Time For a Fossil Fuel Reality Check

Murray

Murray

By Peter Galuszka

Let’s pause for a moment, catch our breath and realize what is really going on in the world of fossil fuel and climate change.

We’ve heard tons of loosely-based opinion from climate change deniers and drum beaters for the “War on Coal” crowd.

Here are two recent news items:

Coal baron Robert Murray is closing a $1.4 billion deal for Illinois Basin coal. The outspoken, labor-busting  boss who figured prominently in the “War on Coal” campaign during the Mitt Romney presidential run has been picking up reserves in the robust Illinois Basin and in the distressed Appalachians.

His deal for 50 percent of Foresight Energy follows another he did in 2013 worth $3.5 billion to buy five Appalachian mines from Consol.

What does this mean? It shows that coal overall does have a future, especially in the high-sulfur Illinois Basin which has been rediscovered since utilities such as the Tennessee Valley Authority have been forced to use better scrubbing equipment. Illinois Basin can be twenty bucks a ton cheaper than Appalachian product. He also sees some future left in high coast Appalachian coal.

Stop a moment and consider: new environmental regs promote the use of cheaper coal. Now that coal may not be in the Central Appalachian area of southwest Virginia and West Virginia. But the magic of the market is favoring Illinois Basin product which is simply easier and cheaper to mine as is Powder River Basin coal in Wyoming and Montana.

A big problem with some of the commentators on this blog is that they fail to grasp that the U.S. coal industry is a lot bigger than little ole Virginny’s mines that started to play out decades ago. In their world view, their demise is the fault of the bad old federal government, not sharp barons like Murray who is a major contributor to (ahem) the Republican Party. Their brains seem trapped in a geographical warp zone where they cannot imagine things beyond the borders of the Old Dominion.

And while we are on the GOP, let’s consider George Schultz’s oped Sunday in The Washington Post. For those of you who may forget, he was Secretary of State under Ronald Reagan, the mystical president some of you love and miss dearly.

Schultz’s message is that human based climate change is here. So, stop denying it, get over it and get on with a carbon tax that worked to protect the ozone layer years ago. Yes, they actually worked that out back in Ronnie’s day and a tax and marker system to reduce fluorocarbons actually worked.

Not to add insult to injury, but consider what Schultz wrote: “For example, we can now produce electricity from the wind and sun at close to the same price we pay for electricity from other sources…”

Hmm. Sounds like a wild-eyed, irresponsible greenie. Someone tell Jim Bacon and Dominion Virginia Power.

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36 responses to “Time For a Fossil Fuel Reality Check

  1. every time I look at an interstate interchange, or sound walls, or the median and other right-of-ways I see unused land that would provide us with millions of acres of free land that would alleviate having to buy a single acre for solar venues.

    what keeps us from actually leasing this land to companies that would install the solar and sell the power to DOminion as well as save VDOT from spending tax dollars on grass cutting?

    VDOT could put out an RFP with the proviso on all installations that road improvements by be a future consideration to be taken into account …

    http://cleantechnica.com/2008/12/29/a-new-place-for-solar-energy-highway-right-of-way/

    what actually keeps this from happening?

    Dominion Power -that’s who with both the SCC and the Virginia GA their enabling partners.

    such a thing is a direct threat to their profits as well as a direct threat to their ability to operate grid according to their own profit motives – not necessarily what would benefit Virginian’s.

    VDOT is sitting on a treasure trove of solar sites.. that could help it with road funding and grass cutting and benefit all Virginians from less pollution from coal plants but Dominion power says that we cannot rely on one “fuel” and that solar is “disruptive” to the grid because when a lot of solar is hooked up and feeding into the grid – it causes them problems trying to balance those inputs against base load generation power that their grid is largely unable to accommodate with dynamic load balancing.

    they can’t dynamically load balance because they don’t want to “depend” on Natural Gas – even though they want a pipeline to move it across Virginia and could easily use the right of way as a place for both natural gas plants and solar arrays.

    So we have this argument about global warming and the war on coal and we pretend that we cannot upgrade the grid to accommodate wind and solar because we cannot depend on Natural Gas as the dynamic load balancing mechanism.

    this sort of reminds me of cod fishing, Kodak and coal mining where the future was and is not promising but the investors and owners seem unwilling or incapable of adapting to change.

    Jim loves to talk about disruptive technology when it comes to Uber and MOOC and big data, but he’s totally AWOL on that with respect to DOminion and their dinosaur grid..that they steadfastly refuse to upgrade or add Nat gas as well as solar as addition fuels.

    How about it Jim Bacon?

    how about an article pointing out the disruptive technologies affecting the generation and sale of coal-produced electricity instead of you point-by-point list of what Dominion says is the reality?

    It won’t hurt you. I promise. We’ll all respect you even more for taking an independent position separate from your current Dominion-loving positions.

    😉

    how about expanding your uber/MOOC-loving disruptive technology support to electricity?

  2. “A big problem with some of the commentators on this blog is that they fail to grasp that the U.S. coal industry is a lot bigger than little ole Virginny’s mines that started to play out decades ago. In their world view, their demise is the fault of the bad old federal government…”

    Gee, Peter, to whom might you be referring here?

    Can you provide one single citation suggesting that the unnamed individuals (a) fail to understand that the U.S. coal industry is bigger than Virginia’s, (b) fail to understand that Virginia mines are old and played out, or (c) have blamed the federal government for the woes of the coal industry?

    No?

    I didn’t think so.

