RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Dominion Virginia Power has started commercial operations at its Virginia City Hybrid Energy Center in Wise County as part of its blueprint to meet growing energy demands and comply with changes to environmental regulations.

The Richmond, Va., energy provider said Wednesday that the 585-megawatt power station in St. Paul was placed in commercial operation late Tuesday after four years of construction that employed nearly 2,400 workers at its peak. The $1.8 billion power station uses coal, waste coal and biomass to produce enough to power 146,000 homes at peak demand.

Dominion Generation CEO David A. Christian said the plant is an important addition to the company’s “balanced, diverse energy mix that has kept our rates reasonable for our customers.”

Dominion will directly employ about 85 people at the plant and a subcontractor will employ another 25, the company said. The project is expected to generate $258.5 million annually in economic activity, and the company will pay more than $6 million per year in local taxes to St. Paul and Wise County over the next decade. A study by Virginia Tech also estimated a total direct and indirect employment impact of about 530 people, most of them coming from the coal-mining and trucking industries.

The state’s largest utility, which has about 2.3 million customers, said the station is among the cleanest U.S. coal-fired power stations in terms of air emissions that it is able to reach through clean-coal technology and emission controls. But various groups, which opposed the project and worked to get stricter environmental permits, argue that the plant’s emissions will contribute to climate change and pollution. They also fear more environmentally damaging strip mining in the region.

Dominion now turns its attention to a similar plant in Warren County, which is expected to begin delivering power by December 2014. The company also plans to build a new $1 billion, 1,300-megawatt gas-fired power plant in Brunswick County that is expected to be completed by the summer of 2016 and produce enough electricity for 325,000 homes.

The company had announced plans in September to close or convert some of its coal-fired power stations, as well as open new power plants as part of a long-term energy plan. That included the likely closure of several coal-fired units at Chesapeake Energy Center and Yorktown Power Station because it is more effective to close the units than to install new environmental controls.

At the time, Dominion said a mix of new generation facilities, energy conservation and management programs, as well as transmission line upgrades, would help meet reliability and environmental needs at the lowest cost. The company says PJM Interconnection, the group that oversees the electric grid for a 13-state region, expects customers will demand 4,000 more megawatts of electricity from Dominion during peak times by 2022.

Parent company Dominion Resources Inc. is one of the nation’s largest producers and transporters of energy and has the nation’s largest natural gas storage system. It serves retail customers in 15 states.

(© Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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