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Wise power plant delayed by pollution concerns

April 17th, 2008 12:00 am by Stephen Igo



ST. PAUL — The utility that wants to build a new coal-fired power plant in Wise County will have to wait until at least May 22 before commencing construction on the $1.8 billion facility.


Last month, the State Corporation Commission provided its sanction of Dominion’s plans to build the 585-megawatt Virginia City Hybrid Energy Center. Virginia’s Air Pollution Control Board, however, asked Dominion for more information before making a decision on the utility’s air quality permits.


Dominion targeted April to begin construction of the power generating station. Site preparation has been under way since last fall at the Virginia City site of St. Paul, a location that features a steep ridge between the project and the actual town.


Site preparation work continues, but not much is happening at the other end of the state in Richmond, Dominion spokesman Dan Genest said Thursday.


“It’s kind of all quiet on the western front right now,” he said. “The only thing I know, it will be discussed May 22 during a meeting with the Air Board. Whether or not it will be approved then, we do not know. We would certainly like it to be.”


On March 20, Dominion was less than thrilled at the board’s request for more information.


“It is disappointing that after so much work has been done and so much information provided, that the Virginia Air Pollution Control Board stepped in at this late date to remove the decision-making authority from the environmental professionals of the (state) Department of Environmental Quality, but Dominion will do everything possible to provide the information requested about the Virginia City Hybrid Energy Center,” the utility announced at the time.


“An extended delay — much beyond 60 days — in granting the air permit could result in a very significant increase in costs to Dominion and its customers as some construction contracts likely would have to be renegotiated.”


Genest said Thursday a construction delay crisis isn’t at the meltdown point yet.


“We would obviously have preferred to have started construction in April, and every day it costs us some money, but right now it’s not a major concern. If we can get approval quickly we aren’t in any real difficulties,” he said. “Obviously the longer this stretches out the more it gets into a critical situation of we much prefer sooner rather than later.”


During the last two years Dominion has pursued the project the utility has spent more than $6 million on studies, computer modeling and other expenses related to the air permit. The circulating fluidized bed (CFB) technology Dominion will employ at the plant meets or exceeds current air pollution standards. The utility also plans to build the plant so that it can be fitted with carbon-capture technology if and when that becomes commercially available.


Dominion also vows to convert two old coal-fired units at its Bremo Power Station in Fluvanna County to natural gas to offer large net reductions of sulfur dioxide emissions and mercury. The utility said the Bremo conversion won’t be possible without the Wise County facility.



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