Wise County Plant

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{{#badges: CoalSwarm}} Wise County Plant is a 668 megawatt (MW) coal-fired power plant in Wise County in southwest Virginia owned by Dominion Resources. [1] AEP, Virginia Municipal Electric Association #1, and Blue Ridge Power have also invested in the project. The plant, referred to as the Virginia City Hybrid Energy Center, grew out of a 2004 Virginia General Assembly initiative, sponsored by Virginia State Senator William Wampler.


The plant is located on a Virginia City reclaimed surface coal mine site, and use Virginia coal and waste coal to fuel a circulating fluidized-bed boiler.

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The plant was first proposed for Wise County in 2006.[2] In July 2007, Dominion Resources filed an application with the Virginia State Corporation Commission (SCC); it hopes to win full regulatory approval of the project by April 2008.[3]

Video opposing the Wise County plant

On Sept. 10, 2007, the Sierra Club, Chesapeake Climate Action Network, and the Southern Environmental Law Center filed a legal challenge to Dominion’s SCC application, and – together with several other groups – launched a campaign against the project on Sept. 25.[4] Blacksburg, Charlottesville, and Arlington County have passed resolutions opposing the project, and numerous Virginia newspapers have published editorials condemning it.[5] On Nov. 15, 2007, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) issued a draft air permit for the project; the DEQ held a public hearing on the draft permit on Dec. 10, at which over 100 residents expressed opposition to the proposed plant.

On Nov. 30, 2007, the Virginia Air Pollution Board voted 3-1 to request that the utility propose a more environmentally sound project – but did not make any binding decision, and did not specify what alternative project Dominion should adopt.[6] A Dec. 2007 U.S. Forest Service filing with the Virginia DEQ urged Dominion to cut emissions from the proposed plant.[7]

On Dec. 18, 2007, Dominion made a deal with the DEQ and the U.S. Forest Service, agreeing that it would either cut SO2 emissions at the Wise County plant or other plants in the region, or purchase SO2 credits from other companies. A hearing before the Virginia SCC was held on Jan. 8, 2008.[8]

On March 31st, 2008, the SCC approved construction for Dominion's facility. [9]

On April 18, 2008, the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC), representing Appalachian Voices, Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards, Sierra Club and the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, filed a notice of appeal with the Supreme Court of Virginia, challenging the State Corporation Commission's (SCC) ruling that grants Dominion a Certificate of Need to build the plant. SELC argues that the statute upon which the SCC relied violates the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution, therefore, the SCC ruling is void and should be overturned.[10]

On May 9, 2008, activists delivered a petition to block the power plant to Dominion's annual shareholder meeting. The document contained 42,400 signatures and stretched a mile long.[11]

On June 25, 2008, the Virginia state Air Pollution Control Board voted 5-0 to approve the final permits required to begin construction on the conventional coal plant[12], formally named the Virginia City Hybrid Energy Center. The plant will release over 9,000 tons of pollutants and 5.3 million tons of carbon dioxide into the environment every year under the approved permits.[13] According to a statement released by Dominion, the plant is targeted to begin commercial operations by 2012.[14]

The Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) will challenge the approved air pollution permit in court, stating "the permit as finalized still fails to meet the federally required maximum controls for the neurotoxin mercury and 60 other hazardous air pollutants".

SELC also states that "by failing to require Dominion to use more advanced methods of burning coal that might prepare the plant to control its carbon dioxide emissions, the permits fail to address the approximately 5.37 million tons of carbon dioxide the plant would emit annually. The Clean Air Act requires strong controls for regulated pollutants emitted by power plants; the U.S. Supreme Court ruled last year (Massachusetts v. EPA) that carbon dioxide, a major greenhouse gas, is such a regulated pollutant"[15].

On June 30, 2008, 20 Activists with Blue Ridge Earth First! and Mountain Justice Summer blockaded the entrance to Dominion Resources' corporate headquarters to protest the company's plan to build the plant. Four protesters formed a human chain with their hands encased in containers of hardened cement and a fifth dangled by a climber's harness from the Lee Bridge footbridge. After several hours police made there way through the miles of backed up traffic to cut the activists out of the lockboxes and barrels. The climber came down on his own. Police also detained eight others standing on the sidewalks supporting the lockdown team. 13 in total were arrested.[16].

Early morning on September 15, 2008 around 50 peaceful protesters entered the construction site of the Wise County Plant. Twenty protesters locked their bodies to eight large steel drums, two of which have operational solar panels affixed to the top that illuminated a banner reading "renewable jobs to renew Appalachia." In addition to those locked to the construction site, over 25 protesters from across the country convened in front of the construction site holding a 10'x30' banner, which said "we demand a clean energy future." Eleven were arrested.[17]

On January 1, 2009, Dominion implemented a rate increase for its Virginia customers to help pay for the plant. The rate adjustment will raise bills by $1.53 for every 1,000 kilowatt hours of electricity customers use, which translates to an increase of $1.84 per month for the average customer. The increase will subsidize $83 million in financing costs for the plant during 2009.[18] Dominion made no announcement about the rate change.[19]

In March 2009, the Wise Energy for Virginia Coalition released a study prepared by Abt Associates concerning the economic viability of the Dominion plant. The study found that opting for energy efficiency programs would cost ratepayers less than the new plant, and would be significantly more beneficial to the state economy. The analysis concluded that the plant would raise electricity rates for Virginia customers, particularly in light of probable carbon emissions legislation, whereas an energy efficiency alternative would actually lower rates. In addition, the study estimated that the health impacts of increased pollutants emitted by the plant would cost the state between $16 million and $52 million per year.[20]

