Alert 674: “Tiny Virginia Town Approves Giant Coal-Fired Power Plant”

Delaware Electric Cooperative involved

Friends, yesterday we reported on a potential agreement to shut down a 177 megawatt coal generating unit in Delaware.  That’s good news.  But we have a much nastier piece of coal news that also needs reporting.

The little town of Dendron , Virginia, population 293, over fifty percent black, this week narrowly approved permits for a 1500 megawatt coal unit.  Many residents of the area are strongly opposed, not wanting their community to be poisoned by a coal burner.  Check the project promoters’ page to see how the community is being mislead and manipulated.

This is a Delaware story because a key customer for the output of this “Cypress Creek” power plant is the Delaware Electric Cooperative (DEC) We reported on the story in 2009 and wont repeat the background here.

Imprudent, unhealthy doings at the Delaware Electric Cooperative

Alert 666: No new coal plant for the Delaware Electric Cooperative

Letter to Del. Electric Coop. President Bill Andrew (and his response)

The DEC used to be regulated by the Delaware Public Service Commission but isn’t any longer, thanks to bad legislation that Green Delaware was alone in opposing.  DEC says it doesn’t need to be regulated, because it’s member owned, but in practice that means DEC management is out of control.

Electric coops overall have a noticeably worse environmental record than do “investor owned” utilities.

Green Delaware has done some networking with opponents of this project, we sought and were refused permission to speak at the DEC 2009 annual meeting, we then handed out flyers at the meeting, getting a somewhat hostile response from DEC managers but not members–who get a free chicken dinner for coming to the meeting–and we published the action alert above asking people to contact DEC management and oppose this project.

We got, per usual, about zero support from Delaware “environmental” organizations.

Many people in Delaware are working to make the state better, but most seem primarily concerned about problems in their own backyards.

Lets say it plainly: It is dishonorable for Delaware to export it’s coal pollution to a little town in Virginia.

And as for the mainstream of Delaware’s “environmental community,” it sucks.  Green Delaware was formed to try to do better.  But things have sunk to a level of scumbaggery I didn’t think possible:  Under the leadership of Jim Black of “Clean Air Council,” many of them are not only conniving to put a highly-polluting “biomass burner” in the Town of Newport, but are conniving to put what amounts to a garbage incinerator in the City of Wilmington (report upcoming on this).   They are doing this behind a smokescreen of “Zero Waste” (incinerating resources is the opposite of Zero Waste).

It’s beyond disgusting, its behavior that could make a vulture vomit.

So what about the coal plant in Dendron?  There are many remaining obstacles, and the trend of the times is against coal plants.  Ted Nace in his recent book “Climate Hope–On the Front Lines of the Fight Against Coal” (2010), lists 89 coal projects “cancelled, abandoned, or put on hold” in 2007, 2008, and 2009. But, some are getting built. The withdrawal of DEC could be a deal-breaker and add Cypress Creek to the list of cancelled coal projects.

On the other hand, if the project were to be built, DEC “members” could be exposed to  zooming rates.

There are things Green Delaware could try to get done legislatively–such as re-regulation (probably a non-starter) or a bill or resolution against DEC participation in a coal project.  But we don’t have the staff and budget to do a fraction of the things that need doing and Delaware is an increasingly hostile place for independent voices.

Do you care?  Do you want to help?

Below is a story from Environmental News Service:

DENDRON, Virginia, February 2, 2010 (ENS) – The Dendron Town Council last night approved rezoning for Old Dominion Electric Cooperative’s proposed coal-fired power plant, which has sparked fierce and determined opposition from environmental groups and some local residents.

The 1,500 megawatt Cypress Creek Power Station would be the largest coal-fired power plant in Virginia and Old Dominion plans to build it in the miniscule town of Dendron – population about 300, total area 3.6 square miles. Dendron was a company town, built and run by the Surry Lumber Company, which closed in 1927.

About 150 people came to the meeting in the town’s fire hall to have their say as Old Dominion, a not-for-profit power provider to 10 local electric cooperatives in Virginia, attempts to jump through the regulatory hoops on its path to building the Cypress Creek Power Station.

To disprove claims that all opponents are outsiders, local residents wore stickers saying “Surry County Local – NO COAL.”

Most of the speakers at the Town Council meeting were against the proposed power plant, but Mayor Yvonne Pierce cast the tie-breaking votes to give the cooperative approval.

