Bottom-Line on Net Metering

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Here at beyondthebayblog, we’ve switched some of our focus to environment and energy issues in the region. Gary has been looking into the regional utility system, and examining some of the challenges associated with switching to more renewable energy. Specifically, he’s tackling the issue of net metering.

As property owners in Virginia decide to install and utilize small-scale solar panels while remaining connected to the grid, they must participate in net metering. The grid stores excess solar power generated by a consumer, and allows the consumer to buy electricity from the grid when they either can’t generate enough solar power, or are unable to generate any solar (such as at nighttime). Without storage solutions (reliable batteries are still very expensive), and without living entirely off-grid, consumers with solar power must participate in net metering. As you can guess, net metering tends to favor the consumer with solar, as his or her electricity bills generally decline in monthly cost. Utility companies tend to view this as a threat, and as such, certain companies such as Dominion Energy here in Virginia, place a cap on how much solar can be generated within the state. (Rooftop solar is currently capped at 1% of Dominion’s generating capacity). Gary has gone a little more in-depth, to examine the pros and cons of net metering, in his document “Bottom-line on Net Metering.” Please take a look. netMeteringDefense=v2

Dominion Power Agrees to Advanced, but Still Deficient Treatment of Coal Ash Wastewater at Prince William Co. Facility

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Dominion Power entered into an agreement with Prince William County late last night regarding treatment of coal ash wastewater at their Possum Point facility. Prince William was appealing the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality’s (DEQ) approval of a permit for Dominion Power to divert water from coal ash holding ponds into Quantico Creek. Concerns over this permit from the Prince William County Board of Supervisors were echoed by the state of Maryland and by environmental organizations such as the Potomac Riverkeepers and the Chesapeake Climate Action Network. While Prince William County has dropped their formal appeal of the DEQ permit, the Potomac Riverkeepers’ lawsuit still stands.

With the acceptance of last night’s new plan, Dominion agreed to increased testing and treatment of wastewater that will be discharged into Quantico Creek. A major water quality concern with coal ash wastewater is the presence of metals that are ingested by local fish populations and make their way up the food chain. These metals include selenium, copper, antimony, thallium, chromium, and hexavalent chromium. According to, Dominion’s new plan sets new water concentration limits on some of these metals, a “66 percent reduction in selenium, a 71 percent reduction in lead, a 66 percent reduction in copper and 50 percent reductions in antimony and thallium.” Chromium and hexavalent chromium are not mentioned.

Dominion will test wastewater before discharge at a laboratory disassociated with their company, with samples now set to be taken on an hourly basis versus throughout the week. I’m happy to see Dominion cooperating with local jurisdictions to ensure improved water quality at their facilities. However, I question whether treatment of coal ash wastewater under this new plan will be enough to minimize risk to aquatic organisms to the best of Dominion’s abilities. According to the Potomac Riverkeepers, arsenic and metal concentrations under the new plan are still of concern. I would also like to see a treatment plan include all harmful metals discharged from the facility’s holding ponds into Quantico Creek, for both chromium and hexavalent chromium.

With ongoing legal battles against Dominion Power’s discharge permit, there is likely to be more news on this front in the coming months.

Environmentalists Continue to Dispute Dominion Power Coal Ash Plans at Two Virginia Facilities

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This article by Steve Szkotak at the Richmond Times-Dispatch has a great summary on the continuing discourse between Virginia Dominion Power, planning to release coal ash waste into the Potomac and James River from two of their facilities, and environmentalists concerned with water quality at these two locations.

To review, two Dominion Power facilities, one in Fluvanna County, and one in Prince William County, recently gained permit approval from the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality to release coal ash wastewater into neighboring bodies of water. These two facilities have stopped burning coal for energy, but have millions of gallons of coal ash left over from previous operations. Dominion Power wants to release this waste into the James River, (from the Fluvanna County facility), and Quantico Creek, which flows into the Potomac River (from the Prince William County facility).

Dominion Power claims release will be slow, and in volumes the watersheds can manage. Environmentalists, however, are concerned over wastewater discharge loads, and the impacts this wastewater will have on the local creeks and rivers. The health of the greater Chesapeake Bay watershed and its species are also a concern.

Update to Coal-Ash Drainage in Potomac River

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Last month I shared a post on the drainage of coal-ash into the Potomac River at a Dominion Electric facility. The Possum Point Power Plant in Prince William County stopped burning coal in 2003, but operations left about 215 million gallons of coal-ash on-site in holding ponds. In January, the Virginia State Water Control Board, whose regulations are enforced by the state Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), approved a permit allowing Dominion Electric to gradually drain water from the coal-ash ponds into Quantico Creek, which drains into the Potomac River.

