Dominion Sings New Tune, Embraces Solar

Dominion’s White House Solar farm in Louisa County

Dominion expects to install up to 5,200 megawatts of solar generating capacity by 2042 — about thirteen times its current commitment and enough to power 1.3 million homes — according to forecasts contained in its 2017 Integrated Resource Plan (IRP). That represents a dramatic shift from forecasts in previous versions of the long-range planning document, which is filed annually with the State Corporation Commission.

Natural gas emits half the carbon dioxide per unit of electricity than oil and coal, and solar produces no carbon emissions at all. Increasing reliance upon those two energy sources will shrink a typical Dominion Virginia Power customer’s carbon footprint (carbon dioxide emitted per customer) by 25% over the next eight years, the company stated in a press release.

“The ‘installed cost’ of large-scale solar facilities … has dropped 50 percent over the past four years,” said Paul D. Koonce, CEO of the Dominion Generation Group. “Our customers want more renewable energy, and changing economics make the transition to renewable resources easier.”

Dominion has been slow, compared to many other utilities, to embrace solar power. In past years, the company stressed that solar produced electricity only when the sun was shining, which made necessary extensive backup capacity, and that solar peak production in the mid-day did not match up well with peak demand for electricity on late summer afternoons or early winter mornings. Until now, the company had committed to building only 400 megawatts by 2020.

Environmental groups have been highly critical of the utility’s approach to renewable energy for years, and Dominion’s latest announcement changes little. The Sierra Club Virginia Chapter today attacked the utility’s continued reliance upon “dirty” “fracked” natural gas and criticized the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

“Dominion’s actions don’t match its words when it comes to promoting renewable energy,” said Kate Addleson, director of the Virginia Sierra Club, said. “Despite the fanfare, this does not appear to be a sharp change from what we have seen in the past.”

“Rather than deliver a clear energy plan, this document only serves to raise more questions about what Dominion really wants to do over the long-term and who really stands to benefit,” said Will Cleveland, Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) attorney. “While Dominion is taking a good step toward expanding solar, they are simultaneously taking two steps back by doubling down on dirty fossil fuels.”

In related news, Appalachian Power Company also filed its IRP, forecasting the addition of 500 megawatts of universal solar by 2031, 1,350 megawatts of wind energy by 2031, and 10 megawatts of battery storage resources by 2025. “Universal” solar is the term for generating capacity that feeds into the broader system, not reserved for the use of a single customer or set of customers.

Dominion executives attributed the company’s rhetorical about-face to continued improvement in the economics of solar energy and a conviction that, despite the Trump administration’s antipathy toward the Clean Power Plan, some form of CO2 regulation will remain in place.

“We believe this balance … of solar, natural gas, and nuclear hits the sweet spot in terms of cost, environmental performance, and reliability for our customers,” Koonce said.

Dominion graphic shows the declining carbon footprint as the company’s four gas-fired power plants came online, replacing coal units and displacing out-of-state energy purchases.

Modernizing the grid. Aside from boosting the efficiency of solar panels, new technology enables utilities to better handle fluctuations of frequency and voltage on the electric grid caused by variable solar output.

“For the first time, our long-range plan discusses the need to modernize the energy grid in order to accommodate the changes in how power will be produced as well as to meet the needs and desires of our customers,” said Bob Blue, CEO of Dominion Virginia Power.

The existing transmission and distribution grids were built to facilitate a one-way flow of electricity from a handful of large power plants to millions of distributed customers. “The energy company produces a large amount of electricity at a relatively small number of locations,” Blue explained. “It then sends that power across big wires, then medium-sized wires, then small wires.”

Solar output will be more distributed. “When solar is connected, the distribution grid must become a two-way network so we can deliver energy seamlessly to everyone, including people with solar panels on their rooftops,” Blue said.

Modernizing the grid, Blue said, entails investing in:

  • Smart meters and intelligent grid devices so customers can monitor energy usage real time;
  • A two-way communications network so the company can repair outages faster;
  • Grid resiliency upgrades and replacement of aging infrastructure to enhance reliability and security;
  • Automated control systems that can diagnose and fix problems before they become apparent; and
  • Enhanced customer data and analytics that tell customers what they want to know when they want to know it.

Dominion provided no estimate of how much such a grid overhaul would cost or how long it would take to phase in.

No reversing CO2 regulations. The press conference addressed another issue that has been dogging the power company in recent months — the argument that a freeze of base rates enacted two years ago in response to the Clean Power Plan should be repealed now that the Trump administration has expressed its intention to reverse the Obama-era regulatory initiative.

