Some Chesterfield neighbors voice concern over Dominion Energy's new power plant plan and its community impact

Posted at 5:33 PM, Jun 26, 2024

CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. — Dominion Energy is considering building a new peaker plant, meant to support its current power grid during extreme heat or cold, along the 500 block of Coxendale Road in Chesterfield County where an old coal plant once operated.

“I cannot overstate how vitally important this project is for the reliability of the grid that serves more than 100,000 in Chesterfield County,” Dominion Energy spokesperson Jeremy Slayton said about the proposed Chesterfield Energy Reliability Center.

While the county has approved the plan, some Chesterfield residents voiced their concerns about both environmental and health impacts the plant could have on people in the area.

"According to their own website, it’s going to run 37% of the time," high school science teacher Jason Woodby said. "That’s going to result in about 4.5 billion pounds of carbon pollution every year."

Dominion Energy Peeker Plant Chesterfield

While Woodby said public outcry about the project has been present, Slayton said Dominion Energy's decision to move forward studying the site was a direct result of the community feedback.

“One piece of feedback that we heard from those residents was, ‘Why don’t you try looking at putting it at Chesterfield Power Station?’ And that’s what we’re doing. We’re doing our due diligence," Slayton said.

While Dominion said it was not trying to circumvent community input and involvement, Nicole Martin disagrees.

Martin, the president of Chesterfield County NAACP and a member of Friends of Chesterfield, said residents who live in that location “don’t want this plant.”

“Companies like Dominion Energy have been setting up shop in Black and brown communities for decades upon decades, and we’re finally here to stop it,” Martin said. “This particular community has dealt with environmental justice for the past 80 years with the coal plant, and now they're proposing this natural gas plant, which is totally unnecessary and unfair.”

Martin suggested Dominion focus its energy on wind, solar, and battery power.

She also said she had been to several Board of Supervisor meetings to express concerns about the plant's environmental and health impacts. She said the change in location made “absolutely no difference” due to the close proximity it still has to the community.

Dominion Energy Peeker Plant Chesterfield
Nicole Martin

Dominion said the proposed location is within the limitations of their permit.

Martin disagreed.

“They currently have a gas permit for that old plant. This now takes out the community's ability to voice their opinion. They’re taken out of that process. That’s unacceptable,” she said.

Glen Besa, Chair of Friends of Chesterfield, said the group recently filed an appeal to the County Board of Zoning Appeals.

He said he believed Dominion didn’t have the necessary zoning permissions and alleged the utility's current permissions were for the previous coal plant that operated at the site.

“The county never considered a zoning application for this project,” he said. “This is a new facility, and they need to take a second look at it."

Dominion Energy Peeker Plant Chesterfield
Glen Besa

He said the closest air pollution monitor was located several miles from the plant and was not able to properly monitor air conditions for people who live closer to the plant.

He said this could have negative effects on the health of those who live in the community.

Aliya Farooq, chairperson for the Board of Directors for Virginia Interfaith Power and Light and member of the Environmental Justice Council for the Governor, said she’s seen the toll lung disease can take on a family.

“Both of my in-laws that lived with me for 20 years suffered from lung disease and ultimately passed away from lung disease. I saw the suffering they went through," Farooq said.

Additionally, Farooq said she takes care of her elderly parents who live even closer to the proposed plant than she does. Her mother, she said, was recently diagnosed with asthma.

“For almost 80 years, this community has been living with the repercussions of a coal plant, which was just closed last year, and we were just getting a little bit of relief. Of course, we’re still dealing with the ramifications of the coal ash. It’s very possible that it had something to do with my in-laws' lung issues and my mother’s diagnosis,” Farooq said.

Dominion Energy Peeker Plant Chesterfield
Aliya Farooq

Being a member of the Interfaith community, Farooq said this was a topic of conversation that comes up frequently.

“Everyone’s going to be affected by this,” she said. “Climate change doesn’t discriminate.”

Farooq is “frustrated” by the new initiative.

“We should be working on helping these communities that we’ve hurt in the past, not doing it again,” Farooq said.

Martin called this a “trickle-down effect,” meaning that existing health issues for members of this community would only worsen.

“People that usually do not have the means to have proper healthcare, now they're going to be further burdened with pre-existing health conditions, further exacerbating their upper respiratory diseases, asthma, heart disease, and potentially cancer. We’re wondering why Dominion, having all of this information, [hasn’t] resorted to using cleaner, better options at this point?” Martin asked.

A Dominion Energy spokesperson said demand for energy was only growing at an “unprecedented rate.”

Dominion Energy Peeker Plant Chesterfield
Dominion Energy spokesperson Jeremy Slayton

“Renewables aren’t enough to keep the power on 24/7, 365 for our customers. We need more natural gas power plants like the one we’re proposing in Chesterfield that are always available and always reliable so we can keep the power on when the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing,” Slayton said.

Friends of Chesterfield said their appeal against the recent zone approval will likely be denied, or take months to get an answer back. In the meantime, Dominion Energy said it has held several community meetings about the project and will continue to do so.

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