Dominion to repower coal plant with biomass

By Anna Austin | February 14, 2011

Dominion Virginia Power is planning to reopen an off-line coal-fired power plant in Altavista, Va., and repower it with biomass.

Though the plant hasn’t been running since October, Dominion Spokesman Dan Genest said it is in cold reserve storage rather than retired, meaning it could be brought back on-line with just a little work.

The plant was closed due to a combination of factors, but mainly because of low natural gas prices, according to Genest. “We have to bid our power stations in each day for the next day, and it’s done according to price,” he said. “This is a stoker plant, so it’s not really efficient for coal. It was originally designed to produce electricity, but also to serve as a steam host for a furniture manufacturer, which went out of business. We lost some of our profit there, and with this not being a very efficient plan and natural gas prices being so low, it can’t compete.”

Now, biomass has become the most attractive option for bringing the plant back to life. The 53-megawatt (MW) coal plant would have a slightly lower electrical capacity with biomass at 50 MW post conversion.

As far as available fuel goes, Genest said Dominion has done a feedstock supply study that looked at available wood waste within a 100-mile radius around the station. “There’s enough available, so we’re comfortable with that,” he said.

Dominion is now working through local approval processes. “We’ll have to get a new air permit and approval from the Virginia State Corporation Commission, so it’s a ways away from being a done deal,” Genest added.

The company’s goal is to have the plant back on-line and running on biomass by 2013.

Dominion has one other biomass power station—an 80-megawatt plant in Hurt, Va., which is mainly fired with wood chips.