Category Archives: Environment

Salvaging Wind Power in Virginia

One of these bad boys costs $100,000 to $200,000 per day, and it has to come all the way for Europe -- a big expense for just two experimental turbines.

One of these bad boys costs $100,000 to $200,000 per day, and it has to come all the way from Europe — a big expense for just two experimental turbines.

Dominion thinks $400 million is too much to pay for two experimental offshore wind turbines. The utility is exploring ways to drive the cost down.

by James A. Bacon

When Dominion issued a request for bids this spring to erect experimental wind turbines off Virginia Beach, senior executives knew the project would be expensive. Offshore wind farms are built most economically on a scale of dozens or hundreds of turbines. But this project would have only two, and both would incorporate untested technologies. Moreover, there was no supporting maritime infrastructure on the East Coast of the United States. Key components and construction vessels would have to be imported from Europe.

Internal estimates put the cost around $230 million. The cost per kilowatt of power generated would be so expensive that Dominion executives expected the project to be a tough sell to the State Corporation Commission. But they figured they could make the case that the company would learn enough from the turbines that it could bring down costs for large-scale wind development — some 300 turbines — down the road.

So it was an unpleasant surprise when only two companies bid to build the project, and only one of them in full compliance with the contract specifications. And it was even more discouraging when the sole compliant bid came in at more than $375 million.

“We thought we’d have a challenging [approval] process at $230 million,” said Thomas Wohlfarth, vice president for regulatory affairs at a stakeholders meeting Friday to discuss the future of offshore wind in Virginia. “When the cost went to $375 million, we went, “Whoah!’ We like to show a positive net present value to customers. This would be very challenging.”

Until that point Dominion had moved steadily, if ploddingly, ahead with plans to exploit Virginia’s offshore wind resources as a source of renewable carbon-free energy. The company had conducted a cost-reduction study in 2011, completed two internal transmission studies — finding that it could bring in up to 45 megawatts of offshore electricity to its Virginia Beach power grid without significant cost — spent $1.6 million in a blind auction to acquire offshore wind rights, and successfully solicited Department of Energy grants to help underwrite preliminary engineering and design on the two experimental turbines.

The disappointing $375 million bid threw a monkey wrench into Dominion’s rotor. Putting wind development on hold, the company convened in Richmond a gathering of dozens of stakeholders — from business vendors and partners to government officials and environmentalists — to deconstruct what went wrong and to plot a more cost-effective path to full-scale development.

“Dominion really wants to see his project move forward ,” said Mary Doswell,  senior vice president of energy solutions, told the stakeholders. “We need to push our way through, and we need your help to do that.” While she did not say development of the larger offshore wind project would be stymied if the experimental turbines weren’t built, she didn’t deny it either.  It’s not something she had thought about, she responded to a question. “We’ve been so laser-focused on this project that we haven’t considered what might happen.”

The experimental turbines would incorporate state-of-the-art technologies, never tested before anywhere else, that would affect the cost efficiency of a subsequent, large-scale wind development off the Virginia coast. The most feature important would be a hurricane-resilient design affecting the interaction of rotors and blades in high winds. While wind turbines operate in harsh weather conditions in the North Sea, where winds have been known to reach 90 miles per hour, turbines off the Atlantic Coast would be at risk of exposure to Category 3 hurricanes which generate wind speeds of up to 129 miles per hour. “It’s a very robust design,” said Mark Mitchell, the project construction manager.

The experimental turbines also would incorporate a new Alstom design for the drive train, and a twisted jacket foundation for the turbine. The turbines would be placed in a configuration that would enable Dominion to measure what kind of wind wake one turbine creates for another another — critical for determining layout in a wind field of 300 turbines. Additionally, Dominion would test remote monitoring technologies that would allow for predictive maintenance, such as replacing fatigued parts before they wore out.

Dominion expects to learn much else that would help it advance the 300-turbine project. For example, what are the seabed conditions? “You can’t just run a cable out there,” Mitchell explained. Hampton Roads is a major naval base. Is there unexploded ordinance on the sea floor? How hard is the seabed? What are the sand migration patterns? Ideally, the cable is buried a couple of meters underground. Dominion doesn’t want the sand to drift away and leave it uncovered. In a related matter, Dominion needs to know how deep to drive the steel piles underground to provide the needed stability for the turbine. More steel translates directly into higher costs.

Most of the feedback came from Dominion’s contractors and suppliers who helped put the bid together. Several main themes arose from the conversation. Continue reading

Can’t Beat those Old Nukes for Cheap Energy

Image credit: Nuclear Energy Institute

Image credit: Nuclear Energy Institute

by James A. Bacon

Dominion has shut down both nuclear power units at its Surry County station to repair water leaks. The first one was taken offline over the weekend, the second was deactivated Monday. Reports the Richmond Times-Dispatch:

The leaks amounted to about 1,000 gallons, all of which was captured and processed for reuse once the reactors are running, [spokesman Rick] Zuercher said. Each reactor’s coolant system operates with about 71,000 gallons of water.

