NRDC Says Clean Power Plan Benefits Virginia

coal plant burnsBy Peter Galuszka

In a sweeping contradiction of the positions of Dominion Virginia Power and assorted politicians and regulators, the Natural  Resources Defense Council has issued a report saying that Virginia will benefit by following a proposed federal plan to cut carbon dioxide.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Administration has put forth a proposed plan for comment that would cut carbon dioxide pollution intensity — measured in pounds per megawatt hour of electricity– in the state by 38 percent by 2030.

The draft plan brought on protests from Dominion, the State Corporation Commission, Gov. Terry McAuliffe, The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality and many legislators who say compliance with the plan would cost ratepayers an extra $5 billion to $6 billion in rate hikes and force the closure of some coal-fired plants.

The situation was considered so dire that Dominion convinced the General Assembly to pass a bill letting it freeze its rate base and avoid audits by the SCC for five years.

Reading the NRDC document is like reading an instruction manual from another planet. The key point:

“The Commonwealth is already 80 percent on the way toward achieving the EPA Clean Power Plan’s carbon reduction for the state,” it says. The remaining 20 percent goal could be reached by pressing on with renewable energy and energy efficiency while developing a robust new work force that would total about 5,600 “and the state’s households and businesses would save $1 billion on their electric bills by 2020.”

One reason for the progress in achieving the goal is that Dominion has converted coal plants to natural gas or had announced plans to shut down some aging coal plants .

The NDRC notes that the Clean Power Plan does not specifically target coal-fired plants or other fossil fuel units and leaves it to the utilities to choose how they want to achieve the goals. Among ways to do this are to make coal plants more efficient, use natural gas plants more effectively by switching them on before coal plants and increasing renewables and efficiency.

Deutsche Bank reports that by 2016, solar power (which only just beginning to be tapped) will be cheaper than the average retail power, the report says.

The NRDC report brings up another topic that rarely is discussed in Virginia. Switching to cleaner power can “usher in climate and health benefits worth an estimated $55 billion to $93 billion by 2030. This could prevent from 2,700 to 6,600 premature deaths — a topic rarely broached in Richmond.

As for concerns of base loaded reliability, the report says that PJM, the regional grid to which Virginia belongs, can kick in during a major and unexpected plant outage with 3,350 megawatts of backup electricity.

Another interesting fact: NDRC reports that coal’s share of Virginia’s generation is now only about 20 percent. Dominion had reported it as being up to 49 percent of its mix a few years back. It is hard to understand given that Dominion has been shutting down coal-plants that are 50 or 60 years old. Opponents of the EPA’s new rules claim the plants are being shut down because of EPA’s “War on Coal” but simple age is the more logical reason.

In any event, it is amazing that hardly any of the points raised by NRDC were part of the harried discussion against the proposed Clean Power Plan and Dominion’s almost hysterical need for rate freezes and freedom from audits so it could have time assessing just how damaging the proposed Clean Power Plan would be.

What’s needed is an honest and transparent discussion and review of what the plan really is, how much it will really cost and how its goals can be achieved. That debate cannot be held captive by bankrolled legislators and regulators bullied by utilities.

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20 responses to “NRDC Says Clean Power Plan Benefits Virginia

  1. NRDC has good observations and does identify a range of potential opportunities for moving forward but some are never going to get traction
    for the pro-coal folks nor even from Dominion.

    The problem with Dominion – in my view is similar to the problem we’ve had in the past with VDOT and that is they basically are insular and not really interested in engaging the public on these issues in part because they don’t want their plans questioned by the public.. as long as they can “work” with the Ga and Gov and SCC – they’re comfortable.

    but I still think the NRDC and others including the WSJ are correct about solar and even if Dominion is able to keep it from being incentivized – it’s still going to occur and it’s still going to cause voltage variations in places where the sun can be strong and on days when the sun is strong.

    can they successfully fend off solar – over the longer run? no.

  2. LarryG, I still maintain there is nothing about Dominion’s position that is inherently hostile to solar power. And I’ll add to that: one reason Virginia fares relatively well under the proposed EPA regs is that Dominion has done a pretty good job over the past 20 years of moving towards modernizing or retiring its oldest power plants (e.g., by converting or replacing coal plants with natural gas). This was a long-range process and Virginia is already reaping some of the rewards. Indeed, now, one of the new plants they want to build is a solar generating station.

    As for “incentivised” solar power — you are talking about distributed generation built by homeowners, not about Dominion’s own projects; and your idea of an “incentive” seems to be to give people who built their own generators free backup service from the Grid. I call giving away an expensive service they don’t pay for, a subsidy; and I challenge you to find a groundswell among Dominion’s other, more typical ratepayers to offer that kind of subsidy at their expense.

    As for your statement, “they basically are insular and not really interested in engaging the public on these issues in part because they don’t want their plans questioned by the public.. “: What plans are you talking about? They’ve been very upfront about what they want to do. What do you want them to do differently?

    • Acbar – when I say “incentivized” I mean to NOT to penalize those who use solar , try to sell back excess.. or to increase rates on everyone if more people start to use solar – reduce the income to Dominion to pay off it’s fixed assets.

      re: their plans – nope ..

      they have not told the public what their plans for the James Crossing involve in terms of why and what the other plans will be – such as their new nat gas plant in Cumberland or the pipeline.

      Each of these is treated as a separate and independent proposal that is not necessarily part of an overall strategy or plan.

      you have to admit that Acbar.. they treat the public like they don’t need to know or understand what Dominion forward strategy is.

