State senator asks attorney general to weigh in on decision to extend natural gas plant’s permit

Environmental groups are opposing a pair of natural gas power plants planned for Charles City County. (Tom Burkett/ River Healers)

A state senator is asking Attorney General Mark Herring’s office to weigh in on whether the state should have extended an air permit for the planned C4GT natural gas plant in Charles City County after its developer hastily poured concrete on the day its permit was set to expire. 

“I believe these questionable actions deserve, at a minimum, official scrutiny,” wrote Sen. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond, who also represents Charles City, in the March 10 letter, which was recently provided to the Mercury. 

“Left unexamined,” she concluded, “I am concerned it will undermine my constituents’ trust in our government’s ability to approve and regulate projects with transparency and without bias.” 

C4GT is one of two private natural gas plants developers plan to build within approximately a mile of each other in Charles City. 

While the facility has been in the works since 2017, it has run into continuous obstacles, and until December, no construction had taken place. Its developer, Michigan-based Novi Energy, in 2019 sought and was granted an extension of its approval by the Virginia State Corporation Commission after facing difficulties obtaining financing. 

Recently, regulators denied a request by Virginia Natural Gas to expand its infrastructure to serve C4GT as well as provide additional gas capacity to other companies unless C4GT was able to secure financing by Dec. 31, 2020. After the company failed to do so, the plans were dropped, leaving the project without a natural gas supply. 

Virginia Natural Gas has since sued C4GT for allegedly breaking the terms of an agreement between the two. 

The plant’s developers have showed reluctance to abandon the project. On Dec. 3, the day C4GT’s air permit from the Department of Environmental Quality was set to expire, the company poured a concrete pad for a fire pump on the site and installed silt fencing. DEQ subsequently granted the project an extension of its permit. 

Based on those events McClellan, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for governor, is now asking Herring to determine whether DEQ should have granted the extension given that “this was the first, and apparently only, action taken at the project’s site to date.” 

Under state law, a permit for a major stationary source of air pollution becomes invalid “if a program of continuous construction or modification is not commenced within 18 months from the date the permit is granted.” 

McClellan has asked Herring to weigh in on “the legality of C4GT’s claims that ‘laying down a concrete pad for a fire pump’ at a site intended to become a massive, billion-dollar gas fired power plant, fulfills the definition of ‘continuous construction’ … and whether DEQ has interpreted and upheld all related regulations.”

A spokesperson for Herring’s office said the attorney general has not yet provided a response. C4GT did not respond to a request for comment.