Front Porch Blog

Appalachian Voices’ Organizers Ensure Citizens’ Stake in Coal-fired Power Plant Decision

When Old Dominion Electric Cooperative (ODEC) decided that the small town of Dendron, Virginia, would be the future site of a 1500 megawatt, behemoth of a coal-fired power plant, they probably did not imagine that they would face a tremendous obstacle in the citizens of Dendron. A small town of 300 people surrounded by soybeans and corn with a threadbare annual budget, Dendron likely looked like low-hanging fruit to the cooperative executives.

Over three months ago, ODEC and the consistently pro-coal Surry County Board of Supervisors presented an ordinance that would replace the Dendron planning committee with Surry County’s planning commission to “help the town with various studies” and “assist in expertise” in making the decision. By providing their own evidence, experts, and studies, this move would help ensure approval of construction.

According to environmental justice author Dr. Robert Bullard (Dumping in Dixie), siting decisions based on social and economic statistics rather than actual proximity to the physical needs of a coal plant (water for steam and cooling, electric transmission lines, rail for transporting coal) are not uncommon. Think of it as a path of least resistance for polluting industries like coal.

However, the path they chose has proven to have some (perhaps unexpected) brambles: citizens like Carlos Verdauger, who has worked on trying to clean up old coal plants where the coal ash dumps have contaminated local drinking water, or Town Councilwoman Dot Hewitt, who at 78 took it upon herself to find out what a coal ash pile would look like bordering her property, which has been in her family for hundreds of years.

Community organizers with Appalachian Voices, and the Wise Energy Coalition worked hard alongside passionate Dendron residents like Carlos and Dot as well as several other committed citizens from greater Surry County and the Hampton Roads region. In the days before the town council meeting nearly every one of the 140 or so front doors in Dendron had been knocked. Some minds were changed, some heard about it for the first time, and many were mobilized to call the town council and come to the meeting on Monday in order to save their rural town from the large industrial project showing up just off the main drag.

All this work paid off this past Monday, July 13th, at the Dendron Town Council Meeting.

118 chairs were laid out in the Dendron Volunteer Fire Station, and even after all the seats were filled, a few dozen people stood around the room. Pro-plant people wore blue stickers that said Cypress Creek Power Station; opponents fanned themselves with black signs on Popsicle sticks that read “No Coal Plant” in white letters.

To ensure Dendron residents access to the packed meeting, we arrived early and “saved seats” in the front rows. As a Dendron resident arrived, a non-Dendron resident gave up their spot. It worked beautifully – the town was well represented.

With only 5 deciding votes on the council, the victories were narrow, but they were victories nonetheless. The town planning committee was made into an official planning commission that would have legal power to make a decision on the coal plant by a 3-2 vote. ODEC’s proposed ordinance was rejected by the same margin.

There is certainly more work to be done to ensure that the coal plant is not licensed, but the town has made the right choice by keeping the ultimate decision in Dendron.

View a video compiled by Chesapeake Climate Action Network about the evening

Visit the Wise Energy for Virginia website for complete details on the Coalition’s work on this and other issues




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