Defeating Virginia’s largest, most polluting coal-fired power plant

After thousands of Virginians opposed plans for what would have been the state’€™s biggest, most polluting coal-fired power plant in Surry County, Old Dominion Electric Cooperative (ODEC) suspended its plans to build the plant in summer of 2012. The Wise Energy for Virginia Coalition worked with citizens and organizations across Virginia to stop the construction of the power plant in our move toward clean energy.

The outcome was due in large part to years of mounting pressure from citizens in Surry County and the rest of Hampton Roads, and from ODEC cooperatives’ own customer-owners. Local citizens faced the prospect of massive amounts of air pollution in their communities, a potential coal ash landfill, and countless rail cars rumbling through the area daily. Five local governments downwind from the proposed plant had passed resolutions of concern or in opposition to the plant, and thousands of people signed petitions opposing the coal plant. We won! And we can do it again!

A Virginia Mountain Saved from Devastation: Ison Rock Ridge

VA Rising group photoAfter many years of opposition, a proposal for a 1,200 acre mountaintop removal coal mine on Ison Rock Ridge in Wise County, Virginia, was denied by the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy (DMME) in May 2013.

Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards, a community group based in Wise County, and a member of the Wise Energy Coalition has been fighting this permit since 2007. The hollers of the five surrounding communities are narrow, and the permit boundary comes within 300 feet of some families€™ homes. The outcome was due in large part to mounting public pressure, as over 30,000 Virginians contacted the DMME and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) with concerns about the proposed mine in 2011 alone.

Wise County Coal Plant

In 2007, the Wise Energy for Virginia Coalition formed in opposition to a proposal by Dominion Virginia Power to build a coal-fired power plant in Wise County. Our efforts raised awareness around the Commonwealth of the significant health and environmental concerns from coal, including the destruction related to mountaintop removal coal mining, the significant health problems associated with air pollution from burning coal, and the ongoing concerns of climate change due to fossil fuel emissions.

Unfortunately, the power plant, supported by state law, was approved by the State Corporation Commission in 2008. However, the coalition’€™s efforts led to significant improvements to the pollution permits, including a 92 percent reduction in mercury pollution and an 82 percent reduction in sulfur dioxide emissions over the initial proposal. The 585-megawatt Virginia City Hybrid Energy Center,€ located on a reclaimed surface coal mine, is commonly expected to be one of the last coal-fired power plants to go online in the U.S.

The Beginnings of Clean Energy Policies In Virginia

Virginia’€™s Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS)

In 2007, with Wise Energy for Virginia’s advocacy, Virginia passed a law encouraging utilities to produce or buy energy from renewable sources, for which they would receive financial incentives. Similar laws exist in 38 states and the District of Columbia, and they are designed to encourage development of a clean energy industry. While most states with Renewable Portfolio Standards mandate that a certain percentage of electricity come from renewable sources, Virginia only set voluntary goals and provided a minimal threshold and investment for utilities to meet those goals.

Six years later, the law has not led to a single commercial-scale wind farm or solar array in Virginia, nor do we have the new jobs, consumer savings, or healthier environment that go along with investments in clean energy. Yet utilities were still eligible for almost $80 million in rewards for meeting the renewable goals, as the law allowed them to claim credit under the RPS for purchasing renewable energy credits from out of state sources, some of which were built before World War II. Rather than require that utilities actually invest in clean energy in the Commonwealth, the General Assembly removed the incentives in 2013, making an already weak RPS even weaker. The Wise Energy for Virginia coalition is working to strengthen this law, and to introduce other bills that will help establish a vibrant renewable energy industry here in the Commonwealth.

Energy Efficiency Resource Standard (EERS)

Virginians would benefit greatly from investments in energy efficiency programs, which have a significant cost advantage over traditional generation resources and allow customers to cut their monthly electric bills. Efficiency programs have the additional benefit of delaying the need for new investments in power plants and transmissions lines. However, utilities in the Commonwealth have unnecessarily limited the amount of energy efficiency programs they would support, and the regulatory framework in Virginia has placed additional burdens on getting these programs approved.

In 2009, the Wise Energy for Virginia coalition secured passage of landmark legislation that provides incentives for utilities to invest in efficiency programs. The Commonwealth’s voluntary goal is to reduce electricity demand by 10% from 2006 levels by 2022. The intent of this goal is to conserve electricity, save consumers money, and create jobs. The legislation, combined with public pressure from the coalition’€™s grassroots base, led to the first significant investment in efficiency by a Virginia utility. While we still have a long way to go to reach the modest 10% goal, utility efficiency investments in Virginia have increased 300-fold, from $84,000 a year to more than $28.1 million.

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