When Gov. Glenn Youngkin rolled out his energy plan in October, stating that Virginia must be “all in” on nuclear energy and that he wants to deploy a small modular nuclear reactor (SMR) somewhere in Southwest Virginia within 10 years, Dominion Energy, the state’s largest utility company, was already one step ahead of the game.
“In our own planning process, we have already been evaluating various technologies and sites across the commonwealth, and we envision that we could be in a position to place the first SMR in service within the decade,” Todd Flowers, Dominion’s director of business development, said in an interview with Cardinal News on Tuesday.
(Disclosure: Dominion is one of our donors but donors have no say in news decisions; see our policy.)
While Dominion has not publicly disclosed any potential sites in Southwest Virginia, it considers the region as an “ideal location,” given the access to the area’s electric power transmission system and the ability to “transition the local fossil fuel workforce that has provided energy for decades” to support SMR deployment, Flowers said.
Meanwhile, Appalachian Power Company is also considering advanced nuclear technology on its path to meet its goal of net zero carbon dioxide emissions by 2045. The company has formed an internal team that is studying SMR options, the utility told Cardinal News in a statement Wednesday.
Dominion, however, is further ahead in its efforts than their competitor from Southwest Virginia. The utility currently serves the most densely populated metropolitan areas of the commonwealth, including Richmond, Hampton Roads, Charlottesville and Northern Virginia. But it also owns land in Tazewell County, where it is studying hydroelectric pump storage, and Wise County, the location of the Virginia Hybrid Energy Center, a power station in St. Paul that burns waste coal.
“We are looking in Southwest Virginia, and we certainly are looking at other facilities that either have operating fossil fuel plants or fossil fuels plants to be retired,” Flowers said, adding that Dominion also has excess land at the company’s existing nuclear facilities – North Anna Power Station in Louisa County and Surry Power Station in Surry County – that could be potential locations for SMRs. He said that an SMR could serve as a substitute for the third conventional reactor that has been licensed for North Anna but hasn’t been built.
“We are looking at multiple options across the commonwealth, and given the siting flexibility and the small footprint of SMRs, we believe there is a lot of opportunity to place these in several different locations across the state,” Flowers said, adding that more than one unit could be deployed to the same location due to a single unit’s small footprint.
The utility’s plan aligns well with that of the Youngkin administration, which is asking the General Assembly for $10 million in the upcoming budget to create the Virginia Power Innovation Fund for research and development of innovative energy technologies – including nuclear, hydrogen, carbon capture and utilization, and battery storage.
Youngkin also announced that $5 million of this funding would advance the goal laid out in the recently released “all-of-the-above” Virginia Energy Plan, to grow Virginia’s nuclear energy industry by establishing a Virginia Nuclear Innovation Hub. These funds would include grants for higher education institutions to study SMR technology, funding for nuclear workforce development, and additional money for SMR site exploration, including in Southwest Virginia.
“With technologies like carbon capture and utilization, and resources like critical minerals, hydrogen, and nuclear, we will make Virginia the epicenter for reliable and affordable energy innovation,” Youngkin said during an event at a reclaimed mine site in Norton, in the heart of Southwest Virginia’s coalfield region, which his administration considers “an example of a possible location for an SMR or other energy facility,” according to a news release. “Southwest Virginia includes hundreds of similar locations ready for development as potential energy and economic development sites,” the statement said.