Dominion coal ash plan for Chesterfield wins Virginia approval over enviro objections

The Virginia State Water Control Board (SWCB) has approved a plan for Dominion (NYSE:D) to retire the coal ash pond at the Chesterfield Power Station in a manner that’s opposed by two environmental organizations.

The board approved the water discharge permit on Sept. 22. The permit, which involves extensive dewatering of wastewater from the coal ash ponds, followed by discharge into the James River, has been opposed by the James River Association and the Southern Environmental Law Center.

The 6-to-zero vote by the board approved a re-issuance of a wastewater permit. It covers dewatering of coal ash ponds as well as all the other wastewater streams at the power station, a Dominion spokesperson said.

Dominion is closing the two coal ash ponds and converting to dry ash management, as well as other significant treatment of station wastewaters.  Altogether, Dominion plans to invest approximately $80m dollars in water treatment technology associated with these improvements, the company said in a statement.

The board was asked to approve a water discharge permit that would authorize Dominion to drain water from some of Chesterfield’s coal ash ponds. The draining is in preparation for Dominion Virginia Power’s eventual plan to bury the ash on the banks of the James River, the SELC said in a Sept. 13 news release.

“The recent test results also confirm the Chesterfield coal ash pits and ponds are leaking toxins, but what is most troubling is that the pollution is seeping into water that draws fishermen and families,” said Brad McLane, an SELC attorney. “And, under Dominion’s plan to bury this coal ash right where it sits, on the banks of the James River, this pollution could continue forever.”

In July 2016, the James River Association and SELC submitted comments to the Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (DEQ), the parent body for the SWCB, saying the draft Chesterfield Power Station permit fell short in adequately protecting the river, the species that rely on it and the citizens that live within it. DEQ responded with a revised permit that “lacks necessary protections,” according to the opponents. James River Association and the SELC contend that the plan allows:

• Use of a mixing zone permitting discharge of arsenic, cadmium, chromium, copper, lead, mercury, nickel, selenium, silver and zinc at hazardous levels for fish and aquatic wildlife.

• Release of cooling water at very high temperatures harmful to fish and aquatic life.

• Drawing millions of gallons of river water into the plant daily using old technologies that trap and kill aquatic life, including Atlantic sturgeon, at the water intake structure.

The dewatering process is the first step in closing the coal ash ponds at Chesterfield. Dominion has plans in the works to close out ash ponds at four coal-fired power plant locations in Virginia.

Chesterfield Power Station began operations in 1944. It is the largest fossil-fueled power station in Virginia (with coal-and-natural gas capacity listed at about 1,800 MW) and supplies about 12% of the electricity in Dominion’s service territory.

The discharge permit does not address the ultimate closure of the ash ponds, according to the Virginia DEQ.

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