“These happen occasionally. They’re not significant,” Zuercher said. “There are levels of leakage that require us to shut down, but these did not rise to that level. We always try to capture problems when they’re small and fix them so they don’t become big problems.”

The incident follows a leaking pump in January that reduced the Unit 2 reactor to 60 percent capacity during repairs, and a shutdown this spring to refuel the two units. When Dominion shuts down its nuclear units, it has to make up the difference from other sources, either within its own fleet of power plants or by purchasing power from other companies over the PJM Interconnection grid. That energy can be expensive during the peak demand period of the summer.

Every time a nuclear plant shuts down for repairs, it seems to make the news. I suppose it’s the old Three Mile Island syndrome. Stuff that happens at a nuclear power plant is way scarier than the stuff that happens in any other kind of power plant. Other kinds of power plants shut down for maintenance and repairs, too — we just don’t hear about it.

The reality of the situation is that nuclear power plants spend more time online, operating 24/7, than any other type of electricity-generating plant. Based on 2013 data, the Nuclear Energy Institute asserts that nukes operate 90.9% of the time. That handily beats coal- and gas-fired plants and it clobbers wind and solar (although biomass plants experience relatively little downtime). That’s why Dominion Virginia Power can seriously talk about building a third nuclear generator at its North Anna facility despite a mind-numbing price tag measured in the billions of dollars. Not only do nukes generate power two to three times more of the time than alternatives, they tend to be longer-lived — 40 years routinely, and potentially as long as 60 years.

surry

The Surry nuclear station

In its 2015 Integrated Resources Plan, Dominion expressed its intention to inform the Nuclear Regulatory Commission of its intent to “potentially submit” a license application to extend the Surry Power Station Units 1 and 2 for another 20 years. Built in 1972 and 1973, those units are already 40 years old. I presume that the initial construction cost of the two units has been fully written off. Assuming they can be operated safely, extending their life another 20 years would provide incredibly inexpensive power for Virginia.

Old versus new. That’s not necessarily to say that nuclear is the best option for new plants. Nuclear has hard-to-quantify risks not shared by other power sources. The fact that the North Anna station is built on a fault line does not inspire confidence. Neither does the fact that United States has yet to devise a permanent solution for the disposal of radioactive waste. The engineering and physics of nuclear power are so complex that anyone (from power companies to environmentalists to neighborhood kooks) can make any claim and members of the public have no ability to appraise them. That inherent uncertainty weighs heavily against nukes in the popular mind.

Not long ago, Dominion appeared ready, willing and able to start pushing for a third, 1,453-megawatt nuclear unit at North Anna, a proposal that would be sure to ignite massive controversy. For now, having spent hundreds of millions of dollars in preliminary work, the company is keeping that option alive. But the 2015 IRP seems less settled upon nuclear than before. The company’s own portfolio risk assessment showed that, on a risk-adjusted basis, new nuclear was marginally more expensive than alternatives that rely more upon gas or solar.

Why Can’t Dominion Do Big Wind Projects?

A wind farm in Texas

A wind farm in Texas

 By Peter Galuszka

Down in the swamplands and farmlands of northeastern North Carolina, construction has begun on a huge new wind farm that will be the largest so far in the southeastern U.S.

Iberdrola Renewables LLC, a Spanish firm, has begun construction on the long-awaited $600 million project with financial help from Amazon, which also plans a solar farm on Virginia’s Eastern Shore. The Tar Heel project will stretch on 22,000 acres and could generate about 204 megawatts of power.

The curious part of this is that the farm is only about 12 miles of the Virginia line northwest of Elizabeth City, N.C.

That’s not far at all from the Old Dominion. But Dominion Resources, Virginia’s leading utility, has been sluggish in pushing ahead with wind, citing concerns about cost. It pulled the plug on an offshore pilot project involving only two wind turbines that would have a relatively tiny power output off of Virginia Beach.

So why were renewable energy firm executives and public officials celebrating yesterday in North Carolina and not Virginia?

That’s an easy one. North Carolina has a renewable portfolio standard that requires utilities to produce at least 12.5 percent of their power from renewables. Virginia has a similar plan, but being a “pro-business” state, Virginia has made it voluntary. So, Dominion doesn’t really have to do anything at the moment to push to wind, solar or other renewable.

It might have more incentive to do so when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency finalizes rules on its Clean Power Plan later this year, but no one really knows what the final form will be.

Nonetheless, Dominion has marshaled its money and its lobbyists to change how regulators over see it in this regard. The General Assembly, some of whose members get huge contributions from Dominion, hurriedly passed a bill this session changing the rules in ways that Dominion wants.

To be sure, Dominion has some wind farms in other states. But here in Virginia, it is pitching the old saw that wind power is too expensive and unreliable and so on.

