They may have a much bigger problem lurking in the piney woods.

About 20 miles to the southwest are plans for a 1,500 megawatt coal-fired electric plant designed by Henrico County-based Old Dominion Electric Cooperative. If built, it could make Dominion’s proposed 500,000 volt power lines stretching from Dominion’s Surry Nuclear Power Station on Hog Island seem like a much smaller problem.

Although plans for the $5 billion, coal-fired power station are on hold for now, the plant would release mercury, soot and ozone into the air, plus about 11.7 million tons a year of carbon dioxide believed to contribute to greenhouse gases and climate change, environmentalists say. If built, it would be the largest coal-fired plant in a state that has seen a number closed down recently, such as one in Alexandria, because they were too old and expensive to upgrade.

The ODEC plant would be in the tiny burg of Dendron a couple dozen miles downwind of Colonial Williamsburg. Dendron has been the scene of great controversy over the plant and has granted appropriate zonings and permissions for it, although ODEC would need many more permits from state and federal regulators.

The electric cooperative had decided to slow down work on the project two years ago because of weak economic conditions. Other factors could be that cheap natural gas has been displacing coal as an inexpensive source of power. The Obama administration has likewise proposed new rules restricting carbon dioxide emissions at new coal-fired plants, increasing their cost.

Likewise, Dominion told The Post that one reason it wants the transmission line across the James is that it has plans to shut down some of its own coal-fired capacity and needs the Surry nuclear power station to make up some of the difference.

It didn’t mention the ODEC plant, which at this point looks like it might never be built. But as the unexpected flood of natural gas brought on by controversial hydraulic fracking shows, energy matters can change quickly. It could be too soon to count out the new coal plant, and what impact it might have on tourism and people in Tidewater.

Peter Galuszka blogs at Bacon’s Rebellion. The Local Blog Network is a group of bloggers from around the D.C. region who have agreed to make regular contributions to All Opinions Are Local.