Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Cypress Creek - more questions than answers

Old Dominion Electric Cooperative (ODEC), of which Shenandoah Valley Electric Cooperative is a member, has proposed to build a new coal-fired power plant known as Cypress Creek Power Station in the Town of Dendron (pop. 300) in Surry County, Virginia. At a cost up to $6 billion ($9,000+ per household served), Cypress Creek would be the most expensive coal power plant in the country and the largest coal-fired plant in the Commonwealth. ODEC has already spent thousands of dollars in the ongoing permitting process. ODEC defends the plant by stating that coal "is still the least expensive way for us to make sure we have the electricity we need at an affordable price."

Others aren't so sure that ODEC's dollars make much sense. Wise Energy for Virginia commissioned a study by Synapse Energy Economics Inc. The respected analysts concluded that an uncertain economic climate and costs of meeting regulations related to carbon dioxide could mean even higher electric rates for consumers.

Of course, there are costs that aren't always measured in dollars and cents. A Chesapeake Bay Foundation study found that the plant would discharge significant amounts of mercury and other toxins into the James, Pamunkey, Blackwater, Nottoway, and Roanoke rivers and into the Chesapeake Bay. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation says the plant violates provisions of the Clean Water Act. Physicians for Social Responsibility and others have pointed out that air and water discharges from a coal-fired power plant will create a variety of environmental and health problems for the region. Cypress Creek is located just upwind and upstream from one of Virginia's most populated areas - Hampton Roads - which is also one of the state's major tourist destinations.

So far, ODEC has been touting the benefits but has been less than forthcoming about the costs, financial and otherwise, of Cypress Creek. SVEC members should be asking questions and demanding answers. A few of those questions:
  • How much will Cypress Creek cost? What will SVEC contribute? How with this be passed on to customers?
  • With many banks wary of the risks of financing coal-powered plants, how will Cypress Creek be financed? What are the borrowing costs? How will those costs be passed on to SVEC customers?
  • What are the alternatives to a mega coal-fired plant? Have those alternatives been completely explored?
  • Currently there is excess power on the PJM grid and an uncertain economy and greater conservation make future demand uncertain. Do we really need this mega power plant?
  • Since the beginning of the year plans for at least eight coal-fired power plants have been abandoned or put on hold. Most recently it was Wolverine Power Cooperative's plans for a coal-fired plant in Michigan. An air quality permit was denied and the Michigan Public Service Commission concluded that the plant was not needed and "would result in an estimated rate increase of $76.95 per month for the average Wolverine residential customer." What lessons can we learn from that case study? Will Cypress Creek mean customer's rates could increase by 50-60% a month?
  • The ODEC board of directors has yet to vote on the Cypress Creek plant. Why is ODEC moving forward on the project without formal approval of the board?
  • Can ODEC and SVEC assure customers that rates won't go up to pay for Cypress Creek?
Many questions and, so far, few answers from ODEC, SVEC, and the other member cooperatives. As customers of an electric cooperative, we are the owners... it is our cooperative. We should demand answers before ODEC moves forward with Cypress Creek.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting. I had no idea.