Guest Editorial
By John C. Lee, Jr., Old Dominion Electric Cooperative

John C. Lee, Jr.
John C. Lee, Jr.

Building a Bright Future Together

Old Dominion Electric Cooperative, power provider to 12 electric-distribution cooperatives, is working hard to ensure that the energy needs of its nearly half-million consumers are satisfied, now and in the future.

The cooperative has earned a reputation in the electric utility industry as a forward-thinking, progressive utility with innovative, creatively adroit and environmentally sound solutions to often perplexing challenges.

One such challenge facing Old Dominion’s member cooperatives, and all electric utilities today, is the issue of energy supply in a time of rapidly growing demand. To meet this expanding demand, Old Dominion is working toward building three "peaking" power plants: one in Rock Springs, Maryland, to serve Old Dominion’s three member cooperatives on the Delmarva Peninsula; and two in Virginia, to serve the nine member cooperatives west of the Chesapeake Bay.

These plants will be licensed to run only during periods of peak electric demand. By owning peak generation facilities, Old Dominion can better control the price of energy to its member cooperatives and help ensure adequate energy supplies in the future. And make no mistake — these are the most environmentally sound units available for this task.

In Rock Springs, Old Dominion has reached agreement with all parties, obtained all necessary permits and is ready to begin construction. In Louisa County, we’ve received approval from county officials and are working on securing the environmental permits.

In Fauquier County at the Marsh Run site, we’re seeking local approval from, first, the county planning commission and then ultimately, the board of supervisors. Inevitably, some are opposed to this project, and in discussions about the facility, several misconceptions have surfaced which I will attempt to clarify.

Old Dominion is a cooperative, so these plants are being built to benefit our member cooperatives, not to sell electric energy for profit on the open market. If ever any excess generation were sold it would be used to lower the cost of energy charged to our members. As a cooperative, Old Dominion has a responsibility to prepare for the future, and to ensure that our members’ lights stay on 10, 20, 30 and more years from today.

Locating a combustion-turbine station in an area does not trigger industrial or commercial sprawl, nor devalue surrounding property. With the conservation easements that Old Dominion plans around these sites, hundreds of acres will be preserved in perpetuity and will serve as an ecological buffer. The locations for these peaking facilities were selected because they are at the juncture of natural gas and electric transmission lines.

Also, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality is and has been closely monitoring the potential impact of combustion-turbine facilities Old Dominion and other power providers have planned in Virginia. To date, this analysis has revealed that the projects, singly or in aggregate, will not cause a significant impact on the air quality of Virginia.

And in true cooperative fashion, Old Dominion is using a creative and beneficial approach to supply water for the Marsh Run facility. Effluent from the Remington Water Sanitation Authority’s sewage treatment plant will be used as the source for the Marsh Run Project’s water. Using sewage effluent not only protects valuable groundwater and surface-water resources, but use of the effluent during the Rappahannock River’s low-flow periods will actually reduce the concentration of effluent pollutants entering the river when the river is most susceptable to harm.

Another misconception is that Old Dominion will build these plants, only to turn around and sell them, or that Old Dominion and its member cooperatives might be "taken over" or absorbed by a larger power company. Old Dominion is a generation-and-transmission (G&T) cooperative, meaning it is owned by the 12 co-ops that it serves. Never in the 60-years-plus history of electric cooperatives has a G&T been absorbed, "taken over" or merged with a larger power company. That would require that each of the 12 member cooperatives agree to sell Old Dominion. And we wouldn’t be building the plants — again, we’re a cooperative, not a for-profit merchant utility — if we were just going to sell them after building them. They’re being built to serve folks like you who are member-consumers of electric cooperatives.

I’ve also heard others claim that cooperatives are archaic. The truth is that there are more cooperatives in all arenas of business today than ever before, and electric cooperatives are being formed in places they’ve never existed before.

Finally, the assertion that Old Dominion is insensitive to farmers and rural areas is ludicrous. Old Dominion and electric cooperatives in general were formed by, have always served, and are owned by the people in rural areas that nobody else wanted to serve. Old Dominion’s board of directors is predominantly rural residents and farmers.

Like the distribution cooperatives that own it, Old Dominion’s first duty is service to its membership. It’s a mission — and an idea — that has successfully passed the test of time.


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