It may have been at one time. When Iberdrola pitched the plan to put 102 wind turbines on 22,000 acres in N .C., the common wisdom was that the southeast just doesn’t have the natural wind power. The winds are too light, usually.

But this changed when new technology allowed wind turbines to go from about 260 feet into the air to more than 460 feet or almost as much as the Washington Monument. Once that happened, the Carolina wind farm became a go. Of course, critics say that wind turbines have negatives such as their capacity to slice apart birds and be an eyesore.

What’s better for humanity, however? Coal or even natural gas plants or ones that have no pollution, especially carbon, footprint?

Another interesting aspect of this story is how Amazon is getting involved. The retailing giant is becoming an electric renewable utility in its own right. It wants to have renewable power run the massive servers that it relies upon to do business. But instead of screwing around with hidebound, traditional utilities like Dominion that are often reluctant to warmly embrace renewable energy, Amazon is doing it itself.

Amazon is also putting in a 170 megawatt solar farm in Virginia’s Accomack County which has terrain similar that of Perquimans and Pasquotank Counties in North Carolina that will host the wind farm.

To be fair to Dominion, the utility has a legal responsibility to supply its customers with electricity on a 24/7 basis. It needs a diverse energy mix to be able to do that.

But one wonders why Dominion keeps pushing this bugaboo about wind. Its sister utilities have raised the same cry. That could be why wind represents only 5 per cent of the electrical mix in the U.S., even though there are wind farms in 36 states.

It’s different in other countries. Denmark gets 28 percent of its power from wind. Spain, Portugal and Ireland each get 16 percent from wind.

Isn’t it time for Dominion to get off the dime and do more with wind, rather than using its deep pockets to get paid-for Virginia politicians to do its bidding and change regulatory rules at its whim?

Cutting CO2 One Refrigerator at a Time

old_refrigerator

Energy efficiency is everybody’s favorite strategy for reducing carbon-dioxide emissions. But conservation programs are not always economical.

by James A. Bacon

Earlier this month Dominion Virginia Power launched an initiative to encourage residential customers  to turn in old refrigerators kept in the garage. If you have a clunker that is at least 10 years old and has a capacity of at least 10 cubic feet, Dominion will pick up the appliance, recycle it and pay you $50 in the bargain. By  swapping an old fridge for a new energy-efficient model, you could shave up to $100 per year off your electric bill.

Sounds so simple. But there is more to this story than meets the eye, and it provides a glimpse into an under-appreciated question — the extent to which energy efficiency can substitute for new electric power plants in achieving Virginia’s CO2 reduction targets under the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan.

In its 2015 Integrated Resource Plan, Dominion predicated its options for investing in electricity generation and distribution upon the assumption that it will be able to achieve more than 3,000 Gigawatt hours of energy savings through Demand Side Management (DSM) programs by 2030. That savings will eliminate the need to build 611 Megawatts of generating capacity, equivalent to about 3.4% of the power company’s current generating capacity of 17,500 megawatts.

But some environmental groups contend that Dominion should invest more aggressively in energy efficiency to achieve the draft targets set by the Clean Power Plan. “Virginia has a large amount of untapped potential when it comes to energy efficiency,” contends the Natural Resources Defense Council in a 2014 issue brief. The state ranks 47th among the 50 states for energy efficiency. “Other states have been able to achieve significantly higher levels of low-cost efficiency, to accrue substantially more customer and energy benefits. Virginia can do the same.”

Power companies and environmentalists can argue back and forth over whose analysis is the most valid but in Virginia, the State Corporation Commission calls the shots. Power companies must make a business case for a particular energy efficiency initiative and persuade the SCC, which gives great weight to the impact of on rate payers, that the cost of implementing the plan is less than the cost of building new electric-generating capacity. In a recent ruling involving the garage-refrigerator program, the SCC took a harder line than either Dominion or the environmentalists.

A seemingly strong case can be made for recycling the old fridges.Refrigerator efficiency has improved dramatically in the past 20 years,” said Ken Barker, vice president of technical solutions at Dominion in a press release announcing the roll-out. “Homeowners oftentimes don’t realize how much their old refrigerators may be impacting their energy bills. We not only want to educate our customers on this lesser-known source of wasted energy, we want to help them do something about it.”

Roughly 60 million refrigerators are at least ten years old nationally, and Energy Star models are more than 15% more efficient than those built in conformance with 2009 regulations. The fact that refrigerators kept in garages are exposed to extreme heat makes energy efficiency an even more important consideration. Swapping an old fridge for a new one could save up to $100 per year.

Most studies of consumer behavior, says Dominion in its 2015 Integrated Resources Plan, indicate that consumers expect payback on their energy-efficient investments within 10 years or less. By handling the pick-up and recycling and paying the $50 incentive, Dominion hopes to improve the payback from making an upgrade.

