Front Porch Blog

“Cooperative should scrap proposed coal plant”

This Op-Ed, by the coalition coordinator for the Wise Energy for Virginia Coalition of which Appalachian Voices is a proud member, is running at Tidewater News

Old Dominion Electric Cooperative’s announcement on Wednesday to delay plans for a massive coal-fired power plant in Hampton Roads offers a ray of hope that Virginia can still get on track toward a cleaner energy future.

The temporary halt of what would be one of the dirtiest industrial facilities in the state will allow the company, its customers, government officials and the conservation community to explore alternatives that will cost less and be less harmful to the environment.

The Wise Energy for Virginia Coalition has long opposed the $6 billion coal plant proposed in Surry County, and has mobilized tens of thousands of citizens across the state who are concerned about air pollution, mercury poisoning of waters, mountaintop removal coal mining and the consequences of a warming planet.

Throughout the United States, the shift away from fossil fuels to cleaner energies is growing. Since 2002, plans for 133 coal-fired plants have been dropped for economic, environmental and other reasons, according to the Sierra Club, while in most states clean-energy jobs are increasing faster than the overall job rate.

Unfortunately, ODEC explicitly stated they are not backing away from what it calls the Cypress Creek Power Station, only slowing down to see what happens with pending greenhouse gas legislation and regulations. While ODEC is apparently reevaluating, there is no reason to believe it will see the light on its own.

It’s vitally important that citizens stay engaged in the fight to stop the plant for good, and to push ODEC and local and state officials to get cracking on energy efficiency, offshore wind, solar and other forms of clean energy. These energy sources would more than offset the 1,500 megawatts from the delayed plant.

What’s at stake?

The health of the Chesapeake Bay, for one. Even as the Environmental Protection Agency, several states and others work on an historic clean-up plan for the ailing bay, ODEC’s coal plant would add more than 3,000 tons of nitrogen oxides into the bay’s watershed each year.

Also at risk are consumers who eat fish or seafood, as the plant would be the fourth largest source in Hampton Roads of mercury, a potent neurotoxin. And with a giant carbon footprint of 11.6 million tons a year, the plant would intensify local impacts of global warming. According to the 2008 Governor’s Commission on Climate Change, sea levels in Virginia will rise 2.3 feet to 5.2 feet by 2100.

ODEC was prudent to push “pause” on the coal plant and re-assess what is shaping up to be an incredibly poor investment. The coalition hopes to work with ODEC during this time on clean energy alternatives that produce jobs, keep electricity rates down, and reduce harmful air and water pollution. In the meantime, we remain committed to our goal of adding Cypress Creek to the growing list of nixed coal-plant projects.

KAYTI WINGFIELD is coordinator for the Wise Energy for Virginia Coalition, which includes Appalachian Voices, Chesapeake Climate Action Network, Sierra Club (Virginia Chapter), Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards and Stewards and Southern Environmental Law Center. She can be reached at