Marsh Run Generation Station Siting
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Marsh Run Generation Station Siting

After four years of study, Old Dominion selected the Marsh Run area in Remington, Va., at the southern end of Fauquier County, for the site of a 760 MW simple cycle gas-fired combustion turbine peaking power station to meet future energy needs.

Paul Holmes

Old Dominion Electric Cooperative (Old Dominion) is a generation cooperative that provides wholesale power to 10 cooperatives in Virginia, as well as one in both Maryland and Delaware, serving nearly 430,000 homes and businesses or more than a million people.

Two of its Virginia cooperatives – Northern Virginia Electric Cooperative and Rappahannock Electric Cooperative – provide electrical power to more than 20,000 people in Fauquier County.

After four years of study, Old Dominion selected the Marsh Run area in Remington, Va., at the southern end of Fauquier County (in the Lee District), for the site of a 760 MW simple cycle gas-fired combustion turbine peaking power station to meet future energy needs. The 250-acre site offers proximity to natural gas and electric transmission lines, which are requirements for plant siting.

A year and a half before the final approval by the Fauquier Board of Supervisors, the client and CRT agreed that other sites should be considered because this particular site seemed an impossible feat (see challenges below).  This made Old Dominion and CRT more determined to facilitate as much public debate and support as possible and prove that even against the odds, the spirit of the public approval process can make a difference.

Challenges/Opportunities

The Piedmont Environmental Council (PEC) is one of Virginia’s most well-organized and well-funded environmental groups, best known for preventing Disney from building a park in Northern Virginia.  The PEC is located in Fauquier County and represents the vocal minority of wealthy Virginians who oppose any growth. The PEC has refused to work with Old Dominion despite the cooperative’s attempts otherwise.

The location of the power station represented the toughest challenge.  Both Old Dominion and CRT initially agreed that the cooperative should consider alternative sites because this particular site is in the PEC’s backyard, less than one-and-one-half miles from an existing Dominion Virginia Power peaking facility.  It also is located in the southern, blue-collar end of Fauquier County (Lee District), which receives little financial support from the county. 

The impact on air quality seemed an impossible issue with both stations in close proximity. However, Old Dominion conducted an independent air modeling study that determined there would be no significant health impact.  This assisted with key message development and in communicating the environmental impact.

One advantage Old Dominion had was its roots in rural communities.  Electric cooperatives were created to bring power to rural areas.  With 20,000 cooperative customers in Fauquier County, Old Dominion already had a good base of goodwill and credibility within rural Fauquier County.

The intense obstacles that Old Dominion faced made the approval process seem impossible.

Research

In July 2000, CRT hired a research firm to conduct a survey of 402 Fauquier County residents to solicit their opinions about economic development in Southern Fauquier County.  Sixty-three percent of the respondents said they wanted taxes reduced, and 48 percent said that taxes in southern Fauquier County are too high. Several respondents commented that the community lacks a tax base other than homeowners. And, while the respondents indicated a desire for community improvements (traffic, utility, parks and recreation), they also wanted to maintain the ambiance of small town life. CRT used this research to help craft key messages, identify organizations for philanthropy and build grassroots support for economic development.

Objectives
Objective #1:  Increase the number of Fauquier County citizens involved in the public approval process
Objective #2:  Obtain local approval from the Fauquier County Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors for the Marsh Run Generation Station

Planning & Strategy

To achieve the above objectives, CRT developed the following strategies:
- Communicate openly and proactively about Old Dominion’s plans and proposals in Fauquier County
- Establish strong community support on a grassroots level
- Mobilize the silent majority to speak out in support of the Marsh Run proposal
- Encourage all community members to get involved in the local approval process
- Challenge the PEC’s strategy and credibility

However, the most effective and successful strategy to influence public opinion in favor of the Marsh Run proposal was to establish strong community support on a grassroots level.  After the Planning Commission public hearing in May 2001, CRT seized the opportunity to create a civic action group to mobilize support for the Marsh Run Station proposal.  One community leader, Chester Stribling, expressed an interest in helping.  CRT worked with Stribling to identify other key community leaders who became the Fauquier Citizens for Co-op Power (FCCP). Old Dominion provided resources to support the group.  Formalizing and organizing local support was critical to mobilizing the silent majority and getting the community involved in the public approval process.

Old Dominion also provided a representative to work within Fauquier County on an on-going basis.  John Lee, vice president of cooperative affairs, traveled to the county several times a week to lobby the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors.  In particular, he kept in front of Supervisor Sharon McCamy, (Lee District), since all other supervisors indicated that they would defer to her decision.  Lee was visible within the community to rally high-level community leaders and maintain relationships with the media. 

