New hydroelectric plant could come to Tazewell County

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Tazewell County is one of two possible locations for a hydroelectric power plant in the coalfield region of Southwest Virginia.  The plant would be built by Dominion Energy.  The company is looking to create a pumped hydroelectric storage facility and is conducting in-depth studies on locations in Tazewell and Wise Counties.

A preliminary permit was filed with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), for the Tazewell location on Wednesday, Sept. 6, 2017.  That site would be 4,100-acres.  The company already owns 2,600 acres in the area near East River Mountain that was bought in 2009 for another electric generation project.

“The FERC application for the Tazewell site will allow us to proceed with the rigorous environmental, geological, archeological and technical studies, while further assessing the economics of the project,” said Mark D. Mitchell, Dominion Energy’s vice president-Generation Construction. “We expect to make a decision on which site to advance by mid-2018.”

The FERC application allows for detailed “on-the-ground” studies of the property in Tazewell County and additional parcels of land needed for the project, with permission from the current landowners.  The studies will determine if the site is viable to proceed with a FERC license application later in 2018.  

According to a release from Dominion Energy, preliminary estimates for a single facility put the cost at $2 billion.  It would also provide millions of dollars in tax revenue for counties in the coalfield region.  The project would also create hundreds of jobs during construction and up to 50 permanent jobs when the facility is completed.

The Tazewell site could support more than one configuration, including different-sized pumped storage facilities.  Its flexibility enables the company to determine the best environmental, technical and economic solution.

Hydroelectric storage, also known as pumped storage, works by storing water in an upper reservoir.  When electricity is needed, water is released to a lower body of water, spinning turbines to produce electricity.  When power demand is low, the water is pumped back to the upper reservoir.  The station is best described as a large-scale rechargeable battery, where power is stored and then released when needed.  The “on-demand” nature of pumped storage makes it an appealing resource, adding diversity to Dominion Energy’s generating fleet.

The other possible location for the plant is in Wise County, Virginia.  It is the abandoned Bullitt mine site near Appalachia, VA.  That will be studied by Virginia Tech.

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