Dominion starts commercial operation of Virginia City coal plant

Dominion Resources (NYSE: D) has started commercial operation of its 585-MW coal-and-biomass power plant in Wise County, Va., the company said July 11.

The $1.8bn Virginia City Hybrid plant was brought online July 10 on budget and on schedule following four years of construction, Dominion Virginia Power said in a news release.

The circulating fluidized bed (CFB) technology plant uses coal, waste coal and biomass that will be provided locally from suppliers in and around southwestern Virginia. Company officials have touted the plant’s ability to burn waste coal or “gob” as an environmental benefit. The plant is also capable of burning up to 20% biomass.

During a site visit with GenerationHub a few months ago, Dominion officials said that feedstock will be hauled in by truck, relieving the company of having to negotiate a rail contract. There is railroad access available via an old coal mining site if Dominion elects to go that route in the future, however.

The plant will employ dry ash storage and other environmentally benign technology, Dominion has said. For example, the project will only use 10% of the water normally required for a typical coal plant, Dominion said in a new five-minute video posted on its YouTube website.

Virginia lawmakers encouraged plant

The plant is also providing an economic stimulus to a traditionally high unemployment area. The plant is partially the outgrowth of incentives passed by the Virginia General Assembly almost a decade earlier to encourage construction of a new power plant in Virginia’s coal-mining region.

“Virginia City is an important addition to our balanced, diverse energy mix that has kept our rates reasonable for our customers,” said David Christian, CEO of Dominion Generation, which runs the company’s power stations.

“The use of low-cost waste coal and biomass will result in the unit having favorable economics, bringing savings to customers,” Christian said. “The power station also has proven to be an economic booster shot for Southwest Virginia.”

Virginia City employed nearly 2,400 construction workers at its peak. The station will employ 84 people directly and a Dominion subcontractor will employ another 25. Virginia Tech estimated the total direct and indirect employment impact of VCHEC after construction would be 528 people, with most of them coming from the coal-mining and trucking sectors, Dominion said.

CCS envisioned one day at Virginia City

Virginia Tech researchers are also planning to work with Dominion on testing carbon capture and storage (CCS) at the site. The company has said that land is already set aside for that purpose.

Until CCS becomes a commercial reality, Dominion’s Virginia City facility could be one of the last coal plants built over the next few years because of proposed U.S. EPA rules on greenhouse gas emissions, power industry officials have said.

PJM Interconnection LLC, the independent transmission operator that coordinates the electricity grid in all or parts of 13 states, including Virginia and the District of Columbia, has projected that Dominion will need 4,000 MW of additional electricity by 2022 to meet the peak demand from its customers.

This past spring, Dominion started construction of a new 1,300-MW combined-cycle natural gas plant in Warren County, Va., which is located in the northwestern part of the state. The Warren County gas plant should be online in late 2014 or early 2015.

Dominion also has a couple of other natural gas plants in the planning and permitting stages in Virginia. In addition, the company is retaining the option to one day build a third nuclear reactor at its North Anna station in Louisa County, Va.

About Wayne Barber 4201 Articles
Wayne Barber, Chief Analyst for the GenerationHub, has been covering power generation, energy and natural resources issues at national publications for more than 20 years. Prior to joining PennWell he was editor of Generation Markets Week at SNL Financial for nine years. He has also worked as a business journalist at both McGraw-Hill and Financial Times Energy. Wayne also worked as a newspaper reporter for several years. During his career has visited nuclear reactors and coal mines as well as coal and natural gas power plants. Wayne can be reached at wayneb@pennwell.com.