Coal plant proposed in Surry

Published 8:24 am Wednesday, February 4, 2009

DENDRON—Old Dominion Electric Cooperative announced in December a proposal to build a $6 billion coal-fired power plant at the town of Dendron.

The plant, which is in the early planning stages, would be midway between Richmond and Hampton Roads and produce 750 to 1,500 megawatts of electricity. Coal and biomass, a form of renewable energy, would fuel the power plant.

The facility would straddle the Dendron town limits, so both Dendron and Surry County would need to approve the project. If approved, the power plant could be online by 2016.

ODEC selected the Dendron site because of its proximity to transmission and rail lines, and the availability of land — 1,600 acres — to accommodate the plant. The cooperative also identified an alternate site in Sussex County, near that county’s industrial park.

“ODEC continues to evaluate both of these sites and will continue to pursue the possibility of utilizing the Sussex County site,” the cooperative said in December.

The proposed power plant will be called Cypress Creek, and will be modeled after the Clover Power Station, an 850-megawatt coal-fired plant in Halifax County that went online in 1995. ODEC and Dominion Virginia Power, which runs Clover, each own 50 percent of that facility.

According to David Hudgins, the cooperative’s director of member and external communications, ODEC wants to build Cypress Creek because it forecasts energy demands from its customers will double in the next 20 years.

Another benefit from a new power plant would be cost savings. Hudgins said the cooperative currently purchases 55 percent of its energy wholesale, a process he called volatile “because they are driven by the price of natural gas, the cost of which has risen 75 percent during the past five 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.”

But the proposed facility is not without its critics.

Glen Besa, director of the Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club, said his group is one of several “that are concerned with climate change and our reliance on coal.”

“Sea level rise is a concern, especially for people in Hampton Roads. Scientists have said that we need to stop the increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and start to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. If the best scientists say we need to stop and reverse emissions, then we really cannot be building new coal plants.”

Besa said energy demands could be met by focusing on efficiency and renewable energy, and cited examples such as compact fluorescent light bulbs and wind power, respectively.

Brian Moran, a Democratic candidate for governor in 2009, also opposes the project. He visited the offices of the state Department of Environmental Quality in Richmond on Jan. 22 to deliver a letter “calling for a serious investigation into the proposed plant’s environmental impact,” according to a written statement from his political campaign.

“The proposed coal-burning power plant in Surry should not go forward based on the information currently available to the public,” Moran said. “2009 should be the year that we make unprecedented commitments to clean, renewable energy that can preserve our planet and create thousands of new jobs all over the Commonwealth.”

Moran said he was concerned that the facility would release “millions of tons of greenhouse gases,” and pose “significant health risks” to people living near the plant.

Jeb Hockman, an ODEC spokesman, said the cooperative submitted one permit on air quality to DEQ in December. It was the first step in a process that, according to Hockman, could take several years, public hearings, and encompass between 50 and 70 permits to be filed with DEQ and the State Corporation Commission.

ODEC serves 1.3 million people, and provides power to 10 electric distribution cooperatives in Virginia, and also one in Maryland and one in Delaware. ODEC and its member systems are not-for-profit, and are owned by their consumer-members.