Last August the company filed a petition with the SCC for approval to implement the garage-refrigerator initiative and two other demand-side management programs. A second was a home-improvement program for the poor and elderly, and a third targeted small businesses. In each case, Dominion sought approval to operate the programs for five years.

The SCC was not entirely cooperative. Ruling in April, the commissioners approved the refrigerator program but for only three years on the grounds that its cost-effectiveness was unproven. They said the program should be evaluated over three years before being extended. The SCC also limited the program budget to 50% of the original proposal, or about $4.8 million. The commissioners followed similar logic for the poor and elderly home-improvement program, limiting it to three years and $15.2 million.

The SCC nixed the small business program entirely, declaring that Dominion had not developed it sufficiently. “The lack of detail regarding important elements of the program,” stated the commissioners, “calls into question the accuracy of the Company’s cost/benefit analyses offered in support.”

“We are particularly sensitive to the impact on the bills of customers not participating in the programs, for whom the program costs represent net increases in their monthly bills,” explained the SCC in its final order. In a separate order on an Appalachian Power Co. request, the SCC elaborated: The conservation program “represents an involuntary wealth transfer (i.e., cross-subsidy) from one set of [the Company’s] customers to another.” Non-participants “will pay higher rates with no equal and offsetting monetary benefit.”

Energy efficiency programs vary widely in cost, just as different forms of electric generation do. According to Dominion’s 2015 IRP, costs range from nearly as low as $16 per megawatt hour for a non-residential energy audit program to $158 per megawatt hour for a residential home energy check-up program — and even more for other programs.

Under Virginia’s regulatory structure, energy efficiency programs have a high hurdle to overcome before the SCC will declare them to be in the “public interest.” Not only are Virginia power companies entitled to recover the cost of administering an energy-efficiency program, they normally are entitled to recover revenue lost from electricity not sold.

That helps explain why the SCC is skeptical that energy efficiency will contribute much toward Virginia’s attainment of the Clean Power Plan. In comments submitted to the EPA last fall, the SCC staff wrote: “The Virginia SCC Staff is unaware of any electric energy efficiency resource deployable in Virginia that both (1) has a cost less than its associated avoided variable operating costs, and (2) is scalable to a level that would meet the Proposed Regulation.”

The refrigerator recycling program is a case in point. The program is expected to save about 2,700 megawatt hours of electricity annually, according to Dominion spokesperson Daisy Pridgen. That’s about 7.4 megawatt hours daily, less than one megawatt per hour — a tiny fraction of the total energy-efficiency savings that Dominion is aiming for, and an even smaller percentage of what environmentalists say is possible. It would take dozens of such programs to avoid the cost of building even a single power plant.

Capitalism Triumphs Again!

RAM clinic, Pikesville Ky., June 2011. Photo by Scott Elmquist

RAM clinic, Pikesville Ky., June 2011.
Photo by Scott Elmquist

By Peter Galuszka

If there were any questions about just how capitalism has failed, one need look no farther than Wise County, where, this week, hundreds, if not thousands, of people will line up for free medical care.

The event is ably noted in The Washington Post this Sunday by a young opinion writer named Matt Skeens who lives in Coeburn in the coalfields of southwestern Virginia.

This week, the Remote Area Medical clinic will come to the Wise County fairgrounds to offer free medical and dental care to anyone who needs it.

You might ask yourself a question: why do so many people in one of the parts of the United States that is fantastically wealthy with natural resources need free medical care? Where is the magic of capitalism so often lauded on this blog?

A few insights from Mr. Skeens:

“Local representatives of Southwest Virginia will travel to the fairgrounds to stand on a coal bucket and assure us they’re fighting against President Obama and the ‘war on coal.’ These politicians won’t mention that with their votes to block Medicaid expansion, they ensured that the lines at RAM won’t be getting any shorter. But hating Obama in these parts is good politickin.”

Skeens runs through a list of mountain folk who can’t afford health care. One is a breast cancer survivor who hasn’t had a screenings in years. His grandfather, a retired electrician and coal miner, had also camped out at RAM clinics to get help.

Odd that this is the way I found neighboring West Virginia when I moved there with my family from suburban Washington, D.C. in 1962. Just as it was then, the riches that should have helped pay for local medical care went out of state. Much of the coal left by railcar or barge. Now, natural gas released by hydraulic fracking will find its way to fast-growing Southeastern cities or perhaps overseas thanks to new proposed pipelines such as a $5 billion project pitched in part by Dominion Resources.

While I have never been to the Wise County RAM clinic, I did happen to drop by one in Pikesville, Ky., a coalfield area that is one is Kentucky’s poorest county. It is not far from Wise. I was busy researching a book on Richmond-based Massey Energy, a renegade coal firm, in June 2011.

Photographer Scott Elmquist and I were on our way from Kentucky to an anti-strip mining rally in West Virginia when we noticed the RAM signs. More than 1,000 people had started lining up at the doors around 1:30 a.m. at the local high school.

