Surry’s Huge Coal-Fired Plant

Coal-fired electricity generation remains one of the hottest issues in the Old Dominion and the nation. With some form of cap and trade law almost inevitable in Congress and with polls showing that 75 percent of Americans think that carbon dioxide and greenhouse gases need regulation, the issues really does have legs.
In Virginia, for the past several years, the tip of the spear was in St. Paul’s in Wise County where Dominion plans to build a $1.6 billion, 585-megawatt coal-fired plant. That project has been a rallying cry for environmentalists nationally, some of whom such as the Sierra Club have pledged to fight any big, base-loaded, coal-fired plant anywhere. They have had some successes, notably in the Southwest.
Now, the focus is shifting farther east, to the flat peanut lands of Surry County about halfway between Richmond and Norfolk. There, Henrico County-based Old Dominion Electric Cooperative plans on building twin 750 megawatt units costing perhaps $6 billion — in other words, a facility maybe three times as big as Dominion’s in Wise County.
In a story I reported for Richmond’s Style Weekly, I note that the so-called Cypress Creek Power Station would be the second largest of its kind in the state. It would instantly become the state’s sixth biggest air polluter, air pollution officials say. The facility would be fed via a new rail spur from Norfolk Southern’s coal mainline to Norfolk. Water for steam would be pumped 15 miles from the James River and heated water would be pumped back into the estuary. Fly ash from the coal will be buried on the project’s 1,600-acre site, not far from the town’s well water supply, local opponents say.
The plant would be in the town of Dendron, population 300, which is a flyspeck decorated with black “No Coal Plant” signs. These mimic the “No OLF” sings one sees throughout Tidewater Virginia and Northeastern North Carolina regarding local opposition to the Navy’s efforts to locate a new landing field so their F-18 Super Hornet jet fighters can simulate air craft carrier landings. The problem: Super Hornets are some of the loudest aircraft ever built.
Old Dominion Electric Cooperative claims that the plant is needed to help them meet a shortfall by 2016 of some 4,000 megawatts Virginia will face in electricity unless new plants are built. ODEC has 11 mostly-rural; members in this state, Maryland and Virginia. It has begun the process of getting the 50 or more permits it needs to start construction.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers needs to approve a plan for ODEC to tap water in the James River and then return heated water back into the estuary not far from the tourist havens of Jamestown and Williamsburg. According to ODEC data, Cypress Creek would annually emit 3,085 tons of nitrogen oxide a year, 3,685 tons of sulfur dioxide, nearly a half a ton of lead, 283 tons of sulfuric mist and 2,155 tons of particulates. The project needs another permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers because construction will alter wetlands.
Of particular concern to the state Department of Environmental Quality is ODEC’s estimate that the plant will emit 118 pounds per year of highly toxic mercury. By contrast, Dominion Resources’s Wise County plant will emit only 5.5 pounds of mercury a year. Given prevailing wind patterns in Surry, the mercury could fall onto the water of the James River and Chesapeake Bay and be dangerous to wildlife. “This is something we’re absolutely going to be looking at,” says state air pollution analyst Sparky H.L. Lisle Jr.
Surry County, which has been home to twin nuclear reactors owned by Dominion for 37 years, could use the tens of millions the project would pay. Some 200 permanent jobs would help the rural, sleepy country.
Yet there are more questions about the project than just its immediate pollution impact. For one thing, ODEC has recently lost its largest member, the Manassas-based Northern Virginia Electric Cooperative with 142,000 customers, terminated its relationship with ODEC Dec. 31 over a contract dispute. “We thought we could do better with a different power supplier,” says Virginia Burginger, a NOVEC spokeswoman. If this is so, why the urgency to build such a big plant?
Another issue is if much-larger Dominion will fill the shortfall with new plants such as Wise, another nuke at North Anna, windmills and so on. A Dominion spokesman told me that the shortfall is actually larger — about 4,600 megawatts by the last part of next decade. Dominion should be able to add 4,200 megawatts of extra generation capacity by then. If so, this raises questions about why the ODEC project is necessary or if their real aim is to wholesale electricity beyond its members.
Lastly, there are carbon dioxide and greenhouse gases. ODEC has not provided details about how they plan to capture CO2. A report by Synapse, a Cambridge, Mass. consulting firm funded by environmentalists, claims that depending on what kind of cap and trade law goes into effect, ODEC ratepayers could face extra costs of from $223 million to $1.76 billion to handle carbon dioxide. ODEC publicly dissed the report, calling it “speculative and inaccurate” but did not responded to a Synapse request to provide more information. ODEC claims that the plant will actually save its customers about $14 billion but doesn’t say how.
A personal note: I tried to interview ODEC but they refused, saying that my blog postings on the site showed I was biased against the plant. I beg to differ. ODEC then went to the publications to whom I had tried to sell the story. Style Weekly, bless their hearts, told ODEC that they had reviewed my postings and didn’t see that I had raised anything to the level of advocacy on my part.
True enough. I’m just asking questions like any reporter. I guess my questions weren’t too welcome.
Peter Galuszka

