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Company seeks final OK for southwest Virginia power plant


Dominion Virginia Power Co. hopes this week to clear the last major hurdle to construction of a $1.8 billion coal-fired power plant in southwest Virginia.

Following a daylong public hearing that drew hundreds Tuesday, the state Air Pollution Control Board was to begin discussing plans yesterday (Wednesday) for the plant. It may then vote on whether to issue a permit for the plant, whose expected emissions of sulfur dioxide and mercury have prompted an outcry from environmentalists.

Virginia’s State Corporation Commission already has approved its permit for the plant, which has been hailed by proponents as a source of jobs in the economically depressed region and a new market for Virginia coal. Dominion plans to generate electricity by burning Virginia coal, as well as coal and wood waste.

The air board will consider a proposed requirement for lowered emissions that Virginia Department of Environmental Quality spokesman Bill Hayden said resulted from discussions with utility officials about what reductions were possible.

The company’s plans initially called for emissions of about 3,300 tons of sulfur dioxide and 72 pounds of mercury a year. Under the DEQ proposal, yearly emissions would be limited to 2,469 tons of sulfur dioxide and 8 pounds of mercury.

“We urge the board to approve these permits,” Dominion spokesman Dan Genest said when asked to comment on the lower limits.

An agreement with the U.S. Forest Service, whose officials were concerned that sulfur dioxide from the plant could harm visibility and plant life in the Linville Gorge Wilderness, further reduces its net emission to a little more than 1,200 tons a year. Dominion will achieve that goal through reduced emissions elsewhere, Genest said.

The DEQ emissions proposal did not satisfy a member of a coalition of environmentalists formed to oppose permits for the 585-megawatt plant.

“It’s literally an example of rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic,” said Cale Jaffe, an attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center. “This plant is just flawed in its basic design.”

Jaffe said the permit would allow the Virginia City Hybrid Energy Center to exceed the 8- pound limit on mercury, a level that he called “eight times behind cutting-edge.”

A Reliant Energy plant in Pennsylvania that burns waste coal using the same technology as Dominion proposes emitted 1.1 pounds of mercury in 2006, but a Reliant spokeswoman said 8 pounds also is low.

Some environmentalists contend that the plant’s emissions would be lower if Dominion switched to newer technology, a position supported in comments filed with the DEQ last week by John Bunyak of the National Parks Service’s Clean Air Division.

However, Jim Norvelle of Dominion has said that Dominion chose the technology it plans to use after careful evaluation of other “clean coal” technologies. It is reliable and less costly to build, he said.

Dominion has said the plant, which is scheduled to be in operation by 2012, is necessary to meet increasing power needs and will help the environment by using waste coal that leaks acid into the region’s water. It will be designed to accommodate equipment to capture carbon dioxide emissions should that technology become commercially available.

The lengthy construction phase could create 800 jobs in the economically depressed region, and 75 workers would be employed once the plant was on line. It also would support more than 250 coal-mining jobs.

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