Virginia City Hybrid Energy Center Helping to Clean Streams While Generating Electricity for Customers
Since beginning commercial operation in July 2012, Dominion Virginia Power's Virginia City Hybrid Energy Center in Wise County has recycled nearly 1.1 million tons of waste coal, following through on a commitment to help clean environmental hot spots that dot the coalfields of Southwest Virginia.
The waste coal, also called "gob," is piled along miles of streams and rivers in the region. Left over from earlier coal mining, it is a source of metals and other contaminants that leach into local waterways. In 2012, the station, just west of St. Paul, used about 484,000 tons of waste coal. Last year, the station used about 615,000 tons to generate electricity.
"One of the benefits we saw in building the Virginia City Hybrid Energy Center was the abundance of low-cost waste coal that newer technologies would allow us to use as fuel," said David A. Christian, chief executive officer for Dominion Generation. "At the same time that we are holding down rates for our customers by burning waste coal, we also are helping Southwest Virginia clean up some of its biggest environmental challenges."
Gob is material - mostly rock and lower BTU coal - that mining operations discarded in the early to mid-1900s. Prior to regulations on how to handle gob, the material simply piled up, often along stream beds. There are literally hundreds of gob piles throughout the central Appalachian coalfields.
Dominion selected a circulating fluidized bed technology for the station's boilers because it is able to burn a wide variety of fuels. That flexibility allows the station to select and blend fuels to obtain the cheapest fuel, saving money for the company's customers.
The station also operates under one of the strictest - if not the strictest - air permits in the United States for a plant of its kind. In addition, Dominion agreed to convert the coal-fired Bremo Power Station to natural gas, resulting in significant net reductions in sulfur dioxide and carbon dioxide emissions compared with previous levels. The conversion of Bremo will be completed this spring.
About 80 percent of the waste coal used at the station has come from Virginia. Much of it has come from a Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy Abandoned Mine Land Project in Dante. The pile, which contained more than 1 million tons of gob, is expected to disappear completely as it is used for fuel at VCHEC by the end of this year. Then, actual reclamation of the land and the stream bed can begin.
"There are hundreds of gob piles throughout Southwest Virginia that have a negative impact on the water quality in the watersheds of the Clinch and Powell rivers. Now with the operation of VCHEC, these environmental hazards can finally start being addressed. Virginia City power station has become a major factor in reclaiming not only the coal, but the waste pile sites as well," said Walt Crickmer, managing partner for GOBCO LLC -- the company reclaiming the Dante site and shipping the coal for use at VCHEC.
The Virginia City power station also is designed to be able to burn up to 20 percent biomass, waste wood from timbering operations. The station began burning biomass in October of 2013 and is working toward burning up to 5 percent biomass by the summer of 2015.
The station's air permit requires that 10 percent of the electricity be generated by biomass by 2017 if it is economically viable to do so.
Dominion is one of the nation's largest producers and transporters of energy, with a portfolio of approximately 23,600 megawatts of generation, 10,900 miles of natural gas transmission, gathering and storage pipeline and 6,400 miles of electric transmission lines. Dominion operates one of the nation's largest natural gas storage systems with 947 billion cubic feet of storage capacity and serves retail energy customers in 10 states.