Regulators Grant Water Permit for Chesterfield Power Station

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by James A. Bacon

The State Water Control Board approved today the reissue of a waste-water permit at the Chesterfield Power Station, the largest fossil-fueled power plant in Dominion Virginia Power’s generating fleet. Among other features, the permit covers the de-watering of coal ash as the utility moves toward a long-term disposal of the potentially toxic coal-combustion byproduct.

The permit incorporates treatment processes approved for the de-watering of coal ash at Dominion’s Bremo and Possum Point power stations, reached after extensive negotiation between the company, environmental groups and the Department of Environmental Quality.

Cathy Taylor, Dominion’s senior environmental and sustainability advisor, said the $80 million investment in waste-water control sets “new stringent limits” on the level of potentially toxic heavy metals that can be released into the James River. “We’re committed to doing this right. We live here, too, and want to ensure our neighbors and the community know exactly what we’re doing, when we’re doing it, and why.”

In a statement during the permit hearing, Brad McLane, an attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center pressed for even tighter limits, especially on arsenic. The 6-to-0 vote to approve the permit with only minor changes was disappointing, he said after the vote.

“We proposed common-sense revisions to the Chesterfield water discharge permit, including an expedited implementation of newly-required pollution controls (from a 4-to-6 year time frame to a 2-year time frame), and an expedited process to address thermal pollution and water withdrawal impacts in the reasonable future instead of five years or more in the future,” McLane said. “Unfortunately, the Board rejected our proposed revisions and moved forward with the permit as recommended by DEQ with only one very minor change.”

The Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club was harsher. “The permit allows Dominion to use minimum requirements for thermal discharge and water intake, and allows for more stringent limits on toxic pollutants like arsenic and lead to be delayed until March 2022, rather than requiring Dominion to meet the federally suggested date of November 2018,” said Kate Addleson, director of the Sierra Club-Virginia Chapter. “We are concerned that DEQ is unjustifiably willing to bow to the wishes of corporate polluters like Dominion.”

The Chesterfield Power Station began operation in 1944. The coal- and gas-burning facility supplies about 12% of the electricity in Dominion’s service territory. Dominion has spent about $1 billion over the decade to meet tough air pollution standards designed to cut emissions of mercury, nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide. Now the company expects to spend another $80 million to upgrade its industrial wastewater treatment.

The plan involves closing two coal ash ponds where the company deposited the residue from coal combustion, and converting to a “dry ash management” system. The old way of handling coal ash was to mix with water to prevent it from blowing away. That method raised concerns that heavy metals could leach from the coal ash into the water, and eventually into underground water supplies or rivers and streams. The Environmental Protection Agency has mandated all electric utilities de-water their coal ash ponds and dispose of the residue safely.

Dominion tackled coal ash disposal at its Bremo and Possum Point power stations first. After considerable controversy, the Bremo transition has gone so smoothly that McLane was moved to say, “Dominion has established a strong track record of effective treatment of these waters over the last several months. In our view, this is absolutely a good thing.”

Dominion has adopted the Bremo template for treating coal ash at the Chesterfield facility. But de-watering is only the first step. State regulators still have to approve a permit for the disposal of the dry coal ash.

Dominion’s Taylor described the ultimate disposition of the coal ponds this way:

Chesterfield is unique because unlike the other generation stations where we are closing coal ash ponds in Virginia, we continue to burn coal at this station. Dominion is constructing a new onsite state-of-the-art lined landfill to safety manage future ash that is generated. The conversion to dry ash management will result in the elimination of future wastewater discharges associated with the station’s coal ash ponds and a reduction in the station’s water requirements by over 5 million gallons per day. Only after the new state-of-the-art landfill is constructed can we begin closing the ash ponds.

Environmental groups also were disappointed that the permit does not immediately address the issue of thermal pollution, a potential threat to endangered sturgeon. The James River Association has measured water temperatures near the Chesterfield outlet at 105 degrees Fahrenheit, high enough to kill fish, destroy habitat, cause algae blooms and reduce dissolved oxygen levels, said Nate Benforado with the SELC. The permit requires Dominion to study the water intake and discharge issues, but the company doesn’t have to provide DEQ the findings until 270 days before the expiration of the permit.

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15 responses to “Regulators Grant Water Permit for Chesterfield Power Station

  1. It appears and correct me if I’m wrong – that other states have proceeded by incorporating the new EPA rules while Dominion has decided to use the older rules.

