President Donald Trump signed into law Tuesday legislation crafted by U.S. Rep. Morgan Griffith aimed at expediting the permitting process for closed-loop hydropower plants.

Dominion Energy is evaluating two hydroelectric pumped storage facility projects in Virginia’s coalfields, and the “Promoting Closed-Loop Pumped Storage Hydropower Act” would help speed up the process. Griffith, R-Salem, said in a statement the legislation offers “common-sense reform” to the licensing procedure.

“These projects provide renewable energy and can potentially use existing infrastructure, including abandoned mines,” Griffith said. “Enactment of this legislation opens doors for economic development and for an ‘all of the above’ energy policy.”

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, but it is examining two sites in the coalfields for a second, smaller facility.

Under Griffith’s legislation, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission would have to make a decision on a hydropower project within two years of its application being submitted. The legislation could also speed up the environmental review process, which Griffith says are less of a concern considering closed-loop hydropower projects are not connected to naturally flowing water sources.

Dominion filed a preliminary permit with FERC to build a pumped storage facility in Tazewell County, a site on East River Mountain where Dominion already owns most of the property. The company should know by next year whether the facility will be built there. If the station were to be located there, it would take about 10 years for the project to be completed.

The Richmond-based energy company is also 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.

Last year, then-Gov. Terry McAuliffe signed legislation that would fast-track pumped storage facilities amid a push by coalfields legislators to bring jobs and economic development to the region in far Southwest Virginia.

Del. Terry Kilgore, R-Scott, who introduced some of the legislation, said last week that a tax revenue-sharing agreement worked out with coalfield localities will translate to one facility spreading the wealth throughout the region.

“It’s going to affect all of Southwest Virginia, and that’s great,” Kilgore said.

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Amy Friedenberger is the politics reporter for The Roanoke Times. She's been a reporter here since 2014. Previously, she worked for newspapers in Pennsylvania. Follow her on Twitter at @ajfriedenberger.

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