The Virginia State Corporation Commission (SCC) has given final approval to Green Energy Partners / Stonewall LLC of Hamilton, VA and Panda Power Funds in Dallas to construct and operate a 750-megawatt natural gas-fired power plant on a site about 4 miles south of the Leesburg historical district and just north of the Dulles Greenway (see red-shaded area in the adjoining map).

Environmental groups, led by the Piedmont Environmental Council, unsuccessfully contested the power plant in 2010 after the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors rezoned the land from residential to industrial use, clearing the way for the plant’s application. The SCC action May 13 provided the plant’s owners with the last permit required: a certificate of public convenience and necessity.

The Piedmont Environment Council contended emissions from the plant would worsen air quality in Northern Virginia. But the state Department of Environmental Quality saw fit to issue the required air permit. Since then the plant has drawn scant opposition save for what a handful of individuals who argued against the plant at an SCC hearing in Richmond on March 11. Advertisements opposing the plant appeared in Leesburg newspapers in April but they did not identify the organization(s) paying for them; nor did they provide any contact information.

The location was chosen because it is close to two interstate pipelines which carry natural gas from the Gulf Coast region. It is also close to a high-voltage electric power transmission line that will enable the plant’s electricity to be sold under power purchase agreements to utilities and large industrial and other users.

Bill Pentak, a spokesman for Panda Power, asserts the plant (see artist's rendering, right) will deploy the “most advanced” combined-cycle and electric generation emissions control technology currently available “in an effort” to make it one of the cleanest and most efficient fossil-fueled power plants in the nation. You can read here about how the “combined-cycle” technology works to maximize the amount of electricity that can generated.

A "secure" business park is planned for the grounds between the plant and Dulles Greenway.

Early on, the plant's owners needed to secure a permit from the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality for Prevention of Significant Deterioration and Non-Attainment. A Significant Deterioration permit is for large facilities where there is a potential to have high levels of emissions, and the non-attainment permit puts additional constraints on a facility based on where it is built. Since this plant will be built in Northern Virginia, which is a non-attainment zone, the project had to be granted a non-attainment permit.

The permit granted May 13 instructs the plant owners to “follow the principles and practices of pollution prevention to the maximum extent practicable.”

The plant’s original application filed as the "Stonewall Hybrid Energy Park," included a stated intention to build a significant solar energy system on the site. But Pentak explained there need to be incentives in Virginia to make such a system economically viable. At present, there are no proposals for any incentives for solar or other renewable sources of power.

In addition to the added property tax revenues to the county and the estimated 30 full-time workers needed, the plant will use treated wastewater for cooling purposes. Panda Power asserts it will return no wastewater to a treatment facility, preventing the discharge of harmful nutrients into the Potomac River and Chesapeake Bay watershed.

While the plant site currently is surrounded by trees to the north and east, the location is one to consider if one plans purchasing a home Ashburn Village or Ashburn Farm to the west or the Kincaid neighborhoods near Battlefield Parkway to the north. Those neighborhoods are closest to the plant site.

Acoustical consultants who assessed the anticipated noise levels reported that sounds made by normal operations at the outer boundaries of the plant site were projected to be within Loudoun County's 70 decibals limit.

If you care to review the application process, you can find the more than 40 documents on its own “docket” at the SCC here: http://docket.scc.virginia.gov/vaprod/main.asp.  Best to use the Internet Explorer browser when exploring the SCC's web site.

With its approval now secured, Panda Power has added the plant to its portfolio of plants where you can see other power plants it operates in the U.S., including a large solar energy system in New York state.