A comment for Dominion – The Price We Pay for Coal
Comments to VA SCC made electronically on 12/1/11 regarding Dominion VA’s Integrated Resource Plan
The Price We Pay for Coal
When Virginia officials consider the costs associated with coal-fired power generation, their calculations often fail to include the price that people and the environment pay. Whether or not the state takes these costs into account, Virginians still suffer the consequences.
Our need for energy doesn’t change the fact that coal-fired power plants pump large quantities of pollution into Virginia’s air and water. In fact, four of Dominion Virginia Power’s coal-fired power plants were among the top 11 polluters listed in the Virginia DEQ’s 2006 report on facilities ranked by on-site toxic releases. These four plants released over 11 million pounds of pollutants into Virginia’s environment.
Today, the medical community acknowledges the relationship between a whole host of illnesses and air pollution. The American Heart Association recognizes that exposure to air pollution contributes to heart disease and stroke. Moreover, a 2011 article in The Lancet, a well-respected British medical journal, notes that air pollution triggers more heart attacks in people than does the use of cocaine.
A Virginia Department of Health report, Asthma in Virginia 2008, documents how much we pay just for asthma:
• In 2008, 9.3% of adults (an estimated 547,000 people) and 9.6% of children (an estimated 171,000 kids) in Virginia suffered from asthma.
• Asthma hospitalizations in Virginia cost over $133 million in 2008 alone; by comparison, the cost in 2004 was approximately $96 million.
• Between 1999 and 2008,1,040 Virginians died from asthma, an average of over 100 deaths each year.
There is a link between high asthma rates and air pollution. Among Virginia’s 35 health districts, 12 had current asthma rates higher than the 9.3% state adult rate. Seven of these 12 health districts—Cumberland Plateau (15.0%), New River (12.0%), Piedmont (12.0%), Norfolk (12.0%), Peninsula (approx. 12.0%), Chesapeake (approx. 11%), Alexandria (approx. 10%)—also happen to have coal-fired electric generating plants within or near their borders. Just one example appears below, but I can supply data for all if requested.
Est. Health Impacts*
Bremo Bluff Power Station
23 deaths ($170 million)
37 heart attacks ($4 million)
390 asthma attacks ($20K)
20 asthma ER visits ($7K)
18 hospitalizations ($420K)
15 cases of chronic bronchitis ($6.5 million)
*Source: “Find Your Risk from Power Plant Pollution,” Clean Air Task Force interactive table
And there’s no guarantee that new coal-fired plants will be much safer. For example, the Virginia City Hybrid Energy Center in Wise County will be allowed to legally emit 9,000 tons of pollutants and 5.3 million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each year under its permit. Dominion Virginia has already asked the State Corporation Commission to hike customers’ electricity rates to cover the $1.8 billion cost of constructing this plant. Thus, at least some Dominion customers will be forced to pay for the very plant that may ultimately contribute to their health problems and hasten their deaths.
Air pollution—no matter the source—is a growing human health hazard. Of the 237 days between 1/1/10 and 8/26/10, the Washington Metropolitan Council of Governments reports that we in this region spent 137 days breathing polluted air (that’s more than 1 out of every 2 days). Moreover, for the 3-year period ending in 2010, the American Lung Association gave 15 Virginia counties and cities a failing grade for air quality.
I have a personal interest in closing down (or retrofitting) highly polluting coal-fired plants. Both my husband and I have health conditions aggravated by poor air quality, and we live approximately 6 miles from the Mirant Potomac River power plant. Mercifully the Mirant plant is scheduled to shut down in October 2012, which means there will be one less source of air and water pollution in our area.
My 43-year-old cousin Danny Seitter wasn’t so lucky. In August 2010, he died suddenly in an accident that may have been caused by the chest pain he had been experiencing on and off for months. At the time, he had been living for over a decade in Powhatan County, VA—about 30 miles east and downwind of the Bremo Bluff power plant.
Bremo Bluff is Dominion Virginia’s oldest coal-fired power station in this state. In 2009 alone, Bremo Bluff emitted 6,969.1 tons of sulfur dioxide, 1,602.9 tons of nitric oxide/nitrogen dioxide, and 971,016.5 tons of carbon dioxide, in addition to mercury, lead and other contaminants. When I read this information, I couldn’t help but wonder whether all that air pollution had contributed to Danny’s chest pain, and ultimately to his death.
Air pollution costs money—actual, quantifiable cash—in terms of lives and incomes lost, dollars spent on medical care and on hospital and emergency room admissions, and days missed from work. One preventable death is too many, and we shouldn’t lose another Virginian to air pollution.
There can be no better reason than saving lives and reducing medical costs for all of Virginia’s federal, state and local officials to support strict enforcement of the Clean Air Act, energy conservation measures, wind and renewable power generation, and the retrofitting or closure of dirty coal-fired power plants.
When considering Dominion’s Integrated Resource Plan, I urge the SCC to set specific, legally binding quotas that will ensure that Dominion moves toward sustainable, much safer, renewable sources of energy. It’s not enough for Dominion to buy renewable power from other states; it needs to be held accountable and forced to clean up its operations here in Virginia—for the health and well-being of all Virginians.
In this regard, I suggest the following:
1) Dominion should come up with a set portfolio of energy options that include renewable energy with a performance target. The SCC should insist on a deadline by which Dominion must comply and meet its quota. For example, 20% of its power generation should come from renewables by 2017.
2) Dominion should allow net-metering in areas where it is possible and invite private investment in solar, wind, waste to energy and other forms of renewable energy sources to sell energy back into the grid. The rate of buying energy for these investors, be it homeowners or business, should be at a reduced rate. Dominion should support incentives to help businesses and citizens receive rebates and in exchange count their reduction in energy usage toward its 20% target.
3) Dominion should offer incentives for conservation and develop a fixed price so that as costs are reduced, revenue from development is not depleted. Savings should be set aside for investment in building a smart grid, solar-car charging stations, and other clean forms of energy.
S. Sundburg 12/01/2011