Dominion closer to conversion

Published 9:07 am Wednesday, April 27, 2011

COURTLAND—Southampton County supervisors on Monday passed a motion that puts Dominion Power one step closer to converting its Courtland power plant from coal to wood-fueled.

It’s a move that John Smolak, president and chief executive officer for Franklin-Southampton Economic Development Inc., believes could spur development in Western Tidewater.

“This will give Southampton County a new reason to be an attraction and bring in new investment opportunities,” said Smolak.

James Eck, vice president of generation business development for Dominion, told supervisors he also expects the conversion to jump-start development.

“We get calls from (businesses wanting to) locate near green energy,” Eck said. “Local economic developers will team up to recruit those businesses.”

Construction of the $45 million conversion is expected to begin in late 2012 with operations beginning about nine months later. About 50 construction workers will be needed during the conversion process, Eck said.

The change will retain the 30 jobs at the plant on General Thomas Highway. In addition, the conversion will generate $808,000 in property taxes for the county, up from $520,000 annually.

The conversion also will create 100 jobs in the forestry and trucking industries. The power plant is expected to need 80 to 90 deliveries of wood products daily and up to 125 at times.

The plant currently is on 24 acres at the end of Shady Trail Road. Dominion has a lease with an option to purchase a neighboring 67 acres from the heirs of Bessie Nora Edwards for the expansion, Eck said.

Dominion faces a late 2013 operation deadline to take advantage of a tax credit and will pass the savings onto customers, Eck said.

Harvey Darden, forester for Southampton County from the Virginia Department of Forestry, called the conversion a win-win for all.

“We will take a non-renewable resource (coal) and replace it with a renewable resource,” Darden said. “(There will be new) jobs, new tax revenue, and the local landowners will be paid for biomass. Local truckers will be paid to haul to the plant. I know four producers in Southampton who can produce what’s needed.”

Supervisor Walt Brown commended Dominion.

“I’m very impressed with the going green,” Brown said. “I’m just so excited. I’m not sure if I should stand up and shout ‘yahoo’ or do an Indian powwow dance.”