by Brandon Jarvis

Dominion Energy is trying to build a new gas-fired power plant near Dutch Gap in Chesterfield County, but nine Central Virginia legislators released a joint statement opposing the idea. Dominion says they are working hard to convert to clean energy and lower emissions while not risking the power supply to their customers.

The statement’s signatories are Sen. Ghazala Hashmi, D-Chesterfield, Del. Debra Gardner, D-Chesterfield, Sen. Lamont Bagby, D-Richmond, Sen. Lashresce Aird, D-Petersburg, Del. Rodney Willet, D-Henrico, Del. Betsy Carr, D-Richmond, Del. Delores McQuinn, D-Richmond, Del. Michael Jones, D-Richmond and Del. Rae Cousins, D-Richmond.

“After reviewing materials and information provided by Dominion Energy, environmental organizations, and other energy providers, General Assembly members of the Central Virginia region express opposition to Dominion Energy’s plans to construct a gas-fired power plant in Chesterfield County,” the legislators wrote. “With respect, we acknowledge that numerous local officials (Chesterfield County’s planning department, the planning commission, and the elected County Board of Supervisors) hold authority for reviewing and deciding on the company’s conditional use permit.”

State legislators have no control over whether the plant is approved, but this group says they felt the need to express their concerns and how it could impact the state’s environment.

The Chesterfield Board of Supervisors needs to approve Dominion’s application. Additionally, Dominion will need an air permit from the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality and approval from the State Corporation Commission.

“As members of the General Assembly, our concerns focus on the impact this proposed plant has on statewide efforts to reduce fossil fuel usage, lower carbon emissions, enforce the Commonwealth’s policy on environmental justice, and pursue renewable energy sources and technologies,” the group wrote. “This proposed construction runs counter to the measures the Commonwealth has taken recently to lower carbon emissions and to diversify energy production and storage. In 2020, the Virginia General Assembly passed the Virginia Clean Economy Act (VCEA). This legislation requires Dominion Energy to deliver electricity from 100% renewable sources by 2045.”

The VCEA mandates four actions in order for Virginia to reach carbon-free electricity. Fully decarbonizing Virginia’s electricity grid and shuttering the most polluting plants by 2045, establishing aggressive efficiency standards for electricity use in the state while protecting low-income households, Incentivizing a broad expansion of rooftop solar generation across the state and kickstarting a massive offshore wind industry with firm ratepayer protections.

The lawmakers say Dominion’s plan to build this new plant “undermines” Virginia’s ability to reach those goals.

“Dominion supplies electricity to nearly 80% of the state; the utility must, therefore, take a prominent leadership role in the transition to clean, affordable, and reliable energy for the millions of Virginians it serves,” they wrote. “The plant is expected to generate significant air pollution in the surrounding community which includes an elementary school and a disproportionate number of low-income households and households of color. Through the Virginia Environmental Justice Act (2020), the Commonwealth established that environmental justice, with its focus on environmental justice and fenceline communities, is the policy of the Commonwealth. We have a fundamental responsibility to ensure that environmental justice is a key criteria of any permitting decisions.”

Dominion says that renewable energy cannot meet the requirements to supply energy for all their customers.

“Renewables alone cannot keep our customers’ power on 24/7, especially with power demand nearly doubling over the coming decades,” a spokesperson for Dominion said in a written statement to Virginia Scope. “That is why we need an all-of-the-above, balanced approach that advances the clean-energy transition, but without sacrificing on reliability. Most Virginians agree that combining renewables with carbon-free nuclear and always-reliable natural gas is a responsible, common sense approach.”

According to Dominion, 95% of the power plants they plan to build are carbon-free.

“The Chesterfield Energy Reliability Center represents part of the 5 percent of new power plants that will be natural gas,” the Dominion spokesperson says.

The legislators concluded their statement by saying they felt compelled to speak up as supporters of the VCEA.

“As current state legislators who support the Virginia Clean Economy Act as the law of Virginia and who are concerned with impacts of climate change and air pollution on the health, economy, and well-being of our Commonwealth, we are compelled to be on record in opposition to a new gas-fired plant in Chesterfield County, and we encourage Dominion to lead the way forward to a true clean energy transition.”

Dominion says they are committed to transitioning to clean energy and lowering emissions as quickly as possible, but they will not sacrifice keeping their customers’ power on during the process.

“Dominion Energy is all-in on renewables. We’re building the largest offshore wind project in North America,” their spokesperson says. “We have the second largest solar fleet in the country, and it’s growing at a faster pace than any other utility in the country. We have made tremendous progress in reducing emissions, and we are transitioning to clean energy as fast as we can. We will not sacrifice our responsibility to keep our customers’ power on along the way.”

By vascope