Coal plant splits rural Virginia town
Coal-fired electricity generation has always been a hot-button issue for environmentalists.
Now, a proposed $5-billion-plus coal-fired power plant in southeastern Virginia not far from Colonial Williamsburg has become a deeper controversy pitting haves against have-nots and blacks against whites.
Old Dominion Electric Cooperative, a Henrico County-based group of 14 locally owned electric cooperatives in Virginia, Maryland and Delaware, wants to build the giant power station in Dendron, a tiny town of 300 people in Surry County.
The proposal, which needs some 50 permits, would place two 750-megawatt power stations fired by Appalachian coal a couple of dozen miles away from Colonial Williamsburg, across the James River.
Environmental activists have fought the plant, just as they are fighting a much smaller, $1.5 billion power station being built by Dominion Virginia Power a few hundred miles away in Wise County. The Surry County behemoth would be the largest single industrial polluter in the state. State air pollution officials have already voiced concerns about the levels of toxic mercury the plant would emit into the air and the Chesapeake Bay watershed.
Not long after the project gathered steam last year, "No Coal Plant" signs started showing up in sleepy Dendron. But according to the Virginian-Pilot, residents of Dendron and Surry are actually split on the plant.
African Americans, who make up about half of the county's population, tend to favor the project for the 200 permanent jobs it would create, the Virginian-Pilot says. White residents tend to shun its potential pollution and the noise and dust of 500 train-car loads of coal arriving each week on the Norfolk Southern.
One wonders why the plant is necessary. The Manassas-based Northern Virginia Electric Cooperative, which serves some of the Washington suburbs, severed its ties with ODEC in a contract dispute in late 2008. ODEC, meanwhile, has mounted an aggressive PR campaign that has included plates of barbecue for Surry opinion-makers.
Even more curious is that such a large plant proposed in one of the Old Dominion's nearby backyards hasn't attracted more opposition because of its pollution and potential contributon to global warming. Nonetheless, the ODEC plan is controversial on several levels.
| May 24, 2010; 2:58 PM ET
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