    I can only hope that one of these days you actually address the arguments that these unnamed individuals actually make, as opposed to putting silly words in their mouths and demolishing positions they never held!

  3. As for me, I am basically anti-coal-combustion as we know it, although I do support alternative clean coal technologies. I realize some states have an economic dependence on coal, but when I lived in NJ, I saw no need for NJ to move into coal burning for power (which was adopted as official sate policy around 1990). If you could search old letters-to-the-editor you’d know just how vocal I was. Maybe I will put my writings in an unpublished book someday.

    I do see a political “war” on fossil fuels in America, guess I recently said that, so I am sticking to it. I’ve been testing that hypothesis for a for years and I think it works. But ugh if higher sulfur is being favored without appropriate controls, I would not be a happy camper.

  4. “The coal plants on the Peninsula will be retired to meet EPA regulations restricting the emission of toxic pollutants. NO, THEY ARE BEING RETIRED BECAUSE THEY ARE OBSOLETE AND TOO EXPENSIVE TO KEEP RETROFITTING. Another wave of EPA regulations likely will phase out all but one of Virginia’s remaining coal-fired power plants within another decade to meet the goal of reducing carbon emissions. A battle new brews over how Dominion will replace that capacity — with natural gas, nuclear or renewable fuel sources such as solar and wind power. NOT TRUE, SEZ WHO?

    • I’m not opposed to coal on ideology grounds or even because it’s “dirty” per se.

      I’m not in the lefty/greenie – “no coal no matter what” camp.

      like it or not – coal is a major reason we are a first world country that enjoys much higher standards of living that most of the rest of the world.

      In fact, when we first started using coal – we actually sited the plant in the cities where they were to generate power.

      Over time, as with other things, we began to realize it had significant impacts, first when in close proximity to people then later when we realized that even putting them remote and pushing the effluent out high smokestacks – still resulted in serious, regional , systemic impacts.

      we cleaned up .. we’ve plumbed the limits of BACT – best available control technology but we still have serious impacts and

      … now we have information from legitimate science that we may have underestimated even more serious impacts that may – imperil the earth …

      … at the same time – we KNOW we are wasting power with baseload plants because they cannot ramp up quickly so we keep them burning even when they’re not generating power – “at the ready”.

      we do this even though we know there are more modern ways to operate the grid and less polluting technologies that each kilowatt we use – replaces a coal kilowatt. Natural gas can be used to close the base load that is running 24/7 in reserve.

      in other words – we have a history of underestimating our impact on the environment – over and over – we make huge mistakes in our assumptions then have to backtrack.. and coal has it’s issues.. and efforts to do something about it – have gotten caught up in not unfamiliar politics that we’ve seen before like with leaded gasoline, DDT, and a host of other toxics.. kepone..where we engage it this collective hate dialogue about “war on… jobs” and whatever other other divisive us against them politics can dredge up of late.

      we don’t know how long Nat Gas will last. It could be one of the most valuable fossil fuels known to mankind if it can be the technology to allow us to reduce coal plants and at the same time bridge to a future where wind/solar see even further cost reductions – along with demand response technology that can automatically modulate electricity usage in high demand times.

      we can do this. why we need to make it yet another political jihad is beyond me.

      we’re all about reforming the schools, reforming transportation.. smart growth, you name it but when it comes to coal – it’s a war – of our choosing.

    • I agree with you, Peter, but how did that cause you to say, just yesterday, that Jim’s attempt to discuss these very questions was a “public relations wheez . . . And you believe Dominion’s desperation? Give me a break.” You even added “The coal plants in question are about 50 years old. Dominion has had plenty [o]f time to figure this out.” As if Dominion isn’t facing a moving regulatory target!

      My problem with this discussion is, it far too often presumes Dominion is not acting in good faith. If their job is to keep the cost of electricity down, they are doing it pretty well. That’s despite the social trends and political forces that try to impose external constraints on their economic models and forecasts, and despite the obvious fact that they are not a government agency but motivated to make a “just and reasonable” regulated profit for their shareholders. Balancing an electric system so it operates at lowest cost is a hugely challenging task, and Dominion is amazingly transparent about it, all told, given such reports as its IRP and the PJM RTEP that publish all of facts about Dominion’s cost environment. Now if you can figure out what they should do better than they can, go to it! But at least deal with the same constraints they have to deal with.

  5. here’s what Oregon is doing – a partnership between the DOT and electric company:

    ” Oregon was the first U.S. state to use highway rights of way for solar energy with a small, 104-kilowatt project near the interchange of Interstates 5 and 205 near Portland. A much-larger, 1.75-megawatt project opened in 2012 on unused land near a rest area along Interstate 5 south of Portland. That’s enough electricity to power 165 all-electric homes, Hamilton said.

    That array includes 7,000 solar panels across 7 acres. The partnership between Portland General Electric and the Oregon DOT is open for public tours.

    Oregon is eyeing another large roadside project by 2016, Hamilton said, with that one adjacent to a polluted brownfield site. She said the cost of installing solar has dropped by about 75 percent from 2008, when the state’s first project was completed, to today.”

  6. Solar on public road right of way

  7. Solar on public road right of way

  8. And Jim,
    I’d like to hear your thoughts on George Schultz’s ideas of a carbon tax. It is so free market-like that I’m sure you’d gobble it up.

