A hydrogen plant could rise near a former King George coal plant

Company looking at surrounding property for hydrogen, data centers

By: - September 15, 2022 12:05 am

The coal-fired Birchwood Power Plant in King George was once being converted to a solar and storage facility. (Free Lance-Star)

Efforts to convert the site of a former coal plant in King George County into a solar and storage facility are being rerouted to develop the parcels surrounding it for an emerging power source: a hydrogen plant.

Clark Lemming, a Stafford-based land attorney representing Green Energy Ventures, LLC, told the Virginia Mercury Tuesday the company plans to submit a rezoning application to King George at the end of September for the four parcels surrounding the Birchwood Power Plant property. 

The parcels, totaling about 230 acres, are currently zoned agricultural. Green Energy is asking them to be rezoned for industrial use.

Solar “requires acres and acres and acres to produce the same quantity of power that a much, much smaller hydrogen plant facility can produce,” Lemming said.

While Lemming provided only limited details of the project, he said the hydrogen plant would support a data center campus on the properties while also producing additional power that would be available.

The efficiency of hydrogen plants has been debated. Hydrogen projects are classified based on the different ways they produce energy. Green hydrogen is generated by splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen using power solely from renewable sources. Blue hydrogen converts natural gas to hydrogen and carbon dioxide by using heat, steam and pressure. Gray hydrogen is made from fossil fuels and doesn’t capture carbon emissions during production like blue hydrogen does.

Hydrogen power plants are in their infancy, with the only prior plans to produce electricity from hydrogen in Virginia linked to the now-canceled Chickahominy Power Station. The developer of that project, Balico, initially planned to fuel the facility solely through natural gas but later entered an agreement to design the plant so that it could be converted to use hydrogen. 

In February, a U.S. Senate committee expressed bipartisan support for using hydrogen fuel in the U.S.

The potential hydrogen plant would come with an additional water treatment plant built by Green Energy Ventures and then conveyed to King George to supply not only the plant but also data centers and manufacturing facilities.

Water is in high demand for data centers, which use it in large quantities to cool their servers. As data centers continue to multiply in Northern Virginia, already the data center capital of the world, water usage needs to be watched, said Lemming. In King George, water could be withdrawn from the nearby Rappahannock River to supply the new treatment plant instead of relying on deep wells, he added. 

The hydrogen plant proposal would not involve the property that contains the Birchwood Power Plant owned by Birchwood Power Partners, an affiliate of J-POWER USA, itself a subsidiary of Tokyo-headquartered power producer J-POWER. 

The Birchwood Power Plant was a coal-fired power plant that produced energy for Dominion from November 1996 until it was deactivated in March of 2021. Plans then called for turning the plant’s land into a solar and energy storage facility.

Green Energy Ventures initially reached out to Birchwood Power Partners with the hope of developing the site as a data center campus. 

However, negotiations ran into difficulties, and in July, Green Energy Ventures filed a lawsuit in Richmond City Circuit Court claiming that Birchwood Power Partners had broken a confidentiality agreement the two had signed during negotiations for the purchase of the property. 

Birchwood had disclosed “GEV’s confidential information concerning the concept of developing a data center campus on the Birchwood Property to a competitor of GEV,” Charlie Lee, an attorney representing Green Energy Ventures, wrote in the suit.

Green Energy Ventures claimed Birchwood then used that proprietary information to increase the market value of the land from $40 million to $150 million.

Court filings show the companies “entered into a settlement agreement” on Aug. 10, although the terms of the agreement were not available. 

Lee confirmed by email that the “case is resolved and is being dismissed.”

Green Energy Ventures was created as a subsidiary of Green Energy Partners, LLC, to develop the data center campus on the Birchwood plant property, but the latter has been dissolved and only the former remains, Lemming said.

Birchwood Power Partners has faced scrutiny from King George officials over its plans to rezone the former plant property, as reported by the Fredericksburg Free Lance Star.

King George County issued a special use permit in 1991 for the plant to be operated on the agriculturally zoned land, but no other uses were allowed as part of a proffered condition. 

The process to remove the proffer is underway alongside an effort to rezone the land from agricultural to industrial, but the Board of Supervisors, which discussed initial plans to repurpose the property for solar, agreed to delay the rezoning at the request of Birchwood Power Partners at the end of last month.

Attempts to reach Birchwood attorney Ann Neil Cosby were unsuccessful.

King George County Administrator Christopher Hill declined to comment until the proposal is placed before the county, preferring not to respond to “speculation or rumors.”

GET THE MORNING HEADLINES DELIVERED TO YOUR INBOX

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Charlie Paullin
Charlie Paullin

Charles Paullin covers energy and environment for the Mercury. He previously worked for Northern Virginia Daily in the Northern Shenandoah Valley and for the New Britain Herald in central Connecticut. An Alexandria native, Charles graduated from the University of Hartford initially wanting to cover sports. He's received several Virginia Press Association awards for his coverage of crime, local government and state politics. Catch him in nature experiencing all the outdoors has to offer, and contact him at [email protected]

MORE FROM AUTHOR