    “… rather than requiring Dominion to meet the federally suggested date of November 2018,”

    what the heck does “Federally “suggested” ” mean?

    is it really “suggested” or is it required on that date?

    So… Dominion and the Va DEQ have agreed to lesser standards than many other states have adopted?

    true? not true?

    and no – it’s not an Ad Hominem to ask tough questions that need to be addressed.

    • Saw this in DEQ’s public comment responses:

      “EPA defined “as soon as possible” as “November 1, 2018, unless the permitting authority establishes a later date, after receiving information from the discharger, which reflects a consideration of the following factors: (1) Time to expeditiously plan (including to raise capital), design, procure and install equipment to comply with the regulations of this part. (2) Changes being made or planned at the plant in response to … (iii) Regulations that address the disposal of coal combustion residuals as solid waste … (3) For FGD wastewater requirements only, an initial commissioning period for the treatment system to optimize the installed equipment. (4) Other factors as appropriate.””

      So it looks like there is some leeway regarding the timeframe.

      • there IS leeway of which my understanding is that other States have chosen to just go ahead and adopt the stricter standards. right now and be done with it.

        The question is why should Virginia do any different?

        how much would it cost on each household monthly bill to do it?

        are we talking about one or two dollars or twenty or more?

        I suspect most ratepayers would choose the minimal amount if it resulted in less toxic discharges.

        When you think about this – we already are paying billions of dollars to clean up the Chesapeake Bay – tougher sewage treatment plant standards, storm-water runoff…. tighter rules on farming… and here we are headed in the opposite direction with Dominion. Why? They’re also the same ones who want the ACL that will increases prices for ratepayers and their given justification is that they have to reduce emissions….

        so we’re hearing 180 degree different rationales from Dominion depending on the issue… and it’s pretty much what they want to do rather than a true legitimate public process where the public actually has a substantiative role beyond their ability to “comment” on obscure SCC ad DEQ regs that only professionals in those fields actually have the expertise to do.

  2. LarrytheG,
    Dominion has danced around this. For example, they said it was impossible to remove the wastewater and treat it offsite. Not true. That’s what is done elsewhere Now they say they might do it at the Chesapeake coal ash pits. Transporting polluted wastewater and treating it offsite is done constantly in the oil and gas industries.
    They also say it is way too expensive for them to remove the dewatered coal ash and place it offsite in proper, doublesealed landfills. That is what is done in North and South Carolina and Georgia., In fact, coal ash that ran into the Dan River will be sent by Duke Energy to a Waste Management landfill in Amelia County.
    Dominion claims doing this would involve zillions of truck loads that would be disruptive. I have asked them repeatedly why they can’t take it out by train. After all, that’s how they got the coal to the power plants in the first place. We’re not talking about having to spend millions on new infrastructure. It’s already there. All you need are some hopper cars and locomotives. No, can’t be done, Dominion says.
    It would be great if Dominion were made to answer these questions. Instead, we get unanimous water board votes.
    Not to worry, David Botkins, Dominion’s chief flak, says the utility isn’t treating public officials to outings such as the Master’s Golf Tournament, which the head of DEQ attended on Dominion’s tab a couple of years ago.
    No worries, you understand

    • While each plant must stand on its own facts, I like Peter’s argument about rail haul. Hauling coal by rail has been a very common and efficient practice. Why can’t it be used for the ash? The truck argument seems pretty weak to me, absent more information.

      • Who knows but we are saying here it should be easy to take wet muck by rail to someone else’s backyard for disposal. Solids handling is not easy and now we are talking moist sludge handling. I think they’d have to use water to slurry it up or something. I’d ask how they get the wet slurry from the coal plant to the local retention ponds in the first place. I do think dry coal ash sometimes goes by train back to the mine, but that’s dry ash immediately after creation, that’s not our scenario. We have a wet slurry disposal technique, only used in Virginia and south out to about Tennessee or so. Rest of country handles it dry.

        • TBill – it’s my understanding that there is considerable rail shipment of other types of sludge around the U.S. Why can’t the same be done for coal sludge? Just trying to educate myself. Thx

      • Rail hauling is theoretical option, but we should not glibly assume that it is an economic option. True enough, rail delivered coal to Dominion’s power stations. But are there any landfills located on those rail lines? If not, Dominion would have to haul the ash by rail for part of the distance then transfer to trucks. How much would it cost to build a transfer facility? And could construction of such a facility be justified for a one-time transfer of coal ash lasting a year or so?