  9. Most everyone wants to be green.

    Wind and solar will not for some time completely supplant fossil. Wind doesn’t work when there is no or too much wind. Solar doesn’t produce when snow covered in Boston or at night. It takes a combination of the aforementioned along with some much better battery technology. Hydro/pump storage still can play a part. Tidal or sun mirrors may offer some promise in the future.

    Let’s not burn any bridges.

    • Okay I keep saying this and it’s either not understood or not agreed with.

      when solar and wind – recede/reduce – IF YOU HAVE a natural gas generation plant it can ramp up almost immediately and supplant the loss.

      what does this mean?

      1. – it means you can have wind and solar without battery technology – the natural gas plant is your “battery”.

      2.- it means that you don not need to run a “hot reserve” coal plant that is burning coal 24/7 but only generating power at peak demand.

      so.. either I’m not looking at this correctly or others are not.

      why can’t Natural Gas be used as a ready substitute for solar and wind when they are not available?

      by the way -“green” is one of those phrases like “community policing” or dozens of others that don’t really mean anything other than feel good… in a lot of cases.

      you wanna be “green” – put a solar panel on your roof and a natural gas backup generator behind your house and let it pickup the slack when your solar falls short.

      an even better idea is to let Dominion put a giant natural gas backup generator for a bunch of houses with solar so that when solar falls short – the natural gas generator fires up and makes up for the reduction.

      the further advantage of this – is if the power grid itself experiences a failure – a localized natural gas plant can fire up (just like a house backup generator) and keep power supplied until the grid comes back online.

      is this a hard to understand concept?

      • LarryG, you say, “what does this mean?
        1. – it means you can have wind and solar without battery technology – the natural gas plant is your “battery”.
        2.- it means that you don not need to run a “hot reserve” coal plant that is burning coal 24/7 but only generating power at peak demand.
        so.. either I’m not looking at this correctly or others are not.”

        You ARE looking at this correctly. That is the principle behind “lowest cost reliability-based system dispatch” which is precisely what PJM is engaged in as the bulk power system operator for the mid-Atlantic region.

        The problem is, that’s only part of the problem. The optimal mix is to run “baseload” generation to supply your 24-hour load, “cycling” generation to supply the load when it ramps up toward the daily peak, and “peaking” generation to take care of those transient spikes where the load goes higher than forecast. Generation is dispatched by the system operator based on some impressive load forecasting and matching programs that take into account everything from weather and daily work patterns, transmission loadings and line losses, to sports events, juggling how long it will take to get those various kinds of generation up and running, and what their non-productive (get ready and shutdown) costs are, versus how efficiently they can generate electricity while on-line.

        You are correct, renewable generation tends to be intermittent, and must be backed up by cycling generation such as natural gas fired units. [Actually the best of all backups is hydroelectric, another renewable source, which can be turned on and off near-instantly; but hydro units are extremely capital intensive to build and you have to have the geography and the large land area for the lake, and they are so valuable as a flexible resource for moment-to-moment load balancing that system operators don’t like to use them for extended (nightime) generation.] But solar in the day, gas at night, just doesn’t come close to the efficiency and low total cost (i.e. the sum of investment to build it and cost to operate it) of a good baseload generator running 24 hours a day. By that measure nuclear and newer coal units beat the solar/gas package hands down. The latter make sense only at the margins, for cycling power purposes.

        • so how much of the cost equation is factored into having more/better reliability and resiliency and load-balancing-ability ?

          how do you figure out how much you should spend to modernize the grid?

          • This “cost equation” is directly translated into $$ by the wholesale market. As I explained once a while ago, there is a market for bulk electric energy and a separate market for electric “capacity” or reliability. Both markets are run by PJM; Dominion is a player. Moreover PJM, as the system operator, will pay extra to line up certain fast start units simply to have them available.

          • but I thought all power generators were losing their dirtier plants so who has extra power to sell and how are they generating it if not from coal and what keeps Dominion from doing something similar – i.e. produce more than they need and sell it through PJM?

            or am I not understanding?

  10. As for wind, solar and backup gas — today, it makes more ECONOMIC sense simply to build the gas-fired plants and omit the solar and wind. It’s not that the MARGINAL cost to operate solar and wind generation isn’t attractive, but that you get a better return overall, taking the cost of investment and hours of use into account, using the gas-fired generator alone. If you have to build it for backup anyway you might as well use it as much as makes economic sense and skip building the solar and wind generators unless they lower your overall cost per unit of output.

    Now, I give Dominion credit here for going ahead anyway with the solar plant at Remington, in part so they can refine their cost estimates and try to find a way to use solar cost effectively. As you’ve pointed out, solar p.v. costs have continued to drop and they would like to be poised to jump on that bandwagon if it becomes the lowest-cost way to go.

    • so the question is – making plans now – how do you figure when solar and wind become economic and how do you do things now that are not flexible and changeable without more grid costs when solar and when become cost-comparable?

      in other words – can you do things dumb right now that precludes using wind and solar in the future even though they are cost-competitive with your other fuels?

      • Short answer is no. That’s why the Grid is so effective: you pool one company’s resources with all the others and run the generation that’s optimal for everyone. Long answer is, you can do things that, for example, use a site ineffectively (blocking its potential development for a different sort of gen.), or put things in the wrong places where fuel inputs or labor or transmission of outputs is not cost-effective; but from the point of view of generation mix, the main thing you could mess up is to build too much of one of the three categories of gen (baseload, cycling, peaking) and not enough of another, and that is less of a problem (maybe even a benefit) if you pool your resources with others in a large marketplace (especially if you happen to have a lot of what the pool as a whole is low on).

