Virginia Passes Law Allowing Pumped-Storage Hydropower At Empty Coal Mines

Virginia has passed legislation to allow the production of hydropower plants at abandoned coal mines. The goal is to create another renewable source of energy during peak usage times that are obtained through the pumped-storage method.


May 21 2019, Updated 4:32 p.m. ET

Old coal mines that have been abandoned could have an important role in our future. Ben Chafin, the Virginia senator, believes that these empty areas could be filled with renewable energy sources and the state government has passed legislation to do that. A couple of electric companies in the area will be researching to see how this will be attainable.

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The companies behind that research are Dominion Energy and Appalachian Power. So far, they’ve developed a method of creating pumped-storage hydroelectric power. There would be two pools of water -- one above the coal mine and one in the shaft. Gallons of water would be pushed up to the top, and when power needs to be generated, the water would run down into the mines through a hydropower plant.

Bloomberg details how this process works. During non-peak hours, the water will be pumped to the top level through other stored energy usage. This water will be held back in a pool and a door that leads into a power plant. When more energy is required to meet demand, such as during those peak hours, those doors open and the water will rush through the plant. Since it will be downhill, no energy is required to move the water this time around. The rush of liquid will power turbines, and that will push electricity to consumers.

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Hydropower is a very important renewable resource. It provides energy when solar and wind isn’t attainable. Solar can produce a very high amount of energy at one time, but only for a limited amount of time. Wind can also, obviously, be unreliable. Other benefits include minimal maintenance and it’s long lasting.

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Legislation was passed by Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe. Beginning on July 1st, local energy companies will be slightly increasing their prices in order to build these plants and pumps in the abandoned mines. Along with charging more being a downfall of this process, another is the money-making potential. Gerard Reid, an energy specialist at Alexa Capital,  tells Fox Business that this process is “a big white elephant that would never make money.” He argues buying and selling energy it needs and recreates would never match up to the cheap prices of wholesale electricity.

A counterpoint to that is the bigger picture. Making use of these abandoned mines would create jobs in places that have been hit from the decline of coal mining. It’s always important to figure out how to keep an economy flowing when money has been taken away from jobs closing.

This process is also being considered in other parts of the world. Germany hasn’t been getting the same support from their local energy companies as they don’t want to put the money toward it. When a large coal mine closes next year in North Rhine-Westphalia, the coal producer operating in the area would like to see a similar pumped-storage method used. However, other places like Australia and France are singing a different tune, and that could convince others to do the same.


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