Over the course of three hours on Thursday night, the beige-paneled partitions of the SpringHill Suites Resort in Chester, Virginia performed host to a sometimes-contentious assembly between Dominion Power, the state’s largest utility supplier, and residents of the Chesterfield neighborhood, the place Dominion has proposed to construct a brand new pure fuel energy plant.
The plant, referred to as the “Chesterfield Power Reliability Middle” by the utility, has been billed as a “peaker,” that means it will solely run during times of excessive demand or throughout excessive climate occasions. Dominion says this plant would “reply rapidly with dependable, dispatchable energy era to the grid when wanted,” together with when renewable vitality is unavailable or “inadequate to satisfy buyer wants.”
Dominion, Virginia’s largest utility, has operated one other fossil gas energy plant in Chesterfield for the reason that mid-Twentieth century, and estimates that the brand new Chesterfield plant might run, at most, for nearly 5 months a yr.
“We’re deeply involved with Dominion’s refusal to actually change course and transfer towards a clear and equitable vitality system,” mentioned Rachel James, a Chesterfield resident and an affiliate legal professional with the Southern Environmental Regulation Middle, at a press convention hosted by environmental organizations forward of the general public assembly.
“SELC opposes this mission,” she mentioned.
“Forty-four % of the personnel who stay close to this proposed plant are folks of shade, people who appear to be myself,” mentioned Nicole Martin, head of the Chesterfield chapter of the NAACP and a Chesterfield resident. “If you recognize higher, do higher. We all know what these dangerous toxins have executed to us up to now,” she mentioned. “Now that we all know higher and aren’t doing higher, that could be a drawback.”
Victoria Higgins, the Virginia director of the Chesapeake Local weather Motion Community, referred to as the mission a “slap within the face” to the Chesterfield neighborhood.
Emil Avram, Dominion’s vice chairman of enterprise growth, mentioned the brand new Chesterfield plant “will assist allow a whole lot of renewable vitality to be constructed.” He mentioned that Dominion plans to deploy between 35 to 40 gigawatts of photo voltaic, wind and battery storage (one gigawatt is the same as 1,000 megawatts) and that “95 % of the vitality for brand spanking new tasks that we plan to deploy shall be zero-carbon era.”
In response to a query relating to the cumulative affect of emissions from the proposed plant on the Chesterfield neighborhood, which has had a coal-fired facility close by for a number of a long time, Avram mentioned “that evaluation continues to be ongoing” as a part of Dominion’s air allow utility course of.
This isn’t the primary time Dominion has sought to construct a pure fuel energy plant in Chesterfield. In 2019, the utility proposed a equally sized plant solely to scrap the concept later that yr. The corporate by no means gave an official cause for that call.
Then, in 2020, Virginia lawmakers handed the Virginia Clear Economic system Act, which yearly will increase the proportion of Dominion’s vitality that should come from renewables, requiring 100% in 2045 and thereafter.
However in its not too long ago launched Built-in Useful resource Plan, Dominion forecasted a surge in its emissions and a spike in vitality demand, startling those that anticipated the utility to lower emissions and ramp up renewable vitality investments.
The spike in demand, in accordance with Dominion, will come largely from information facilities, which comprise infrastructure important to sustaining worldwide web operations. Northwest Virginia, residence to quite a few such facilities, is usually known as “the information middle capital of the world.”
Questioning the Q&A
The brand new Chesterfield plant is the primary fossil gas energy plant Dominion has proposed in Virginia for the reason that passage of the Virginia Clear Economic system Act. Virginians used Thursday’s assembly, a step required by the state’s Division of Environmental High quality (DEQ), to press Dominion on environmental justice, its dedication to renewables and counsel different methods of assembly peak vitality calls for.
In the course of the course of the Q&A, the utility and the Chesterfield neighborhood appeared far aside on nearly each difficulty raised—even the Q&A format the corporate selected for the night.
Dominion had introduced a number of staff to the assembly, together with consultants on air high quality, and requested these in attendance to method them individually with questions behind the room. A court docket reporter, who was coming into questions and responses into the file, was stationed on the entrance.
However these in attendance pushed again on Dominion’s setup, apprehensive that by splitting up they had been lacking out on the prospect to listen to solutions to different questions, be impressed by their friends and be certain that their questions and Dominion’s responses had been entered into the file.
“We be taught when one another asks questions and after we hear the solutions all collectively as a neighborhood,” mentioned one lady standing behind the room. “If it is a neighborhood assembly, we have to method this as a neighborhood. Not as people.”
Dominion insisted this format labored finest and was “best.”
“They sound like they don’t wish to reply our questions,” one other lady mentioned.
“It’s not about that,” responded Avram, who spent the preliminary minutes of the Q&A defending the utility’s chosen format.
Over scattered chatter, one individual urged another methodology for dialogue between the corporate and the neighborhood. “We haven’t set it up in that format,” Avram mentioned.
“Then change what you’re doing!” an viewers member responded, an change that nearly completely captured the basic stress between the 2 teams within the room.
After going forwards and backwards for a number of minutes, Dominion appeared to relent, and Avram, Sarah Marshall, Dominion’s supervisor of state and native affairs, and different Dominion representatives shared the microphone to subject questions from neighborhood members.