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27 responses to “Surry’s Huge Coal-Fired Plant”

  1. Anonymous Avatar

    The proposed ODEC power plant would be the LARGEST coal fired plant in Virginia. The Chesterfield plant, operated by Dominion, would come in second.
    Units 3, 4, 5 & 6 generate electricity from coal; that equals 1328 MW of capacity.

    Units 7 & 8 use natural gas & oil.

  2. Christine Llewellyn Avatar
    Christine Llewellyn

    Thanks, Peter, for covering this crucial issue. $6 billion could buy an enormous amount of efficiency, negating the need for this polluting plant. ODEC needs to be forced to answer the public's very serious questions about why this, why now.

  3. Larry G Avatar

    It's interesting how these projects don't seem to attract the interest of folks like EMR and others who advocate against SPRAWL and in favor of more "efficient" settlement patterns that are so highly dependent on what amounts to mountaintop removal and mercury polluting plants.

    Make no mistake, the ODEC proposal is not to power Fluvanna County but to provide more power to our urbanizing landscape.. right?

    So where are the settlement pattern advocates on this issue?

  4. E M Risse Avatar
    E M Risse


    Peter is doing a good job of keeping track of the power plant issue.

    As you know Fundamental Transformation of settlement patterns would dramatically cut energy demands and that remains EMRs focus.

    For now The Great Recession seems to be taking care of rising demand, more on that soon.


  5. Anonymous Avatar

    "As you know Fundamental Transformation of settlement patterns would dramatically cut energy demands…"

    Not yet proven, and I don;t think this will pan out. It appears that indivdual households do use less energy in highly dense areas, but that is only if you measure just the household. City landscpes use huge amounts of non-private energy and they remain as energy sinks and heat islands.

    With an all urban environment we will still be removing mountaintos to supply energy, it is only that no one will be around to see it happen – they will all be stuck in the city, without a car.

  6. Anonymous Avatar

    Peter, per your speculation about ODEC's intent in seeking permitting for a new power plant in Surry Co.

    re: "this raises questions about why the ODEC project is necessary or if their real aim is to [sell] wholesale electricity beyond its members."

    If ODEC, organized as a not for profit electric cooperative, intends to maintain that status it may not violate the IRS 85/15 rule. That is, it may not derive more than 15% of its revenue from sources outside its membership. That would seem to preclude any foray into the volatile wholesale power market and instead underscore their position that new facility will be necessary to meet the projected growth in co-op served communities.

    The shortfall in generating capacity that both ODEC and Dominion cite and that you report is real and becoming acute. It is said that the US will need new electric power capacity equal to three times that currently consumed by the state of Texas -just to meet demand in the next decade. As your readers point out increased efficiency can play an important and immediate role but as our economy recovers and the Commonwealth continues to grow we will need reliable, affordable electric power to compete both domestically and internationally.

  7. Larry G Avatar

    re: " If ODEC, organized as a not for profit electric cooperative, intends to maintain that status it may not violate the IRS 85/15 rule."

    it sort of depends on where ODEC is currently getting it's electricity from if they themselves are not generating it but instead buying it – as many cooperatives do.

    but I found the following pretty interesting:

    " Conclusion: Synapse Energy Economics, Inc. (“Synapse”) has completed a preliminary
    assessment of Old Dominion Electric Cooperative’s (“ODEC”) proposed Cypress
    Creek Power Station. The source materials for this assessment have included
    publicly available documents.
    We have concluded that there are significant risks to ODEC’s consumer-members
    associated with the construction and operation of the proposed Cypress Creek

  8. Tyler Craddock Avatar
    Tyler Craddock

    Since they are opposed to reasonable efforts to increase the supply of power, maybe the folks opposed to the plant could go off of the power grid, thereby reducing demand and freeing up supply. For me, it seems hypocritical for folks who have electricity to try and stymie efforts to supply others with it.

