Virginia lawmakers pass bill for new utility pumped hydro storage facilities

Dive Brief:

  • Virginia lawmakers have overwhelmingly passed a bill seeking rate approval for one or more pumped hydro storage projects in the state, moving the measure to the Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) for signature. 

  • The bill, HB 1760, seeks rate approval for “one or more pumped hydroelectricity generation and storage facilities that utilize associated on-site or off-site renewable energy resources as all or a portion of their power source.” The measure stipulates the project(s) be located in the coalfield region of Virginia.

  • The legislation passed both chambers with only one vote in opposition and has the backing Dominion Energy and Appalachian Power, Virginia's investor-owned utilities. One of the sponsors of the bill put the ballpark estimate of a pumped hydro project's costs in the $300 million to $500 million range.

Dive Insight:

Southwest Virginia is coal country, and coal country is hurting. A new bill passed nearly unanimously by the state legislature aims to provide some relief by seeking regulated siting of pumped hydro projects. 

Such facilities could use abandoned coal mines for reservoirs to hold water that would be pumped uphill using renewable energy at low demand hours and released when power demand is high to generate electricity.  The projects would create jobs, add to the region’s tax base, and allow integration of more clean energy, lawmakers said.

The measure would declare pumped hydro projects "in the public interest" and release the utilities from the obligation of comparing alternative technologies and third party solicitations when proposing the projects to regulators. 

It also pushes the Virginia State Corporation Commission to approve the projects by directing them to "liberally construe" provisions of Title 56, which governs utility regulation in the state. 

The bill passed the House on Jan. 23 with 98 votes in favor, none against, and one abstaining. It passed the Senate 39 to one on Feb. 7, and the House approved final language on Feb. 13. 

Gov. Terry McAuliffe has not indicated whether he will sign the bill, but Republican sponsors told the Bluefield Daily Telegraph they are hopeful its requirements that the storage projects use renewable energy will win over the Democratic governor.  

Dominion and Appalachian Power already have experience with pumped hydro, jointly own the 3,003 MW Bath County pumped storage plant in Virginia that went into service in 1985. The Bath project cost about $1 billion, but Dominion told the AP it is premature to assess costs for new projects before siting. 

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Filed Under: Generation Energy Storage Regulation & Policy Technology
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