The state motto of Virginia is shortened from a longer Latin phrase that translates “Thus always I bring death to tyrants,” and there does indeed seem to be a process of dethronement in Virginia, and in other regions, formerly considered the domain of “King Coal.”
The driver is the new king, the customer — many of them high-tech customers. Consider the unique status of Virginia when it comes to the internet, for example. Currently, 70% of the traffic on the internet worldwide passes through data centers in Virginia, and many of those data centers are owned by companies with strong commitments to renewables and clean energy.
A May 26, 2017, article in The New York Times titled Coal Country’s Power Plants Are Turning Away From Coal references pressures put on our industry by the companies that have made these types of commitments to clean energy. The New York Times recounts a conversation that Chris Beam, president of American Electric Power (AEP) subsidiary Appalachian Power, had with West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice, when Justice was inaugurated in January: “'Look, I’d like to see you guys build another coal plant,’ he recalled the governor saying. ‘And our answer was: We’re not going to build another coal plant.’”
The article goes on to recount similar events in other coal states, including Kentucky’s development of renewable energy packages (driven by Facebook’s clean energy commitments) and Wyoming (driven by Microsoft), as well as similar shifts in other coal states driven by “half of the Fortune 500 companies” who “have adopted at least one climate or clean energy goal, with 23 of them pledging eventually to run their business on 100 percent renewable energy, including Walmart, Bank of America and Google.”
Given the benefits that energy storage brings to the dispatchability of intermittent renewables sources of power, it is of interest that the potential for energy storage in some of Virginia’s old coal mines is now being explored.
A recent Wall Street Journal article Coal Mines Are Reimagined as a New Power Source reports that two major U.S. utilities are investigating the idea of adding a new type of pumped hydro storage solution using abandoned coal mines. Terry McAuliffe, governor of Virginia, has signed a bill passed by the General Assembly that will allow utilities to build pumps near old coal fields. Both AEP and Dominion Energy are investigating options that can use a coal mine as a water storage reservoir.
Along similar lines, FERC issued a permit, as reported by T&D World in December 2016, Energy Storage: Let’s Not Neglect the Potential for New Pumped Hydro Storage, for a New York-based engineering firm to use a centuries-old abandoned iron mine for an underground pumped storage facility.
The WSJ cites John Shepelwich, a spokesman for AEP, as saying “It’s way too early to provide a cost estimate,” and added that Dominion’s David Botkins said the project is in its infancy and added that “a pump could help the surrounding grid as the company ‘adds a lot more solar in the future.’”
Despite the growth in battery storage, 97% of electric energy storage in the U.S. is still based on pumped hydro storage. ♦