  9. Larry G Avatar

    I think it is interesting also that the Cypress Creek site is about 15 miles from the Dominion Power Nuclear Plant.

    here's some more interesting info:

    " ODEC-owned generation capacity consists of part-ownership in two Virginia base load power stations and three natural gas-fired combustion turbine plants, two in Virginia and one in Maryland.

    In 1983, we purchased an 11.6-percent undivided interest in the 1,800-megawatt North Anna Nuclear Power Station in Louisa County, Virginia.

    In the early 1990’s, we broke ground with Dominion Virginia Power on the Clover Power Station, an 850-megawatt, two unit, coal-fired plant in Halifax County, Virginia that first went online in 1995. We own a 50 percent-undivided interest in Clover. Dominion Virginia Power operates the plant and owns the other 50%.

    To better meet peak-demand-period needs throughout our member co-op service areas, we built three gas-fired combustion turbine facilities: Marsh Run Power Station, near Remington in Fauquier County, Virginia; Louisa Power Station, near Gordonsville, Virginia; and Rock Springs Generation Facility in Cecil County, Maryland."

    Most of these generation facilities are outside of their service area….


    these are the kinds of questions that they probably were not happy with the prospect of someone like Peter… asking….

    sounds like we got one or more folks down that way who have ambitions beyond that of being just your ordinary run-of-the-mill rural electric cooperative.

  10. Larry G Avatar

    Tyler – I know where you're coming from and there is a certain amount of truth to it

    but it appears to me that ODEC is not behaving as a normal Rural Electric Co-op and that this is not so much about providing power to their member service area as something else.

    We provide Dominion and the Rural Electric Cooperatives with a regulated monopoly because they provide a vital service but blasting off mountaintops and spewing mercury in the quest to provide that service does make the justification and need – fair game for folks to ask if that is really the ONLY way satisfy power demand.

    At some point, we ought to recognize that the environmental cost of providing more and more power – is substantial and our goal ought to be to conserve so that we reduce and limit the damage to what is absolutely necessary.

    Other states use a 1/3 less per capita than we do, and they pay more especially at peak usage.

    De-coupling, and peak-hour pricing are common-sense ways to promote conservation and reduce waste.

    yadda yadda yadda…

    but it sure looks like ODEC is not acting like your typical rural cooperative….

  11. Larry G Avatar

    How many of us would agree to outlaw the use of coal obtained from mountaintop removal – in Virginia?

    So.. I'd put that question to Tyler in lieu of asking those that want less mountaintop removal – to go off the grid and stop using electricity.

    How about we agree that we're not going to destroy anymore mountains, valleys and rivers by reducing the demand that causes it?

  12. Great article, great blog post! I think it's ironic that ODEC found you to have conflict of interest, when they've hired a Surry newspaper reporter covering the story here to also do freelance work for their cooperative magazine.

    Tyler, you seem to not understand the true "not in my backyard" situation here. Why should Surry host a power plant to serve the more metropolitan, wealthy, and non-African American ODEC customers elsewhere? WE have a power plant in our backyard already. If this coal plant is such a good deal, let it go to those it will serve. Let's see how welcome Northern Virginians are to hosting it.

  13. Anonymous Avatar

    Kanga – why should Fairfax County put up with overcrowded roads, ever-increasing taxes just to subsidize the real estate taxes of rural Virginia? We're getting big bills to build rail to Dulles and to supersize Tysons Corner when all of the corporate and individual income taxes generated by these changes will flow to Richmond to be distributed as tax subsidies throughout the rest of the Commonwealth. We'll get pennies back

    If we can do this, there's no reason why other parts of Virginia cannot suck it up and host power plants and the like to provide electricity for NoVA. You cannot have it both ways.


  14. We've already "sucked it up" with our nuclear plant, thanks. You can try to foist this filthy coal plant on someone else if you don't want it in your backyard, but don't be surprised if you don't get a lot of takers.

