Dominion to seek air permit for proposed Chesterfield gas plant

By: - September 14, 2023 12:04 am

Proposed southern view of the Chesterfield Energy Reliability Center, adjacent to the existing Chesterfield Power Station. (Dominion Energy)

Dominion Energy’s plans to build a new natural gas plant in Chesterfield will require a state permit for major new sources of emissions, state air quality regulators said Wednesday.

Mike Dowd, the Department of Environmental Quality’s director of air and renewable energy, told the State Air Pollution Control Board the plant will require a prevention of significant deterioration, or PSD, permit. 

Over the summer, Dominion revived plans for a new natural gas plant that would be sited adjacent to its fossil fuel facility in Chesterfield County, saying the facility is needed to meet a projected increase in electricity demand from data centers and electric vehicles. Because the new units are intended to generate power when the grid is experiencing peak demand, they are called peakers.

“This project, the Chesterfield Reliable Energy Center, is all about reliability and keeping our customers’ lights on, especially on the hottest and coldest day of the year,” said Dominion spokesperson Jeremy Slayton. “We need a balanced energy mix with renewables and always ready natural gas working hand in hand.”

The plans call for four simple cycle combustion turbines capable of generating 250 megawatts of electricity each. Natural gas would be the primary fuel source, with oil and possibly hydrogen as backups. 

There would also be six generators and eight oil storage tanks that would be able to provide fuel for about seven days. Dowd said the storage is needed in case a cold snap like the one experienced throughout Virginia around Christmas 2022 limits the availability of natural gas for power plants. 

“That’s why they say they need the oil, because gas can get curtailed,” Dowd said.

The units would be equipped with several emission controls, including nitrogen oxide burners. With the controls, the peaker plant would produce 81.6 tons of particulate matter, 344.9 tons of nitrogen oxide and 2.2 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalents per year, among other emissions. 

Even with the new emissions from the peaker plant, DEQ said Dominion’s closure of its coal-fired units at its existing plant on May 31 will result in a net reduction in particulate matter and nitrogen oxides from both locations, although it will still lead to an increase in carbon dioxide equivalents.

Glen Besa, a Chesterfield resident and former director of the Virginia chapter of the Sierra Club, speaks with reporters during a protest with a caricature of Dominion Chair, President and CEO Bob Blue over his left shoulder. (Charlie Paullin/Virginia Mercury).

Environmental groups like the Chesapeake Climate Action Network and the Virginia chapter of the Sierra Club have sharply criticized the peaker plant on the grounds that it goes against the goal of the Virginia Clean Economy Act, which requires Dominion to decarbonize its grid by midcentury.

“I don’t know about you but I’m very concerned about climate change, speaking as a citizen of Virginia and speaking as a citizen of the planet,” said Glen Besa, a Chesterfield resident and former director of the Virginia chapter of the Sierra Club, Wednesday. “I find it inconceivable that our utility would be pursuing a plan that would double greenhouse gas emissions when every day we’re seeing disasters.”

Slayton told the Mercury Dominion remains committed to renewables, noting more than 85% of the new power sources the utility is planning over the next 15 years will be zero-carbon. The utility is also investing in one of the nation’s largest offshore wind projects, thousands of megawatts of solar, and numerous battery projects, including the nation’s largest clean energy project at an airport. However, Slayton said, the utility still must ensure grid reliability.

The Chesterfield County branch of the NAACP has also opposed the new units, saying fossil fuel infrastructure disproportionately impacts people of color.  

“This community has endured close to 80 years of air and water pollution associated with Dominion’s recently retired coal plant,” said Nicole Martin, president of the Chesterfield County NAACP, in a statement. “They don’t deserve to be burdened with another polluting fossil fuel power plant in their backyard when alternatives exist.”

Dominion included an environmental justice analysis in its application and is “committed to ongoing public engagement,” Dowd told the board. 

Slayton said the company held an open house for the project in June, with additional public meetings planned, and has also met with community organizations and residents.

DEQ will begin reviewing Dominion’s permit application after the utility receives local approval for the project, which is expected by this year’s end.

Although the air board no longer has the power to issue or deny air permits, Dowd offered the presentation to the citizen body Wednesday because DEQ deemed the utility’s application “controversial.”

The 2022 state law that transferred authority for issuing air permits from the air board to DEQ defines a controversial permit as “a major modification to an existing source that is a fossil fuel-fired generating facility with a capacity of 500 megawatts or more.” 


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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.