This month, the Prince William County Board of Supervisors and the Potomac Riverkeepers (who have been monitoring arsenic and selenium levels in Quantico Creek), have banded together to challenge the approval of coal-ash drainage into the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, arguing that federal water laws are being overlooked. The Southern Environmental Law Center will be representing the Potomac Riverkeepers in the appeals process.

Likely to come up in the formal proceedings is the fact that even before the State Water Control Board approved the discharge of coal-ash in last month’s approved permit, Dominion Electric had already released almost 34 million gallons of water from its coal-ash holding ponds into the Creek. While Dominion claims that Virginia DEQ knew about and approved this operation, the Potomac Riverkeepers want to ensure that Dominion’s actions were legal under their former permit.

With the James River Association questioning a similar circumstance at a Dominion Electric facility in Bremo Bluff, Virginia, there is a lot of distrust for Dominion Electric, and disappointment with the DEQ among environmental groups and local municipalities when it comes to protecting water quality in our watershed.

(Source: Bay Journal)



Virginia Approves Permit Allowing Dominion Power to Divert Water From Coal-Ash Ponds into Nearby Waterway

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Last Thursday, the Virginia State Water Control Board approved a permit allowing Dominion Virginia Power to drain their coal-ash ponds at a Dumfries facility into the Bay Watershed, in a move that will exacerbate pollution issues in the lesser Potomac River Watershed.

Dominion Power operates the Possum Point Power Plant in Prince William County, where, until 2003, the company burned coal for power. While coal is no longer burned at this facility, 215 million gallons of coal-ash water remains on-site, in holding ponds.

Dominion Electric and environmentalists alike would like to get rid of this debris. Their desired method of removal however, is a point of contention, with Dominion wanting to divert debris into the nearby waterways, and some environmentalists and state senators calling for ash and sediment removal and relocation to a landfill.

Last week, the State Water Control Board sided with Dominion Power, approving a permit that allows the company to gradually drain the water from the coal-ash ponds into the neighboring Quantico Creek (a part of the Potomac River Watershed, and greater Chesapeake Bay Watershed).

The approval of discharge of the coal-ash water is allowing an on-going practice to continue, but not without consequences. Concentrations of arsenic and selenium (by-products of coal-ash) have been found in high concentrations in Quantico Creek, and in the past, monitors have found evidence of coal-ash seeping through pond linings.* Allowing Dominion Power to divert water from their coal-ash ponds into Quantico Creek will exacerbate water quality issues, endangering local fish and shellfish species. Fish in this immediate region (in particular bass and catfish) have already been declared too contaminated to eat. The recent permit will prolong consumption restrictions, not to mention poor living conditions for marine species.

The Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), which is in charge of Dominion’s discharge permit, has previously made some concessions to environmentalists, including limiting the rate Dominion is allowed to divert treated water from the coal-ash ponds to the creek. However, the agency refuses to enforce further water treatments from these ash ponds, or seal off the drain from the ponds to the Quantico Creek altogether.

Opposing parties to the recent permit are examining ways in which to appeal this decision. Updates will likely soon follow.


* Water quality in Quantico Creek is monitored by members of the Potomac Riverkeeper Network, a group that finds sources of water pollution in our local waterway, and works to involve regulators to enforce environmental law. More on the organization to follow.

Sources: The Washington Post, The Bay Journal



Baltimore Crude Oil Terminal Placed on Hold for Environmental Concerns

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By Neil Saunders

The Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) recently placed on hold a Houston-based company’s permit application to ship crude oil through its Baltimore port terminal in Fairfield, Maryland. The company, Targas Resources, which presently owns one of the Fairfield terminals, which it uses to store and ship oil, natural gas, and petroleum products, sought the permit to allow shipments of crude oil to pass through the terminal as well. In its decision to temporarily deny the permit, MDE sighted a lack of information and insisted that additional information from Targas Resources was necessary before the agency would consider further review.

Maryland’s Oil Pollution and Tank Management laws require facilities operators to obtain a permit before they may transport or store more than 10,000 gallons of oil, including crude oil. The permit approval process requires, in general, that the applicant submit a contingency and clean-up plan in the event that a leak or spill occurs, and to maintain a facility that is properly equipped to prevent oil pollution and contain spills. These are important criteria to ensuring safety to surrounding neighborhoods and the Chesapeake Bay, and promising news that MDE has, at least in the interim.

Had MDE approved the permit, Targas Resources would have become the second company to ship crude oil through the Fairfield terminals, which sit along the Patapsco River just outside Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. Currently, Axeon Specialty Products ships tens of millions of gallons through its nearby terminal. According to MDE’s Oil Control Program, Axeon Specialty Products shipped over 100 million gallons of crude oil over the previous two years. According to a Sierra Club blog post, the Targas terminal would result in an additional 9 million gallon annually. More troubling is the fact that the potential impact area of an accident sits right in the heart of downtown Baltimore.

