Sunday, October 1, 2023

Dominion seeks permits to build new power plant in Chesterfield

$600 million gas 'peaker' plant would operate during times of high consumption


A rendering of Dominion Energy’s planned $600 million peaking power plant in Chesterfield County. Courtesy of Dominion Energy

Dominion Energy has filed an air permit application with the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality to build a $600 million combustion turbine peaking power plant in Chesterfield County near Dutch Gap.

The four proposed natural gas peaking units – also known as peakers – would only produce electricity during periods of high demand. The plant would generate nearly 1,000 megawatts, enough to power 250,000 homes, and would be built in two phases. The first phase would be operational by spring 2023 and the second phase would be operational by spring 2024.

According to Dominion officials, the new plant is necessary to supplement energy produced by renewable resources during periods when energy usage is highest, such as the early morning and early evening hours. For example, solar photovoltaic energy is generated while the sun is shining, but drops off as electricity demand peaks in the evenings when people return home from work and use electric appliances.

As the utility company moves toward renewable energy and shutters coal-fired units, officials say peaking units are needed to augment the power generated by renewable resources – those that essentially have an endless supply, such as wind, solar and geothermal – when there’s a lack of sunlight or low wind speed.

The push for this new peaker plant comes as Dominion has committed to generating 3,000 megawatts – enough to power 750,000 homes – through solar and wind energy by 2022, and has vowed to reduce carbon emissions 55% by 2030 and 80% by 2050. Dominion is also partnering with Orsted Energy to develop the first offshore wind project in the mid-Atlantic off the coast of Virginia Beach. Additionally, Gov. Ralph Northam signed an executive order in September that set the goal of Virginia providing 100% of its electricity from carbon-free resources by 2050.

“We’re decreasing carbon, we’re leaning more on renewables, and renewables at times can have very intermittent production,” says Jeremy Slayton, a Dominion spokesman. “There’s going to be days where the wind isn’t quite blowing as strong as we need to generate the power that’s needed. There are going to be peak demand times during the course of the day where these combustion turbine peaker units are going to … help fill the gap of the intermittency of renewables. These peaker plants are a great partner to the renewables that we keep bringing online.”

Locally, Dominion retired coal-fired units 3 and 4 at the Chesterfield Power Station earlier this year, and is considering the closure of units 5 and 6, the last of its coal-fired units in the county, in 2023. Throughout Virginia, Dominion currently operates nearly 1,600 megawatts of solar facilities, including 2,500 kilowatts in Chesterfield.

Though natural gas is a nonrenewable fossil fuel, Dominion officials say it’s the energy source that makes the most sense for the peaker plant, as it takes less than 10 minutes to get up and running when needed. Dominion is filing permits that would allow each unit to run 1,800 hours a year.

Dominion is currently in negotiations for roughly 50 acres of land near the Chesterfield Power Station for the peaking plant, and owns a backup site should those talks fall through. The new plant is expected to generate $2.1 million in local tax revenue for Chesterfield, and result in 25 direct, indirect and induced jobs annually, Dominion says.

Peakers are nothing new in the world of energy generation, and Dominion Energy already operates peakers in Caroline County, Fauquier County and other Virginia localities. Though natural gas produces much lower global warming emissions from its combustion than coal or oil, the drilling and extraction of natural gas from wells and its transportation in pipelines results in methane leakage, which “is 34 times stronger than CO2 at trapping heat over a 100-year period and 86 times stronger over 20 years,” according to the nonprofit science advocacy organization Union of Concerned Scientists.

At the same time, some question the use of peakers over other more environmentally friendly forms of energy storage, such as hydroelectric dams, which store energy by pumping water between reservoirs. Utilities have used this model for decades, including Dominion, which owns the largest pumped-storage power station in the world in Bath County.

There’s also battery storage, which captures generated energy for use at a later time. Once very expensive, the cost of battery storage has dropped dramatically recently, declining in price by 76% since 2012, according to data compiled by the nonprofit news organization Climate Central. Energy storage has a rapid response, and can usually discharge energy faster than fossil fuel sources.

Dominion officials say that battery storage technology is too costly, and wouldn’t work yet at the scale the utility needs in Chesterfield.

“We are piloting some battery storage projects, but right now, the battery storage technology is still fairly new, and so those costs are higher,” Slayton says.

Eric Conner, a manager of power generation construction projects with Dominion Energy, says that while “pumped hydro” is an option – Dominion recently proposed a pumped hydroelectric storage power station at a site in Tazewell County – obtaining permits and regulatory approval takes years, meaning building such a plant could take roughly a decade before its fully operational. Pumped hydro facilities also require large amounts of land and a specific terrain.

Regarding the proposed peakers, Conner says these units are better than those of previous generations.

“They’re best in class technology, they’re more emissions-friendly than units that would have been built in 2000, they have better heat rates, so the efficiency of these units is better,” he says.

Reached for comment, Tim Cywinski, spokesman for the Sierra Club’s Virginia Chapter, said the plant was a step in the wrong direction.