        Speaking specifically of solar and wind, the biggest problem with them is their intermittent nature, so as you know, they have to be backed up. That backup has to be both in terms of contribution to the total generation, and in terms of location: generation has to be spread out around the system or you get instability in the system — kind of like the sloshing of water in a shallow bowl when you carry – that can set up when you have large geographic areas of load without some active generation spread out through it; so in order to have a stable system on cloudy/windless days you have to have the backup generation spread around, not just the primary solar/wind generation.

        This spreading-around of generation is part of the problem in the eastern Peninsula, by the way: those old coal units, tired as they are, serve a stabilizing function when they run; the stability can be provided by building new generation down there but it can also be supplied by beefed up transmission connections, particularly if the connection brings other, existing generation (i.e., Surry Nuclear Sta.) electrically “closer” to Newport News. So to opponents of those towers who don’t want their river view obstructed, you have to say, well, would you prefer new generators north of the river instead, along with fuel supply infrastructure? Would you prefer to pay the very high cost to put the transmission in a pipe under water? Would you prefer to build new transmission in from the west or north, rather than the south, buying time but not curing the problem as effectively? These are the planners’ choices. Doing nothing is not a choice for them because that means blackouts.

        • Acbar – a hypothetical question. a wind and/or solar farm with a Nat Gas generator smack in the middle that that ramps up to match whatever is reduced on wind/solar ?

          why couldn’t you do that?

          everywhere you want to put a nat gas plant – surround it with solar.

          it’s not only complements – it provides a distributed generation grid that can operate independently if the grid fails or it can help put additional power in into the grid in high demand times?

          why not treat wind/solar as harvest able/scavenge able power to replace coal/nat gas when it is available?

          that’s essentially how pump storage hydro works…it scavenges base load when demand is down and the coal plant otherwise would still be burning coal but turbines not running.

        • what’s the purpose of the power lines?

          to shunt Surry power WHEN it is needed or to permanently supply base load to that region?

          If it’s the former then why not use Nat gas plants instead?

          and if its the latter – what are the areas that are now using Surry going to do when it is permanently re-purposed for Hampton?

          I just don’t buy the concept of ” this is how we want to do it or you will have reliability problems” like there are no options except what DOminion wants.

          I think they have a responsibility to inform the public, the elected, as to what their plan is AND WHY.

    • so Acbar – how is Dominion’s planning for a smarter, more reliable and more resilient grid?

      what is Dominion proposing to make electricity more reliable in Hampton Roads? What power generation options are they talking about to achieve that goal beyond just a power line?

      what are the specific things that Dominion is advocating to do to achieve that goal?

      • You ask, “what is Dominion proposing to make electricity more reliable in Hampton Roads? ”

        I think you have to put the electric supply to Hampton Roads in perspective. If it weren’t for the huge controversy over the proposed James River crossing, this would simply be one of hundreds of transmission projects ongoing in the PJM portion of the electric grid, including dozens in the Dominion portion of PJM. Perhaps it would help to look at this PJM writeup on the transmission improvements related to the generation retirements at Yorktown — including a small-scale map of the transmission system in the vicinity of Williamsburg, VA (I can’t reproduce it here): http://www.pjm.com/planning/rtep-upgrades-status/backbone-status/surry-skiffes-creek.aspx You see how close the bevy of transmission lines to Surry Sta. come to Williamsburg and Newport News; they are just 6 miles away but across the river. The nearest connection that crosses the river is a pair of 230kV lines at the James River Bridge between Newport News and Portsmouth; the proposed 500kV connection to Surry Station would add much greater cross-river capacity and strengthen Dominion’s entire southeastern Virginia system.

        PJM does its transmission planning based on a regular cycle of updates by its member companies of their forecast generation (additions and retirements) and forecast loads (overall and by locality). PJM’s latest (2014) completed Regional Transmission Expansion Plan (RTEP) “baseline assessment” of projects for the period 2015-2029 is this one: http://www.pjm.com/~/media/committees-groups/subcommittees/rscs/20150219/20150219-item-02-2014-rtep-baseline-assessment.ashx In there is this section on p.14 summarizing the most important new Dominion transmission projects:
        “Dominion Transmission Zone
        “o Replace Midlothian 500 kV breaker 563T576 and motor operated switches with 3 breaker 500 kV ring bus. Terminate Lines #563 Carson – Midlothian, #576 Midlothian – North Anna, Transformer #2 in new ring – 11/1/2015 – $9M
        “o Rebuild 115 kV Line #32 from Halifax-South Boston (6 miles) for min. of 240 MVA and transfer Welco tap to Line #32. Moving Welco to Line #32 requires disabling auto-sectionalizing scheme – 6/30/2015 – $6.5M
        “o Install structures in river to remove the 115 kV #65 line (Whitestone – Harmony Village 115 kV) from bridge and improve reliability of the line – 5/31/2016 – $30.1M
        “o Glebe – Station C PAR – 6/1/2018 – $10M
        “o Rebuild the Elmont – Cunningham 500 kV line – 6/1/2018 – $106.1M
        “o Reconductor 7.63 miles of existing line between Cranes and Stafford, upgrade associated line switches at Stafford – 6/1/2019 – $7.12M
        “o Wreck and rebuild existing Remington CT – Warrrenton 230 kV (approx. 12 miles) as a double-circuit 230 kV line – 6/1/2017 – $105M”

        You’ll notice the problems on the eastern Peninsula didn’t even make this year’s list because projects to fix them were approved in previous years. See the Previously Identified RTEP Baseline Upgrades, project b1905.x, on p.135. The Yorktown generation deactivations are shown (but not discussed) on p.104. In other words, this transmission project is already approved by PJM and FERC, and they (as well as Dominion) are anxiously awaiting the SCC’s regulatory go-ahead.

