By Stephen Igo
September 10, 2017 - The old Bullitt coal mine in Appalachia is one of two sites Dominion Energy will assess for their potential as pumped hydroelectric storage facilities, the utility announced Thursday.
Dominion Energy will conduct in-depth studies of the Bullitt mine, operated by Westmoreland Coal Co. until it was shut down in the mid-1990s, as well as a 4,100-acre site in Tazewell, Virginia.
A pumped storage facility essentially stores water in an upper reservoir to be released into a lower reservoir during peak energy use times, producing electricity via turbines. The water is then pumped back into the upper reservoir at low use times.
Dominion Energy filed a preliminary permit with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) for the Tazewell location on Wednesday, the utility reports. Dominion has contracted with Virginia Tech to study the former Bullitt mine.
“We are on parallel paths with performing studies on these two sites,” said Mark D. Mitchell, Dominion vice president/generation construction.
He said the FERC application “will allow us to proceed with the rigorous environmental, geological, archaeological and technical studies, while further assessing the economics of the project. In addition, the detailed study on the mine site allows us to explore the feasibility of abandoned mine cavities for pumped hydroelectric storage. We expect to make a decision on which site to advance by mid-2018.”
The preliminary estimate for a single facility could be in the range of $2 billion and provide millions in tax revenue to the locality in which it is located, Dominion said. The project would provide hundreds of jobs during construction and up to 50 permanent jobs when complete.
Pumped hydroelectric storage is described by the industry as a large scale rechargeable battery where power is stored and released when needed. The utility said the “on demand” nature of pumped storage makes it an appealing resource and adds diversity to Dominion’s fleet of power generating facilities.
Dominion said while the Tazewell and Bullitt sites “appear to be the most promising at this time,” the utility might pursue other potential sites as the process continues.
Dominion Energy owns about 2,600 acres of the Tazewell site near East River Mountain, purchased in 2009 when the utility was pursuing another electric generation project. The FERC application allows the company to perform detailed on-the-ground studies of the property and additional parcels with landowner permission.
Dominion said the Tazewell site could support multiple configurations including different sized facilities. The site’s flexibility enables the company to determine the best environmental, technical and economic solutions, the utility said.
Dominion said Michael Karmis, an internationally recognized expert on coal and energy research, will lead the Virginia Tech study of the Bullitt mine. The Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals & Energy conducted earlier research on the feasibility of using abandoned mines for pumped storage and looked at numerous sites in the region, pinpointing Bullitt as one of its top candidates.
Bullitt flooded after it was closed in 1997. Theoretically, Dominion said, a pumped storage facility could use the mine voids as a lower reservoir. Dominion said it chose to delay filing a preliminary FERC application for Bullitt pending the results of the Virginia Tech study.
Dominion and a partner, First Energy Corp., operate the Bath County Pumped Storage Station, the largest facility of its kind in the U.S., capable of generating more than 3,000 megawatts.
Dominion also owns and operates the Virginia City Hybrid Energy Center, located next to U.S. Route 58 across a ridge from downtown St. Paul in Wise County, a 610-megawatt power station that uses a combination of coal, waste coal and biomass for its fuel stream. That power station opened in 2012 and has already used more than 2.5 million tons of waste coal, helping clean up one of the largest environmental problems in Virginia’s coal-producing region.