  3. Peter, in what way does Dominion “bully” its SCC regulators? Please explain.

  4. Assuming arguendo all the climate change arguments are correct, aren’t the higher costs of energy to slow the arrival of higher sea levels a massive subsidy from people who live away from the oceans to those who live on or near the oceans. Are people in Pittsburgh subsidizing those who live in the Hamptons? Are small manufacturers subsidizing condo owners and the tourism industry in Myrtle Beach? If so, is that a good idea? Is it fair?

  5. re: climate change

    well for all the doom and gloom talk about unfunded liabilities – when it comes to pensions and Social Security ,etc.. where is that concern for “resilience” for sea level increase?

    • I don’t own a beach house. Why should I subsidize those who do? Or who have built on man-made land that now forms part of the shore, ala Manhattan? Protecting the Naval Base in Norfolk, that is something different.

      • well.. we’re already paying for subsidized flood insurance already, right?

        Bacon was talking about cities, towns, counties having to make “hard choices” about what they would pay to protect and what they would not – but what happens to the properties that they will not protect in terms of taxes paid?

        so what do you think – beyond the naval bases? should cities collect taxes from everyone – to pay for infrastructure that will benefit only some?

        • As a general matter, I don’t think taxpayers should fund infrastructure projects that provide benefits only to a few, subject to the realism that projects are built one at a time. Of course, there can be additional benefit to those who work or live near a project. And I know that some tax dollars are spent around Virginia.

          But I have consistently opposed projects that are truly designed to benefit only a few. Subsidizing infrastructure for Tysons development; the Outer Beltway; special flood control measures for those who build in a floodplain. I’ve pointed out the Silver Line was constructed under a public-private partnership, but Bechtel invested nothing.

          I have a problem with tens of millions of people paying substantially higher utility and tax rates to preserve beachfront vacation homes and structures built on land reclaimed from the sea.

  6. I’d rather see costs driven out of higher ed. It’s a bloated bureaucracy worse than public schools. We get PO’d when our electric rates go up faster than inflation. Why shouldn’t we take the same attitude towards education?

    I have to control costs for clients. Why is everyone on the public payroll exempt?

    • I think the subsidies for higher ed drive the cost inflation… too many folks believe that their child deserves to pursue whatever education they desire and still qualify for govt assistance/welfare.

      and let’s be honest – when the govt subsidizes higher ed with state aid and subsidized loans – it’s really government welfare – not really that different than the other kinds that those who partake of higher ed welfare look down their noses at those taking other kinds of govt welfare.

      if the folks who say they are opposed to govt subsidies are serious and principled… they would admit that higher ed govt help is also “welfare”.

      I call some of these folks – Conservatives of Convenience.

  7. NRDC states that Virginia has already achieved 80% of the EPA’s CO2 reduction goals, but gives no data to support this questionable comment. As far as I know, Virginia is (proposed) to reduce CO2 38% from 2012 levels, and we still have nearly 100% of that massive job left to do.

    In my opinion, the liberal side of the pro-CPP argument keeps trying to sugar-coat CO2 cuts EPA is asking for. If one wants to see massive CO2 cuts, just say so, don’t try to say it’s just a tiny request.

    • I don’t think anyone but the leftist of the loons “wants” to see massive cuts but most of them are believers in the damage being done by greenhouse emissions and think we should be taking serious steps to deal with it.

      I’m still struck by the comparison with the Ozone Holes – which did have some skeptics and the science was definitely consensus – not 100% absolute certainty and yet we – as a society and a government took the steps even as we wondered if other countries would – we took the lead and it happened.

      what’s changed now that rules out a similar path for greenhouse emissions?

      one thing is different. Electricity generators like Dominion do not make more money if people use less electricity.

      • The analogy to the ozone hole issue is problematic. I would say the ozone hole was caused by a man-made synthetic molecule chloroflourocarbons (CFC’s) with proven ozone destruction chemistry and measurable immediate damage to the Earth’s ozone layer. So therefore an obvious existential issue for the human race, due to a wayward man-made molecule that could be substituted for. Therefore the fact the world is not banning CO2 (like CFC’s) is an indication that the leaders of the world do not see CO2 in the same light. Much more complex, we have rampant deforestation of rain forests and other issues besides CO2 to deal with as sub-causes.

        None of the above is intended to say we should not reduce CO2, but I feel the CPP may be too harsh on some states eg; VA. I want freedom to use advanced clean coal technology and ultra-efficient natural gas as base case options versus mandate of (for example) replacing nuclear with nuclear or other zero carbon technology.

        • on the CFDs… do you believe the scientists who said it was a big problem…??

          • Larry do you mean CFC’s (ozone)?
            Yes the chemical professionals who in 1974 at Atlantic City announced the apparent CFC/ozone link are heros to me and they (Rowland and Molina et al) are deservedly Nobel Prize winners for saving the planet.

          • oops, typo… yes..

            these were scientists – right?

            do you think the other scientists that agreed with their assessment were engaging in a conspiracy to get more grant dollars and force new regulations that were not necessary?

          • No. But I do not think ozone issue is equivalent to what we have going on in climate change. For one thing timing, ozone hole debate predated current adversarial and divisive political climate.

          • you did NOT believe the Ozone Hole science?

            I’m trying to understand what differentiates people believing in some science but not other science.

            I pick the Ozone Hole issue because it was addressed on a worldwide basis after a worldwide group of scientists concurred that we had to make massive changes if we were to avert damage to the earth’s atmosphere…

            I do not recall the same doubts and skeptics – at least not at the level we see now so I wonder what was changed.. or what you say – that it’s not the same.

            can you explain that?l thanks

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