The Dendron Municipal Hall (Photo courtesy Dendron Historical Society)

The vote gives the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, as well as other state and federal agencies, the green light to begin environmental impact studies on the site, said Old Dominion spokesman Jeb Hockman.

The Surry County Board of Supervisors will hold a public hearing Thursday for the part of the project that is outside the town limits.

After the vote opponents of the coal-fired power plant vowed to fight on.

Kayti Wingfield, campaign coordinator for the nonprofit Wise Energy for Virginia Coalition, said, “Our fight over the last year has helped inform a lot of citizens in Surry County and elsewhere about the dangers of this plant – 50-plus years of dirty air, poisoned waters and blown up mountains to dig out the coal, not to mention fueling climate change that will have dire impacts on Virginia.”

Oppponents say that Cypress Creek would emit more than 20,000 tons of air pollutants each year, as well as 116 pounds of toxic mercury. It would also emit some 14.6 million tons of the heat-trapping greenhouse gas carbon dioxide.

In a fact sheet on its website, Old Dominion counters that the air permit for the power plant will contain mercury limits that meet the state guidelines designed to protect human health and the environment. “In other words,” the company says, “the emissions of mercury lack sufficient concentration to adversely affect someone’s health from inhalation.”

But the environmentalists are concerned not only about mercury inhalation but also about the deposition of airborne mercury onto local waters where it enters the food chain and contaminates fish. They point out that there is no safe level of mercury ingestion.

Old Dominion argues that Virginia’s mercury levels are declining and the Department of Environmental Quality states that only “3 percent of the mercury deposition occurring within Virginia can be attributed to EGUs [electric generating units] located within Virginia.”

Old Dominion selected the 1,600-acre site in December 2008. David Hudgins, director of member and external communications for ODEC, said the cooperative forecasts energy demand among its consumer-members will double in the next 20 years.

“The Cypress Creek Power Station will not only provide our consumer-members with safe, reliable and affordable energy, but it will also provide many significant short- and long-term economic benefits to Dendron and surrounding areas,” said Hudgins.

“From construction jobs to facility operations jobs and annual tax contributions, the economic benefits of this project, combined with our proven track record of responsibly managing similar operations, make this a win-win project for the local community,” Hudgins said.

But Tom Cormons, Virginia director of the nonprofit Appalachian Voices, said if the Dendron Town Council hopes to generate jobs by approving the power plant, they are mistaken.

“A new economic report shows that local residents would get very few jobs from the plant,” said Cormons. “For example, three construction jobs for Dendron residents. The majority voted without taking the time to review the new jobs report.”

Cale Jaffe, senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center, said the power plant would not create green jobs, although green jobs are exactly what the newly elected Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell, a Republican, wants for the state.

“In his State of the Commonwealth address, Governor McDonnell challenged Virginians to make the entire state a ‘green jobs zone,’ declaring that Virginia is for lovers of renewable energy,” said Jaffe. “ODEC should step up to that challenge, abandon this old-style, coal plant proposal, and give Surry County a 21st century, green energy opportunity.”

Glen Besa, director of the Sierra Club in Virginia, said, “At $6 billion, this is the most expensive coal plant in the country, and ODEC is proposing to build it at a time when utilities all across the country are abandoning new coal plant projects. This would not be a prudent investment.”

There are still many regulatory hurdles to surmount before the plant can be built. The State Corporation Commission will have to issue a certificate of need for the plant, which would allow ODEC to raise rates to pay for the plant.

In addition, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality and the State Air Pollution Control Board have authority over two required air pollution permits.

Also, the Army Corps of Engineers has authority over a federal wetland permit, and will be doing a environmental impact statement under the National Environmental Policy Act to determine the need for the plant and assess alternatives.

Each agency will hold separate public comment periods and public hearings. So opponents of the power plant are still hopeful that there is time to block it.

“It is time for Virginia to join the rest of the nation and move away from dirty, dangerous and outdated sources of energy, especially coal,” said Chelsea Harnish with the Chesapeake Climate Action Network. “The opposition to this proposed coal plant is already strong and will only grow as more Virginians learn about the economic and environmental damage it will cause.”

One thought on “Alert 674: “Tiny Virginia Town Approves Giant Coal-Fired Power Plant”

  1. amuller Post author

    Comment received by email:

    “What the hell has “over fifty percent black” got to do with it????? Take me off your e-mail list ……”

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