Local lobbying and the grassroots community efforts of the FCCP provided an effective strategy for Old Dominion to communicate openly with the community and to ensure the silent majority’s voice was being heard.

Execution/Tactics

CRT developed and executed a wide range of tactics.  Following is a brief review with a major emphasis on the grassroots community relations. 

CRT conducted media training, developed key messages and utilized proactive and reactive media relations; coordinated editorial board meetings, wrote editorials and letters to the editor; planned and implemented two Marsh Run community/cooperative customer “open house” dinners and informational meetings, which included event coordination, writing and producing graphic display boards and materials, PowerPoint presentations, etc.; wrote, designed and placed issues advertising (a series of 11 ads ran in the two local newspapers from Sept. 2000 through Oct. 2001) to diffuse the PEC’s claims and communicate Old Dominion’s position; created and implemented a speakers bureau (secured five speaking engagements with various civic and business organizations); developed and implemented direct mail campaigns to cooperative customers and Fauquier County residents including letters encouraging customers to attend public hearings and write letters to the editor; wrote, produced and distributed the Marsh Run Report newsletter (three issues) to customers and county residents; sent “moles” to PEC and other opposition meetings; and provided on-going strategic counsel.

Related to grassroots community relations, CRT worked with Stribling and FCCP key leaders daily on everything from the planning of the initial and subsequent FCCP meetings (drafting talking points and agendas; writing and producing materials including the key points of the proposal, how to submit a letter to the editor, how to contact the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors, etc.) to preparations for the final Board of Supervisors public hearing (working with Stribling to obtain petition signatures and identify supporters to attend and speak out at the hearing; writing and producing materials including “top 10 reasons to support the proposal” and “what to say at the hearing”).  As media coverage and anti-letters to the editor surfaced, CRT worked with Stribling to identify FCCP members to respond, and drafted sstrategic counsel to Stribling and the FCCP to keep momentum going and address any questions or concerns of the community.

Results

Objective #1:  Increase the uggested letters to the editor and key messages to stress in communications. 

CRT wrote and produced the FCCP newsletter and direct mail post cards to communicate community progress/key developments related to the proposal, upcoming meetings and growing support of the proposal. The FCCP worked daily on a grassroots level communicating with friends, neighbors, relatives, the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors to ensure the silent majority was being heard and was participating actively in the public approval process.  The Saturday prior to the Aug. 20 Board of Supervisors public hearing, CRT planned and implemented, with support from the FCCP, the Marsh Run Rally to get the community excited about the public hearing.  This included writing, producing and distributing an invitation, coordinating event logistics, writing and developing materials, writing the agenda of speakers and Stribling’s speech, etc.  The FCCP played a critical role in getting the community to attend the event and ensuring the FCCP came out in numbers at the Aug. 20 public hearing.  CRT also wrote, designed and placed an ad on behalf of the FCCP commending supporters for their participation in the Board of Supervisors hearing.  CRT provided ongoing number of Fauquier County citizens involved in the public approval process
Overwhelming community involvement in the Aug. 20 Board of Supervisors hearing, including:
- nearly 100 supporters and more than 200 Fauquier County citizens in attendance
- more than 40 individual calls in support of the proposal to Lee District Supervisor Sharon Grove McCamy in the week prior to the hearing
- more than 750 petition signatures in support of the proposal presented
- a hand count of 89 (56 percent) in favor of the proposal and 70 (44 percent) against
- 25 supporters (47 percent) spoke in favor of the proposal and 27 supporters (51 percent) against
- 52 percent of the speakers from the Lee District (location of the plant) spoke in favor, 44 percent spoke against and 4 percent were neutral
- Nearly 300 supporters attended the Marsh Run Rally
- Twelve letters to the editor from supporters and FCCP members ran between May and October 2001
- Secured endorsement of the project by the Fauquier Citizen and Fauquier Times-Democrat
- More than 300 Fauquier County residents became involved with the Fauquier Citizens for Co-op Power

Objective #2:  Obtain local approval from the Fauquier County Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors for the Marsh Run Generation Station

On May 31, 2001, the Fauquier County Planning Commission voted three-to-two to recommend approval of the Old Dominion Marsh Run Station

On October 15, 2001, the Fauquier County Board of Supervisors voted three-to-one in favor of the special exception permit and comprehensive plan amendment to build Old Dominion’s Marsh Run Station

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