Dominion Converting 3 Coal Plants to Biomass

Courtesy of WY Daily
April 5, 2011 by Desiree Parker

Dominion Virginia Power recently announced two initiatives that will help green their power generation:  plans to convert 3 coal plants to biomass and a study on an underwater transmission line that would connect to future offshore wind turbines.

The power stations being considered for conversion are Altavista, Hopewell and Southampton County, all of which are identical and went into operation in 1992, according to Dominion.

If the conversions are approved by local governments, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality and the Virginia State Corporation Commission, they could begin burning biomass by 2013.

The stations would get most of their fuel from the waste wood left from timbering operations and would use up to 1.11 million tons of tree material per year. Each plant currently produces 63 megawatts of electricity of power, running only when demand is at its highest. Once the plants are converted to using biomass, they would generate 50 megawatts each, but operate essentially all of the time.
Together, these stations would provide electricity to about 37,500 homes.

The switch will make a positive environmental impact by reducing nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, mercury and particulate emissions, and would mean all the stations would meet tough new emissions standards from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. It will also help Dominion reach the state’s voluntary Renewable Portfolio standard, meaning 15 percent of the company’s generation will be from renewable resources.

This conversion could mean more than $350 million in total economic impact over 30 years, the power company estimates, including $30 million in local taxes, $180 million for the creation of more than 300 jobs in forestry and trucking, and about $120 million paid to the 90 employees at all the stations.

I don’t know that there is a perfect fuel source out there. The plants will still need to burn the fuel which will release some greenhouse gasses, and Dominion needs to transport the fuel to the plants, which burns up gas and also releases greenhouse gasses. But, using biomass means keeping waste out of landfills (which would need to be trucked to a dump site anyway), and the wood fuel will likely not have as far to go to get to each station as coal.

The kicker for me is that biomass is a renewable resource – and it doesn’t have to be wood products, it can be other organic waste matter. In all, it’s a better solution than burning coal, I think.

On top of the power station conversions, Dominion also announced that it will be investigating what it would take to build a high-voltage underwater transmission line from Virginia Beach into the Atlantic Ocean to support potentially multiple offshore wind farms.

This is the first step in making offshore wind a reality, and I think it’s totally exciting.

The company aims to have the study completed this year. I’ll be sure to keep my eye out for the results.

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