        • I much appreciate your responses…

          but my question is – why do you need to cross the James to supplement retired coal plants with Nuke base load

          rather than put Nat Gas plants in Hampton to pick up the slack?

          why shunt base load across the James to trim the peak demand – rather that use local Nat Gas – when needed – to handle peak demand?

          why is that not an option?

      • Another late reply (I do not live by my computer!):

        You also ask, “how is Dominion’s planning for a smarter, more reliable and more resilient grid?” You use some politically-loaded jargon there (“smarter” grid). But I assume you mean, are they doing a decent job building into their forecasts the sorts of changes in electricity demand on the Grid and Grid-based generation that could be coming at us as the result of, for example, greater use of customer-owned distributed generation? Quite frankly I think there’s a lot of skepticism in electric utility circles about the amount of d.g. that’s likely to occur, at least within the 2030 planning horizon, because of the huge shift in public education and in housing construction, financing and sales methods that would have to take place before the average homebuyer would pay the extra capital cost to get that capability built into his next home. Even solar photovoltaic panels, which are the closest to cost-effective among the various renewable generation techniques out there, only come close to competing on price with grid power when installed very efficiently and oriented optimally towards the sun. And that’s only WHEN THEY OPERATE; in addition, the owner still has to buy backup power from the grid at night and on cloudy days.

        So, from the grid planner’s point of view, a lot has to change about people’s behavior before distributed generation will be a big factor, and that will take years to happen even assuming it does eventually happen. Now then, consider what the impact would be if d.g. became commonplace. For example, Dominion’s winter peak this year was nearly as high as its summer peak, and it occurred at night, as the result of the extreme cold weather. Also we’re talking about shifting significant transportation energy consumption to the grid at nighttime through electric vehicle battery charging. How would you generate and deliver all that nightime power even if d.g. was a significant source of daytime power? You still have to plan for, and build for, that peak demand on the grid. What WOULD change is how you would recover the cost of the grid from ratepayers — because you would have less unit sales from grid-based generation to spread those capital costs over. Also, you might need less base-load generation and more cycling units, so you would begin to plan to retire some large base-load units without replacing them, which might in turn drive some changes in transmission patterns. And if carbon emissions taxes become a major driver of costs, you would be scrambling for non-carbon-based sources of night-time power — including but not limited to nuclear and wind, and mass-energy-storage on a scale that doesn’t currently exist.

        • re: ” ou use some politically-loaded jargon there”

          no guy.. this is standard nomenclature:

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Smart_grid

          this is a grid that senses demand and load balances dynamically.

          it’s advanced beyond “forecasting” … it’s using real time data as it is happening rather than historical data … and projecting.

          it’s like the difference between synchronized traffic signals that use historical data verses signals that are sensing real-time traffic and adapting to it in real time.

          Modern Smart Grids are relying a lot less on forecasts and a lot more on the actual loads on the grid – and how you adjust in real time the power inputs into the grid to meet demand.

          you seem to be talking about how you manage your generation assets to have them prepared to respond to perceived demands. I’m talking about doing this as it is happening.

          the difference is that if you don’t have a smart grid that can detect demand and route power that you have to have coal-powered plants running 24/7 even if they’re not turning turbines.. they’re just running like an engine in Neutral and not drive. they’re just burning fuel – just in case it is needed rather than having dispatch able power that starts up to generate power or runs at a very low rate until more power is needed and it can ramp up.

          base load like coal and nukes cannot modulate.. they just either run full out or not.

          they’re just burning fuel whether the turbines are turning and putting power into the grid or not.

          as long as that’s how the grid is operated – you can’t have wind or solar and you really can’t have natural gas if you have to manually coordinate it’s inputs with coal or nuke inputs.

          think about the pistons in your car engine when you are idling.. they’re all rotating and burning fuel but the car is not moving.. it’s not doing anything useful .. just burning fuel.

          You donj’t do this with most NatGas – you turn it down to a low level or turn it off but you cannot do that to coal or nuke – because it will take days to come back up.

          am I making any sense?

          there is no way that solar or wind would be compatible with base load unless you just want to turn off the coal/nuke turbines when solar is generating then turn the turbines back on when solar is not. there are no cost savings there because you never stop burning coal or nuke.. you just disengage them from the grid. trying to coordinate a whole coal plant with hundreds of solar inputs – is virtually impossible..

          the only way to capture wind/solar efficiently is if you have an alternative generation that can vary quickly and coal and nukes do not do that.

          this is why I keep saying you need distributed nat gas plants if you are ever going to be able to efficiently use solar/wind. Otherwise .. wind/solar are never going to be cost-effective.. they’re extra cost over and above what you’re already paying to run the base load.

          am I confused?

          • “A big problem with some of the commentators on this blog is that they fail to grasp that the U.S. coal industry is a lot bigger than little ole Virginny’s mines that started to play out decades ago. . . . Their brains seem trapped in a geographical warp zone where they cannot imagine things beyond the borders of the Old Dominion.”

