On behalf of thousands of Virginians who opposed plans for what would have been one of the state’s biggest polluting power plants, the Wise Energy for Virginia Coalition today rejoiced at news that Old Dominion Electric Cooperative is suspending plans for its proposed coal plant in Hampton Roads.
Coalition member groups said they hope to work with ODEC to implement programs and projects that provide cleaner, more affordable and climate-friendly sources of energy for its customers, but pledged to keep a close eye on the utility to ensure it does not revive the coal plant idea in the future.
ODEC sent an email newsletter to its “Friends of Cypress Creek” listserve yesterday saying it is suspending permitting activity for the 1,500-megawatt, $6 billion plant it proposed to build in Surry County, where residents have fought fiercely over the past several years to stop the proposal. Company executives had hinted at this decision in recent months, but this is ODEC’s first public statement clarifying the status of the controversial proposal.
The coal industry has been declining in recent months due largely to market forces, driving up costs and compelling utilities around the country to look to a variety of other sources to generate electricity. ODEC, in its email newsletter, acknowledged that changing energy markets contributed to its decision, but also blamed environmental regulations. The Wise Energy for Virginia Coalition credits the outcome in large part to years of mounting pressure from citizens in Surry County and Hampton Roads, and from ODEC’s own member/customers, followed by recent changes in the market.
Five local governments, all downwind from the proposed plant, had passed resolutions of concern or in opposition to the plant. In addition, the coalition said, more than 8,000 people opposed to the coal plant had signed a petition, which will be delivered to the Corps of Engineers later this month. The coalition has outstanding requests under the Freedom of Information Act to the federal agency, which was conducting a requisite environmental study on the coal plant.
Comments from opponents follow:
“ODEC is doing the right thing. People are concerned about committing to 50 years or more of burning coal. Even though ODEC said it would build the cleanest coal plant east of the Mississippi, it still would have been one of the largest polluters in Virginia. There’s no way around it – coal is a dirty and costly proposition, from mountaintop removal coal mining to burning it to dumping the ash. We can do better,” said Mike McCoy, Virginia campaign coordinator for Appalachian Voices.
“The suspension of plans for this plant, which would belch as much carbon dioxide as about 2 million cars, is a great sign for the fight against climate change. We look forward to seeing ODEC move away from fossil fuels and toward a future powered by wind and solar energy,” said Beth Kemler, Virginia state director with Chesapeake Climate Action Network.
“Delaying the Surry County coal plant is a step in the right direction, but ODEC really needs to move away from fossil fuels, investing in efficiency, wind and solar power now,” said Glen Besa, director of the Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club.
“A new peer-reviewed study now links summertime weather extremes to global warming. Given that, ODEC’s decision to suspend the coal plant and pursue other alternatives is great news and a breath of fresh air for families throughout Hampton Roads,” said Cale Jaffe, senior attorney with Southern Environmental Law Center.
“We need to move to clean energy solutions. The fact that the proposed Surry coal-fired power plant is now on ice is a good start, but it is only the beginning if we are serious about what really needs to happen,” said Laura Miller of Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards.
In Surry County, where the plant was proposed, hundreds of citizens have worked hard for several years to educate themselves and others about the potential impacts of having a mammoth coal plant in their midst. Notwithstanding ODEC’s promise of jobs and economic benefit, the citizens faced the prospect of massive amounts of air pollution in their community, a potential coal ash dump, and countless rail cars rumbling through daily.
“After three and a half years of fighting with my friends and neighbors to stop this coal plant, I am absolutely thrilled that ODEC has finally suspended its permitting process. We will be watching them closely,” said Betsy Shepard, a Surry County resident, mother and local leader in the fight to stop the plant.
The Wise Energy Coalition worked with many groups on the issue, including Chesapeake Bay Foundation, National Parks Conservation Association, and Lynnhaven River Now. A full list of the governments and organizations opposed to the coal plant is here.