  15. Larry G Avatar

    Most rural cooperatives do not generate their own power.

    For instance, in the Fredericksburg Area, we have two Dominion Power Nukes at North Anna and a coal-plant outside of town run by a subsidiary of the Southern Company and Rappahannock Electric – a rural cooperative that supplies power to many localities around Fredericksburg, more than likely buys power from Dominion and Southern.

    I always thought, that rural electric cooperatives were limited to distribution rather than generation.

    In fact, ODEC actually has an interest in North Anna even though it's much farther away than Surry – which is about 15 miles away from their proposed coal plant.

    I think what this points out is just how little the average consumer of electricity knows about the business itself and how it operates.

    One would think that before ODEC could build that plant that they'd have to demonstrate a need for the power which would basically be what they provide right now plus projected growth – which – on the surface sounds like quite a bit less than what the projected generating capacity of the new plant would be.

    which leaves one wondering why a rural cooperative should be in the business of generating power beyond the needs of their own service area.

    this sounds like a good story for an investigative reporter…

  16. Anonymous Avatar

    "Since they are opposed to reasonable efforts to increase the supply of power, maybe the folks opposed to the plant could go off of the power grid, thereby reducing demand and freeing up supply. For me, it seems hypocritical for folks who have electricity to try and stymie efforts to supply others with it."

    Precisely, before you put up a sign that says no power plants, go put up an $80,000 photovoltaic system. See how far you get with you HOA on that project.

    This is the same mentality as people who own their own (recently constructed) home, who are opposed to "runaway development".

  17. Anonymous Avatar

    "At some point, we ought to recognize that the environmental cost of providing more and more power – is substantial and our goal ought to be to conserve so that we reduce and limit the damage to what is absolutely necessary."


    Total Cost = Cost of Production + Cost of Externalities + Cost of Regulation (to prevent externalities).

    The way you limit damage is minimize Total Cost.


  18. Anonymous Avatar

    "our goal ought to be to conserve "

    Conservation has costs too, as pointed out by Anonymous 3:49 points out. Conservation alone should NOT be the goal, because too much of it will increase Total Cost.

    Part of the The Goal should be to find the right amount of conservation.


  19. Anonymous Avatar

    "If we can do this, there's no reason why other parts of Virginia cannot suck it up and host power plants and the like to provide electricity for NoVA. You cannot have it both ways.


    Right on.

    "Having it both ways" is yet another way to stake out and claim superior property rights where the rights should and ought to be exactly reciprocal. Otherwise, your property rights don't end where mine begin.

    TMT has struck exactly at the crux of the matter.


  20. Larry G Avatar

    I think whether you live in NoVa or you live in Farmville – the amount of electricity you use – does have some effect on whether or not we need to destroy more mountain tops and valleys in WVa and spew more mercury across out rivers and the Chesapeake Bay.

    It's "traditional" to blame someone else for the damage but the reality is that every month – you and I get a bill that tells us just how much electricity we have used – and the plain fact is – that on a per capita basis – we Virginians use more electricity than other people in the US do – in part – because we pay relatively cheap rates compared to others who pay more and use less.

    And the reason why our electricity is cheaper is because it is subsidized by blasting off mountaintops in WVA and spewing mercury in our Rivers and the Chesapeake Bay.

    At some point – we all need to take some responsbility for this instead of blaming others for it.

    Our friends on the right side of the aisle are always harping on personal responsibility.

    Well folks – this IS personal responsibility.

    Part of our responsibility to our creator and to our kids, the younger generation – is to protect what we were given and insure that our kids and their kids can also prosper.

    You wouldn't throw trash in the street in front of your house – right?

    so why should you essentially to that to people's homes in WVA just so you get cheaper electricity?

  21. Anonymous Avatar

    "And the reason why our electricity is cheaper is because it is subsidized by blasting off mountaintops in WVA and spewing mercury in our Rivers and the Chesapeake Bay."

    Those are not subsidies, they ar unpid negative externalities. They go in the second term on the right.

    Total Costs = Production Costs + External Costs + Government Costs.

    If you can raise the production costs by increasing the amount of pollution control and limiting the source of energy. This will probably also increase teh Government Cost.

    It only makes sense to reduce the external costs if the alternative is cheaper. Otherwise total costs go UP and you have LESS money to do other good things which are just as important, and may cost less to accomplish.