            Peter’s response: “What does this mean? It shows that coal overall does have a future, especially in the high-sulfur Illinois Basin which has been rediscovered since utilities such as the Tennessee Valley Authority have been forced to use better scrubbing equipment.” You know, the real problem Peter has is that “some of the commenters on this blog” including himself are so inconsistent. The whole darned energy market is bigger than little ole Virginny. It’s bigger than the U.S. Why do you think Dominion wants to build a pipeline that, incidentally, will extend to North Carolina and to Dom’s own export terminal on the East Coast? Oh, and its main purpose — to generate cheaper electricity that can be sold out of State at a profit whenever the wholesale power market so merits? Why do the Keystone Pipeline’s backers intend to terminate it at refineries near the Gulf Coast where there also just happens to be an export terminal? Why are we having so many tank car derailings as Canadian and Marcellus oil and gas, that plainly ought to move underground, makes the dangerous overland trek to buyers hungry for it, even with the high cost of rail shipment?

            So “coal overall does have a future, especially in the high-sulfur Illinois Basin which has been rediscovered since utilities such as the Tennessee Valley Authority have been forced to use better scrubbing equipment.”? Well, duh, as long as you have to invest in scrubbers anyway, why not use the cheapest fuel you can with the scrubbing? Why won’t Dominion do that too?
            You say, “base load like coal and nukes cannot modulate.. they just either run full out or not. . . . You don’t do this with most NatGas – you turn it down to a low level or turn it off but you cannot do that to coal or nuke – because it will take days to come back up. Am I making any sense?” Yes, of course, I happen to be well aware of how economic dispatch of various types of generation works. But you also say, “as long as that’s how the grid is operated – you can’t have wind or solar and you really can’t have natural gas if you have to manually coordinate it’s inputs with coal or nuke inputs.” I completely and emphatically disagree. This is not true.

            To put it simply, the system operator (who in reality oversees computers doing most of the work except in an emergency) ‘dispatches’ the generation with the lowest locationally-adjusted marginal operating cost that’s available to meet the current load, taking into account startup lead times and short term load forecasts, the required output of non-dispatchable generation, available demand-side resources, line losses, and the cost of transmission congestion as reflected in the varying locational marginal cost across the system. This is what PJM does across the multi-state area in which PJM is the sole FERC-authorized system operator.

            You say, “there is no way that solar or wind would be compatible with base load unless you just want to turn off the coal/nuke turbines when solar is generating then turn the turbines back on when solar is not. there are no cost savings there because you never stop burning coal or nuke.. you just disengage them from the grid. trying to coordinate a whole coal plant with hundreds of solar inputs – is virtually impossible..” But the real-world grid is not just a few coal and nuke units with a handful of solar panels. PJM currently covers all or part of 12 States, and PJM has over 2,300 discrete sources of generation on its grid and it dispatches nearly all of them based on locational marginal cost (LMP). There is always a way to accept the output to the grid of solar or wind or whatever that delivers “must-run” power whenever it operates, and pay it too based on the LMP at the time. Here is the list of all generators for planning year 2020: http://www.pjm.com/~/media/committees-groups/committees/teac/20150212/20150212-year-2020-machine-list-for-2015-rtep-analysis.ashx PJM also has a great deal of demand-side resources, many of which are dispatchable instantly and others of which are “schedulable” on a few hours notice. Read about that here: http://www.pjm.com/~/media/documents/reports/20141007-pjm-whitepaper-on-the-evolution-of-demand-response-in-the-pjm-wholesale-market.ashx

            As for the “smart grid,” 10% of what you read about it is pie-in-the-sky speculation about the utopian world that could be if you’d simply scrap everything we now have and started over, and the other 90% simply fails to recognize what we already have in the way of grid operations in this country and how well it works. Take demand side management for example. PJM’s document does a pretty good job of laying out how much d.s.m. there already is and how they integrate it into system dispatch and how they pay those that provide it (usually, utilities that in turn pay their customers in order to sign them up). You say, “this is a grid that senses demand and load balances dynamically. it’s advanced beyond “forecasting” … it’s using real time data as it is happening rather than historical data … and projecting.” Yes, again, that is exactly what PJM does already.

            PJM operates the system in real time. PJM also forecasts the next few days ahead so equipment operators can prepare for probable operations. PJM contracts with generation and other resources to be available to the markets, sometimes years in advance, and PJM also does load and transmission and generation resource forecasting, because these resources have long lead times and somebody has to identify the shortages of each of them that might occur in time to fix them. PJM doesn’t own any of these, but it does go to the State Commissions (along with the local utilities, including Dominion) and solicits their help in getting new generation built, and it does go to the FERC with the transmission owners to get new transmission construction authorized. It’s a complicated business, but it makes the “smart grid” look like a science fiction comic book.

          • getting long in the responses.. I am guilty but much appreciate the really substantiative dialogue!

            re:

            To put it simply, …. This is what PJM does across the multi-state area in which PJM is the sole FERC-authorized system operator.

            yup

            You say, “there is no way that solar or wind would be compatible with base load unless you just want to turn off the coal/nuke turbines when solar is generating then turn the turbines back on when solar is not. there are no cost savings there because you never stop burning coal or nuke.. you just disengage them from the grid. trying to coordinate a whole coal plant with hundreds of solar inputs – is virtually impossible..” But the real-world grid is not just a few coal and nuke units with a handful of solar panels. PJM currently covers all or part of 12 States, and PJM has over 2,300 discrete sources of generation on its grid and it dispatches nearly all of them based on locational marginal cost (LMP). There is always a way to accept the output to the grid of solar or wind or whatever that delivers “must-run” power whenever it operates, and pay it too based on the LMP at the time.”

            then why is DOminion saying that SOLAR inputs cause issues with maintaining nominal voltage and is discouraging it if in other states in the PJM it’s not a problem.

