Dominion to float hydro power proposals

Stephen Igo • Updated Sep 26, 2017 at 9:38 AM

BIG STONE GAP — Dominion Energy Virginia on Monday announced a pair of informational events to inform Southwest Virginia residents interested in learning about a potential hydroelectric storage project currently under assessment for Virginia's coalfield region.

Dominion Energy representatives will host one informational session from 7-9 p.m. Tuesday, Oct 3 at Mountain Empire Community College's Goodloe Center and the other from 7-9 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 5 at Tazewell High School.

Last month Dominion Energy identified two potential sites to construct a hydroelectric facility, one in Tazewell County and the other in Wise County. Also referred to as pumped storage hydro power facilities, the system consists of two reservoirs at different elevations.

During times of peak electricity demand, water in the upper reservoir is released through pipes to the lower reservoir to power turbines. During low demand times, the water is pumped back up to the upper reservoir to repeat the process when needed.

Dominion Energy has filed a preliminary permit with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) for the Tazewell site and contracted with Virginia Tech to conduct studies of the old Bullitt coal mine in Appalachia.

Dominion owns about 2,600 acres of the Tazewell site near East River Mountain, purchased in 2009 when the utility was pursuing another generation project. The FERC application allows the company to perform detailed studies of the property and additional parcels with landowner permission.

Dominion has said the Tazewell site could support multiple configurations including different sized facilities and flexibility that will enable the company to determine the best environmental, technical and economic solutions applicable to that site.

Last month, Mark D. Mitchell, Dominion's vice president/generation construction, said the utility is "on parallel paths with performing studies on these two sites." He said the FERC application "will allow us to proceed with the rigorous environmental, geological, archaeological and technical studies, while further assessing the economics of the project."

The preliminary estimate for a single facility would be in the range of $2 billion and provide millions of tax dollars. Such a project would provide hundreds of jobs during construction and up to 50 permanent jobs when complete.

The Bullitt mine, once a major employer in Wise County, closed in 1997. The mine's voids, long flooded, essentially provides potential as an existing lower reservoir. Dominion has said Michael Karmis, an internationally recognized expert on coal and energy research, will lead the Virginia Tech study of the Bullitt option.

Dominion said it chose to delay filing a preliminary FERC application for Bullitt pending the results of the Virginia Tech study. Mitchell said Dominion expects to make a decision on which site to advance by next summer.

The utility has experience in hydro generation facilities. Dominion and a partner, First Energy Corp., operate the Bath County Pumped Storage Station, the largest facility of its kind in the U.S. capable of generating more than 3,000 megawatts.

Dominion owns and operates the Virginia City Hybrid Energy Center in Wise County, a 610-MW generating station that uses a combination of coal, waste coal and biomass in its fuel stream. The facility became operational in 2012.

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