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Coal waste piles across SW Virginia feeding Wise power plant

April 25th, 2014 11:15 pm by Staff Report

Coal waste piles across SW Virginia feeding Wise power plant

ST. PAUL — Vast piles of discarded remnants of coal mining practices of yesteryear are literally disappearing into the boilers of a Wise County power plant, helping to clear away a longtime source of water pollution in Southwest Virginia.

Dominion Virginia Power Co. opened its new 585-megawatt, $1.8 billion coal-fired power plant across a ridge from downtown St. Paul in July 2012. Dubbed the Virginia City Hybrid Energy Center (VCHEC), the facility was configured with the latest technology to also burn biofuels as part of its feedstock, as well as "waste coal," better known as "gob."

Gob piles were created as the castoff material of the mining process of yesteryear, and consist mostly of rock and lower BTU coal. The discarded material is a source of metals and other contaminants that leach into local waterways.

There are literally hundreds of gob piles throughout the central Appalachian coalfields, castoff remnants of mining operations from the early to mid-1900s prior to state and federal regulations regarding the handling of gob and other mining processes.

Since its Wise County power plant went online in 2012, Dominion Virginia Power reports the facility has recycled nearly 1.1 million tons of waste coal, following through on the utility's commitment to help clean up environmental hotspots that dot the coal-producing counties of Virginia.

The utility reports in 2012 the facility used about 484,000 tons of waste coal. Last year the state used about 615,000 tons to generate electricity.

"One of the benefits we saw in building the Virginia City Hybrid Energy Center was the abundance of low-cost waste coal that newer technologies would allow us to use as fuel," said David A. Christian, chief executive officer for Dominion Generation.

"At the same time that we are holding down rates for our customers by burning waste coal, we are also helping Southwest Virginia clean up some of its biggest environmental challenges."

The Wise County power plant employs a circulating fluidized bed technology for the facility's boilers because of its ability to utilize a wide variety of fuels. That flexibility allows the station to select and blend fuels to obtain the cheapest fuel, saving money for the utility's customers.

The station also operates under one of the strictest — if not the strictest — air emissions permits in the nation for a plant of its kind. In building the Wise County facility, Dominion also agreed to convert the former coal-fired Bremo Power Station to natural gas, resulting in significant net reductions in sulfur and carbon dioxide emissions compared with previous levels.

The Bremo conversion will be completed this spring, the utility reports.

About 80 percent of the waste coal used at the Wise County facility comes from Virginia, and much of it from a Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals & Energy Abandoned Mine Land Project in Dante.

Dominion reports the Dante site, which originally contained over 1 million tons of gob, is expected to disappear completely by the end of this year as it is used for fuel at VCHEC. Then the actual reclamation of the former gob site and the stream bed can begin.

"There are hundreds of gob piles throughout Southwest Virginia that have a negative impact on the water quality in the watersheds of the Clinch and Powell Rivers. Now with the operation of VCHEC, these environmental hazards can finally start being addressed," said Walt Crickmer, managing partner for GOBCO LLC, the company reclaiming the Dante site and shipping the waste coal for use at the Wise County plant.

"The Virginia City power station has become a major factor in reclaiming not only the coal, but the waste pile sites as well," he said.

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