The shipment of crude oil carries added significance to the Bay area because of the rise in oil production in recent years, particularly from the Bakkan shale field in North Dakota. The rise in production has caused an increase in demand, which has led to increased shipping. Shipping crude oil, which is performed primarily by rail, poses risks to local populations and the environment. Just last year, a derailment in Lynchburg, Virginia, caused thousands of gallons of crude oil to spill into the James River. In 2013, a derailment in Quebec, Canada, resulted in spillage of over 1.5 million gallons of crude oil and caused an explosion that killed 47 people.

Time will tell if Targas Resources makes another attempt to obtain the permit from MDE. Hopefully, with enough local opposition, MDE will continue to reject it.

To read the Baltimore Sun article, please visit:

To read the Sierra Club blog post cited in this post, visit:

Sediment Buildup Behind the Conowingo Dam

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On Monday, an article appeared in The Washington Post on the Conowingo Dam in Maryland, and Governor Larry Hogan’s efforts to have the sediment behind the dam dredged. While sediment buildup behind the Dam poses an environmental threat to the Chesapeake Bay, and I think the Dam should be dredged, I don’t think this is the biggest threat to the health of the Bay. I would also like to see Hogan focus on reducing nutrient loads to the Chesapeake, from agricultural and urban/suburban runoff in Maryland. That being said, it’s good to see the current Governor tackling water quality issues for the Chesapeake Bay, and committed to reducing sediment loads to the Bay from the Conowingo Dam.

Located at the Southern end of the Susquehanna River, the Conowingo Dam was constructed in 1929. Since that time, (1929-2012), about 470 million tons of sediment have been transported from the Susquehanna into the Conowingo Reservoir, where 280 million tons of sediment have been trapped by the dam, and 190 million tons have gone on to reach the Chesapeake Bay (USGS, 2014).

Some reports differ on whether the Conowingo Dam has reached storage capacity for sediment. The USGS says yes; a 2010 EPA study said the Dam had not yet reached full capacity, and likely would not for another 15-20 years. However, the EPA stated in this same 2010 report, that, “once the Conowingo Reservoir reaches the sediment trapping capacity, the sediment and nutrient loads delivered to the Chesapeake Bay via the Susquehanna River will equal the load delivered into the reservoir system. Once storage capacity is reached, the nitrogen load will increase by 2%; the phosphorus load will increase by 40%; and the suspended sediment load will increase by at least 150%” (EPA, 2010, T-3).

The Conowingo Reservoir holds nutrients and sediment from the Susquehanna River, a tributary of the Chesapeake Bay known for its high loads of nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment. The Susquehanna carries runoff to the Bay from agricultural fields, and urban and suburban regions in the upper half of the Chesapeake Bay watershed, from parts of New York, Pennsylvania, and Maryland. This river delivers half of the Bay’s freshwater, and contributes 40% of the nitrogen, 20% of phosphorus, and a significant amount of sediment to the Chesapeake (CBF, 2006). Should the Conowingo Reservoir reach full capacity, even more nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment will reach the mainstem of the Chesapeake Bay from the Susquehanna.

The most significant concern in regards to the Conowingo Dam, is the buildup of sediment. Major storm events cause sediment backed up behind the Dam to overflow directly into the Chesapeake Bay. When the Conowingo Reservoir is at full capacity, this risk of overflow increases. Sediment is an issue for the Bay, when excess loads delivered to the Bay block out sunlight for underwater grasses, which they need to survive. Sediment can also cover oyster beds, suffocating mature and juvenile oysters. Sedimentation can lead to poor water quality, impacting other fish and shellfish species in the estuary.

To reduce the risk of sediment and nutrient overflow from the Conowingo Dam, Governor Hogan is calling for dredging of sediment behind the dam, and wants the dam’s operating company, Exelon Corp., to pay for this estimated $250 million project. Exelon is fighting back, citing studies from the Maryland Department of the Environment and the Army Corps of Engineers that state nutrients are far more harmful to the Bay than sediment. Exelon is also arguing that the sediment from the Dam is only harmful to small sections of the Bay, and contributes a very small percentage of sediment to the estuary, (the Post article says less than 5%).

I agree that nutrients from agricultural practices, and urban and suburban runoff pose a larger threat to the Bay as a whole, and Hogan should focus more energy on reducing nutrient loads from these sectors. However, if the Conowingo Reservoir is indeed at full capacity, the Bay, even a small portion of it, cannot risk a 150% increase of sediment load, which is likely to happen with a large storm event. (For example sediment scour, or removal of sediment from behind the Dam, reached millions of tons for major storm events in the past. Tropical Storm Agnes in 1972 resulted in 13.5 million tons of sediment scour. A more recent major storm event, Tropical Storm Lee in 2011, resulted in 3.5 million tons of sediment scour). An increase in sediment load this large is sure to cause water quality issues in the upper reaches of the Bay, and harm fish and shellfish species in this region.