It was packed inside. A Louisville dental school had sent more than 50 dental chairs that lined the basketball court. Some of the patients said they were caught in a bind: they had jobs but didn’t have enough health coverage and couldn’t pay for what they needed.

Since then, there’s been some good news. Unlike Virginia, whose legislature has stubbornly refused to expand Medicaid to 400,000 residents who need it (supposedly in a move to tighten federal spending), Kentucky expanded Medicaid last year. Now, 375,000 more people have health insurance.

Not so in Virginia. People continue to suffer while those with comfortable lives laud the miraculous benefits of capitalism.

Reports at Forty Paces

pistol_duel

Dueling reports

by James A. Bacon

How do citizens know whom to believe in the debate over the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP), a proposed 550-mile natural gas pipeline between West Virginia gas fields and markets in Virginia and North Carolina?

Dominion, managing partner of ACP, has commissioned studies from Fairfax-based ICF International, a technology and management consulting firm, and Chmura Economics & Analytics, a Richmond econometrics firm, to analyze the pipeline’s economic impact. Both  reports buttressed the utility’s case that the project would be overwhelmingly beneficial.

In “The Economic Impact of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline,” ICF concluded that over the next 20 years Virginia and North Carolina could expect to gain $377 million a year in energy cost savings,  2,200 permanent full-time jobs, $131 million in annual labor income, and $218 million in annual gross state product. Likewise, in “The Economic Impact of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline in West Virginia, Virginia, and North Carolina,” Chmura said the project would inject $456 million annually into the three-state economy between 2014 and 2019 and support 2,873 jobs.

Yesterday the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) and the Allegheny-Blue Ridge, which oppose the pipeline, released its own report. That document, “Atlantic Coast Pipeline Benefits Review,” prepared by Synapse Energy Economics Inc., out of Cambridge, Mass., contends that the alleged pipeline benefits are “overstated, lack sufficient supporting data, and fail to account for environmental and societal costs.”

The Synapse report doesn’t make any economic forecasts of its own; rather, the authors point out limitations and weaknesses in the Dominion-sponsored reports and enumerates negative impacts that those reports did not take into consideration. Among the criticisms:

  • Assumed differential in gas prices. ICF argues that gas from Marcellus shale in West Virginia and neighboring states, to be transported by the ACP, will be cheaper than so-called Henry Hub gas from the Gulf Coast, which Virginia and North Carolina consume now. But Synapse questions whether that price differential will last.
  • Assumed savings to electric customers. ICF assumes that cheaper natural gas prices will be passed to Virginia consumers as lower electricity prices. But due to the nature of inter-regional power sharing, Synapse says is it unclear whether those savings would be passed on to Virginia consumers or shared regionally.
  • Assumed job creation. ICF assumes that Virginia consumers will spend that energy savings, stimulating local economic activity. But “the study did not provide any underlying data to support this claim,” says Synapse. “Critical inputs and assumptions — such as the assumed direct energy savings by sector — are necessary to satisfactorily review this finding.”
  • Are permanent jobs really permanent? The ICF study estimates that 2,225 jobs will be supported over 20 years (for 44,600 total job years). But the study doesn’t break down the impact year by year, so it is impossible to know if the jobs are sustained over time or if they start strong and dribble out over time.

Synapse also argued that ICF and Chmura failed to take into account negatives such as the pipeline impact on property values, damage to wildlife habitat and clean water, and the risk of accidents.

The SELC report holds ICF and Chmura to a high standard — it insists that  consultants provide sufficient detail in their data and assumptions to allow third-party review and verification, and that studies be more transparent with their numbers. “In an economic jobs and benefits analysis,” Symapse says, “a complete set of modeling assumptions, inputs, and outputs” typically would be included.

ICF stated that it based its analysis upon years of experience in North American natural gas and “proprietary software tools and databases,” including its Gas Market Model and Integrated Planning Model to model the North American gas and electric markets with and without ACP.

Dominion stands by the ICF and Chmura numbers. Unlike Synapse or SELC,the company has skin in the game. It seeks the best forecasts it can find because it bases business decisions on the data. The utility uses ICF’s commodity price forecast for the Dominion Virginia Power Integrated Resource Plan and other regulatory filings. The company also uses ICF for its own internal business deliberations, says Jim Norvelle, director-media relations for Dominion. “It is safe to say there are significant business decisions made using the ICF International forecast.”

“ICF International and Chmura are internationally known and respected firms,” says Norvelle. “Their findings quantify what is obvious and undeniable: the Atlantic Coast Pipeline will bring significant financial and other benefits to the residents and businesses of Virginia, West Virginia and North Carolina. It is Economics 101. More natural gas supplies mean lower prices, more money available for investment, better reliability and cleaner air. Just plain common sense.”

