Local environmentalists mount opposition to planned power plant
Some have protested in front of the White House and chained themselves to buildings; others have walked across the country to raise awareness to climate change.
Now the group has something local to help them mobilize: a new power plant.
Founded in June, 350 Loudoun is a local group of 350.org that promotes combating climate change.
“We got together April 21 to watch the documentary “Do the Math” about climate change,” said chairperson Natalie Pien. “We knew we couldn't come away with this knowledge and do nothing.”
In December, a member saw an advertisement about a new natural gas plant. Frustrated at what they felt was a plant that was sneaked through approval procedures, they immediately mobilized to collect signatures in opposition to bring to the State Corporation Commission's March 11 hearing on the plant.
Pien said many residents nearby didn't even know they were moving into an area where a power plant had been approved to be built.
“I like the idea of locally produced energy, but it's using the wrong energy source,” Pien said. “It's still a fossil fuel and now that we know how it's gotten, through fracking, it's even worse.”
Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is a technique that utilizes chemicals and pressure to extract fossil fuels from the ground.
The power plant was the brainchild of John Andrews of Green Energy/Stonewell in 2008. A 750-megawatt plant, it will use natural gas to power turbines and utilize the Town of Leesburg's wastewater as a coolant, ultimately pushing power on the electrical grid. The plant will be built on Gant Lane south of Leesburg, just off of Sycolin on 200 acres.
The project was approved by the Board of Supervisors in 2010.
“We have natural gas lines, so let's utilize that,” Andrews said. “I oppose coal. Natural gas does not give off the heavy metals into the environment.”
Since its inception, the project has picked up Maryland-based Bechtel to construct the plant and Dallas-based Panda Power will act as the owner/operator.
In addition to approval from the Board of Supervisors, the power plant has also received a non-attainment permit exception, since Northern Virginia is in a non-attainment zone, and a significant deterioration permit, granted for areas that may have high emissions, from the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality.
James LaFratta, regional air permit manager for DEQ, explained the process is actually quite lengthy, requiring companies create a model with emissions and meteorological data, ensuring no EPA standards are violated.
LaFratta acknowledges that power plants inherently release pollutants, including particulates, hydrocarbon and nitrogen oxide but notes that the plant will be required to offset the emissions on at least a 1:1 ratio.
And while 350 Loudoun complains about the lack of transparency in developing the plant, LaFratta says there were published notices printed in February 2013 and a public hearing was held shortly thereafter in April.
“That doesn't mean people didn't see it, but we followed administrative procedure,” LaFratta said. “No opposition was made known to us.”
Andrews said it seemed to him that 350 Loudoun is against fossil fuel use in general, a statement Pien would probably agree with.
“Every time you invest money in fossil fuel plants, that's delaying alternative energies,” Pien said. “350 Loudoun's objective is to facilitate the transition to clean, renewable energy.”
Both sides must now wait to see if the plant earns a certificate of public convenience and necessity from the SCC, a process that could take three more months.
Pien and her group say they will continue to campaign for alternative energy sources, while Andrews is planning for construction to begin in June, but is willing to discuss any issues people may have in person.
If the plant gets built, it will be subject to regular inspections and emissions testing from the Virginia DEQ.
Currently, the project is slated to be completed in 2017.
CORRECTION: The article originally stated the plant was going to be built in Leesburg. It will actually be built 4 miles south of the corporate limits. The Times-Mirror regrets this error.