Dendron, Va chooses its own future.

Cross-posted from the CCAN Blog

Dendron, Virginia, has more than its share of challenges. The community of around 300, located in the southern corner of Surry County, struggles with an outdated municipal water system, crumbling sidewalks and no major businesses within the town.

Prior to the Great Depression, Dendron had been a company town of more than 3,000, fueled by the lumber industry’s presence there. Private business thrived in a town that revolved around the processing and export of timber across the country. Despite its character as an industrial one-trick-pony, the town of Dendron had something to stand for, and an industry to be proud of.

Today’s Dendron little resembles that historic vision of the 1900’s boomtown. Largely forgotten by the industry that once supported a thriving community, and facing serious municipal and community problems, such as an unexpected $10,000 water bill, you’d think the small town would take anything at this point to give it an economic boost.

The Old Dominion Electric Cooperative assumed this to be true when executives within the cooperative approached Dendronites with a plan for a new 1,500-megawatt coal-fired power plant, the second largest of its kind in Virginia. ODEC presented the Cypress Creek project with the promise of new jobs, tax revenue, and the idea that one major industry would bring others to the cash-strapped community. Despite local environmental effects and immediate hazards to human health, ODEC worked to assure Dendron residents that they stood to benefit from such a plant’s construction. ODEC also assumed that they’d buy into it without any major hiccups.

The cooperative, which has endlessly dispelled misinformation concerning the proposed plant (see Hope for Surry Shines through smog, 3 June), encountered a major hiccup Monday evening. As the Dendron Town Council met for its second meeting to deliberate the adoption of an ordinance that would allow the coal-friendly county board of supervisors to assume the community’s zoning rights, tensions – and temperatures – began to rise in the small side room of the Dendron Volunteer Fire Department, the only building large enough to host the crowd of more than 100. Fans reading, “NO COAL PLANT,” undulated throughout, filling the room as it quickly approached capacity, and Mayor Yvonne Pierce called the meeting to order.

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Underground Coal Gasification

Just saw this come across the interwebs. WTF? Mine coal by infecting it with a bacteria that belches natural gas. my interest is peaked.

BNET Energy

A Microbe That Could Keep Coal in the Ground

By Chris Morrison | June 29th, 2009 @ 1:47 am

Craig Venter, already famous as the first person to completely map his own DNA, now claims to be working with British oil giant BP on bacteria that can break down coal into methane, making it cleaner and removing the need for mining. Using modified bacteria, coal miners could presumably just "infect" a coal seam, harvesting the resulting natural gas as it seeped upward through the ground.

Venter announced his discovery of the coal-eating bacteria this weekend, and the Times of London, along with other sources, promptly reported it as something entirely new. Like most things under the sun, it's not. A startup called Luca Technologies, for instance, was funded with $76 million last year for the same idea, though the specific bacteria Luca uses are probably different.

The bacterial approach itself is only part of a larger concept called "underground coal gasification" (UGC). Companies and governments around the world are looking at UGC as a way to avoid sending miners underground, which often results in deaths. UGC can't come fast enough for places like Utah, for instance, where a mining accident two years ago left nine dead and is today leading to tougher, more expensive regulation on the industry.

The more typical method of UGC, practiced by companies like Laurus Energy, is creating a controlled burn along a coal seam, allowing a utility to harvest heat energy and methane without ever extracting the coal. Projects of this sort are further along than using microorganisms to break down the coal.

Neither method is well tested, so for the moment we're still mining and burning coal the usual way. The technology for doing that, from boring holes and collecting the coal to transporting to coal-burning plants, has been perfected over decades, so it's not likely that UGC will be a competitor on price alone for some time.

Later, the balance may shift toward UGC. Using microbes is promising because it's possible that the bacteria in question are already well-optimized by nature to convert coal to methane. It's not clear where all naturally-occuring natural gas comes from, but at least some might be the remnants of coal eaten by microorganisms. Assuming that process could be sped up a bit, coal miners could have a cheap new extraction method on hand.

The question is how long it will take. My guess is that UGC will become important sooner rather than later. Pressure from environmentalists to stop building traditional coal-burning plants is growing, and new technologies like carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) will only raise prices for coal plants.

Coal itself, on the other hand, won't change: Environmentalists can't force its energy potential to go away. All that's needed is a new way to tap into that value.

Correction: An earlier version of this post suggested that GreatPoint Energy is involved in UGC. The company does not work with coal underground. Instead, it applies catalysts to coal, biomass and other materials to produce methane in a process called hydromethanation.


Chris Morrison, a reporter on energy, renewables and climate change, is the former lead cleantech writer for VentureBeat.

Email Chris Morrison or follow him on Twitter

Posted via email from The Small Axe

Footage of Mountaintop Removal Operations at Kayford Mountain, Wv

This just came from my good friend Jordan Freeman, who has also been working the last couple of years on a documentary project called Coal Country, being released in a matter of weeks. The footage is of Kayford Mountain, in the Coal River Valley of Wv, site of recent protests and the heart of the modern struggle against abusive strip mining and mountaintop removal.

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