            Here is the list of all generators for planning year 2020: http://www.pjm.com/~/media/committees-groups/committees/teac/20150212/20150212-year-2020-machine-list-for-2015-rtep-analysis.ashx

            this is a MS workbook – that I cannot convert.. apparently

            can you show me a few excerpts that show solar generators?

            “PJM also has a great deal of demand-side resources, many of which are dispatchable instantly and others of which are “schedulable” on a few hours notice. Read about that here

            how about showing a couple that are “scheduable” and “dispatchable”

            how do you characterize the difference between the two types?

            “As for the “smart grid,” 10% of what you read about it is pie-in-the-sky speculation about the utopian world that could be if you’d simply scrap everything we now have and started over,”

            it’s how we evolve towards it.. what steps do we take to get there?

            ” and the other 90% simply fails to recognize what we already have in the way of grid operations in this country and how well it works.”

            it does not work “well” if Dominion is saying they can’t do – essentially what PJM does in terms of efficiently routing power..

            ” Take demand side management for example.”

            again why can’t Dominion do this within their own grid if PJM can?

            “PJM operates ” – yes.. and again – if PJM is an efficient real-time demand-response, etc.. why isn’t DOminion and they are claiming that shutting down coal plants causes reliability issues.

            why doesn’t that same thing cause the same problems in other states as well as PJM?

          • I might have made a hash of my response last night or perhaps I think overnight helped to clarify thinking .. but basically it goes like this:

            Dominion is saying that they cannot really “use” solar and wind because they do not run consistently and accepting such varying inputs into the grid is difficult to cope with… and have more and more of it increases the difficulty so Dominion wants to not only limit it, not pay a wholesale price for it and charge an “availability” fee for those who want to use solar primarily but rely on the grid when solar is insufficient.

            Next – Dominion is saying that closing coal plants is going to make it more difficult to maintain industry standards for reliability and that’s the reason given for the James River crossing. We do not yet know if there are other areas in Va that are also be subject to the same reliability issues when/if other coal plants close. in fact at this point we don’t have a Va scope list of prospective plants that might close and if their closing results in similar reliability issues that Hampton has.

            Okay – so now contrast this with 2 other things.

            First – other states – subject to the same EPA rulemaking.. are they also going to have similar issues in their states that Dominion is said to have as a consequence in Virginia?

            are other states encountering the same issues incorporating solar into their generation mix as Dominion with the same response to essentially discourage the use of solar because of it’s variability that grows as solar install grows?

            Finally – PJM – because all the states within it’s service area may have similar plant closure/reliability and solar issues as Dominion.. why doesn’t that also make PJMs available pool of available power generation much smaller and much less available to them and thus making their job of reliably providing demand resources in real time much more difficult?

            I would think if that were true – that PJM would, in fact, hugely affected and actually be leading the charge against the proposed EPA rule.

            Finally, if PJM can efficiently and effectively mix and match disparate demand and generation inputs to provide a reliable regional grid – why can’t the states themselves use similar protocols within their own states to manage their demands and inputs FIRST – BEFORE they exhaust their in-state power switching options and need to go to PJM for help?

          • 2 things quickly —

            “how do you characterize the difference between the two types?” Basically it depends on the product packaged and sold by the d.s.m. provider: if it’s, for example, radio-controlled d.s.m. then it can be sold to PJM as immediate on/off; if it’s “on call” then the utility has to call the customers on its list and ask them to curtail load (which they have agreed to do), usually big commercial/industrial customers who by prior arrangement can throw a switch when asked and postpone a/c or heat while the building coasts up or down a few degrees. The instant on/off sells to PJM at a higher price because it’s more flexible therefore more valuable to the system operator. The thing is, the utility can’t over-use any d.s.m. or customers get frustrated and withdraw from the program; there’s a fine line between use and overuse.

            Second, you mention, “Dominion is saying that they cannot really “use” solar and wind because they do not run consistently and accepting such varying inputs into the grid is difficult to cope with… and have more and more of it increases the difficulty so Dominion wants to not only limit it, not pay a wholesale price for it and charge an “availability” fee for those who want to use solar primarily but rely on the grid when solar is insufficient. ” Two different discussions getting mixed here: solar generation per se, and solar distributed generation. There is absolutely no problem with PJM buying solar from a seller who can meter it accurately. It is a lot more efficient to deliver any generated power at a higher voltage (less losses) but PJM can deal with small amounts and low delivery voltage too if it has to, however PJM is not set up to deal with d.g. billing and payments to homeowners and would much prefer the local utility handle all that for it. I see Dominion’s proposed solar plant near Remington as an attempt to explore all the issues with solar generation on a larger scale and maybe multiply that investment down the road if it works out for them. I don’t know what Dominion will do about solar d.g. but their track record is, shall we say, “reluctant”?

