Tuesday, June 26, 2007

A Bird's Eye View of the Proposed Dominion Power Plant

As a follow up to the essay I wrote this weekend about the so-called "clean coal" power plant proposed for Wise County, Virginia, I received this extremely insightful message (sent to me as a WORD document due to its length) from one of my oldest friends. As an "insider" to the whole tortured debate, I felt this person's views were worthy to be published in their entirety. The only thing I have removed from the document is the person's name and identifying comments. Lots of food for thought here, and more than enough to give this tree hugger pause about whether this is a good idea (I'd always considered this person to be poltically conservative by the way)...


Read your article concerning the proposed power plant coming to Virginia City. You made several great points and asked important questions with regard to Dominion's plant. Many here in Southwest Va have lived with the Carbo power plant since before you and I were born. We have lived with coal production and railroads since the turn of the century. My family is supported mostly by the coal business here, as most everyone else is. Yes, economy is important to all of us who live in these mountains; however, for many of us, we can’t make sense of the proposed plant, as Southwest Virginia is still one of the most beautiful unspoiled spots in the great Commonwealth, even with the ill practices of strip mining and mountain top removal.

Ask the questions, "Why the Virginia City site?" "Why not the Carbo site?" Why not substitute one of the dirtiest plants in the nation, and replace it with this "newer, cleaner burning plant?" Placing a high-tech coal burning plant at Carbo would do us all a favor, as that particular area is already black with dust, soot, smoke and heavy pollution. Speaking of AEP's Carbo Plant, each year they have what they call an outage. They bring in boiler-makers, crane operators, and all kinds of specialty guys....you get the picture; however, each year the number of outage workers usually reaches 600 - 700. Has St. Paul, or the Castlewood end of Russell County seen the economic boom of these outages? I know that the Inn of Castlewood is booked up for 3 - 6 months during an outage, but you can ask anyone else and they don't have a clue that the area has that many extra people living and working in it. Most of these guys come with their own campers, live on site, work long hours, bank their per deim, and go home to their families when they can. They mostly eat, drink and sleep. Southwest Virginia does get some of their money, but nothing like our starry eyed politicians want us to believe. They probably will not move their family here, so that means the schools will not see any extra enrollment to make a difference in the school system.

The Virginia City plant is expected to consume millions of tons of coal--good coal, bad coal, used coal, bio-mass and yes....even trash. In order to feed that plant to produce power, it will take approximately 700 coal trucks per day (24 hours / 7 days a week), by the way....that equates to one coal truck every 2.057 minutes. If only half of those trucks come through St. Paul, that equates to 350 per day, which means a coal truck through the middle of St. Paul every 4.114 minutes. St. Paul will look like Carbo....the wonderful aroma of money now smells like diesel fuel with a dusting of coal dust..... What will happen at the school entrance, not to mention the library crossing, the churches, and the people who want to sit on their front porches?

The proposed "stack" is to be 500 ft in the air. That means the folks on Gray Hill might even see the top. So whatever comes out of the "stack" could blow straight into their homes, settle into the St. Paul valley or rain out of the sky into the water that we drink. I certainly don't have the answers to the air quality and water quality that will affect this area for the rest of our lives. I'm just hoping that someone does.

More coal mining jobs for Southwest Virginia? That coal is probably being mined already......I'm afraid this plant will be burning the used coal, which is the worst. By the way, Dominion officials were asked in a public meeting the question, "What is the percentage of recovery from the burning of waste coal?" Their reply was 15 percent. That means that 85 % will go back into the "landfill” area in Virginia City. That area is now tree covered and looks fairly good; however, the trees will be timbered and the top soil will be dozed away to make room for the fly ash to start filling the valleys and hollows, after that a liner will be put on the ground to keep the toxins from seeping into our ground water. This liner only has a life of 20 years. What will happen after that? What have we left for our children and grand children?

