Monday, March 27, 2023

Sierra Club petitions to block use of Yorktown coal plants

A view of the Yorktown Power Station. (Photo courtesy of Dominion Virginia Power)
A view of the Yorktown Power Station. (Photo courtesy of Dominion Virginia Power)

The Sierra Club has filed a motion with the Department of Energy asking the federal government to reconsider an emergency order granted last month to fire up two coal-powered plants in Yorktown.

The petition filed July 13 states the organization aims to “protect its interests in reducing pollution” by convincing the government to reassess the order. 

According to the group’s website, “the Sierra Club is now the nation’s largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization — with three million members and supporters.”

An administrative order from the Environmental Protection Agency permitted the plants to operate only through April 15. The company which controls the plants, Dominion Energy, was forced to shut them down to comply with the federal Mercury and Air Toxics Standards rule, which is designed to reduce air chemical emissions at coal-fired power plants.

Two months after the plants were shut down, the Department of Energy granted regional electrical transmission company PJM permission to keep the two coal-fired plants operating, according to PJM spokesman Ray Dotter. 

PJM monitors the electric grid in 13 states and Washington D.C. The company directs power producers, like Dominion, to add more energy into the grid when it becomes needed, Dominion spokeswoman Bonita Billingsley Harris said. 

The June order allowing the coal plants to operate will be reviewed and renewed on a 90-day basis. Dominion Energy says it plans to run the plants in only in “emergency situations,” while the company builds power lines over the James River, a $185 million project called the Surry-Skiffes Creek Connector.

“Limited operations of the plants is not a long-term solution,” Dotter said. “It’s not running them every day, it’s running them when there’s an emergency.”

In the June 16 order, Secretary of Energy Rick Perry said he determined that an emergency existed in Virginia due to a shortage of electricity, and facilities capable of producing electricity.

However, the Sierra Club’s petition makes clear their disagreement with Perry’s assessment.

“The Department has not demonstrated that an emergency exists sufficient to justify issuance of [the order],” stated the Sierra Club in the petition. “The circumstances described by the order are neither unexpected nor unusual.”

Emergency or not, Dominion said the operation of the coal plants are a necessity, especially during summer heat.

“It’s a short-term solution and clearly a band aid solution,” Harris said. “We’re looking for a long-term solution.”

With the heat index hovering around 100 degrees, Harris says keeping the coal plants running is vital for the health and safety of the region. She said the plants were fired up on Wednesday and Thursday. They were also powered last week.

“We just feel like it’s incredibly irresponsible and reckless,” Harris said of the motion. “Clearly we have been doing the best we can to get Yorktown closed, but not at the expense of the residents.”

WYDaily archives were used in this article. 

Correction: An earlier version of this article referred to the company PJM as an electrical distribution company. The company oversees distribution of power throughout the grid, but is a transmission organization, not distribution. 

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