            Look, d.g. is complicated on a number of levels. First, there’s the inexperience of the basic homeowner dealing with such things as selling electricity into a complicated electric grid with important interconnection safety requirements. Second, there’s the pricing controversy: I have some sympathy with the utilities that consider simply running the meter backwards to be a rip-off, but if they priced their retail product in an unbundled way and credited only the energy bill it would be fair to both parties. Assuming you get past that, there are all sorts of local zoning-type issues (noise, visual) that are not under the utility’s control but they sometimes get blamed for. But the biggest one for solar, IMO, is that the house has to be designed for it or the resulting structure to hold the panels looks ugly as sin. The way to go, clearly, is to get home builders to design solar into the roof and the switching into the electrical panel to begin with, the extra cost would be vastly lower than a retrofit, but that requires the slow process of building a market for it, i.e. a willingness for the homebuyer to pay the up front capital cost in order to have that “desirable” feature built in, like a pool or larger garage or a 2-zone heat pump or extra insulation or whatever.

            As for “then why is DOminion saying that SOLAR inputs cause issues with maintaining nominal voltage and is discouraging it if in other states in the PJM it’s not a problem.” I don’t agree with Dominion’s approach here, but mainly I suspect it’s inexperience dealing with these problems, or a reluctance to deal with them. To accept a lot of power into the grid without impacting local voltage etc. requires sophisticated constant monitoring and remote adjustment at the input location and at the substation level and that may require equipment Dominion probably doesn’t have in the typical suburban substation and doesn’t want to require the homeowner to buy either. But I don’t imagine the problem is so severe at current d.g. levels that they couldn’t deal with it, gaining experience along the way. The question is always, who pays?

  11. The peak year for coal extraction in Virginia was 1990. It’s been downhill for the last 25 years. This has been true through boom and bust. The coal is largely gone and what coal is left costs too much to mine.

    If there is a war on coal it is being waged in Wyoming, not Virginia.

    Burning coal to make electricity causes all kinds of problems. The possibility of global warming is just one of those problems. Acid rain, ruined mountaintops, etc.

    However, beyond all that, there is the ongoing question of what being a conservative really means. So-called conservatives hem and haw about property rights as if those rights were some sort of religion. They rant and rave about some woman in Loudoun County’s right to operate an unlicensed store on her farm. They bungle basic real estate law and demand that people with frontage on the Chesapeake Bay be allowed to operate underwater oyster farms.

    But they can’t wrap their heads around one group taking actions which dramatically harm another group’s property rights.

    Environmental destruction has economic consequences. While some level of environmental destruction may be unavoidable in a modern society there should be compensation paid by the group causing the environmental destruction to the the people being harmed by that destruction.

    Burning coal to make electricity disproportionately harms those who make their living through fishing, crabbing, oyster harvesting, etc. It disproportionately harms those who live near both the coal mines and the coal fired generation plants.

    Conservative theory holds that if you harm somebody else’s property then you owe those who were harmed restitution. If you are performing an activity that harms another person’s property or livelihood and (by spending a bit more) you could reduce the harm being done – it is proper and appropriate for the government to compel you to spend more and reduce the harm.

    Please let me know where liberal logic has infected my thinking.

  12. I don’t think it’s “liberal” thinking to recognize the hypocrisy inherent in Conservative philosophy when it comes to “externalities” and their costs to others.

    they’ve always had the attitude that pollution does not damage property rights – that it’s an unfortunate but necessary part of doing business in a free market.

    it’s sorta like the Torts issue where Conservatives oppose unlimited torts and actually call for regulation to limit it – these are the same folks who claim that regulation damages property rights.

  13. OT, but wasn’t the honorable Mr. Bacon enquiring not terribly long ago about the need for Black Lives Matter protests in Charlottesville fair?

    http://jezebel.com/reports-black-uva-student-beaten-by-police-for-having-1692199936

  14. Acbar:

    “Why do you think Dominion wants to build a pipeline that, incidentally, will extend to North Carolina and to Dom’s own export terminal on the East Coast? Oh, and its main purpose — to generate cheaper electricity that can be sold out of State at a profit whenever the wholesale power market so merits? Why do the Keystone Pipeline’s backers intend to terminate it at refineries near the Gulf Coast where there also just happens to be an export terminal? Why are we having so many tank car derailings as Canadian and Marcellus oil and gas, that plainly ought to move underground, makes the dangerous overland trek to buyers hungry for it, even with the high cost of rail shipment?”

    You seem to be conflating a bunch of stuff here and you are making one mistake.

    Dominion’s Atlantic Coast Pipeline will not connect directly with their Cove Point export LNG facility in Maryland. It doesn’t go anywhere near it. Maybe they could connect if the ACP gets built where it connects with the Colonial pipeline. Dominion insists that gas transported by the proposed ACP pipeline will not be exported overseas.

    • the fact that Dominion is apparently NOT saying that the pipeline is needed to help address Hampton’s “reliability” problem is more than curious especially since their graphs show anticipated increased use of Natural Gas.

      You would have thought that would have been a better argument to justify the pipeline than their current coy fan-dance about it’s prospective purpose given the geography.

    • You are right, the proposed gas line won’t connect directly to Cove Point, my mistake. The observation was in the context of “The whole darned energy market is bigger than little ole Virginny. It’s bigger than the U.S.” Dominion does propose a spur off the new pipe to Hampton Roads, and while that’s to supply their own subsidiary VNG and they don’t have any liquifaction facility there at present or planned, it sure would be convenient. Cove Point, on the other hand, was originally built with its own pipeline all the way to Leidy, PA and connecting with every major pipe it crosses, including another one owned by Dominion I believe; Dominion doesn’t need its new pipeline to bring shale gas (or Oklahoma gas for that matter) to Cove Point. Conflated? Sure, the point being, this isn’t all happening in a 3-state economic vacuum.

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