Citizens question communication efforts, benefits of power plants at Charles City town hall
With plans for two different natural gas power plants to make their home in Charles City County within the next five years, more than 200 residents came out to a town hall meeting on the issue Monday night at Charles City’s Government and Administration Building.
“We’ve heard that citizens had great concerns about power plants,” said County Administrator Michelle Johnson. “We’re excited about moving Charles City forward and I’m glad the county is becoming engaged.
“This meeting should have happened before tonight,” she continued. “That’s the first part of change.”
Johnson provided a timeline of what has happened over the last few months, admitting that both county leaders have not owned up to their part and working on moving the county the forward together with constituents.
“We’re not going to agree on every single thing, but the key to disagreeing is to be respectful,” Johnson added. “We know this is a tension-filled conversation. Tonight, is the first step that we move Charles City County forward. Charles City can win if we all work together.”
Johnson spoke about the county’s interaction with representatives of both power plants and the tax revenues the plants would yield. The county administrator added that Charles City currently doesn’t have a lot of infrastructure and that the plants would be viable assets to the county.
Dialogue began with C4GT in 2015 and Balico in 2016 about the gas plants. Johnson commented that engagement of talks first took place in 2017, with residents becoming more invested in 2019 as concerns about environmental and air quality circulated throughout the county and social media.
The town hall was broken into an informational session and a question-and-answer affair. Approximately 48 questions were submitted prior to Monday’s meeting, with additional ones asked during the open communication portion of the meeting.
“One of the attributes of a facility like this is that technology is malleable and will have the best technology available,” said Jef Freeman of Balico. “It’s our responsibility to keep that facility to make sure it operates, and it is expected life should be for 50, 60, or how many years.
“Typically, it’s not an issue of decommissioning because it continues to add value to the marketplace,” he concluded, speaking about the $1.4 billion investment the company is looking into putting into Charles City.
Preston Lloyd, who represented C4GT, posted a similar investment when it came to addressing the investment.
“C4GT is looking to make a $1 billion investment and be legally accountable for the lifetime of the project,” Lloyd said. “Similar to the answer that you just heard, it’s an investment and with the change in technology we want to continue to live up to the industry standards.”
C4GT expects 600-800 workers on site for 30-33 months of construction, with full-time employees being 20-24 at the plant when it’s completed. Balico expects 40 full-time employees to work at the facility upon its completion while 500-800 employees will be part of the construction process. C4GT will also stage its own fire station and emergency services on its property.
Questions read by Johnson ranged from emergency situations, the effects on roads, and emergency plans if an explosion takes place. The county administrator commented that technology implemented by both plants will minimize any type of hazardous situation, but also added that the county has a policy in place for emergency evacuation and services as Charles City also serves as a safe zone and emergency evacuation area for Surry County’s nuclear power plant.
When it came to emissions and the air quality, representatives of both companies referenced their application to the State Corporation Commission (SCC) that was filed and the public record.
“The permits require plants to track emissions right out the smokestack,” said Alison Sinclair of Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). “We measure it once it goes into the air as well.”
“Applicants submit maximum emission rates and what they can exceed,” Sinclair continued. “We determine if they are significant and there are levels that the air monitoring groups use and the cumulative effect. We compare those with the national ambient air quality standards.
“We compare the models to long term levels and short-term levels,” Sinclair continued, speaking on those with breathing conditions and asthma. “We want to make sure the small increment and impact for the county. Even with the combined plants and with each case, we can say that the two plants do not have a significant cause to the environment.”
“We take the worse possible conditions and assume if everything went wrong, we compare that to the national ambient air quality,” added Tamera Thompson. “When we did the modeling for these two facilities, we combined them the permitting so it was a cumulative model and where they would be at the standard.
“In addition, add on what is being what was being shown at Shirley Plantation, we were still below the standard,” Thompson concluded.
Balico also agreed during the air board hearing as part of the permit process that it will also build an offsite air monitoring station to be more representative of the air quality.
Representatives of DEQ answered additional inquiries from citizens, ranging from groundwater withdrawal to erosion.
“We took a lot of time to minimize the environmental impact,” said Freeman. “Electricity generates a lot of heat. You can use either water or air for coolant, and we purposely use air because the use of water to cool would be four billion gallons a year.”
Freeman added that steam not only reduces the usage of water, but also is easier on the environment as well.
In terms of revenue, under current statute, 90 percent is taxable according to Kenneth Schrad of the State Corporation Commission (SCC).
“If it’s a $1 billion plant, it has $900 million that’s taxable which is reduced to $700 million after air control equipment is taken out because will be exempt,” Schrad replied. “But that $700 million is taxable.”
Johnson read a question submitted referencing contributions to the school and the local composite index (LCI), which is the funding that is provided to the schools by the state. According to the county administrator, if both plants are operational, the schools will lose approximately $1.5 million in state funding. That reduction, however, is delayed by approximately three years according to Johnson.
District 2 representative Bill Coada proceeded to ask Freeman about a statement made in earlier meetings.
“Mr. Freeman, didn’t you say that in the first year of operation, the plant can generate $7 million to the county?” questioned Coada.
Freeman nodded his head before Coada added that over a 20-year span, the plant could provide $100 million in revenue to the county.
After the formal information was presented, citizens were offered an opportunity to inquire questions about the power plants.
“I want to know about the noise and smell from these plants,” said Kim Crammer, a Charles City resident who use to live in Hopewell.
“When you burn natural gas, there is no aroma that comes out the stack,” replied Freeman. “I know there is a special noise permit that was put in place for us. The whole purpose of that was to not have loud sound to adjoining properties.”
“What are you going to do to protect the citizens of Charles City and not your assets?” questioned Chasity Roberts, speaking on concerns about possible health concerns and negative outcomes.
“We have an emergency response plan, specifically with the construction of the plant that was put in place closely with the county’s emergency response team,” responded Freeman.
“My question is about the quality of water,” said Lenny Miles, referencing reading about information on the Potomac aquifer. “Will the quality of the water or the level be reduced?”
“For water quality, in our technical evaluation that looks out to 50 years, we looked for a situation called saltwater intrusion,” responded Grist. “What we’ve seen for this site that it won’t have an impact, so the site won’t require water quality monitoring.
“I have to know your location of the mitigation,” Grist continued. “Once the wells are in place, but it could take 50 years for that one foot to decline [in the aquifer] to have that impact. If it does have an impact, that’s why the [water] mitigation plan is in place.”
Additional questions posed by constituents include how the county will use revenues incurred by the power plants as well as an increased communication pipeline.
After the inquiry of additional questions, county leaders were provided an opportunity to voice their outlook not only on the proposed facilities but focused more on the way the word was spread throughout the county.
“When I had my town hall meeting, a circle told me communication, communication, communication,” said District 1 supervisor Gilbert Smith. “Good communication is key to our future success and I am committed to work on strategies to move us forward together.”
“This is the most energizing town hall that I have been to,” said District 2 supervisor Bill Coada. “We all win when we work together. We have a responsibility and we admitted that, but you all have a responsibility to get out.”
“We appreciate your thoughts and concerns about every project in this county,” said District 3 representative and chairman Floyd Miles Sr. “The voice of every citizen is important in how we move forward together.
“I hope everybody continue to stay active and work to move forward to make this a better Charles City County,” Miles concluded.