Front Porch Blog

In a moment of climate crisis, Dominion wants to move Virginia backwards

In southeast Chesterfield County, Virginia, smokestacks loom over the landscape, situated near the James River, the beautiful Dutch Gap Conservation Area and nearby neighborhoods. Home to multiple coal-fired power plants built in the 1950s and 1960s, the Chesterfield Power Station has spewed harmful air pollution for over 70 years. The facility’s coal ash waste pond has also been an acute source of toxins, threatening nearby groundwater and leaching arsenic into the Dutch Gap Conservation Area. But, the future started to look brighter — and healthier — for nearby communities with the passage of stronger clean energy and environmental safety laws.

The 15 million cubic yards of coal ash waste were required to be moved or recycled due to a 2019 Virginia General Assembly bill — a process that is finally underway. The 2020 passage of the Virginia Clean Economy Act prompted the decommissioning of the facility’s coal units. These developments support the Virginia-wide shift towards clean, renewable energy and Dominion Energy had seemingly embraced this transition, expanding its own solar and wind facilities. But, alarmingly Dominion is now trying to reverse course in Chesterfield and construct a new harmful methane gas “peaker” plant, mere miles from the old plant.

The “Chesterfield Energy Reliability Center” would be at the James River Industrial Park. Original source: Google Maps

When local residents and allied organizations heard about this revived and regressive plan (the peaker plant had been part of a scrapped portion from Dominion Energy’s 2019 “Integrated Resource Plan”), they were deeply concerned. Seemingly an attempt to circumvent Virginia’s legislatively mandated transition to clean energy, Dominion Energy wants to move backwards with the peaker plant, which they call the Chesterfield Energy Reliability Center. The peaker plant, meant for use only when the demands for electricity are at “peak” moments, was revealed in filings to the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality to be in use about one-third of the calendar year. The power plant would be 1,000 megawatts and would cost $600 million to build, raising electric bills for Dominion customers.

The proposed site for a new “peaker” plant, with towers from Chesterfield Power Plant barely visible in the distance. Photo: Jessica Sims

Gas-fired power plants are especially harmful to health, and nearby communities should not endure more decades of emissions including: sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, particulate matter, carbon dioxide and mercury pollutants. Learn more from the Environmental Protection Agency

The revived peaker plant faced strong opposition immediately. Since spring, community members and advocates have rallied outside of an information session hosted by Dominion, engaged with local community members and civic groups, written to local media and hosted informational sessions — continuing to make it clear that Dominion’s methane gas version of a “clean energy future” was not acceptable. As someone from and raised in Chesterfield County, I found Dominion Energy’s disregard for the region deeply cruel and especially outrageous in a moment of regional and global climate crisis.

Advocates rally ahead of a June Dominion Energy meeting. Photo courtesy of Chesapeake Climate Action Network

What is the status of the project?

The gas plant would require a Conditional Use Permit from the Chesterfield County Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors. To date, the application for this permit has not been submitted. The plant would also require an air permit from the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality and permission from the State Corporation Commission. The SCC determines the legitimacy of Dominion Energy’s Integrated Resource Plans, and the company must prove the need for the project to receive a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity.

How can you get involved?

Learn more and RSVP for upcoming events on our Chesterfield Energy Reliability Center page.
If you are a Chesterfield resident, you can sign this petition from Friends of Chesterfield and contact your county supervisor to share concerns about the plant.

Born and raised in Central Virginia, Jessica holds a lifelong passion for protecting Virginia’s waterways. She works as AV's Virginia Field Coordinator fighting against fracked-gas pipelines.


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