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Disco Inferno (The death of coal)

Published 18th November 2009 - 8 comments - 2782 views -

Part 3/3 of my series on coal. Be sure to check out parts 1 and 2: "An Introduction to Mountaintop Removal" and "Ash, sludge and slurry, oh my!".

In Surry County, located in southeast Virginia, USA, a community of around 300 people is struggling to maintain control over their collective destiny as a town.

The Old Dominion Electric Cooperative (ODEC) has proposed a new coal-fired power plant for the town of Dendron, a small, nearly forgotten corner of Virginia that has struggled economically since its birth as a hub for the lumber industry. When the saw mill shut down, so did most of Dendron, and the once prosperous town of more than a thousand saw itself reduced to a paltry 297.

The arrival of ODEC seemed to many a blessing. The 1,500 mega-watt power station is expected to fulfill the electricity needs of Virginians for at least the next 25 years.  The tax revenue alone would be a boon to Surry County, millions in all for the six billion-dollar project. The construction of the plant is sure to create jobs, as will maintenance throughout its lifetime.  With promises of a new sewage system, new jobs, and a bigger budget, it would seem that construction of the proposed Cypress Creek Power Station is a blessing to the town of Dendron.

As with every story, there are multiple sides to this tale.  ODEC’s proposed power plant in Surry will bring with it a litany of human and ecological problems that will contribute significantly to the continued destruction of the local ecosystem and threaten children and adults alike with asthma, neurological damage, and cancer.

In addition, the CO­2 emitted by the plant will contribute significantly to increasing levels of green house gasses, a driver of global warming that already counts coal as its chief contributor. Currently, there is no available technology that would allow for the capture of carbon dioxide at a utility-scale, and ODEC does not intend to place any controls on future CO2 emissions without mandate.

projected emissions of the Cypress Creek Power Station

Dendronites have greeted the plant with mixed emotions. A significantly large portion of the community has continued to support the plant, supported by misleading information, courtesy of ODEC. The coal-friendly cooperative has repeatedly published false information in local newspapers, preyed on minority groups and the impoverished with promises of a New Jerusalem, where the towns problems are solved overnight. Going as far to claim that only water vapor leaves the toxin-belching, 600 foot tall smokestacks and stooping so low as to offer false promises of upgraded infrastructure and schools (ODEC’s agreement stipulates neither), the cooperative has shown its colors as a manipulative and indifferent player in the town.

Resistance comes from the local Coalition to Keep Surry Clean and the non-profit coalition, Wise Energy for Virginia. Together, these organizations have worked around the clock on a double-headed campaign revolving around informing locals of the real dangers of coal and lobbying in the Virginia legislature in order to put a stop to the plant before the first earthmover breaks ground.

The battle for Dendron has been a difficult one, as the Surry County Board of Supervisors has expressed nothing less than complete elation at the proposal, and has shown that it will not waver on its on its position without significant public outcry on a state and national level.

On Monday, November 23, the Board of Supervisors will convene to vote on whether or not the site for the plant can be re-zoned to legally accommodate the coal-fired behemoth. Already, locals, university students and national nonprofit groups have mobilized to protest the plant. Having already stripped zoning rights from the town of Dendron, Surry aims to build this plant without any regard for public opinion, and the Surry Board of Supervisors has remained complicit in this aim.

Without real action on the part of local, state, national, and international parties (I’m talking to you, COP-15 attendees), the construction of this plant will move forward, with more in its wake.  As humanity’s chief contribution to global warming and potentially catastrophic climate change, coal has come to the end of its term as the lifeblood of our energy portfolio. With investments in energy efficiency and renewable technologies (PDF), Virginia can erase the need for new generation in the commonwealth for decades.


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Category: Air Quality, Alternative Energies, | Tags: global warming, usa, coal, think2,


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