Bacon’s bottom line: Synapse makes a good point: Consultant studies should be fully transparent, providing sufficient data and articulating their assumptions for third parties to critique them. But what’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. When SELC and pipeline opponents make assertions about the pipeline’s economic and environmental effects, they need to abide by the same standards they demand of Dominion. They, too, need to lay out their facts and assumptions for public scrutiny.

A Long and Winding Pipeline

Virginia Natural Gas' Hampton Roads pipeline under construction. Photo credit: Virginia Natural Gas

Virginia Natural Gas’ Hampton Roads pipeline under construction. Photo credit: Virginia Natural Gas

by James A. Bacon

The developer of the 550-mile Atlantic Coast Pipeline wants to alter its proposed route between the West Virginia gas fields and markets in Virginia and North Carolina, reports the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Dominion Transmission Inc., leader of the company formed to build the pipeline, filed proposed route changes with federal regulators that would make greater use of existing rights of way, primarily Dominion-owned electric transmission lines.

The route changes partially address landowner criticism that the pipeline should run as much as possible along existing rights of way, be they state highways, electric transmission lines or other pipelines. But the changes submitted to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) are not likely to allay criticism from landowners in Augusta County and Nelson County where opposition to the pipeline is centered. The route changes would occur in Brunswick County, Southampton County and the City of Suffolk.

Foes told the Times-Dispatch that they were encouraged by Dominion’s effort to use existing rights of way, but… “Hopefully, this is a start, not a finish,” said Nancy Sorrells, co-chairwoman of the Augusta County Alliance and the All Pain, No Gain public relations campaign against the pipeline.

Dominion said the new proposed route would travel 16 miles of existing utility rights of way in Brunswick County, nine miles in Southampton, and seven miles in Suffolk.

Bacon’s bottom line: Routing pipelines is an incredibly complex undertaking. Pipeline projects are subject to intensive environmental review processes that consider impact on wildlife habitat, clean water and cultural & archaeological heritage. Running pipelines along existing rights of way saves considerable hassle as well as land acquisition costs.

“Utilities love to co-locate, if they can do it. You only have to deal with one landowner,” says James Kibler, senior vice president-external affairs for AGL Resources, an Atlanta-based gas pipeline company, one of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline’s four partners. Before joining AGL, Kibler conducted right-of-way acquisition work for Dominion.

As an example, Kibler says, the Virginia Natural Gas Crossing Pipeline, built in 2010 to connect the gas distribution systems north and south of Hampton Roads, utilized Dominion high-voltage transmission line right of way, drilled under an Old Dominion University parking lot, followed a City of Norfolk sewer lateral, and used six miles of Norfolk Southern rail line.

Trouble is, existing rights of way don’t always go where the pipeline needs to go, and the right of way may not be able to accommodate a pipeline. As the Times-Dispatch explained:

Dominion … said it is harder to route an underground pipeline along existing utility corridors in mountainous western Virginia than it is in the flat terrain of Southside.

“In the western part of the state, there’s just not a lot of opportunities there. There’s just not,” [said Greg Parks, construction supervisor].

Dominion spokesman Jim Norvelle said the company also is constrained by lack of space for a pipeline in existing public rights of way “because the pipeline cannot be built directly under electric transmission lines, on top of other pipelines, or alongside or in the median of highways, for safety reasons.”

Says Kibler: “It is a very involved, tedious process in which no one is ever totally happy.”

The Boston Globe Visits Richmond

Slavery? What slavery>

Slavery? What slavery?

 By Peter Galuszka

An outside view is always welcome, especially in these incredible days when a lot of Southern mythology is being turned on its head.

Richmond is a great locus for the examination given its tortured history. The former Capital of the Confederacy (more by accident than anything else) is a true crucible.

The Boston Globe is running a series of articles from cities across the country examining how Americans citizens view their identities and how they are reacting to the fast-moving examination of slavery, the Civil War and the debates over its twisted symbols, especially the Confederate flag.

Globe reporter Michael Karnish starts with Ana Edwards, an African-American Richmonder, as she stands near the Jefferson Davis Monument on the city’s famed Monument Avenue packed with Confederate generals, Arthur Ashe and an aviator.

Confederate President Jefferson Davis, who led the insurrection against the United States, is praised as backing “Constitutional Principles” and “Defender of States Rights” (strangely similar to the conservative reaction to the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision on gay marriage).

Nowhere is it inscribed about what the war was all about – slavery.

You might go down to Shockoe Bottom for that. It was once the second busiest slave trading market in the country. There’s a site for an old gallows, a “Burial Ground for Negroes.” Lumpkin’s Jail. Ghosts of about 350,000 slaves “sent downriver from Richmond over a 35-year period before the Civil War.

One of them was Anthony Burns, 19, who escaped to Boston in 1853 but was arrested under a fugitive law and after lots of public demonstrations, was returned to Richmond with federal troops at the ready. He ended up in Lumpkin’s Jail.

