Virginia Electric & Power Co. is studying the possibility of building a 300-mile-long coal slurry pipeline across Virginia, company officials said yesterday.
The proposed pipeline would carry a mixture of coal and water from the heart of Virginia's coal country to Vepco power plants in the Piedmont and Tidewater areas.
The coal would be ground as fine as sugar mixed with water to the consistency of cream, piped over the mountains, and then dried and burned to make electricity.
So far, Vepco has not said how much the pipe would cost to build.
Vepco officials contended yesterday, however, that the coal pipeline could mean lower electric rates. A preliminary feasibility study concluded it would cost $3 to $5 a ton less to pump coal in a pipeline than to haul it by train, said E. L. Crump, Vepco's chief lobbyist.
Before the pipeline can be built, however, Vepco will have to persuade the state legislature to repeal an 18-year-old statute that effectively outlaws coal pipelines in Virginia.
Back in 1962, when the idea of pumping coal was first introduced powerful railroad interests convinced the legisture to keep pipelines out of virginia.
The state law prevents coal pipelines from using the power of eminent domain to obtain land for their routes. Virginia is the only state that has a law specifically blocking coal pipelines according to the Slurry Transport Association, a Washington trade group.
Repealing the state law will be Vepco's first step toward building the pipeline, Crump said. "We don't feel it would be right to spend any great amount of money looking at routes until we get some word from the legislature that we can build it," he said.
The railroads "are a very formidable opponent," added Crump, who is known as Reddy Kilowatt around the statehouse in Richmong where he is considered one of the most influential lobbyists.
Crump said one veteran observer of Richmond's legislative infighting who retired this year told him he would "come back to Richmond on his own money just to see the blood" when Vepco and the railroads go head to head.
Coal for Vepco's power plants is carried by the Southern Railway, the Norfolk and Western, the Louisville & Nashville and the Seaboard Coast lines.
Slurry pipeline being considered by Vepco would carry 10 million tons of coal a year in an underground tube one to three feet in diameter.
Although no route for the line has been selected, Vepco wants to start at the village of Pound, on the West Virginia border, then swing the line past Charlottesville, south of Richmond and on to Portsmouth.
The pipeline would follow Vepco powerlines, saving the cost of buying land and minimizing the environmental damage, Crump said.
The route being considered would allow the pipeline to drop off coal at several Vepco power plants along the way.
At present there is only one coal slurry pipeline operating, a 273-mile link between Arizona and Nevada. Several other projects are under consideration. And one group has already started buying land.
Vepco officials said the power company probably would not own the pipeline it is discussing, but would be a partner in the project. Coal for Vepco's generators would be gathered from many mines, then taken to the pipeline mouth to be crushed and mixed with water.
At the other end of the 300 mile tube, Vepco would have to dispose of the water. Federal environmental regulations require purifying the fluid, Crump said, and it could provide badly-needed water for the Norfolk area, which has few good sources.