RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — State regulators have approved Dominion Virginia Power’s plans to build a coal-fired power plant in southwest Virginia, but the company still must secure permits from a state environmental board before breaking ground.

The State Corporation Commission gave its approval Monday for construction of the $1.8 billion power plant proposed for Wise County.

But the Virginia Air Pollution Control Board has to issue a general air pollution control permit and another one addressing mercury emissions before construction can begin, said Bill Hayden, a spokesman for Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality. The board will likely address the issue at its May 22 meeting, but it’s unclear whether members will take final action, board chairman Richard Langford said.

It’s the last hurdle Dominion faces to gain final approval for construction.

In a 3-2 vote on March 18, board members decided to take over the permit case because they were concerned that the DEQ’s proposed limits for pollutants were not stringent enough. They are exploring whether Dominion can reduce air pollution by using different technology or burning another type of coal amid concerns over sulfur dioxide, carbon dioxide and other emissions.

“The way the plan has been proposed, DEQ believes it’ll meet state regulations,” Hayden said.

However, environmental groups continue to insist that the proposed technology for the plant will not reduce carbon emissions.

Dominion has said that delays in approval could lead to higher costs.

The SCC approved a rate increase to finance the construction of the new plant, but put cost control measures in place. Dominion must prove all additional costs are “reasonable and prudent” before charging customers.

The General Assembly passed legislation in 2004 saying that the construction of a coal-fueled power plant that uses Virginia coal in the Wise County region was in the public interest, a mandate that SCC officials said they were following.

“Is there a need for this to meet future electric demand? Yes, there is,” said SCC spokesman Ken Schrad. “Is it going to enhance economic development? Clearly.”

Schrad said that concerns voiced by environmental groups were part of the DEQ’s domain, and that the commission’s responsibility was utility law.

“Virginia urgently needs additional electric generating capacity to meet the rising demand for energy and to help maintain price stability over the long term,” Dominion said in a written statement. “Today’s announcement is an important step in moving this project forward.”

The proposed 585-megawatt plant has generated heated debate. Environmentalists say it would pollute the air and endanger the health of Wise County residents. But supporters say the plant could serve as an economic boon for area, creating jobs and hauling in more than $6 million in annual revenue for the county.

“We all acknowledge that the commonwealth is going to have greater energy needs, and this is going to meet those needs and allow the commonwealth to grow and prosper,” said Wise County Administrator Glen “Skip” Skinner.

The Chesapeake Climate Action Network, an opponent of the plant, accused Gov. Timothy M. Kaine of not doing enough to address the environmental concerns. Environmental groups say they’ve collected 30,000 petition signatures protesting the plant, and more than 60 faith leaders from across Virginia also have come out against it.

More than 800 jobs are expected to be created during the construction phase, and an additional 250 coal mining jobs are expected once the plant goes online in 2012, if approval is granted. The plant also could create 75 jobs once operational.

Dominion Virginia Power is a unit of Dominion Resources Inc.

Read the story at The Boston Globe

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