An electricity generation plant proposed for Warren County, Virginia by Dominion Power received mixed review from the public last night in Front Royal. While jobs and increased tax revenues have county officials say “yes” economic impacts to local vineyards and the Shenandoah National Park have others saying, “not so fast”.
“We are proposing to build a natural gas fired, combined-cycle power station in Kelley Industrial Park in Warren County,” Pamela Faggert, Dominion’s chief environmental officer, told Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). “Dominion purchased the Warren County Power Station Project from the original developer in 2008 because we saw the potential for this location. It is ideally located with an existing 500kv transmission line on the property that can deliver electricity to Dominion Virginia Power’s growing demand in northern Virginia.”
However, while the facility may be ideally located from a power distribution viewpoint, several of last night’s speakers stated that the proposed power generation plant is much too close to the Shenandoah National Park and its Front Royal entrance. The proposed site is less than five miles from the park.
“Shenandoah National Park’s Front Royal entrance admits nearly 76,000 visitors each October alone,” said Shenandoah National Park Superintendent, Martha Bogle. “Tourists come to see the fall colors in October. The heat plume from the facility will be visible to tourists from the park and negatively impact their experience.”
Bogle told the DEQ panel at last night’s hearing that caution needed to exercised not only because of the park’s special value as a natural area used by millions of people each year, but also because of the approximately $65M annual economic benefit that it generates for local communities.
Bogle said that air quality is the biggest problem threatening Shenandoah National Park. Air pollution creates a negative ecological through acid deposition in rainfall. Particulates in the air create haze which limits visibility.
Park Service Air Quality Specialist Jim Schaberl said that site distances from the park now average approximately 25 miles, down from historic distances of over 100 miles.
Concerns about air quality and pollution stem from the proposed output from the power facility. Although electricity will be generated by burning natural gas, producing the least by-products of any large scale power generation technology other than hydro or nuclear according to Dominion’s Faggert, the plant will still create huge levels of pollution resulting in its classification as a “source of major air pollution” under the EPA’s Air Pollution Control Law.
Although Dominion in proposing a modern power plant design and technology, emissions from the plant will be significant.The maximum annual emissions of air pollutants from the facility are expected to be: 216.1 tons per year (tpy) of total filterable & condensable particulate matter, 12.4 tpy of sulfur dioxide (SO2), 330.7 tpy of nitrogen oxides (NOx), 374.9 tpy of carbon monoxide (CO), 240.3 tpy of volatile organic compounds, 9.5 tpy of sulfuric acid mist, and 21.8 tpy of total hazardous air pollutants.
Bill Campbell of AEComm, a project consultant to Dominion, said that emissions from the plant would be kept at the lowest levels possible because of the facilities design. Campbell said that electrical power will be generated from three natural gas powered turbines. Waste heat produced from the three gas turbines will in turn power a steam turbine which produces additional electricity. Heat produced from the steam turbine will then be routed to a dry cooling building eliminating the need for a cooling tower and reducing the requirement for cooling water consumption.
Receptiveness to Dominion’s proposal by Warren County and Front Royal officials has been strong.
Archie Fox, chairman of the Warren County Board of Supervisors, said last night that his board was “unanimous in support of the proposed power plant.”
Supervisor Richard Traczyk also expressed support for the plant. “This project will bring jobs to the community and keep taxes low” Traczyk said. “As the size of the project has increased it has become more environmentally friendly.”
Traczyk’s comments refer to Dominion’s efforts to manage the pollution impacts from the facility through retirement of emission offsets. Dominion claims that the offsets will create a “net environmental benefit” to the region.
“Because the facility will be located near the Shenandoah National Park, we have reached out to the Park Service to collaborate on ways to protect air quality at the park” Faggert said. “The draft permit requires that we obtain and retire emissions offsets (emission reductions from other facilities) for the Warren County power station.”
Faggert said that Dominion has agreed to increase the offset levels to higher ratios than were included in the previous power station permit. However, several speakers questioned whether the offset levels were high enough as well as locations of where the offsets will be found.
Alison Teetor, speaking as a Clarke County citizen rather than in her official capacity as Clarke’s Natural Resource Planner, said that she felt the pollution offsets were too low.
“Offsets for NOx (nitrous oxides) are currently 1.15:1” Teetor told the DEQ panel. “This should be strengthened to 2:1 because the facility is so close to the Shenandoah National Park.” Teetor also said that is the emission offsets could not be located locally she would like to see the NOx offset increased to 3:1.
Piedmont Environmental Council president Christopher Miller also believes that finding local pollution offsets is critical to protecting the northern Shenandoah Valleys economic and cultural amenities.
“The impact from this facility on the eco-system goes well beyond the Shenandoah National Park, Front Royal and Warren County” Miller said. “Ozone produced from the power generation facilities has a huge impact on grapes.”
Miller also pointed out that the facility will be visible to large areas of Warren County currently under conservation easement and that visibility concerns need to be taken into account. Miller asked the DEQ panel to hold another public hearing after additional comments are received from the Park Service on pollution offsets.
Shenandoah National Park has long been impacted by environmental pollution from power generation facilities located in the Ohio Valley. At last night’s meeting Park Superintendent Bogle told the DEQ that streams in the southern section of the park sometimes contain acidity levels comparable to lemon juice. National Park Service Air Quality Specialist Jim Schaberl said that over the last year ozone levels in the park exceeded the EPA levels for health.
“If the actual net environmental impact from the facility is such that it protects air quality in the Shenandoah National Park then we will be fine” Bogle said. “We felt that it was important to go on record tonight because we have to come up with a pollution mitigation approach that will protect both the Shenandoah National Park and the Shenandoah Valley.”
Bogel emphasized that she is not against economic development but also said that local communities should be careful to protect the “Golden Goose” benefits that the park provides to the area.
“The health of the Shenandoah National Park and the local communities is entwined” Bogel said. “If we can’t get to a mutually agreeable emission plan then we’ll have to determine what the next steps are.”
Emission offset discussions between Dominion and the National Park Service is scheduled to continue. The public record for the proposed Warren County Power Plant will remain open for additional public statements until November 24th, 2010.