In a sweeping contradiction of the positions of Dominion Virginia Power and assorted politicians and regulators, the National 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.