Dominion looks to switch to waste wood for fuel

Published 9:38 am Friday, April 1, 2011

COURTLAND—Dominion Virginia Power is taking steps to change the fuel source of its Southampton Power Station from coal to waste wood.

Dominion has requested approval from the Southampton County Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors for a conditional-use permit for construction on the project. The planning commission will hear the request at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, April 14, at the County Office Center in Courtland.

Dominion spokesman Dan Genest said the fuel conversion would help make the station between Delaware Road and Shady Brook Trail more productive, and the power it produces would be cheaper.

“Right now it runs as a peaking unit and only runs 30 percent of the time,” Genest said.

“The cost of waste wood is less than coal and would be more economical to operate.”

He said the plant could operate 80 to 90 percent of the time with the new fuel source.

In addition, the company estimates a $120 million benefit for the county in terms of tax revenue over the 30-year life of the plant once the conversion is made, Genest said.

Dominion needs anywhere from 10 to 25 additional acres for a woodpile and conveyors as part of the conversion, said Emile Avram, director of business development.

The fuel conversion would also have environmental benefits. Dave Faison, Dominion’s director of operations, said biomass, or waste wood, refers to the parts of trees unusable in the lumber or pulp and paper industries. Power is generated by burning chips made from this waste.

“We are not out in the woods cutting trees to produce power,” Faison said. “We use what’s left over from work that has already been done.”

Employment should remain the same and will not decrease because of the conversion, Avram said.

A second public hearing will be held on April 25 before the Board of Supervisors.

If local approval is given, Dominion must then seek state approval from the Department of Environmental Quality and State Corporation Commission.