE — Officials of Dominion Virginia Power got their brains picked vigorously by local citizens and environmental activists at a recent meeting.

Dominion representatives Jim Browder, James Beazley and John Ragone discussed plans to build a 500-600 megawatt coal-fired power plant in Virginia City with a group of about 30 people March 26 at L.F. Addington Middle School.

The public forum was hosted by Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards, based in Appalachia; the Sierra Club; and Asheville, N.C.-based Appalachian Voices.

While Browder, Beazley and Ragone answered a lot of questions about how the plant will work, they also tried to field a number of questions for which they have no answers — at least not yet.

Questions with answers

• Soil. When asked what activity is now taking place on the Virginia City site, Ragone said a local geotechnical engineering firm, MacTech, is taking soil core samples. It was heavily surface mined and reclaimed, he said, adding that if the site is suitable, Dominion will build there.

Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards member Kathy Selvage asked whether Dominion would consider finding a different site. Ragone said the company looked at and ruled out several sites, and he doesn’t know if Dominion would start over if this site isn’t suitable.

• Air quality. State regulators are reviewing Dominion’s air permit application, and could take a year, Ragone said.

Browder explained that the air permit application process is twofold.

First, Dominion applied to use circulating fluidized bed technology, the best available, he said.

Browder explained to the audience that the technology uses limestone, low-heat combustion and filtering systems to remove almost all toxic substances in stages.

Second, he explained, Dominion’s air quality model must show that what comes out of the emissions stack won’t cause or contribute significantly to air quality problems.

The process should capture about 98 percent of sulfur dioxide, maybe 90 percent of nitrogen oxide, more than 99 percent of particulate matter and at least 90 percent of mercury, according to Browder.

The company is now adjusting some air emission rates at the state’s request, Browder said.

For example, he said, Dominion originally proposed that about 2 percent of sulfur dioxide would go through the emissions stack, or about 4,000 tons per year. The Department of Environmental Quality wants it reduced by about 20 percent.

SAMS member Pete Ramey asked whether air quality would be checked after emissions leave the plant. Browder said there will be air monitors for sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and mercury. Also, a crew comes in periodically to conduct more extensive stack tests.

Browder noted that DEQ will hold local meetings for public comment on the air quality permit application.

Frank Taylor, who lives on a Clinch River farm, noted that emissions standards will get tougher. Is the plant design flexible enough to accommodate new regulations? he asked.

It depends on the type of emissions, Browder said. Circulating fluidized bed is a very flexible system, he said, adding that some pollutants would require adding equipment to meet new regulations while others would not.

• Fuel. The plant could burn mined coal, waste coal and biomass, Browder said.

When asked how much ash it will produce, Ragone said that depends on the fuel type.

One audience member said burning 100 pounds of waste coal produces 85 pounds of ash.

Browder countered that waste coal stored in gob piles contributes to acid runoff in streams. Burning it is a better way to dispose of it, he said.

David Rouse said the Virginia City area is honeycombed by mines. Ash disposal there could harm the Clinch River.

Ragone explained that Dominion will store the ash in a company-owned landfill that will meet all standard DEQ landfill requirements.

Browder said when it’s wet down, ash sets up like concrete, making it safer to landfill than many other materials.

Bonnie Aker asked whether the company would sell ash instead of landfilling it.

That’s a possibility they’re looking at, Ragone said. But different coals produce different ash, and buyers won’t step up until they see what the plant produces, he said.

When asked, Ragone explained that “biomass” is “woody waste.”

So trees will be cut down for fuel, an audience member suggested.

No, Ragone said. Virginia Tech foresters tell them what’s already fallen is more than enough without harvesting more, he explained.

• Water. Taylor asked for assurance that any water coming from the plant goes back into the river as clean as it came out of the river.

“If you hurt the river, this isn’t going to work,” he said.

Browder answered that Dominion must treat anything it discharges to very stringent state standards, and “will probably exceed them.”

By JEFF LESTER/ News Editor
The Coalfield Progress – April 3rd, 2007





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