Industries Energy/Green

Wise County power plant recycles 1.1 million tons of waste coal

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Since beginning commercial operation in July 2012, Dominion Virginia Power's Virginia City Hybrid Energy Center in Wise County has recycled nearly 1.1 million tons of waste coal.

According to the company,  the power station, just west of St. Paul in Southwest Virginia, used about 484,000 tons of waste coal in 2012. Last year, during its first full year of operation, it used about 615,000 tons to generate electricity.

"One of the benefits we saw in building the Virginia City Hybrid Energy Center was the abundance of low-cost waste coal that newer technologies would allow us to use as fuel," David A. Christian, CEO of Dominion Generation, said in a statement.

The waste coal, also called "gob," is material — mostly rock and lower weight coal — that mining operations discarded in the early to mid-1900s. Prior to regulations on how to handle gob, the material simply piled up, often along streambeds.  According to Dominion Virginia Power, there are hundreds of gob piles throughout the central Appalachian coalfields.

Dominion selected a circulating fluidized bed technology for the station's boilers because it is able to burn a wide variety of fuels. That flexibility allows the station to select and blend fuels to obtain the cheapest fuel, saving money for the company's customers.

About 80 percent of the waste coal used at the station has come from Virginia. Much of it comes from a Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy Abandoned Mine Land Project in Dante. The pile, which contained more than 1 million tons of gob, is expected to disappear completely as it is used for fuel at VCHEC by the end of this year. Then reclamation of the land and the streambed can begin.

“Virginia City power station has become a major factor in reclaiming not only the coal, but the waste pile sites as well," Walt Crickmer, managing partner for GOBCO LLC, said in a statement. That’s the company reclaiming the Dante site and shipping the coal for use at VCHEC.

The Virginia City power station also is designed to be able to burn up to 20 percent biomass, which is waste wood from timbering operations. The station began burning biomass in October of 2013 and is working toward burning up to 5 percent biomass by the summer of 2015.

The station's air permit requires that 10 percent of the electricity be generated by biomass by 2017 if it is economically viable to do so.

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