By Rory D. Sweeney
PJM on Monday secured U.S. Department of Energy approval to dispatch Dominion Energy’s recently shuttered Yorktown coal-fired plant to address potential reliability issues on Virginia’s Middle Peninsula.
Dominion, which closed the plant in April to comply with an EPA mandate, said it anticipated the department’s order and is prepared to restart both units at the plant as necessary.
Energy Secretary Rick Perry granted PJM’s request for a 90-day window to dispatch the units as necessary to “maintain grid reliability,” and the order can be renewed upon request indefinitely if the situation remains unchanged. PJM and Dominion are required to create a dispatch methodology and submit what dates the units are operated, along with estimated emissions and water usage, to the department.
“While this is not a long-term solution to the reliability issues, Dominion Energy supports PJM’s action and the DOE decision, and will work to ensure the units’ availability as required,” Dominion spokesperson Bonita Billingsley Harris said in an emailed statement.
The order stems from Dominion’s difficulty in gaining approval for the proposed Surry-Skiffes Creek 500-kV transmission line across the James River, which has for years faced opposition from local and environmental activists. Approved by the PJM Board of Managers in 2012, the transmission project remains stalled pending permit approval from the Virginia Marine Resources Commission (VMRC) and a waiver from the state Department of Environmental Quality for water quality certification. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issued a conditional permit earlier this month that requires approval from both agencies.
The project will additionally require a special-use permit from the James City County Board of Supervisors. Members of the public will have the opportunity to weigh in during both the VMRC and county permit hearings, Harris said.
Dominion estimates the line would take at least 18 months to construct after all permits are approved. The company had hoped to complete the project prior to closing the Yorktown units, which are among the few generators able to serve load in the populous but isolated North Hampton region.
While Dominion sought to shutter Yorktown by 2014 to avoid expensive emissions upgrades required by EPA’s Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, PJM required the units to remain operational to maintain reliability on the peninsula in the absence of the proposed line. State and EPA approvals extended the shutdown deadline several years, but applicable extensions finally ran out on April 15 and Dominion closed the doors.
Dominion warned that failure to build the line before shutting down the units could result in blackouts, an assertion opponents dismissed as scare tactics. In February, the company provided PJM a regional remedial action scheme that calls for dropping service to approximately 150,000 customers in the event of an emergency in order to prevent potential voltage collapse from N-1-1 contingencies. (See Opposition to Va. Tx Line May Trigger Unintended Consequences.)
The order didn’t catch Dominion by surprise.
“When it became apparent we would not receive approvals in time to complete the new transmission line before the coal units had to be retired, we pursued an aggressive plan of equipment upgrades, enhanced inspections, maintenance scheduling and contingency preparations to protect energy reliability on the Virginia Peninsula until the permanent solution could be put in place,” Harris said.
While the company was prohibited from running the Yorktown units after April 15, its contingency plans included keeping them in operating condition in case of an emergency, she added.
Despite its potential open-ended approval to run the units, Dominion said it remains committed to shutting them down and building the transmission line.
“This law protects PJM and Dominion from civil or criminal liability or citizen suit, but it is our intention to continue moving forward as quickly as possible to build and energize the transmission project limiting the time these units will operate to ensure the best environmental outcome,” Harris said.