The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) said PJM can restart two coal-fired units at Dominion Energy’s Yorktown, Va., power plant, two months after the aging units were shut down because they could not meet federal emissions standards.

The emergency order from the DOE, issued June 16, allows the units to run during the hot summer months at least until September 14 to ensure grid reliability for the Virginia Peninsula, which includes the historic Jamestown settlement. PJM, which manages the electric grid in the District of Columbia, Virginia and 12 other states, can request an extension of the order as that date approaches.

Dominion Energy spokeswoman Bonita Harris in an emailed statement said “While this is not a long-term solution to the reliability issues, Dominion Energy supports PJM’s action and the DOE decision, and will work to ensure the units’ availability as required.”

Concerns about grid reliability stem from a stalled transmission line project in the region and have been exacerbated by the April shutdown of the Yorktown coal units. Dominion has had difficulty gaining approval for the proposed Surry-Skiffes Creek 500-kV transmission line across the James River, which would connect the Surry power station to James City County.
The PJM Board of Managers approved construction of the line in 2012, but it has faced both local and environmental opposition. Opponents have said Dominion is overstating the risk of power outages in the area and also have said the line would damage views across the James River.

Dominion Energy's Yorktown power plant is being reopened after federal emissions rules forced its closure in April 2017. Source: Dominion Energy
Dominion Energy’s Yorktown power plant is being reopened after federal emissions rules forced its closure in April 2017. Source: Dominion Energy

The transmission line needs permit approval from the Virginia Marine Resources Commission (VMRC) and water quality certification from the state Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers earlier in June issued a conditional permit for the project that needs approval from both agencies.

PJM spokesman Ray Dotter told reporters the Yorktown plants would be run on a “very limited basis” and only “when things are critical.” The order requires PJM and Dominion to create a dispatch methodology and inform the DOE of when the units are operated, in addition to supplying estimated water usage and emissions levels.

Dominion was legally barred from operating the Yorktown units beginning in April due to the EPA’s Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) rule, which limits emissions of mercury and toxic acidic gases from power plants. The units previously had special permission to remain on standby to mitigate the risk of blackouts in the region.

Dominion Energy’s Harris said the plants have been maintained. She characterized the current DOE order as an extension of previous permits that allowed the units to operate.

Dominion originally planned to close the Yorktown plant by 2014 due to the cost of upgrades needed to comply with the MATS rule. PJM said the plant needed to remain operational to maintain reliability on the peninsula, pending approval of the new transmission line.

Darrell Proctor is a POWER associate editor (@DarrellProctor1, @POWERmagazine)