Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Virginia Takes Power into its Own Hands

Despite repeated calls from a coalition of groups opposing Santee Cooper's plans to build a coal plant on the banks of the Pee Dee, it took a Federal Court ruling that struck down a flawed law to get our state owned utility to study how it could better control the mercury emissions from its coal project.

Nothing like the threat of being caught breaking the law to motivate a state-owned power monopoly into being a good corporate citizen.

In Virginia, where a similar coal proposal has been advanced, citizens are taking power into their own hands.

Otherwise, it seems, the tough questions will never get asked.

Last week, a citizen advisory group in Virginia exercised its legal authority to take over the permitting process for a coal plant planned in their state from the state Department of Environmental Quality. The reason? They didn't have confidence in their state regulatory agency (or the utility) to adequetly examine alternatives to the coal project.

Why do we need Federal Courts and engaged citzens to ensure that our utilities and state agencies do a thorough job? Especially when we are considering multi-billion dollar, long-term projects that have serious impacts on our health and environment? Do we really want businesses and regulators to cut corners in these situations?

Why won't DHEC and Santee Cooper committ to thoroughly studying not only the impacts of Mercury pollution from the proposed Pee Dee coal plant, but alternatives to building the plant in the first place?

If they won't, who will?

Air board takes over power plant permitting

KEITH STRANGE / Staff Writer

Expressing concerns that all alternatives aren't being addressed, the Virginia Air Pollution Control Board voted Thursday to take over the permitting process for Dominion Virginia Power's Virginia City Hybrid Energy Center.

It was an unusual move last taken two years ago, according to the Department of Environmental Quality. Typically, the board — citizens appointed by the governor — defers to DEQ staff on air permitting decisions.

Contacted yesterday, DEQ Public Affairs Director Bill Hayden confirmed that the board decided to take charge of the permitting process with a 3-2 vote.

According to Hayden, who attended the meeting, board members Hullihen Williams Moore, Bruce C. Buckheit and Vivian E. Thomson were in favor of overseeing the permit, and John N. Hanson and chairman Richard D. Langford wanted DEQ to continue to handle the matter.

Hayden said the board expressed concerns that all options aren't being addressed and DEQ's proposed emissions limits aren't stringent enough.

"They want to look at options that provide for cleaner, more efficient use of coal in whatever power plant gets looked at," he said.

Hayden noted that state law enables the board to seize control of the process. He said DEQ will now provide any information requested to the air board and draft any potential permit at the board's direction.

"If they decide to take over the permit, they direct DEQ on what kind of analysis will be done, they oversee the drafting of the permit," he said.


According to Hayden, the last time the air board voted to take over permitting authority was about two years ago on a proposed power plant in Alexandria.
"They still have taken no action on that permit," he said.

Prior to that, Hayden said, there were only a "handful" of instances in which the air board took over permitting authority.

"It's not routine, but they do have the authority," he said.


Dominion had been hoping for permit issuance on April 1.

"I think DEQ will not have a permit on April 1," Hayden said. "The board indicated they would like additional analysis and will be conferring with DEQ over the next several weeks on what type of information and studies they would like presented to them."

Hayden said there is no longer a specific timetable on the air permit for the $1.8
billion plant, but the air board indicated it would like to see a draft permit in May.
The DEQ spokesman declined to speculate on when the board might take action on the Virginia City permit.

"They did say they wanted to get it done expeditiously," he said. "But it's difficult to speculate on their time frame."


In a press release issued shortly after the vote, Dominion spokesman Jim Norvelle called the decision disappointing.

"An extended delay — much beyond 60 days — in granting the air permit could result in a very significant increase in costs to Dominion and its customers as some
construction contracts likely would have to be re-negotiated," he said.

According to Norvelle, the utility has already invested more than two years and spent more than $6 million on studies and emissions modeling for the plant.

"It has shown that the 585-megawatt station scheduled to begin commercial operation in 2012 in Wise County . . . will meet or exceed all environmental laws and regulations," he said.


cool Kim said...

Rusty -

If Santee Cooper permitted the plant under the current law, then the law was changed by the court, how were they "caught breaking the law?"

Please explain.

Paul Bryant said...

Bless your heart.

That's certainly an interesting take, Rusty. Most people would think it's a BAD idea to take responsibility for these decisions away from those trained to make them, and instead hand them over to a merry band of amateurs. Not you, I see.

Maybe we should do this with everything - at the very least, it would make one hell of an entertaining reality TV show.

Me, I want to be a football coordinator - offensive, defensive, it's all the same to me - for a major division 1-A university. Or heck, maybe the head coach. True, I'm completely unqualified, but I am good at raising cain from the stands and those that agree with me think I'd be great.

You know, come to think of it, it sounds like I have about the same skill set as Rusty, here.

Anonymous said...

So you guys probably think the "experts" e.g. Santee Cooper should run the permitting process, then?

Why don't you write a letter to the Vriginia Air Pollution Control Board and tell them you think they are a bunch of amateurs?

While your at it, why not tell the Santee Cooper board the same thing?

You might as well tell Wall Street that the entire corporate governance system is a joke too.

Get real.

cool kim said...

Hello Mike! Good to have you back! We need to go out sometime so I can explain reality to you!