Fewer than 50 miles from downtown Washington lies some of the most historical, productive agricultural land and beautiful countryside to be found anywhere in America. The Piedmont, as this central area of Northern Virginia is known, is home to hundreds of farmers and ranchers working land that has been handed down for decades.

For many people, the Piedmont is "the country." For us, it is home. We earn our living here as farmers. We raise families. But our way of life is under assault.

Industrialization led by Virginia Power and the Old Dominion Electric Cooperative threatens the existence of farmers and ranchers, small business owners and working people in our rural communities. The American Farmland Trust says the Piedmont is the second-most-endangered agricultural region in the country. If the four power plants being proposed by Virginia Power and Old Dominion are built, we may move up in that ranking and become the country's most-endangered agricultural region.

The first power plant, already in development, is to be an enormous facility just outside the town of Remington, where we live, at the southern end of Fauquier County. We received little notice about Virginia Power's intentions, and apparently our local planners and lawmakers didn't ask many questions when the utility company requested building permits.

Virginia Power asked for and received a special exception to build the plant in the middle of a rural conservation district. The point of designating this part of Fauquier as a conservation district was to protect it from exactly this type of project. Unfortunately, our county supervisors apparently saw an opportunity for tax revenue and took it, leaving Remington residents to hold the proverbial bag.

Ironically, whatever financial gains the county might have expected probably will be short-lived because the plant is bound to cause a dramatic drop in the assessed value of the land surrounding it. This means that revenue from property taxes will decline. Sadly, the land is losing its value for farming. Many people, including us, face the prospect of selling now in order to avoid further financial losses.

Perhaps you are thinking that this is a terrible thing to happen, but you're glad it isn't happening in your backyard. Perhaps you are thinking that your only inconveniences will be looking for new Sunday drives or different weekend getaways. Think again.

Each year, nearly 1,000 tons of the air pollutants could come from the four proposed plants. This area's prevailing winds could spread this pollution to most of the Washington region. Think about the string of code red and orange alert days we already have because of air pollution. These plants could magnify the misery from Fauquier to Frederick, Md., and just about everywhere else around Washington.

The Remington plant will be a minor source of air pollutants, according to Virginia Power, but this one plant alone annually could emit as many as 249 tons of the known air pollutants related to ozone problems. And nothing in its operating permit would require it to shut down even when pollution reaches dangerous levels.

Virginia Power says it would operate its Remington plant only up to 75 days a year, when electricity demands are highest -- traditionally the coldest and hottest days of the year. But the hottest days of the year are also the days on which the Washington area suffers through ozone alerts. Also, it is difficult to believe that Virginia Power would spend $190 million on a plant it intends to operate for fewer than three months a year.

Virginia Power's Remington plant will use 6 million gallons of water for every three-day operating cycle. Remington and all of the area's farms and ranches are on well water. In a drought such as we have been having this year, we could find ourselves competing with Virginia Power for water.

Some people think that if these plants are not built, we'll have electrical shortages. Not true. The power the plants will produce may not even go to Remington, Fauquier County or the Washington region. Virginia Power and Old Dominion can take advantage of deregulation in the energy industry and sell the power outside this region.

Power companies -- and the major developers who are sure to follow -- should not be permitted to ruin the landscape and make our air dirtier so that they can make greater profits. Virginia Power and Old Dominion should keep their hands off both our heritage and health.

-- Jan Barbano

-- Todd Goins