by James A. Bacon
The Virginia City Hybrid Energy Center (VCHEC) is one of the cleanest-burning coal-fired power plants in the country. Its circulating fluidized bed technology meets strict federal standards for air emissions of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, particulates and mercury. But it also has been instrumental in cleaning river water — by helping reclaim the 500,000-ton, Hurricane Creek gob pile on the Clinch River.
“This is major environmental success story,” said Paul Koonce, chief executive officer for the Dominion Generation business group in a press release issued this morning. “A unique power station is taking a waste product from a century-old coal mine and using it to responsibly make energy for Virginia today.”
The Hurricane Creek gob pile originated from Clinchfield Coal Company mining operations as far back as 1907. As was common practice at the time, Clinchfield separated coal mixed with too much rock and dirt to burn in power stations — gob — and dumped it in large piles. It wasn’t appreciated at the time, but the waste rock leached heavy metals, caused acid drainage and spilled sediment into nearby creeks and streams.
For decades an estimated 200 tons of waste coal from the pile eroded into the Clinch River each year. “This abandoned mine land was the largest pollution contributor to the Clinch River,” said John Warren, director of Virginia’s Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy.
There has been no economically feasible way to remove the gob until construction of the VCHEC, a versatile 600-megawatt power station that can burn coal, biomass and even waste coal. In 2012, the power plant began taking on waste coal from Hurricane Creek.
Dominion Virginia Power partnered with Gobco LLC, of Abingdon, a company that specializes in environmental reclamation, to identify and reclaim old waste coal sites in Southwest Virginia. As reclamation of Hurricane Creek comes to a close, Gobco is cleaning the site down to the original ground, covering it with topsoil, restoring slopes for proper drainage, and planting grass to hold the soil in place. The final step is to replant thousands of native hardwood tree seedlings.
In the past, environmental groups have been critical of using the fluidized bed process to clean coal wastes on the grounds that burning the coal only concentrated the heavy metals and other pollutants in the coal ash. But Dominion disposes the combustion byproducts in a lined landfill on-site.
“Reclamation of the Hurricane Creek gob pile is an important step toward improving water quality in the nationally important Clinch River watershed,” said Brad Kreps, director of the Clinch Valley Program of the Nature Conservancy, which controls more than 35,000 in the Clinch Valley watershed. “Finding creative solutions to address pollution from abandoned mined lands is a crucial part of the larger effort underway to ensure that the Clinch River can provide clean water.”
Said Walter Crickmer, co-owner of Gobco: “It was not until VCHEC came online that our company really had the opportunity to clean up some of the worst problems. The irony is that a new type of coal-fired power station is crucial to cleaning up the waste of a bygone era in coal mining.”There are currently no comments highlighted.