Air Permit Approved for Warren County Power Station

Dominion Virginia Power, a subsidiary of Dominion will seek regulatory approval in early 2011 to build a new natural gas-fired power station in Front Royal, Virginia after gaining approval last week of the station’s air permit.

The Virginia Air Pollution Control Board unanimously approved the permit Friday for the 1,300-megawatt, combined cycle Warren County Power Station near Front Royal.

Photo superimposed on Kelley Industrial Park site in Warren County - Photo Edward Leonard

Pamela F. Faggert, chief environmental officer, said: “We appreciate the board’s thorough consideration and approval. Warren County Power Station has been designed to operate with clean natural gas and with the best air pollution control technologies available. Our emissions will be controlled to levels that are considered to be the lowest achievable.”

Dominion reached an accord with the National Park Service by addressing environmental considerations for the nearby Shenandoah National Park during the air permit process. The company volunteered to retire its 74-megawatt, coal-fired North Branch Power Station in West Virginia prior to the start-up of the proposed power station as part of the accord.

Although the proposed plant was been protested by both the Piedmont Environmental Council (PEC) and Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) both organizations said that they supported the agreement between Dominion and the Shenandoah National Park.

“We’re pleased with the agreement that the Shenandoah National Park reached in terms of water quality and air quality” said PEC’s director of state policy Dan Holmes. “Our concern is that visual impacts are being created by Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality’s (DEQ) pollution control technology requirements without soliciting input from sister agencies that have a role in administering the same resources.”

Holmes said that PEC had submitted a map to DEQ that demonstrated the impact of the proposed plant’s smokestack height on surrounding property easements managed by both the Virginia Department of Historic Resources and the Virginia Outdoor Foundation. PEC urged that DEQ actively solicit comments from the agencies rather than assume that a lack of response meant that no conflict existed.

“Many of the resources that will be impacted are spread across Clarke County, Warren County, Front Royal and the Shenandoah National Park” Holmes said. “Relying only on comments from localities is not the proper way to address the protection of state resources much less federal resources.”

David Christian, chief executive officer of Dominion Generation, said: “With the mitigation plan reached with the National Park Service, we believe that a net environmental benefit will be created in the Shenandoah National Park and surrounding areas. If approved by the Virginia State Corporation Commission, the Warren County Power Station will provide clean, reliable and affordable energy to meet the state’s growing demand for electricity.”

Dominion plans to complete and begin operating the Warren County facility in late 2014 or early 2015, pending Virginia State Corporation Commission approval. The power station is designed to be a 3-on-1, combined-cycle facility, with three gas-fired combustion turbines and one steam turbine. The station would generate enough electricity to serve about 325,000 homes.

The station is a component of the company’s strategy to meet the projected need for 5,600 megawatts of new capacity by 2019 in the Dominion service area as identified by PJM Interconnection, the regional independent operator of the transmission system in 13 states, including Virginia, and the District of Columbia.

However, Cale Jaffe, a senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center says that Dominion’s projected capacity needs are overstated and unreliabile.

“Dominion’s claim that it needs an additional 5,000 megawatts of new capacity by 2019 has to be looked at with skepticism” Jaffe said. “The recent economic downturn has caused a dramatic decrease in energy demand.”

Jaffe said that after 60 years of monitoring domestic energy use the US Department of Energy recently recorded back-to-back decline in annual energy use for the first time ever.

Citing DOE’s projection of a 1% annual growth rate in energy demand over the next 25 years, Jaffe said that Dominion’s estimated energy demand growth of 2.4% was much higher than the expected energy demand growth rate for Virginia.

“In 1995 Dominion’s energy demand projections through 2007 significantly over-estimated actual power usage 17,000 giga-watt hours” Jaffe said. “And that was before the impact of the recent recession.”

Dominion is one of the nation’s largest producers and transporters of energy, with a portfolio of approximately 27,600 megawatts of generation. Dominion operates the nation’s largest natural gas storage system and serves retail energy customers in 13 states.

As Dominion and other power providers attempt to address concerns about acid rain and global warming through the use of lower pollution technology, regional concerns generated by citing new power production facilities in areas where they weren’t previously located will no doubt continue to cause controversy. In this specific example, however, the one factor that all parties seem to agree on is that the overall reduction in pollution that will result from taking West Virginia’s North Branch Power Station permanently out of service is a step in the right direction.

“Utilities have to start retiring coal fired power plants” Jaffe said. “This agreement make the permanent closure of the North Branch Power Station enforceable and that’s really important.”