Dominion braces for grid impacts of Yorktown coal unit closures

Virginia Electric and Power d/b/a Dominion Virginia Power told the Virginia State Corporation Commission that it is bracing for a series of grid fixes to compensate for the April 2017 retirement of the two coal units at the Yorktown power plant.

The area around the plant in the Newport News/Hampton Roads area is cut through with major rivers, somewhat isolating the region due to the limited numbers of transmission lines crossing those rivers. The commission has approved the utility to build the Surry-Skiffes Creek Line, Skiffes Creek Switching Station, Skiffes Creek-Whealton Line and additional transmission facilities (collectively called the “Certificated Project”). But those projects are tied up in a long series of regulatory approvals that have been stalled by environmental and citizens group opposition.

As permitted by federal environmental regulations, the company obtained from the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality a one-year extension of the April 16, 2015, deadline for Yorktown Units 1 and 2 to comply with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s MATS regulation, which drove the original June 1, 2015, need date for the new transmission facilities. Yorktown Units 1 and 2 are neede to maintain electric reliability and to avoid possible NERC Reliability Standard violations.” On April 16, 2016, the EPA issued an Administrative Order authorizing the company to operate the Yorktown Units 1 and 2 through April 15, 2017. But that is the last possible extension.

Said Dominion’s Oct. 18 update: “In order to ensure reliability for the Peninsula while the Surry-Skiffes Creek Line is being constructed in anticipation of the Yorktown Unit 1 and 2 retirements, the Company is conducting a rigorous inspection and maintenance program (‘Inspection Program’). The focus of the Inspection Program is transmission lines and stations for assets that directly serve the Peninsula. This includes, but is not limited to, the lines and stations from Chickahominy east to Newport News, as well as lines from Surry and Chuckatuck that feed into the southern end of the Peninsula. The Inspection Program focuses on the human performance factor that will be emphasized consistently over the work period to ensure the Electric Transmission and Station workforce involved in supporting the assets on the Peninsula are cognizant of the ongoing construction. The Inspection Program will also consist of a complete evaluation of all abnormal equipment logs that require equipment maintenance or replacement in order to ensure that all equipment is in-service, and infrared reviews of stations and transmission lines prior to and during long critical outages to identify any weak links in the system that need attention to prevent unplanned outage events. More frequent aerial and foot patrols of transmission lines and stations will also be incorporated into the Inspection Program.”

“Foundation work on the existing transmission lines at the James River Bridge was completed at the end of 2015. Additional inspection and maintenance work is also being planned for the future (prior to construction of the Certificated Project). This additional future work under the Inspection Program includes the following: all line switches will be inspected and any necessary maintenance performed prior to construction; all questionable compression conductor connections will be inspected and any necessary repairs will be made prior to commencement of work; one month prior to beginning work, a foot patrol will be done on the four 230 kV lines serving the Peninsula, and any issues found will be corrected prior to commencement of work; one week prior to beginning work, an aerial patrol will be done on the four 230 kV lines serving the Peninsula, and any issues found will be corrected prior to commencement of work; and biweekly aerial patrols will be done throughout the construction of the Certificated Project on these four 230 kV lines to identify any issues that may have surfaced since the previous patrol.

“The biweekly aerial patrols will specifically look for equipment integrity issues identified through visual inspection, corona camera, and infrared camera; and any third-party work on or near the right-of-way with a potential threat to the lines, which will be identified and addressed accordingly. Should the permit be delayed and Yorktown is forced to shut down without the line in service, the above actions will be taken well in advance of the Yorktown coal unit closures.

“If the Certificated Project is not in-service by the time that Yorktown Units 1 and 2 must retire to be in compliance with effective environmental regulations, then the plan for maintaining system reliability for the Peninsula will include careful planning of transmission outages and minimum work on assets on the Peninsula while the planned outages to support the construction of the Certificated Project outages are underway. Under some unplanned event scenarios, the reliability plan must include shedding of load in the amounts necessary to reduce stress on the system below critical demand levels. The shedding of load could occur in some instances at system load levels well below peak demand levels, on the order of 16,000 MW or higher. The exact system load level, load shed amounts and locations will be dependent on the circumstances that exist on the system at the time.”

Utility parent Dominion Resources (NYSE: D) a couple of years ago wanted to retire the coal units at both its Chesapeake and Yorktown plants by the end of 2014 due to MATS. The Chesapeake coal units were retired at that point, but the Yorktown units were spared due to the PJM Interconnection need for them for grid reliability purposes. 

The planned Surry-Skiffes Creek transmission line, which would cross the James River between Surry County and James City County, has stirred opposition from historic preservation and environmental groups. They say the power line would mar a historic view of the James River as the first settlers of Jamestown saw it and would interfere with wildlife around the river.

Yorktown’s three units are: Unit 1, coal, 159 MW; Unit 2, coal, 164 MW; and Unit 3, oil, 818 MW. The station is located on the York River near the Yorktown battlefield, site of the last major battle of the Revolutionary War. Other nearby historic attractions include Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement in North America, and Jamestown Festival Park, which re-creates early colonial life.

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.