Dominion: Wise mine site not suitable for large-scale hydroelectric power plant

Mike Still • Jun 19, 2019 at 8:09 AM

WISE — Dominion Energy is calling it quits on a project to use abandoned mines as a water source for hydroelectric power generation.

Company officials on Tuesday announced the utility company has stopped work on a possible pumped storage electric plant using the former Westmoreland Coal Co.’s Bullitt underground mine near Appalachia as a water source.

Dominion’s announcement is not slowing another project to develop a hydroelectric plant in Southwest Virginia, company spokesman Jeremy Slayton said Tuesday.

Slayton said the Bullitt site, which had been under study by Dominion for more than a year as a water supply for a pumped storage plant, appeared not to provide a reliable supply of water for such a project.

“We spent about a year, year and a half on the Bullitt project,” Slayton said. “We worked with Virginia Tech since they have a group that works on mining issues. We couldn’t determine how much water was available.”

A pumped storage plant depends on a system of an upper reservoir to flow water through a combination electric generator turbine and water pump. The water is then pumped back up to the reservoir from a lower reservoir or a flowing body of water.

Slayton said Dominion had also looked at a flooded underground mine in the Amonate area of Tazewell County, Va., before the Wise County project and suspended that project.

Dominion has determined that abandoned underground mines do not provide a large enough utility scale water source for power generation, Slayton said, but that does not mean mines could not support smaller plants.

“Maybe on a smaller scale it might be a good fit for another group to use a mine,” Slayton said.

Dominion is looking at another possible project in Tazewell County, Slayton said. The company is looking at water sources in adjacent Bland County that could feed a reservoir to supply a pumped storage plant in Tazewell County. A company study could go into 2020, he added.

Wise County Administrator Mike Hatfield said on Tuesday that Dominion informed county officials on the Bullitt decision last week.

“Obviously we would have liked to have it in Wise County, but we’re happy it’s going into Tazewell County,” Hatfield said. “Anything that’s going to benefit the region is a good thing.”

Hatfield said the county would be interested in backing any smaller private or public group that considered using abandoned mines in the county to develop power generation projects.

Three Southwest Virginia Republican state legislators released a joint statement Tuesday on Dominion’s decision.

First District Delegate Terry Kilgore, Fourth District Delegate Todd Pillion and 38th District Sen. Ben Chafin said that a Dominion Tazewell County pumped storage project could provide revenue to localities across the region as well as create jobs.

“Thanks to regional cooperation and revenue sharing agreements adopted by local governments, this project would be a boost to the entire Coalfields economy, creating up to 2,000 jobs and providing much needed revenue to support schools, law enforcement and other local needs,” the three legislators said in their statement.

Kilgore, Pillion and Chafin pointed to the General Assembly’s passage of a bill creating a Southwest Virginia Energy Research and Development Authority. Part of the authority’s mission includes supporting pumped storage power projects and renewable energy projects at abandoned mine land and brownfield sites in Southwest Virginia.

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