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Dominion will idle Clarksville coal plant

South Boston News
The Mecklenburg Power Station in Clarksville / January 22, 2018

Dominion Energy has announced plans to put its Mecklenburg Power Station in Clarksville into “cold reserve storage” as of April.

The 138-megawatt, two-unit coal-fired plant, formerly known as the Mecklenburg Co-Gen, was put into commercial operation by Dominion in November 1992. It has the capacity to power 34,000 homes, but for the past several years has operated as a “peaking facility” — one that generally runs only when there is a high demand for electricity.

Dan Genest, a Dominion Energy spokesman, said the generating station will not be shuttered entirely. Instead, oil and other fluids will be drained from the machinery in both units, residual coal ash will be removed, and the plant will be “left intact, but in a safe condition.”

He could not say whether the 34 employees who currently serve in Clarksville will be reassigned to other facilities since they are not employees of Dominion Energy. They work for NAES Corporation, the contractor that operates Dominion’s Mecklenburg plant. Most likely one or two NAES employees will be assigned to “maintain” the site after it goes into cold reserve, said Genest, but no one will work full-time there.

Calls to NAES for comment were not returned as of press time.

Should energy demand increase in the future, Genest said, the Mecklenburg facility can be up and running again in about six months. After April, the plant will not operate in any capacity, though Dominion will maintain environmental permits for the facility and continue paying local taxes on the property.

The decision to idle Clarksville’s two coal-powered units — and seven other older units at four different power stations in Virginia — comes after a review done by officials with the utility giant. Genest said among the factors considered by the company were the increasing affordability of renewable energy sources such as solar and wind, the abundance and low cost of natural gas, changes in consumers’ energy usage, and other factors.

Moreover, the technology at the Mecklenburg plant is older and has a smaller operating capacity, making it more expensive to operate. “It does not have the economies of scale like the Clover plant,” Genest said, referring to Dominion’s 865-megawatt power station in Halifax County.

Genest did not say if the opening of Dominion’s newest natural gas-powered station in Brunswick County or a similar project at the Greensville County line which is set to open in late 2018 were factors in the decision to shut down the Mecklenburg plant. Between them, the Brunswick and Greensville power stations will generate enough electricity to power around 740,000 homes.

Over the next three years, Genest said Dominion will continue to monitor and review its energy facilities needs before making a decision whether to continue leave the Clarksville plant in cold reserve status. The company’s 2017 Integrated Resource Plan (long-range plan), which it filed with the State Corporation’s Commission in May, marked the Mecklenburg power station for potential closure by 2025.

The other affected power stations are Bellemeade, in Richmond, Chesterfield Power Station, Bremo, in Fluvanna County, and Possum Point in Dumfries.

Like the Mecklenburg site, all units at the Bellemeade and Bremo plants will go into cold reserve status in April. Some units at the Chesterfield and Possum Point plants will continue to operate, and others will go into cold reserve in December.

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