Electric Cooperative Puts Plans for Coal Plant On Ice
Clean energy groups and co-op members rejoice but vow to stay vigilant
On behalf of thousands of Virginians who opposed plans for what would have been one of the state’s biggest polluting power plants, the Wise Energy for Virginia Coalition and local electric cooperative members today celebrated the news that Old Dominion Electric Cooperative (ODEC) is suspending plans for its proposed coal plant in Hampton Roads. Local utilities Rappahannock and Shenandoah Valley Electric Cooperatives (REC and SVEC) jointly own ODEC with 9 other regional co-ops. The news came just days before REC’s annual meeting, held Saturday in Bealeton.
Coalition member groups said they hope to work with ODEC to implement programs and projects that provide cleaner, more affordable and climate-friendly sources of energy for its customers, but pledged to keep a close eye on the utility to ensure it does not revive the coal plant idea in the future.
ODEC sent an email newsletter to its “Friends of Cypress Creek” listserve this week saying it is suspending permitting activity for the 1,500-megawatt, $6 billion plant it proposed to build in Surry County, where residents have fought fiercely over the past several years to stop the proposal. Company executives had hinted at this decision in recent months, but this is ODEC’s first public statement clarifying the status of the controversial proposal.
The coal industry has been declining in recent months due largely to market forces, driving up costs and compelling utilities around the country to look to a variety of other sources to generate electricity. ODEC, in its email newsletter, acknowledged that changing energy markets contributed to its decision, but also blamed environmental regulations. The Wise Energy for Virginia Coalition credits the outcome in large part to years of mounting pressure from citizens in Surry County and Hampton Roads, and from ODEC cooperatives’ own customer-owners, combined with recent changes in the energy market.
Members of REC and SVEC have worked to educate their communities and urge the co-ops’ decision-makers to oppose the coal plant and invest in renewable energy and energy efficiency instead. In addition, more than 8,000 people across Virginia had signed a petition against the coal plant, which will be delivered to the Corps of Engineers later this month. Five local governments, all downwind from the proposed plant, had passed resolutions of concern or in opposition to the plant.
The coalition has outstanding requests under the Freedom of Information Act to the federal agency, which was conducting a requisite environmental study on the coal plant.
Comments from coal-plant opponents follow:
“The disruptive weather and extreme heat that caused widespread power outages and discomfort for REC members this summer make it clear that electric cooperatives can no longer continue with business as usual,” said Seth Heald, an REC member in Culpeper County. “I commend REC and its power supplier, Old Dominion Electric Cooperative, for suspending their plan to build a huge new coal-fired power plant. We have to move beyond carbon-intensive coal as a power source.”
“The suspension of plans for this plant, which would belch as much carbon dioxide as about 2 million cars, is a great sign for the fight against climate change. We look forward to seeing ODEC move away from fossil fuels and toward a future powered by wind and solar energy,” said Beth Kemler, Virginia state director with Chesapeake Climate Action Network.
“ODEC is doing the right thing. People are concerned about committing to 50 years or more of burning coal. Even though ODEC said it would build the cleanest coal plant east of the Mississippi, it still would have been one of the largest polluters in Virginia. There’s no way around it – coal is a dirty and costly proposition, from mountaintop removal coal mining to burning it to dumping the ash. We can do better,” said Mike McCoy, Virginia campaign coordinator for Appalachian Voices.
“Delaying the Surry County coal plant is a step in the right direction, but ODEC really needs to move away from fossil fuels, investing in efficiency, wind and solar power now,” said Glen Besa, director of the Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club.
“A new peer-reviewed study now links summertime weather extremes to global warming. Given that, ODEC’s decision to suspend the coal plant and pursue other alternatives is great news and a breath of fresh air for families throughout Hampton Roads,” said Cale Jaffe, senior attorney with Southern Environmental Law Center.
“We need to move to clean energy solutions. The fact that the proposed Surry coal-fired power plant is now on ice is a good start, but it is only the beginning if we are serious about what really needs to happen,” said Laura Miller of Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards.
The Wise Energy Coalition worked with many groups on the issue, including Chesapeake Bay Foundation, National Parks Conservation Association, and Lynnhaven River Now. A full list of the governments and organizations opposed to the coal plant is below.
- The Town of Surry in Surry County
- Isle of Wight County
- Southampton County
- (Williamsburg and Virginia Beach have publicly expressed concern)
- CINCH (Consortium for Infant and Child Health at EVMS in Norfolk)
- American Lung Association
- Virginia Asthma Coalition
- Physicians for Social Responsibility
- Wise Energy for Virginia Coalition
- Chesapeake Bay Foundation
- National Parks Conservation Association
- Hampton Roads Bird Club
- Williamsburg Climate Action Network
- Cape Henry Audubon Society (Norfolk)
- Virginia Native Plant Society
- Lynnhaven River Now
- Blackwater Nottoway Riverkeeper
Citizen’s groups/political groups
- Coalition to Keep Surry Clean
- Garden Club of Virginia
- Isle of Wight Citizen’s Association
- Carrolton Civic League (In Isle of Wight)
- James City County Citizen’s Coalition
Chesapeake Climate Action Network