Front Porch Blog

A Sad Day for Va — Wise County Coal Plant Fires Up

Despite statewide resistance from over 40,000 Virginians who joined Appalachian Voices and the Wise Energy for Virginia Coalition in opposing it, Dominion Power’s Wise County coal plant in St. Paul went online this morning after four years of construction.

The Wise County coal-fired power plant

Photos taken on 13 June, 2012 by Matt Wasson. Flight courtesy of Southwings

As Dominion says, the 585 megawatt plant is one of the “cleanest U.S. coal-fired power stations in terms of air emissions with one of the nation’s strictest air permits.” Dominion, however, fails to mention two key points.

First, “cleanest” is a relative term. Even a coal plant with strict air permits and modern pollution controls is a major contributor to smog, acid rain, and the accumulation of toxic mercury in our waterways. What’s more, these strict pollution controls do nothing to lessen the destruction of mountaintop removal mining to supply coal to the plant – or the plant’s massive annual greenhouse gas emissions, which will be equivalent to the annual emissions of nearly one million cars.

Secondly, while Dominion would like to take credit for the plant’s strict air emissions permits, it was the uprising of thousands of concerns Virginians, combined with legal arguments on behalf of the Wise Energy for Virginia Coalition, that led to the strict limits.

Thanks to these efforts, the plant will emit 94% less mercury and 82% less acid-rain producing sulfur than Dominion originally proposed.

The precedent set by these strict limits has made it more difficult to permit new coal plants anywhere in the U.S. In Virginia, this precedent led the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality to reject proposed emissions levels for the new coal plant currently proposed by the Old Dominion Electric Co-Op (ODEC) – ultimately leading ODEC to withdraw, at least temporarily, its air permit applications.

The Virginia City Hybrid Electricity Center, as the new plant is called, comes online at the same time coal-fired electricity generation is experiencing a steady decline (see image at left).





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  1. Matthew on December 2, 2014 at 7:45 pm

    So for all the environmental activists out there , I am a Repulican conservationist, but I believe in coal. Your naive to think that it’s possible to power our entire economic grid with the current renewable technology even if they are combined. Also to think that a power company could build a new power plant the costs not be absorbed somewhere is foolish. Consumers have to pay for energy. If you don’t agree get of the national grid and stop buying gas. We need coal to keep the ever rising costs down. Please help the country to come up the best options and stop hindering.

  2. Mark Robinowitz on July 17, 2012 at 1:40 am

    It’s not a surprise that this got turned on, although it’s tragic. I saw this after going to the Heartwood gathering last year (and the Southwings tour over the nearby mountaintop removal sites).

    The main reason less coal is being burned than a few years ago is the short term bubble of shale gas (fracking). But the fracking wells do not last long, they deplete much faster than conventional natural gas wells.

    Over the next few years the fracking bubble is going to burst and then the modest shift of coal to gas for electricity will likely be reversed.

    I’ve used solar electricity since 1990, it is great but it is not going to replace our current consumption. A renewable energy society would have a smaller, steady state economy. Relocalizing food is probably the most important energy action we can all take, since solar panels and wind turbines are not going to fuel food delivery across time zones and it takes fossil fuels and minerals to make most renewable energy equipment. We have reached Peak Coal (a reason the coal companies are doing mountaintop removal), Peak Natural Gas, Peak Oil and even Peak Uranium (in the US), and therefore Peak Electricity, but Peak Denial and Peak Blame are probably far in the future. I hope to be wrong about that.

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