“Every time they pursue a new fossil fuel infrastructure or carbon polluting infrastructure, it makes it that much harder for Virginia to reach our goal of carbon-free electricity by 2050,” he says. “This is at odds with our carbon-free electricity goals. It’s also spending $600 million on something that will ultimately have to be retired, and that will be paid for by consumers. It’s an irresponsible move.”

Dominion filed for an air quality permit with the DEQ Friday afternoon. The utility will also have to put out a request for proposals to construct the plant, then receive approval from the State Corporation Commission before construction can begin. Public comment periods will be a part of the process, Dominion officials say, with the first likely taking place in early spring.

“This thing is not going to happen behind closed doors,” says Conner, “and we don’t want it to.” |

12 responses to “Dominion seeks permits to build new power plant in Chesterfield”

  1. Tom Keys says:

    No to more fossil fuels power plants!

    • Mike Conradcon says:

      Natural gas is essentially free in many locations now, notoriously so in West Texas and Southern Louisiana. The only cost is getting it here by pipeline. It’s produced as a by-product from oil drilling. Flaring it off is incredibly wasteful. Putting it to use is much more responsible.

  2. Mark Gardner says:

    Renewable sources alone cannot meet demand Mr. Keys.

    • Jane Twitmyer says:

      Storage and reduced demand with demand response and efficient buildings can. CA is actually closing ‘peakers’.

      • Doug says:

        Since I read the entire article… I believe Dominion clearly stated that battery storage and other storage methods are getting better, but are still too expensive and also don’t provide enough available power for key high demand times during the day. Virginia, especially in the Richmond and immediate surrounding area, has tremendous population growth and business development going on right now. We’re going to need these peakers to get by for a while. Renewable energy sources are always going to need other methods to work in partnership. Please don’t assume that California is the authority on this topic, or any other for that matter. Their current governor is running that state like it’s not part of the union.

  3. Kay L Ferguson says:

    Dominion is always “planning” to build renewable power infrastructure and always “actively” building more fossil fuel infrastructure as fast as its chokehold on Virginia government will allow. Let’s talk about peaker plants after Dominion seriously begins the renewable development they only yammer about. New “lower emissions” gas plants still mean higher emissions. Higher emissions now mean catastrophic warming and climate change consequences and mass extinction. And let us remember the damage to water – the new oil in the world we are facing – of fracking the natural gas that would fuel these plants.

  4. Stephanie Malady says:

    Dominion just can’t seem to quit the fossil fuel habit, despite the damage they knows they’re causing. They are intent on getting as many quick profit fixes and a guaranteed supply, at our expense, to feed their addiction. Dominion needs an intervention and Virginians, as good family stewards, need to be the ones to put them in recovery. We must demand an end to all new fossil fuel builds that only delay our chances of ending our own enabling of the catastrophic destruction of fossil fuels. It’s simply beyond time.
    To quote from an October 2018 GE Transform article, Storage Threat to Peaker Plants, “I can’t see a reason why we should ever build a gas peaker again in the US after, say, 2025,” Shayle Kann, a senior adviser to the energy research firms GTM Research and Wood Mackenzie, said at Greentech Media’s Energy Storage Summit in December. “If you think about how energy storage starts to take over the world, peaking is kind of your first big market.”
    In the US alone, batteries could overtake peaking plants in as little as four [now three] years, a recent study by GTM Research and Wood Mackenzie suggested….in 2022, energy storage will compete head-on with new gas peaking plants…”Peakers are expensive,” Kann said. “Energy storage is starting to get very close to the point where it can just beat a gas peaker, head-to-head, purely on an economic basis.”

  5. Laura says:

    With their billions in profits, you would think Dominion could hire a spokesperson with a solid command of the English language. “There’s going to be days where the wind isn’t quite blowing . . .”? No, “There ARE going to be days (plural) . . .”

    As previous posters have pointed out, Dominion also needs to be introduced to battery-storage technology. Then they won’t need to repeat their tired old tropes about the sun shining/not shining and the wind blowing/not blowing.

    Dominion just canceled other plans for peaking capacity due to the glut of fracked gas that their false, exaggerated demand forecasts helped to create. S&P Global recently reported on their and other energy corporations’ inflated projections that they use to over-build fossil fuel infrastructure to reward their shareholders:

  6. Gaius Baltar says:

    it also further ensnares us to the need for pipelines and more fracking, as that gas doesn’t frack it itself, but that’s exactly what the gas industry needs to do is go frack itself.

  7. MIKE UZEL says:

    On the surface, it sounds to me like Dominion wants a facility to justify the pipelines it is involved in building across Virginia.

  8. Carl says:

    This is dumb in that Australia is already expanding a 129 mega wait battery storage plant by 50%.

    Also Tesla is making 22 gigawatts of batteries a year and expanding production and has plans of building a sires of giant power plant sized battery plants.

    This natural gas plant will be worthless in five to ten years at the rate of the expansion of battery plants.

    New York City and LA are in talks of getting a 500 megawatt hour storage plant and a 4,000 megawatt hour plant.

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