Virginia’s Largest Coal Plant Proposed for Hampton Roads

Old Dominion Electric Cooperative (ODEC) is proposing to build what would be the single largest coal-fired power plant in the Commonwealth, more than two-and-a-half times the size of Dominion Power’s plant currently under construction in southwest Virginia.

This page contains basic information about the proposal. Please click here to take action!

Click on the image above to download it as a pdf.


Fine Particulate Matter: An analysis for a forthcoming report from the Clean Air Task Force predicts that “fine particulate” soot from the ODEC plant alone would cause heart attacks, asthma attacks, and thousands of premature deaths during the plant’s lifetime. In response to a federal court order last year, EPA is now in the process of revising national health-based standards for this pollution to consider reports on severe health impacts from its Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee.

Mercury: The plant would emit as much as ten times the toxic mercury as Dominion’s plant in southwest Virginia. On a per-kilowatt basis, ODEC’s plant would emit nearly four times as much as Dominion’s. Mercury is a neurotoxin that accumulates in fish, and when consumed by humans, interferes with the development of fetuses and children. The Virginia Department of Health has already issued fish consumption advisories for hundreds of miles of Virginia waterways—including Surry County’s Blackwater River and its tributaries—because of unsafe levels of mercury. Click here to download a pdf of the mercury map you see to the right.

Ground-level Ozone (Smog): The plant would emit tremendous quantities of smog-forming nitrogen oxides—more than 3,000 tons annually. The plant would also emit 246 tons of smog-forming Volatile Organic Compounds annually. According to the American Lung Association, the health impacts of smog in Virginia include increased hospital visits, asthma attacks, and premature death.

Hampton Roads communities already fail to meet health-based smog standards, prompting the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality to recommend to the EPA that these areas be designated as “nonattainment” under the Clean Air Act. ODEC’s coal-fired power plant would worsen the region’s smog problem, making it more difficult for new industries to move to Hampton Roads to create jobs.

You can view a graph of the ozone readings for Hampton Roads in 2010 relative to current and pending standards here, and you can view the raw data on the DEQ website here. Maps showing that the ODEC coal plant would be the third and fourth largest emitter of ozone creating gasses in the region are below.

Click to download a pdf of the NOx map.

Click to download a pdf of the VOC map.

Fly Ash: Up to half a millions tons of fly ash, which contains heavy metals, would be produced by the plant annually and stored on site. Wells and waterways would be at risk, and major weather events like tropical storms would increase the difficulty of containing the waste.


Click to Enlarge

The only comprehensive, publicly available study of the proposed plant’s economic impact reveals that it would create few jobs for local residents. According to the study, only 3 temporary construction jobs would go to Dendron residents, and approximately 200 short-term construction jobs would go to Surry County residents during the peak year of construction. County residents would receive only 14% of construction jobs. These jobs would disappear once construction was completed. Permanent jobs to operate the plant would be far fewer and would go almost exclusively to out-of-region applicants with prior experience in coal-plant operations. This stands in stark contrast to the 3,000 construction jobs touted by ODEC.

Energy Needs

A Surplus of Electricity: ODEC seeks to justify building in Dendron what would be Virginia’s single largest coal plant by pointing to an alleged “5,600 megawatt gap” in energy supply over the next 10 years. But an expert for Shell Energy North America, testifying before Virginia’s State Corporation Commission, called this capacity gap a “myth.” This is because ODEC, like Dominion Power, is in the PJM territory. PJM Interconnection is the regional organization that manages the electricity grid across all or part of 13 states and the District of Columbia. Shell Energy has observed, “There is currently a surplus of capacity resources in PJM that is available to and shared among all PJM members.” Shell Energy has noted that the amount of capacity available on the PJM grid remains well above the “reserve margins” – the amount of electricity needed to assure system reliability – for many years into the future.

ODEC is able to purchase power off the PJM grid. With the current glut of electricity, prices are far cheaper than the cost of building the Cypress Creek Power Station proposed, which ODEC has pegged at roughly $6 billion. And, because of the glut, ODEC would likely lose money if it tried to sell excess electricity from the plant on the PJM market.

ODEC is chartered to serve its members, providing them with the energy they need at the lowest reasonable cost. Given current and forecasted energy reserves that are available to ODEC, building a new coal plant would simply saddle ODEC members with a bad investment that they would be forced to pay off for decades to come.

Other options: According to an independent analysis, Virginia has enough unexploited energy efficiency potential to virtually eliminate the need for new generation in the next 15 years. A study comparing efficiency with building a power plant revealed that efficiency would create thousands more jobs statewide, boost Virginia’s economy by hundreds of millions of dollars annually, and save consumers money. Virginia also has vast renewable energy potential, including at least 3,000 megawatts of wind power off Virginia Beach. Finally, a report by Synapse Energy Economics last year found that ODEC could save money and avoid great financial risk to its customers by using a variety of energy sources (including efficiency and wind) rather than spending billions on a massive coal plant.

Click on the efficiency potential graph to see what part energy efficiency can play in helping us to meet our future energy needs

Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining

Mountains: Mountains destroyed by mountaintop removal coal mining can’t be put back together. Forests are razed and mountains are blasted apart with explosives, reducing their height by hundreds of feet and typically replacing lush forests with a barren landscape that will not support native forests for millennia, according to the authors of a 2010 peer-reviewed article in the journal Science. In Virginia, 67 mountains have been destroyed so far by surface coal mining, along with 156,000 acres of Appalachian hardwood forest.

Water: Vast amounts of waste rock and rubble created when mountains are blown up are dumped into adjacent valleys, permanently burying headwater streams, disrupting natural stream flows, and poisoning waterways for miles downstream. Buried streams are gone forever; 151 miles of Virginia streams were buried or mined-over as of 2001, according to the EPA’s latest assessment. Attempts to engineer new stream channels atop the rubble cannot successfully recreate the hydrologic or biological functions of the original streams. Moreover, creation of new streams running through mining waste leads to contamination of downstream waters with heavy metals and toxics leached from the spoil.

Communities: Residents of the coalfields lose more than the mountains, forests, and creeks where they have hunted, fished, and swum for generations. Their water supplies, health, and homes are also jeopardized. Serious disease and mortality are elevated for both men and women in the coalfields. Many residents are forced from their homes—and their communities—by the damage and intolerable conditions caused by mountaintop removal.

Development: Only 5% of strip-mined land in the region has been used for post-mining development. The economies of heavily strip-mined counties are on a precipitous decline—they have more flat land every year and every year their economies get worse. Clearly, flattening more mountains is not the answer.

For further information, please contact Whitney Byrd, Wise Energy for Virginia Coalition Campaign Coordinator, 434-202-7952 and whitney@wiseenergyva.org.

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