Coal units to be retired in King George, Chesterfield, as pressure to transition from fossil fuels grows

Coal fired units at Dominion Energy's Chesterfield Power Station would close by 2024 under the Clean Economy Act that passed the General Assembly this year (Ryan M. Kelly/ For the Virginia Mercury)

Even before major legislation that would set a timeline for the closure of all of Virginia’s coal plants clears the General Assembly, two coal-burning facilities in Chesterfield and King George have announced retirements.

On Feb. 20, Dominion Energy notified PJM, the regional electric grid operator from which Virginia gets its energy, that it plans to deactivate its two remaining coal units at the Chesterfield Power Station, once the largest fossil-fuel fired power plant in Virginia.

The same week, as first reported by the Free Lance-Star, Birchwood Power Partners also announced plans to close its King George facility, which has been producing energy for Dominion under a power purchase agreement since 1996. 

The plant is slated to close in February 2021. 

A spokesperson for Birchwood Power Partners, which is owned equally by GE Power and JPower USA, attributed the facility’s closure to “market trends and facility economics.”

Coal, long one of Virginia’s most important resources, has declined precipitously from its peak in 1990, when 46.6 million short tons of the fossil fuel were mined in the commonwealth. 

As the domestic fracking boom drove down natural gas prices, energy producers increasingly opted for gas over coal, setting off a slow wave of coal plant closures that eventually coincided with pressure from the public to wean the electric grid off carbon-intensive coal.

In 2018, according to data from the state Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy, only 13 million tons of coal were produced in Virginia.

Dominion has considered closing its two remaining coal units at Chesterfield for some time, including the possibility in several scenarios of its original 2018 Integrated Resource Plan. And under the Virginia Clean Economy Act currently working its way through the General Assembly — legislation supported by Dominion — the utility would be required to retire all of its coal-fired facilities by Dec. 31, 2024. (The co-fired biomass and coal Virginia City Hybrid Energy Center in Wise County would have until Dec. 31, 2030 to close.)

Combined, the Chesterfield and Birchwood retirements will take more than 1.2 gigawatts of coal-fired energy offline. 

Chesterfield Power Station also operates two natural gas units that have not been slated for retirement.