Assessing the Cost of Wise County Coal Plant

By Kathy R. Selvage

I am a lifelong resident of Wise County, VA, where a now bankrupt company demolished a portion of my Stevens, VA community through mountaintop removal. I know the true costs of being forced to live through sleepless nights, the dust, the noise, and the destruction of mountaintop removal.
(For video of MTR explosions in Kathy Selvage’s neighborhood, see:
The building of the new proposed coal-fired power plant in Virginia City outside the town of St. Paul, Virginia just might bring Wise County some financial relief (but not as much as it could). If anyone looks at the 2000 Census Data for Wise County, one could deduce that Wise County needs jobs, but at what cost? What costs will be assessed to global warming, Wise County’s environment, or the very air you breathe or the water you drink? It would be wise to consider the costs and who pays them. Citizens need answers to many questions before they can decide if the cost is too high.
The cost of the power plant at this point stands at $1.6 billion—that’s exactly twice its original price tag. Does one ever ponder what the final cost will be when construction is complete? With a guaranteed rate of return, does one ever wonder how to recapture that? Does one ever wonder what the incentive package that Wise County offered to Dominion has ballooned to?
Many problematic issues remain surrounding the building of the new “coal fired plant”. Some of these include: how much water, how much limestone (will we blast mountains away now for the limestone required?), what’s the fuel source (how much clean coal, how much waste coal, how much bio-waste?), how much increased coal truck traffic, what kind and quantities of pollutants will be dispersed annually and what are the health consequences of these? Is carbon capture and sequestration technology ready yet and who pays for that? Where would we store this captured carbon? Would it remain with us? What happens if it escapes through a natural disaster in massive amounts? How does it react, for instance, if it is stored in underground mines that have filled with water? These questions and more must be answered before citizens can determine if the costs to our environment are worth it.
Nowhere in the Virginia Re-Regulation bill does it say that 100% of the coal burned will be mined in Virginia. As of now, such a statement does not exist and there is no promise of that on the horizon. At a coal-fired plant forum sponsored by SAMS (Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards), representatives of Dominion were asked if they would put in writing that they would only use deep-mined coal. Deep-mined coal could possibly be used in a time of transition away from the burning of fossil fuels and economically provide thrice the number of jobs. However, Dominion has made no such commitment. If the Virginia Re-Regulation law mandates Virginia coal to be used, many more mountaintop removal jobs will be initiated and required to furnish the annual requirement for coal!
What cost is ascribed to those communities where these operations take place? If they choose waste coal, we must realize that waste coal burning is even worse in terms of pollutants. Do we realize there is almost as much waste left after you burn it? Do we know what’s in the waste after it’s burned? Do we know how to protect our drinking water from contact with the ash, or the watersheds themselves from being harmed?
Do we realize how many more people and communities will be destroyed so we can furnish electricity to 146,000 homes? Just how many homes would have to change one (yes one) light bulb to conserve enough energy for the 146,000 homes?
How many communities and people and how much of our watersheds are we willing to destroy? What is the worth of one child dying from an asthma attack? Or an elderly person who can not or will not speak for themselves? Where is their advocate?
What difference does it make if you have a good paying job if that job destroys your health and those of others in your community, destroys the watersheds, destroys your home, destroys the mountains? Will we surrender the mountains of Southwest Virginia to the hunger pains of Dominion’s proposed coal fired plant? Or is the cost just too high?
It is quite clear to me that Wise County’s future can look clearer or forever smoggy. While it is true that we do not (and should not) divorce our history, it is time that we begin to create a new history and be part of a solution to save our county, state, country, and the world from environmental ruin.


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