Dominion Energy has narrowed its search for a site for a hydroelectric pumped storage facility to Tazewell County.
Dominion officials said Tuesday the energy company dropped its consideration of the Bullitt mine site in Wise County and is now focused on a spot in Tazewell County on East River Mountain where Dominion already owns most of the property. If the station were located there, it would take about 10 years to complete the project.
Pumped storage facilities move water to create energy during peak electricity times. Dominion already operates the Bath County Pumped Storage Station, the most powerful such plant in the world. It creates about 3,000 megawatts of energy — enough to power 750,000 homes. The one in Tazewell would be about 800 megawatts.
Dominion is now in the process of studying additional environmental aspects, such as water sources, said Spencer Adkins, director of generation projects. The Richmond-based company has its eyes on Wolf Creek in Bland County as the water supply for the facility. It had previously considered using a flooded coal mine in Amonate, but it didn’t have an adequate amount of water.
Dominion has to go through the Department of Environmental Quality to make sure there isn’t a negative effect on Wolf Creek. This could take about two years.
“Environmental stewardship is important to us at Dominion,” said Dominion spokesman Jeremy Slayton.
The rugged terrain often works against economic development and infrastructure efforts in Southwest Virginia. But it’s important to building closed-loop hydropower plants.
“One thing you definitely need to have if you’re going to have pumped storage is topographic features where you have an upper reservoir that is very much higher than your lower reservoir, so when you release that water, there’s enough force to turn the turbines to produce electricity,” Adkins said. “So in that part of Southwest Virginia, there’s a lot of mountains.”
The hydroelectric pumped storage facility has been a project the Southwest Virginia lawmakers have been working on as they work to promote energy development following the decline in the coal industry.
In 2017, then-Gov. Terry McAuliffe signed legislation from Del. Terry Kilgore, R-Scott, and Sen. Ben Chafin, R-Russell, that would fast-track pumped storage facilities amid a push by coalfields legislators to bring jobs and economic development to the far Southwest Virginia region. This encouraged Dominion to look to Southwest Virginia to build a new hydroelectric facility.
The state legislation requires a renewable component, but it doesn’t specify how much renewable energy needs to be generated as long as it’s fed into the grid. Adkins said what kind of renewable energy, how much and where it would be located would be determined later.
Last year, President Donald Trump signed legislation from U.S. Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-Salem, aimed at expediting the permitting process for closed-loop hydropower plants. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission would have to make a decision on a hydropower project within two years of its application being submitted.
Dominion filed a preliminary permit with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for the Tazewell County location in 2017, and it will submit a pre-application document with the commission this fall.
Griffith was hopeful a mine would be used, but said he’s pleased the project is still moving forward in Tazewell.
“We won’t look a gift horse in the mouth,” Griffith said.
Dominion had been working with Virginia Tech to study whether the abandoned Bullitt mine site in Appalachia could be suitable for a similar project. This facility would involve using old underground mine passages as the lower reservoir for a pumped storage facility — a design that’s never been used before. A study determined the site wouldn’t support the desired scale of the facility.
If the project in Tazewell County gets approval, it is estimated that more than 2,000 jobs would be created during the five to seven years of construction. About 30 to 50 permanent jobs would be created.
The annual tax revenue would be $12 million, and it would be split among localities: 22% to Tazewell County, 16% to Wise County, 12% to Buchanan, Lee, Russell and Scott counties, 10% to Dickenson County and 4% to Norton.
“Throughout this process, our top priorities have been and continue to be job creation, economic opportunity, and investments in our communities,” Chafin, Kilgore and Del. Todd Pillion, R-Washington, said in a joint statement.
The legislators said this revenue will provide a boost to schools, law enforcement and other local needs.
This past legislative session, Chafin and Kilgore got a bill passed to create the Southwest Virginia Energy Research and Development Authority to fuel energy technology research and development. Among its tasks will be supporting the hydropower plant.
“Through these projects and initiatives, we are working to provide solutions to challenges and needs in our communities right now and forming a foundation to address workforce, economic, and educational needs that can help thrust Southwest Virginia to the future — and the forefront — of energy research and development,” Chafin, Kilgore and Pillion said in their statement.