Yorktown Units Allowed to Operate on Emergency Basis

Existing power lines crossing the James River. Photo credit: Daily Press

U.S. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry has issued an order allowing the coal-fired Yorktown Units 1 and 2 to operate on a limited basis for three months this summer to prevent uncontrolled power disruptions in the North Hampton Roads area of Virginia. Dominion Energy had planned to shut down the two units to meet Environmental Protection Agency clean-air regulations. But PJM Interconnection, the regional transmission organization serving Virginia, requested the exemption in March.

“I hereby determine that an emergency exists in the Commonwealth of Virginia due to a shortage of electric energy, a shortage of facilities for the generation of electric energy, and other causes, and that issuance of this Order will meet the emergency and serve the public interest,” stated Perry in an order dated June 16.

The units will operate only as needed to reduce the risk of power outages until Dominion Energy’s 500 kV Skiffes Creek transmission line is completed. The units also can be used during transmission construction when existing lines will need to be taken out of service.

A week ago the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers gave a conditional go-ahead to Dominion to build a transmission line across the James River, eliminating the major regulatory barrier to the project. But the utility still needs to obtain permits from the Virginia Marine Resources Commission, a water quality certification from the Department of Environmental Quality, and a permit from the James City County Board of Supervisors for a switching station, reports the Williamsburg Yorktown Daily.

Meanwhile, construction is expected to take a year and a half, leaving the Virginia Peninsula vulnerable to rolling blackouts on days of peak demand in order to avoid an uncontrolled, cascading blackout that could spread way beyond the region.

Dominion had cited the threat of blackouts as justification for hurrying the permitting process, which has dragged on for years. After shutting down the two polluting Yorktown units this spring, the utility instituted a Remedial Action Scheme (RAS) that would immediately drop load to 150,000 customers in the event that  an uncontrolled blackout took place.

“The order provides authority to PJM and Dominion to run the [Yorktown] units only when needed to avoid loss of electric power in the North Hampton Roads area when certain power demand levels are reached,” says PJM spokesman Ray E. Dotter.

There are currently no comments highlighted.

15 responses to “Yorktown Units Allowed to Operate on Emergency Basis

  1. The basic thrust of this post, about EPA allowing Dominion to run the Yorktown units for system stability on the Peninsula (as directed by the system operator, PJM) until the proposed transmission improvements there are built, is correct. But there is nothing on the USACE website to support the statement, “A week ago the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers gave a conditional go-ahead to Dominion to build a transmission line across the James River . . ..” There IS, however, USACE’s and Dominion’s execution of a 64 page ‘memorandum of agreement’ on April 24, following on USACE’s “preliminary conclusion” at the end of March that the Skiffes Creek line was the best alternative among those put forward by Dominion. See: http://www.nao.usace.army.mil/Missions/Regulatory/SkiffesCreekPowerLine.aspx
    Perhaps the execution of the MOA implies some sort of approval to come but I doubt it, and there is no direct evidence on the website that Dominion has obtained any “conditional go-ahead” from the Corps of Engineers or any other formal permissions in the last week or so.

    • Correction: I should have said “DOE” not “EPA” is allowing the Yorktown units to continue to operate.

      • Thanks — that looks like it’s the permission Dominion requires from the Corps to go ahead — and apparently USACE has not updated its website to reflect this.

        Importantly, as noted in the article: “Dominion Energy will still need to receive a permit from the Virginia Marine Resources Commission, a water quality certification from the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, and a permit from the James City County Board of Supervisors to allow for a switching station in the county.” Jurisdiction over any transmission switching station expansion used to be considered part of the transmission facilities siting already approved by the SCC, but that implicit preemption of local zoning has already gone to the VA Supreme Ct and James City County’s zoning authority was affirmed — so this whole Skiffes Creek mess will be re-litigated before the JCC Board of Supervisors. As for VMRC, no idea what that review covers.

        • wonder what this means: ” Before construction can begin, Dominion Energy will need to meet the requirements of a Memorandum of Agreement with all other parties including localities, nonprofits, and individuals.”

          • I’ve blogged about this. Dom has committed to making tens of millions of dollars in cultural, historical and environmental offsets to make up for the damage of the Surry-Skiffes transmission line to the James River viewshed. Analogous to creating a wetlands to offset the destruction of a wetlands.

  2. Some things don’t make any sense… my understanding is that Yorktown are coal-fired plants – not peakers.. so firing them up in an “emergency” would take hours to get them online.. no?

    The other thing is where is the Peninsula getting it’s baseload power right now if Yorktown is offline?

    I was under the impression they could not take Yorktown offline until they had the new powerline in place?

    There must be more to this …

    • As I recall, Dominion took Yorktown offline this spring.

      And you’re right, they are not peaker plants. They take a day or two to fire up. But Dom and PJM can use weather forecasts to predict periods of peak demand, and they can fire up the plants a day or two ahead of time. It’s not efficient, but it’s better than nothing.

      • unless you fire it up and leave it up – though – it can’t “follow” the peaks even with forecasting.. if the peaks occur in 24 hour cycles… which is typical for summer… when demand builds in the afternoons and early evening and drops off overnight.

        The only way for Yorktown (any baseload plant) to deal with that would be to fire up – and stay up… keep burning coal but idle the turbines when demand falls off ;

  3. but there is an even bigger issue here because originally it was said that Yorktown was providing baseload for the Peninsula but could not handle the peaks – and that was the justification to string powerlines – to provide for peakers to handle the peak and prevent rolling blackouts.

    So now Yorktown is offline.. so what is providing the baseload now?
    where is it coming from?

    • “So now Yorktown is offline.. so what is providing the baseload now?
      where is it coming from?” That’s a very good question. There must be more here than meets the eye.

      • The problem is not a lack of generating capacity. Dominion has plenty of generating capacity. The problem is getting the electricity to the Peninsula, given the constraints of the transmission grid. That’s why the Surry-Skiffes line is needed. Yorktown circumvents the transmission grid constraints because it’s the Peninsula and can deliver electricity into the local grid.

        As for Larry’s comment about Yorktown and peaking capacity. He is correct in that Yorktown has a long, slow, ramp-up. It makes a terrible peaking facility. It will be terribly inefficient. Dominion will operate the two units for one reason only — to avoid the necessity of controlled blackouts during days of peak load — because there is no practicable short-term alternative.

    • Of course we all get power from the “grid”. Presumably there is a certain wiring capacity to flow electrons into that area, from where we all get it (Nukes, coal plants, nat gas, wind, PJM grid, etc.). Transmission of high voltage power over long distances is (thankfully) quite efficient…maybe 5% loss in transmission over the wires. At some point the existing wires are over-loaded and you need more wires or a new local energy source.

  4. One thing I can’t understand is the fact that the Yorktown coal units are fairly ancient. They were due for closure anyway. But somehow this has turned around into a “crisis” brought on by greenies. Why hasn’t Dominion planned for this better? Didn’t they know that electricity availability on the Peninsula would be constrained? Why the big sense of urgency?

    • Dominion and PJM identified the problem in 2011. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began looking at Dominion’s permit request in 2013. Here it is, six years later. How far ahead of time do you think it is reasonable to ask any utility to plan ahead?

Leave a Reply