Virginia Approves Major New Coal Plant and Electricity Rate Hikes
The No 2 utility owner in America yesterday won the right to build a $1.8bn power plant in the heart of the Appalachian mountains. The move almost certainly will increase Virginia’s use of the mining practice known as mountaintop removal, in which peaks are sheared off to reach the coal inside.
After an emotional two-day hearing that drew hundreds of witnesses, the Virginia state air pollution control board cleared Dominion Power to break ground on a 585-megawatt plant deep in the heart of coal country.
The vote was unanimous, with even board members who favor a carbon tax calling for more coal to burn.
Dominion Virginia Power will raise its electricity rates starting Tuesday by 18 percent, the largest one-time rate increase in three decades, to pay for soaring fuel costs. The three-member Virginia State Corporation Commission, the state’s utility regulator, approved the increase in a ruling issued Friday.
It’s Getting Hot in Here has commentary:
Today was the final day of the Air Board Hearing concerning the Wise County coal plant. The room was full of hope after yesterday’s comment period, and the board acknowledged the powerful citizen outcry over the plant’s health and environmental impacts. But ultimately, they approved the plant. While they significantly strengthened the emissions regulations, they did nothing to address mountain top removal mining or CO2 emissions.
They went as far as they could, without doing more harm than good. Fearing litigation from Dominion, they made no strong statement about regulating CO2—without the regulatory framework from the EPA, the Board felt it wasn’t able to take a strong stand. “My hope is,” stated one Air Board member, “that strong, forceful legislation will come at a federal level and that Governor Kaine will take state-specific actions to address CO2.”
It was because of the “loud public clamor” that the Air Board decided to take up this permit and make it as strong as it is now. Dominion will have to make a considerable effort to meet these demands, including cleaning up their mercury emissions. Dominion walked in the door expecting that their permit would get rubber-stamped approved with a 72 lb mercury emissions regulation. The Air Board demanded that they reduce that to 4.45 lbs per year. That’s a 120% reduction, made possible only by the strong grassroots outcry about this plant.
It was clear to me and other members of our coalition that this was a courageous move by the Air Board. They are going to take hits from both sides of the debate, neither of which got what they wanted. As Kathy Selvage said, “They gave no consideration for the mountains that will be the fuel for this plant.” MTR wasn’t mentioned by the Air Board at all. Also, the “out clause,” which allows Dominion to get a new permit if they cannot achieve the mercury standards, was also left in.
“There you go. We didn’t do it.,” said one Air Board member in his final comments. They didn’t take a strong stand on MTR, on CO2, or on the plant. But they did create a strong regulatory hurdle for Dominion, and they made an attempt to protect our air based on the Clean Air Act. The vote was unanimous.