        Peter says, “We’re not talking about having to spend millions on new infrastructure. It’s already there. All you need are some hopper cars and locomotives. ”

        Perhaps he would care to identify which landfills are located on which rail lines that could take the ash. If he can, he has a solid talking point. If not, he’s just blowing smoke.

        • re: ” but we should not glibly assume that it is an economic option.”

          but this is not Dominion’s call – alone.

          the public has a right to also weigh in on what they think is “economic”.

          Dominion acts like they get to decide what is “economic” based on their criteria.

          The public may well want the ash disposed of in a less risky manner even if it costs more.

          The cost on a per ratepayer basis is something the public is entitled to in them making an informed decision.

          where does Dominion get off on them thinking they know what is “economic”?

          they’re not even to do an honest analysis on the rail costs – to develop that info – in a transparent way so that people can verify the analysis – or challenge it –

          we have this really stupid discussion here about what Dominion says is the cost as if , if someone wants that number validated – it’s not the responsibility of Dominion to prove that their analysis is correct – to have others look at it and weigh in on it. Dominion just throws out a cost and says that’s it.

          that’s not a public process.

    • exactly – what we’re getting from Dominion is their truth from on high – which is chock full of holes and disingenuous excuses as if they have no real responsibility to the public other than their current condescending attitudes.

  3. Actually, the Waste Management landfill in Amelia is right off a Norfolk Southern line from Richmond to Danville and, guess what, t can easily connect with both the Chesterfield and Bremo Bluffs power stations.It doesn’t take a genius to figure this out.

    Jim, don’t be so dismissive without doing at least a little bit of independent research. Does Dominion get to vet your stuff?

  4. One other thing. Duke Energy somehow manages to rail coal ash debris from the NC border area to Amelia.

    Ask Dominion and you don’t get a straight answer. When I asked one of their flaks about the coal ash situation, I was told it was “nuanced.” I see a connection with your “interviews” on the pipeline. I bet those were “nuanced,” too, especially on whether there’s a public need or not.

    • There is the infamous trash train from New York and they come down to Virginia, so I guess we are indeed darn well versed on taking out-of-state waste on trains. The trash is put in container cars, so I guess that might work. If you can get us a tour, I will drive down.

      One time we were at Wash DC L’Enfant Station waiting for the VRE Fireworks Express to go home on July 4, and we had to wait as the Trash Train made it’s way through the station. I immediately penned a letter to the WaPo editor but never submitted it. I was too new in this area then.

      • This July the National Capital Region TPB adopted a regional freight plan, updating the 2010 plan. https://www.mwcog.org/documents/2010/07/28/national-capital-region-freight-plan-freight/

        A discussion of freight rail safety and security from the 2016 Executive Summary states: “Freight Rail Safety and Security
        The Transportation Planning Board (TPB) is particularly interested in and concerned about the safety and security of the Region’s freight rail system. Rail incidents such as the May 1, 2016 CSX derailment in northeast Washington, DC, have highlighted the need for continual improvement of preventative safety and security measures on the freight rail system. Major concerns include the operational handling and tracking of railcars that carry Toxic Inhalation Hazard (TIH) materials, which can cause fatalities if released into the atmosphere. Safety on the nation’s railroads is regulated by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA). It enforces regulations for hazardous materials, highway-rail crossings, track conditions, rail motive power and equipment, operating practices, and train control and signaling. Federal rail safety regulations preempt state rail safety laws and the FRA maintains direct oversight of railroad practices relevant to safety. States can participate in railroad-related investigative and surveillance activities through the FRA’s State Safety Participation Program. To participate in the Program, states must have an agreement with the FRA to enable the delegation of some federal investigative and surveillance authority to the State. The FRA reserves exclusive authority to assess penalties, issue emergency orders, and undertake any other enforcement actions under federal railroad safety laws. Maryland’s rail safety authority is under the jurisdiction of the Department of Labor, Licensing, and Regulation (DLLR). Virginia’s rail safety authority is under the Virginia State Corporation Commission Division of Utility and Railroad Safety. Currently, the District of Columbia does not have an office of rail safety.”

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