There’s not a lot in Richmond to remind about slavery. In fact, when one drives north across the James River on Interstate 95, the Virginia Holocaust Museum makes a bigger impression even though Virginia had nothing to do with the Nazi Final Solution.

The Globe reporter does a fair job of contrasting Carytown, the chic and artsy shopping district (that goes hand to mouth with the city’s annoying fetish for fancy food and craft beer) with other parts of the city that are chock full of impoverished people. One out of every four Richmonders is officially poor.

Mayor Dwight Jones, an African-American, discusses his plans to eliminate public housing and fill it with mixed-use and mixed-income developments.

The next page to turn will be the UCL World Cycling Championship where 1,000 international cyclists will converge on Richmond for nine days in September. It is expected to draw 450,000 spectators (as the promoters insist they be called). Jones is a big promoter.

But plans are to have the cyclists zip past the 1907-era Confederate generals and Jefferson Davis on the city’s most famous avenue about 16 times before video cameras that will be broadcast globally. What kind of impression will that make? Given Richmond’s enormous and unresolved image problems and insecurity, can it simply and politely avoid facing the past as it has for 150 years and expect everyone else to go along with it?

I wouldn’t expect Mayor Jones to come up with an answer since he has failed to do much to put a slavery museum in Shockoe Bottom, the most appropriate spot for it. Instead, he was pushing some kind of museum along with an expensive project including a minor league baseball stadium and bars and restaurants.

To be sure, I am not completely sure people or newspapers from Boston have a lock on any moral compass. I went to college there for four years in the early 1970s and heard so much self-righteous nonsense that I began to think of myself as a Southerner.

After all, in the fall of 1974, just after I graduated and went back to North Carolina, Boston erupted into racial violence over court-ordered busing to integrate its de facto segregated schools.

In this case, however, the Globe has a good perspective on Richmond. It is a valuable addition to the debate.

More Gas in Dominion’s Electric Power Future

The combined cycle process

The combined cycle process. Image credit: Mitsubishi Hitachi Power Systems

by James A. Bacon

Dominion Virginia Power asked the State Corporate Commission yesterday for regulatory approval to build a $1.3 billion natural gas-fired power station in Greensville County. The station will generate about 1,600 megawatts, a substantial addition to the power company’s existing 17,600 megawatt fleet.

Combined-cycle technology represents an advance over older gas-fired facilities by running waste heat through a second generator to create additional electricity. The process extracts more heat from a cubic foot of gas and emits less carbon dioxide per unit of energy generated. The station also will have lower water usage and wastewater discharge, Dominion says.

“Our analysis shows that over the life of this station our customers should save more than $2 billion versus the projected cost for purchasing the same amount of power for customers off the regional power grid,” said David Christian, CEO of Dominion Generation in a press statement. “It will be highly efficient, low cost and very reliable. It will also have excellent environmental attributes and an extremely favorable location for fuel and transmission service.”

In a statement released yesterday, a coalition of four environmental groups addressed Dominion’s 2015 Integrated Resource Plan (IRP), a 15-year outlook of the company’s fuel and facility mix. The statement did not mention the Brunswick facility directly but listed three principles for achieving the objectives of the Environmental Protection Agency’s draft Clean Power Plan, which sets a preliminary target of 38% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2030. The statement called for full disclosure of the company’s carbon emissions, greater attention to Governor Terry McAuliffe’s goal of reducing energy consumption 10% by 2020, and greater emphasis on renewable energy.

At least one of the environmental groups, the Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club, is on record opposing an earlier gas-fired plant proposed by Dominion in Brunswick County. “Relying more heavily on natural gas is not how we want to power our state. Energy efficiency is cheaper, cleaner, and more reliable than gas-fired power plants and provides 21st century jobs.”

Both the Brunswick and Greensville plants are included in all scenarios of Dominion’s 2015 IRP. That plan laid out a low-cost scenario, which would not meet EPA goals, as the basis for cost comparison, and proposed four alternate scenarios emphasizing different fuels, including solar, wind, nuclear and natural gas co-fire to supplement existing coal-fired plants. The following elements are common to all four scenarios:

  • The natural gas-fired, combined-cycle Brunswick Power Station, with a generating capacity of nearly 1.7 MW, to be completed in 2016.
  • A second combined-cycle plant in Greensville County, with a generating capacity of nearly 1.6 MW, to be completed in 2019.
  • Retrofit of the 790 MW oil-fired unit 5 at Possum Point Power Station with pollution controls to reduce nitrogen oxide emissions.
  • Retirement of Yorktown Power Station’s two coal-fired units with a combined generating capacity of 320 MW by 2016.