  22. Anonymous Avatar

    "…and insure that our kids and their kids can also prosper."

    We can best insure that by not wasting the money we invest for them. You are not going to hunt down and trap every molecule of mercury that resides in a few hundred million tons of coal after it is turned into even more millions of tons of CO2.

    So the only question left is how many ARE you going to hunt down and trap, and at what cost?


  23. Anonymous Avatar

    Having worked many years ago to stop Reserve Mining Company from dumping taconite tailings asbestiform fibers into Lake Superior, I share many of Larry's concerns about blasting off mountain tops and watching mercury leach into waterways.

    But I'm not convinced cheap coal is why Virginians consume more electricity than many other locales. Similarly, I'm not convinced that just raising electric rates to drive down demand makes sense unless we know the root causes of the higher consumption; understand the trade-offs and the impacts on the residents of this state.

    I would certainly agree that lower prices invites more consumption. But so might the presence of the federal government and government IT contractors and Internet network providers, etc. What about plug-in hybrids that so many seem to want? Are there non-price factors that can explain some of the difference in consumption? I find the California situation to be somewhat useful, in that its residents consume less electric power, but certainly not compelling as the "Golden State" is a basket case. Its policies need to be examined carefully.


  24. Anonymous Avatar

    It has been well documented that one major factor in power consumption for an area is the climate. Warm, muggy climates use a lot of power for AC and fridgid climates use more for heat and lights.

    Anyone know what the degree days are for CA vs VA?


  25. ODECanswers Avatar

    I work with ODEC and am on the Cypress Creek Power Station (CCPS) project team. I’m glad to see such involved conversation about this important project, and would like to provide a couple of points of clarification if you all don’t mind.

    ODEC is, indeed, a not-for-profit electric cooperative. However, what distinguishes us from the member cooperatives we serve is the fact that we are a generation and transmission (G&T) cooperative and our member cooperatives (including the aforementioned Rappahannock Electric Cooperative) are distribution cooperatives. (For a map of our service territory, which includes two member cooperatives in the vicinity of this project, please see page 3 of the PDF located here:

    We are charged with providing our member systems (nine in VA and one each in MD and DE) and the consumer-members (our equivalent of an investor-owned utility’s customer) they serve with reliable, affordable power.

    Wholesale energy is volatile and expensive, and Virginia is the second-largest importer of electricity (behind only California). Our concerted demand response efforts to encourage efficiency and conservation have delayed the need for a project such as this one by several years, but demand in our service territory has grown (and is forecasted to continue growing) at a rate twice that of the national average. Because of this, it has been determined that CCPS is needed in order to meet our consumer-members’ demand in an affordable, reliable and environmentally responsible manner.

    Further driving the need is the fact that two of our member cooperatives – Shenandoah Valley and Rappahannock – may soon start serving a territory that was previously served by Potomac Edison. More about that can be found here:

    Currently, we generate power through partial ownership of two base load generation facilities and three peaking power stations. We also buy energy, including renewable energy, on the wholesale market.

    To see how our current portfolio (including generation facilities and market contracts) stacks up against our members’ demand, check out slide 9 of the presentation that was given at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers public scoping meeting:

    I hope this helps clarify some of the questions you may have. For more information, feel free to visit If you have other questions, please send them to

  26. Anonymous Avatar

    "The fastest-growing renewable-energy source might just be little wooden pellets burned in coal plants. The U.S. is busy exporting them to European utilities who find them a cheaper way to go green than buying wind or solar power, in the WSJ."


  27. Anonymous Avatar

    "The U.S. gets about 98 times as much energy from natural gas and oil as it does from ethanol and biofuels. And measured on a per-unit-of-energy basis, Congress lavishes ethanol and biofuels with subsidies that are 190 times as large as those given to oil and gas.

    There is plenty of evidence to suggest that gasoline with 10% ethanol is already doing real harm. In January, Toyota announced that it was recalling 214,570 Lexus vehicles. The reason: The company found that "ethanol fuels with a low moisture content will corrode the internal surface of the fuel rails." (The rails carry fuel to the engine injectors.) Furthermore, there have been numerous media reports that ethanol-blended gasoline is fouling engines in lawn mowers, weed whackers and boats."

    Robert Bryce, in the Wall Street Journal


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