Out migration is already a huge problem in our area, even the folks who mine coal, and make big bucks don't want to live here anymore. They have all moved to finer places in Washington County or out by South Holston Lake. So why would anyone remotely believe that we will have people scrambling to live in St. Paul beside a power plant? I truly don't have the answers; however, I am convinced that neither does anyone else who has the power to make better decisions for their constituents.

Revitalization coming to St. Paul, and any other small town in this region should not depend on Dominion's plant. We should be looking for other avenues for economic support other than the coal business. Look at the example of The Appalachian School of Law or Appalachian School of Pharmacy, and we won’t forget University of Virginia’s College at Wise, which is now bringing in medical Doctors to intern in rural areas, with hopes that they will want to stay in our rural area, or at least practice in another rural area somewhere in America. I was stopped at my mail box by a gentleman who was just hired by UVA. He was looking for a home to buy; however, he was very concerned about the power plant, and the property values going into decline, and the possible effects he could suffer: health or wealth. He made a statement to me about the area. He said that it was like driving through a park: Beautiful, lush and green.

Small downtown areas will never be the same as you and I remember. Wal-Mart has made sure of that, and I happen to visit the Wal-Mart on occasion. However, we need to look within ourselves for the vision of our neighborhoods, communities and towns. The model town that St. Paul Tomorrow often looks to is Abingdon. Abingdon thrives from tourism…..and not from the businesses of 30 years ago. There was a time when the Town of Abingdon’s storefronts were almost empty and their streets were nearly void of customers, “The Martha” was almost closed and the Barter Theater’s seats were appalling, also while attending the Barter Play House with my children, we sat on slabs of wood for benches; that was 1980. The forest service was creating The Creeper Trail, and many property owners were grumbling at the prospect of strangers having access to their property. The sleepy little town awakened once a year when the Highlands Festival would take place. Over the past 15-20 years, as thinking changed, so did the town. More and more affluent folks want to live there; however, it’s the tourists who spend their money there. These are the folks who don’t want a Wal-Mart in their backyard.

We all like to flip the switch and have light, and yes it is 91 degrees today; however, my house is quite comfortable at 72 constant degrees. I do love the amenities that electricity brings, and I am well aware of the price we must pay to have these amenities; however, I personally don’t want economic help in the form of another power plant.
A Dominion official is quoted in the Coalfield Progress as saying, “I wouldn’t want it in my backyard.” Well, I ask…. “Why do we want it in ours”…..?

Thanks for listening to my ramblings, and love to you and your family.

The above information concerning the power plant has been obtained by:
Attending several public meetings which was hosted by Dominion (the 700 coal trucks info, valley fill, fly ash percentage, stack height, is from Dominion officials)
The Upper Tennessee River Roundtable, Clinch Valley Soil and Water Conservation District, Black Diamond RC & D.
Open forum with Dominion representatives and Virginia Tech professor –Dr. Richard Neves.
Much of the information concerning tourism and sustainable growth is in part my opinion and information gathered from sustainable development workshops supported in part by TNC and St. Paul Tomorrow’s strategic plan.
The AEP outage information came from the men working at the Carbo plant, and an AEP employee confirming the approximate number of outage workers.


Our Goblin Market said...

What a wonderful and insightful post with great questions and concerns. I would love to hear more from your source about this and other points in the region.

April A. Cain said...

I'll pass that on to the source. He/she is very well informed.

Mike Mason said...

My fear is that this Virginia City plant is going to be the first of many in our region in the coming decades. As coal-gasification becomes the political battle cry to freeing ourselves from OPEC dependency, those that don't live in coal rich areas and/or fully understand process will fall in line with what the elected officials are preaching. At times I get the feeling that even our own representatives in DC are willing to write off the areas on the other side of the mountain from the interstates as industrial waste lands.
If you want to read a mostly unbiased account for the future of coal and what we here in Appalachia face in the years to come, check out Big Coal.