Old Dominion Electric Cooperative (ODEC) announced today that it is extending its timeline for securing the necessary air permits to begin construction of its proposed Cypress Creek Power Station in Southeastern Virginia.
While environmental activists hailed the decision as a bow to public opposition against the plant ODEC countered that its plans are only being delayed and pledged to continue working closely with the local governments and citizens of the Town of Dendron, Surry County and Sussex County as the project moves forward, including continuing its support of area civic organizations and community events.
ODEC says that it is voluntarily extending its permitting schedule and anticipates restarting the permit filing process in 18-24 months. The Cooperative says that it will continue to work with local property owners to secure the proper rights-of-way for the water pipeline that will be required to operate the electric generation facility and with plans to move forward with developing the rail access will follow.
The move prompted the Wise Energy for Virginia Coalition, a coalition of national, regional and local organizations committed to securing a clean energy future for Virginia located in Charlottesville, to urge ODEC to use the delay to rethink its coal-fired energy strategy rather than continue with the current plant project.
“The temporary halt will allow the company, its customers, government officials and the conservation community to explore alternatives that will cost less and cause less harm to the environment” the coalition said on its website today.
The coalition and its members oppose the $6 billion coal plant and has mobilized citizens from across Virginia concerned about air pollution, mercury poisoning of waters, mountaintop removal coal mining and the consequences of a warming planet.
Many US and international energy producers have already elected to pull the plug on coal plant technology opting instead to deploying more energy efficiency resources and to pursuing cleaner sources of energy, including offshore wind and solar. According to the Sierra Club, plans for 133 coal-fired plants in the U.S. have been dropped for economic, environmental and other reasons since 2002.
So far, ODEC has said that its plans aren’t changing.
“This adjustment to our timeline does not in any way reflect a change in our goal of building the Cypress Creek Power Station to provide a reliable source of affordable electricity to meet the growing demand for energy,” said C. David Hudgins, ODEC’s director of member and external relations. “ODEC and our 11 member distribution cooperatives have invested a significant amount of time, money and other resources to purchase the property and secure local approvals for the project, and we have no intention of turning back now.”
One of ODEC’s member distribution cooperatives, Rappahannock Electric Cooperative (REC), supplies electricity to most of Clarke County.
“We concur with our fellow members of the board of directors of ODEC that it is prudent to extend the timeline for securing the permits necessary to begin construction of the proposed Cypress Creek Power Station in southeastern Virginia” REC Communications Director Ann Lewis told the Clarke Daily News today. “Demand for electricity in our service territory and the entire Mid-Atlantic region continues to grow and additional resources for reliable and affordable power will be needed in the future. However, this anticipated growth in demand has been slower than previously projected as the economy has slowed more than projected.”
However, Wise Energy for Virginia Coalition is only one of several organizations concerned about the effects that the ODEC plant may have on the environment.
“The degree of citizen opposition to the plant is clearly more than ODEC bargained for. Opponents in Dendron and Surry County really made their voices heard. When the Surry County Planning Commission took this up, at least 200 people showed up and the great majority of speakers opposed the plant. This gives ODEC a sense of what to expect if it pursues state and federal permits and they can already see the opposition building in the greater Hampton Roads area and among their retail co-ops’ ratepayers,” said Tom Cormons, Virginia Director of Appalachian Voices.
ODEC’s Hudgins noted that as demand for electricity continues to grow and ODEC will need to generate additional power in the future. However, the slower than expected growth in the economy has resulted in slower than expected growth in the demand for electricity. ODEC says that this slower growth has afforded the opportunity to pursue the Surrey power plant project on a single track rather than multiple parallel tracks.
Rather than use the current slower-than-expected energy demand to continue down a coal-fired electricity production path, the Chesapeake Climate Action Network believes that ODEC needs to reinvent its energy strategy.
“We are encouraged that ODEC recognizes that inevitable carbon pollution regulation will continue to make fossil fuels an incredibly poor investment. As ODEC continues to voice their commitment to this plant, we will continue to make every effort to obstruct this project while pursuing alternatives like energy efficiency and renewable energy sources,” said Mike Tidwell, CCAN director.
ODEC’s announcement today may contain at least a hint that the company is taking a wait-and-see attitude with its fossil fuel energy production plans subject to possible global warming legislation that could dramatically change the economic viability of creating electricity from carbon-based fuels.
According to a June 29th statement issued by the White House after a bi-partisan meeting on a climate change bill, “the president told the senators that he still believes the best way for us to transition to a clean energy economy is with a bill that makes clean energy the profitable kind of energy for America’s businesses by putting a price on pollution — because when companies pollute, they should be responsible for the costs to the environment and their contribution to climate change.”
In today’s statement ODEC said that the extended timeline will allow more time for the federal government to address uncertainty in energy and environmental policies, such as the fate of proposed “Cap and Trade” legislation and EPA regulations.
Meanwhile other activist groups expressed satisfaction with today’s announcement by ODEC.
“This is a prudent pause by ODEC. With the advances in efficiency and renewable energy this delay allows ODEC to keep their options open,” said Glen Besa, Virginia Director of the Sierra Club.
“All Virginians-watermen on the Chesapeake Bay, downwind families affected by smog and soot pollution, ODEC customers who would be facing higher electric bills to pay for the new plant-can breathe a sigh of relief, but this is not over. The coalition remains engaged in the permitting processes before the Army Corps of Engineers and elsewhere, and we hope to work with ODEC on the clean energy alternatives that produce jobs, keep electricity rates down, and reduce harmful air and water pollution,” said SELC senior attorney Cale Jaffe.
ODEC first purchased options on the properties in the Town of Dendron, Surry County and Sussex County in January 2008 after completing a five-state siting study of potential locations in the Mid-Atlantic Region. These properties were selected for their large footprints and access to transmission lines and rail transportation. In February 2010, the Dendron Town Council, the Surry County Board of Supervisors, and the Sussex County Board of Supervisors each approved zoning and conditional use requests that permit the construction of a power generation facility on the properties. As of July 9, 2010, ODEC had purchased all of the properties previously optioned. With more than $20 million invested already, ODEC said that it expects to make additional improvements to these properties in the near future.
ODEC is a generation-and-transmission cooperative that provides wholesale power to 11 local member electric distribution cooperatives in Virginia, Maryland and Delaware. ODEC and its member systems are not-for-profit electric cooperatives that are owned by their member consumers and serve nearly one million consumers throughout the Mid-Atlantic region.