On April 17, 2009, the Virginia Supreme Court ruled to confirm the 'certificate of need' granted by the State Corporation Commission to Dominion Power. The Clean Air Act claims brought by SELC are set for trial on July 31, 2009.[21]

On August 10, 2009, Richmond Circuit Judge Margaret P. Spencer revoked the plant's permit, ruling that the Air Pollution Control Board should have set a firm limit for the plant's mercury emissions. The board did set a mercury limit, but the permit allowed for a looser limit if the plant was unable to meet the requirement. The decision means that the board will have to create a stricter permit for the plant, which is already under construction.[22]

On September 2, 2009, the Virginia DEQ approved an amended air permit for the plant, including what could be the most stringent mercury emissions limits for any coal plant in the U.S. According to Cale Jaffe, an attorney for Southern Environmental Law Center, the mercury limit was originally set at 72 pounds of mercury emissions per year, but the limit in the new permit is just 4.5 pounds per year -- a 94 percent reduction. The new permit also removed a provision that would have allowed the mercury limit to be loosened if the plant had trouble meeting it. Dominion Generation CEO David A. Christian said he believed the air permit may be "the toughest ever issued."[23][24]

As of October 2009, construction on the plant was about 40 percent complete. Commercial operation is expected to begin by summer 2012.[25] As of July 2011, the plant is more than 88 percent complete. Initial trials are scheduled in September. The plant will also use up to 20 percent biomass for its fuel.[26]

After four years of construction, the plant began operating in July 2012.[27]

Project Details

Sponsors: Dominion Resources, AEP, Virginia MEA #1, Blue Ridge Power
Location: Virginia City, Wise County, VA
Coordinates: 36.91805, -82.338017
Capacity: 668 MW[28]
Type: Circulating fluidized bed
Coal use: 537,000 tons per year
In service: 2012
Status: Operating


Citizen Groups



  1. Virginia City Hybrid Energy Center Dominion, accessed October, 2011.
  2. Wise County Site Chosen For Final Evaluation Of Future Clean Coal Power Station In Virginia, Dominion website, May 11, 2006.
  3. "Dominion Seeks Approval for Virginia Coal Power Plant", Reuters, July 17, 2007.
  4. Environmental Coalition Opposes Power Station, Roanoke Times, September 26, 2007.
  5. Arlington County Board Condemns Proposed Coal-Fired Power Plant, GreenMiles.net blog, December 20, 2007.
  6. Panel Wants Cleaner-Burning Plant, Richmond Times-Dispatch, December 1, 2007.
  7. Forest Service Objects to Proposed Virginia Power Plant, Winston-Salem Journal, December 11, 2007.
  8. Dominion Reaches Plan to Cut Emissions, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services, December 19, 2007.
  9. "Dominion Keeps Trying to Sell VA Healthy Cigarettes," Chesapeake Climate Action Network, April 24, 2008.
  10. Environmental coalition exposes illegal mercury limits in DEQ permit for Wise County coal plant Southern Environmental Law Center Press Release, April 21, 2008.
  11. "Mile-Long Petition Opposes Dominion Coal Plant in Virginia", Environmental News Service, May 9, 2008.
  12. The Final Order from the State Corporation Commission states: “We find that this coal-fired facility qualifies, at a minimum, as a ‘conventional coal’ facility under § 56-585.1 .A.6 of the Code. ...Accordingly, the Coal Plant shall receive an enhanced return of 100 basis points as prescribed for a ‘conventional coal’ plant by § 56-585.1 .A.6 of the Code.”
  13. Wise power plant wins approval, Richmond Times-Dispatch, June 26, 2008.
  14. Dominion Virginia Power Issues Statement on Approval of Air Permits for Virginia City Hybrid Energy Center, Dominion News Release, June 25, 2008.
  15. Board approves air permits for Wise Co. coal-fired power plant, The Southern Environmental Law Center Press Release, June 26, 2008
  16. "Thirteen arrested in protest at Dominion today", Richmond Times-Dispatch, June 30, 2008.
  17. Peaceful Protesters Lock their Bodies to Dominion Power Plant Press Release, Wise Up Dominion, website accessed September 15, 2008
  18. John Reid Blackwell, "Rate rise tied to coal plant," Richmond Times-Dispatch, February 6, 2009.
  19. "Va utility imposes rate increase," Associated Press, February 5, 2009.
  20. Assessing the Economic Impact of Dominion Virginia Power’s Coal-Fired Power Plant in Wise County, Virginia, Compared to Investments in Energy Efficiency, Abt Associates, March 2009.
  21. "Stopping the Coal Rush", Sierra Club, accessed May 2009. (This is a Sierra Club list of new coal plant proposals.)
  22. Rex Springston, "UPDATE: Judge strikes down permit for Wise County power plant," Richmond Times-Dispatch, August 11, 2009.
  23. Debra McCown"Dominion Coal-Fired Power Plant Regulations Will Be Tight," Bristol Herald Courier, September 3, 2009.
  24. Rex Springston, "New permit for coal-fired power plant pleases both side," Richmond Times-Dispatch, September 3, 2009.
  25. "Coal plant construction continues in earnest at some sites," SNL Interactive, October 5, 2009. (Subscription required.)
  26. "Coal plant nearing completion" Tri-Cities, July 11, 2011.
  27. "A Sad Day For Va — Wise County Coal Plant Fires Up" Tom Commons, Appalachian Voices, July 11, 2012.
  28. Form EIA-860, US Energy Information Administration, 2012

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