Dominion also envisions integrating more solar, wind and energy efficiency into its long-range plans. These initiatives include:

  • 400 MW (nominal capacity) of company-owned solar capacity, including the announced 20 MW Remington Solar facility by 2020.
  • 400 MW (nominal capacity) of solar capacity owned by non-utility generators (NUGs) by 2017.
  • 16 MW (nominal capacity) installed on customers’ property through the Solar Partnership Program.
  • 12 MW (nominal capacity) Virginia Offshore Wind Technology Advancement Project by 2019.
  • 611 MW reduction in peak demand through implementation of demand-side management programs by 2030.

The most cost-effective green energy alternative on a risk-adjusted basis is solar power, Dominion concluded in its IRP. (See “Here Comes the Sun.”) However, the report emphasized that assessment does not take into account the expense associated with upgrading the power grid to handle rapid fluctuations in supply caused by clouds. The IRP also concluded that wind power was the most expensive of the four alternatives.

Here Comes the Sun

Solar panel harness energy of the sun

by James A. Bacon

By some measures, solar energy looks like the most cost-effective path for Virginia’s electric utilities to achieving Environmental Protection Agency targets for reduction in CO2 emissions. A solar-intensive scenario has the lowest average levelized cost of four alternative scenarios explored in the 2015 Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) published by Dominion Virginia Power today. But the power company still has major concerns about how the inherently variable power source could be safely integrated into the power grid.

Dominion submits an annual IRP to the State Corporation Commission providing a 15-year outlook on what facilities and fuels will best meet customers’ electricity needs at the lowest cost in an efficient and reliable manner. Despite reservations, the 2015 plan views solar more favorably than did the 2013 plan.

Dominion had to grapple with big uncertainties in the 2015 study because the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has not yet set final targets for Virginia to reduce its CO2 emissions. The targets in the draft EPA guidelines call for Virginia utilities to make 38% reductions by 2030. But the McAuliffe administration and the State Corporation Commission pleaded for relief on the grounds that the draft targets were so stringent. The EPA is expected to issue final rules next month.

Dominion explored four broad strategies for attaining the draft EPA goal: a solar plan with a high concentration of solar resources; a co-fire plan, using natural gas to reduce the carbon intensity of eight coal-powered units; a nuclear plan, which would construct a third nuclear unit at North Anna Three; and a wind plan, with significant on-shore and off-shore wind development.

Dominion did not recommend any one plan over the others. A letter accompanying the submission of the IRP said that other plans, or even hybrids of the plans, might be considered.

A portfolio risk assessment of the four plans factoring in such variables as natural gas prices, coal prices, electricity demand, CO2 emission prices and capital costs over a 25-year period showed that the levelized average cost for solar exceeded that of the “least cost” plan (which would not achieve EPA compliance), but it was the least expensive of the four alternatives. Wind was the most expensive.

portfolio_risk_assessment

According to the cover letter, the cost of compliance above the least-cost scenario range from $4.3 billion for Plan A: Solar to $15.3 billion for Plan D: Wind. However, the IRP stressed the hazards of integrating a large amount of solar power into the electric grid. The problem stems from the intermittent nature of solar — it generates electricity only when the sun is shining. States the IRP:

The intermittent availability of solar energy due to cloud passage causes sporadic injections of energy into the grid, impacting key network parameters, including frequency and voltage. While the grid may not be adversely impacted by the small degree of variability resulting from a few distributed PV (photovoltaic) systems, larger levels of penetration across the network or high concentrations of PV in a small geographic area will make it difficult to maintain frequency and voltage within specified limits. Addressing grid integration issues is a necessary prerequisite for the long-term viability of PV generation as an alternative energy resource.

Significant resources would have to be dedicated to maintaining grid reliability in the face of the wide variability in solar output. Development of a technology to store solar power, which would help level out power flows, is “paramount,” Dominion says.

The anticipated growth of solar PV energy generation will result in significant challenges to the Company’s grid as well as the interregional grid as a whole. … The industry needs an understanding of the critical threshold levels of solar PV where significant system changes could occur. The nature and estimated cost of those changes are still unknown at this stage, but these costs, particularly at the higher penetration levels, could be substantial.

In a statement released before Dominion’s IRP went public, a coalition of environmental groups said that Dominion and Appalachian Power Co., which also submitted its 2015 IRP today, need to make “utility-scale investments” in offshore wind and solar energy, while also making it easier for customers to generate their own solar-generating resources on their own property.

“Dominion has stated that building solar is beneficial for customers because it is cheaper than market purchases of of a grid that consists primarily of coal and natural gas,” says the press release under the name of the Southern Environmental Law Center, Appalachian Voices, the Chesapeake Climate Action Network and the Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club. “Yet all renewable resources in Dominion’s territory amount to just 2% of the company’s energy mix. Dominion’s latest proposal for a new 20-megawatt solar farm in Remington, Virginia, equates to just one-tenth of 1% of Dominion’s 17,500-megawatt generation fleet.”

The statement did not address the impact of large-scale solar development upon the reliability of the electric grid.