Lindsey Dougherty, a resident who lives close to the proposed web site of the plant, pressed Dominion on emissions from the plant. “My youngster has bronchial asthma,” she mentioned. “As a dad or mum of a kid who’s already negatively impacted, that is simply going so as to add to it. We’re going to bear 100% of the unfavourable well being impacts and the prices as ratepayers.”
Avram mentioned that the emissions related to the ability could be “properly beneath federal and state thresholds.”
One other attendee requested how the utility might justify constructing a plant that wanted to be retired by 2045, in accordance with necessities set forth by the Virginia Clear Economic system Act. “This facility might not retire in 2045,” Avram mentioned.
That reply appeared to unsettle the viewers. One man sitting within the entrance stood and requested whether or not Dominion deliberate to retire this plant in compliance with the renewable vitality mandates within the Virginia Clear Economic system Act.
“We don’t know the reply to that but,” Avram mentioned, setting off a string of responses all through the viewers.
Avram handed Marshall the microphone. “Sure, we do wish to observe the Clear Economic system Act. That’s our plan, that’s our aim,” she mentioned, earlier than including that the act has provisions that might enable Dominion so as to add fossil gas vegetation to the grid to make sure reliability.
Fossil Gasoline Treadmill
Dominion has been working in Chesterfield for the reason that mid-Twentieth century, when it opened a coal-fired energy plant there. Elements of that infrastructure generated vitality as not too long ago as this spring earlier than Dominion formally retired the final of its coal models on the finish of Might. Now, the unique facility, generally known as the “Chesterfield Energy Station,” runs on oil and fuel.
Closing the coal models has not eradicated environmental harms related to the unique facility: Dominion is within the strategy of cleansing up about 16.2 billion kilos of coal ash from two coal ash ponds at its Chesterfield facility, a part of a authorized requirement handed by the final meeting in 2019 that offers the corporate 15 years to finish the mission.
In its public listening to announcement, Dominion acknowledged that “the present Chesterfield Energy Station is classed as a significant supply of air air pollution,” and mentioned the brand new facility “shall be thought of a significant modification to the Chesterfield Energy Station allow.”
The utmost annual emissions from the brand new plant could be 2.2 million tons of CO2, in accordance with Dominion.
Invoice Shobe, a professor of public coverage on the College of Virginia who didn’t attend the general public assembly, agreed with Dominion’s evaluation of a surge in energy demand on a cellphone name with Inside Local weather Information. However he referred to as the corporate’s plan to construct a pure fuel plant “worrisome.”
“We must be creating a plan that will get us to 2050 and gives us with dependable electrical energy and permits us to proceed to have information middle development with out rising our damaging CO2 emissions,” mentioned Shobe, who research and designs insurance policies governing emissions from the ability sector.
In its Built-in Useful resource Plan, Dominion outlined a path that might elevate its emissions to 36 million metric tons of CO2 in 2048, greater than twice what the utility emitted in Virginia final yr, in accordance with the Environmental Safety Company, and properly above the edge outlined by the Virginia Clear Economic system Act.
“When is Dominion going to take critically the duty to get us off the fossil gas treadmill?” Shobe mentioned.
A day after Dominion’s public data session, Gabel Associates, an environmental consulting agency, launched a report commissioned by the Chesapeake Local weather Motion Community that offered one other means ahead for the utility. The report, which drew on publicly obtainable information, discovered that Dominion might nonetheless reliably meet its forecasted demand by accelerating the retirement of fossil gas vegetation, including extra battery storage and rising vitality effectivity investments, amongst different steps. This might drastically cut back the utility’s emissions, save ratepayers cash and nonetheless reliably ship vitality, the report concluded.
“This report exhibits it isn’t solely doable for Dominion to satisfy projected demand with clear vitality, as per the rules of state legislation, however it is usually in everybody’s finest curiosity,” mentioned Adrian Kimbrough, vice chairman of Gabel Associates, in a press release.
Higgins mentioned the group commissioned the report shortly after Dominion launched its Built-in Useful resource Plan, which Higgins discovered alarming. Higgins remembers Gov. Glenn Youngkin launched a press release on Dominion’s plan later that very same day, praising Dominion for pursuing an “the entire above” vitality technique going ahead.
“The truth that this aligns fully with the Youngkin vitality plan is a significant, if not main cause why Dominion feels emboldened to maneuver ahead with this mission,” Higgins mentioned, referring to the Chesterfield energy plant. “There are two people who do profit from this plan,” she continued. “One is Gov. Youngkin, who’s campaigned on repealing our local weather insurance policies and taking us backwards. And the opposite is Dominion shareholders that get excited a few actually costly mission to get a assured return.”
A spokesperson for Gov. Youngkin didn’t return a request for remark.
If Dominion took the steps outlined within the new report, it “will get us to the place we’re avoiding 52 million tons of greenhouse fuel emissions and saving price payers $28 billion over the subsequent ten years in prices,” Higgins mentioned.
Dominion should safe native permits and open the mission for a public remark interval someday within the second half of 2024 earlier than building on the proposed Chesterfield plant might start. Virginia’s DEQ is presently reviewing Dominion’s utility for an air allow, a course of the company says usually takes a yr.