Virginia pushes to save country’s ‘cleanest’ coal plant
Published by Jessica Casey,
Officials from southwest Virginia have mounted a last-minute push to oppose the possible early closure of one of the country’s newest coal plants.
A Dominion Energy facility in Wise county, that opened eight years ago and is frequently touted as the cleanest of its type, could close decades sooner than expected under a rewrite of Virginia’s energy generation policy Democrats are advancing through the General Assembly.
Advocates of the bill say Virginia needs to move away from fossil fuel-fired generation in order to address climate change. But Republican lawmakers and local officials in southwest Virginia have called its potential early retirement a “tragedy” that would blow a hole in the budgets of two localities and devastate a region that has been working to revitalise an economy built on coal mining, but that is not there yet.
“Pulling the rug out from under us and closing down the cleanest coal plant — the cleanest plant in the world right now that is running — is just a slap in the face to southwest Virginia,” Terry Kilgore, a Republican whose district includes part of the county where the plant is located, said.
The plant pays millions in taxes each year and employs 197 full-time and contract employees, according to Dominion. Local officials estimate it supports about 400 other jobs in the surrounding community.
Under the House version of the Clean Economy Act — a measure that would pave the way for an enormous expansion of solar and offshore wind generation plus battery storage — the plant would have to close in 2030 unless it can demonstrate an 83% reduction in carbon emissions through capture and sequestration, a lofty goal. The recent Senate accepted an amendment to its version of the bill to push that deadline back until 2050. The amendment came from Republican Ben Chafin, whose district includes part of Wise County and who insisted that the plant was “barely out of diapers.” The bills will head to a conference committee that will work out a number of differences, including the closure date. The Wise County Board of Supervisors has passed a resolution asking the General Assembly to exempt the plant from the bill’s requirements.
Michael Town, Executive Director of the Virginia League of Conservation Voters, said Dominion initially offered to close the plant in 2030. “We of course agreed to their offer,” he said. But Chafin said that Dominion had spent hours helping him prepare his amendment.
Supporters of the legislation say retiring fossil fuel-fired generation is an essential step in moving the state toward a renewable energy future and helping stem the tide of climate change. “How many years have we wasted since that plant decision was made and put in place?” said Kathy Selvage, a Wise County native and the daughter of a coal miner who helped lead the fight against the Virginia City Hybrid Energy Centre more than a decade ago. The facility was one of the last coal plants built in the US. Only 10 others have come online since the US$1.8 billion facility went into operation in 2012, and only two are currently proposed anywhere in the country, according to the most recent data available from the federal Energy Information Administration. The plant’s advocates have emphasised that the plant is capable of burning garbage of bituminous, a mining waste product that over the course of decades has been left in more than 100 piles across southwest Virginia.
Environmentalists say that is not reason enough to keep open a plant that emitted more than 2.7 t of carbon dioxide in 2018, the most recent year for which federal records are available.
Despite President Donald Trump’s efforts to boost the coal industry, utilities are increasingly retiring coal-fired power plants because the dropping prices of natural gas and renewable energy technology have made them less economical. Apart from the Wise County plant, Dominion has previously laid out plans to retire all its other coal-fired power plants by 2025 at the latest.
Read the article online at: https://www.worldcoal.com/coal/06032020/virginia-pushes-to-save-countrys-cleanest-coal-plant/
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