“We expect future national and state energy policy to include some form of limitations on greenhouse gas emissions,” said Koonce. The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld the authority of the federal Environmental Protection Agency to regulate carbon emissions under its endangerment finding — a finding that the Trump administration cannot ignore. Meanwhile, he said, the McAuliffe administration “has work underway” that could well lead to state restrictions on carbon emissions.

“Dominion will continue moving to cleaner power sources with lower emissions, whether the Clean Power Plan lives or dies,” Blue said.

Gas and solar in growth mode. In its annual Integrated Resource Plan, Dominion makes its best-guess forecast for capital expenditures anticipated over the next 15 years. This year the company looked at eight scenarios, each with its own assumptions for prices, demand and regulatory policy. Several key assumptions span all eight scenarios, including the re-licensing of existing nuclear units, construction of another base-load natural gas plant around 2024, negligible wind capacity, and continued load growth averaging 1.3% per year. A third nuclear unit for North Anna, said to approach $20 billion in cost, is included only in the scenario that assumes the most draconian regulatory restrictions on fossil fuels.

Koonce made the case that gas and solar go together. “Gas-fired generation is clean, dependable and can even out the variable energy flows from solar and wind,” he said. Big combined-cycle plants like the Brunswick County Power Station and an even bigger plant under construction in Greenville County are base-load facilities that generate electricity at low cost, but cannot respond flexibly to fluctuations in demand. To balance variable solar output, Dominion will rely upon combustion turbines (CTs) — essentially jet engines hooked up to generators — that can ramp up to full output within 10 minutes. Dominion did not indicate whether it plans to build the CTs itself or rely upon independent power producers.

The shift from coal to gas and solar will result in a 46% reduction in CO2 emissions between 2007 and 2027, Dominion said. That period encompasses the shutdown or conversion of six coal-fired stations in response to the pollution-cutting Mercury and Air Toxics Standards; takes into account the improved efficiency of its new gas powerhouses at Brunswick and Greensville, which extract a higher percentage of heat value from each BTU of gas; and incorporates some increased production from solar.

Some of the CO2 gains come from substituting super-efficient Virginia-based generation with higher-carbon electric power now purchased from other states. The energy mix of out-of-state electricity is a mixed bag, incorporating coal plants and older natural gas units as well as wind and solar.

Dominion’s increasing reliance on home-generated electricity — both solar and natural gas — also will provide an economic boost to the economy, said Chet Wade, vice president-corporate communications. Building gas and solar generation in the state supports construction jobs, creates permanent jobs, and gives a boost to localities’ tax base.

The environmentalist critique. The SELC accused Dominion of inflating electricity demand projections in order to justify increased gas consumption and construction of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

“It becomes more and more clear that Dominion is using the Atlantic Coast Pipeline to paint its customers into a corner,” said Greg Buppert, SELC Senior Attorney. “Locking Virginians into another enormous capital investment and another 70 years of fossil fuel doesn’t make sense.”

The environmental group vowed to intervene in the SCC review of the IRP to dig into Dominion’s assumptions and to get a clearer picture of Dominion’s energy plans for Virginia.

“Last year, when we finally got a look at the data, Dominion was projecting an 83 percent increase in carbon pollution by 2040 for its preferred scenario,” said William Penniman, conservation co-chair for the Sierre Club Virginia Chapter. “Climate scientists tell us we need to decrease carbon pollution by 80 percent by 2050 if we are to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.”

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82 responses to “Dominion Sings New Tune, Embraces Solar”

  1. kvdavis2 Avatar

    Possibly (probably) dumb question; I’m not that familiar with the way IRPs work:

    Does Dominion’s IRP only address power generation within the state? I know we important a goodly percent.

    Working in WV, I’ve been driving back and forth past Dominion’s phenomenally big, coal-fired, Mt.Storm Power Plant.

    Do these favorable carbon footprint trends include power imported by Dominion to the state?

    1. Good question. I don’t know the answer.

      1. kvdavis2 Avatar

        sorry, “import” not ‘important’

    2. Acbar Avatar

      KVD and JAB: The IRP looks at the adequacy of generation resources to meet Dominion’s retail electric load requirements in its Virginia service territory. Since Dominion supplies electricity at retail in three states and gives no priority of treatment to any one of them (the others of course would howl if it did), it reports to each state (VA, WV and NC) its total electric power generation owned by, or under long term contract to supply, the total Dominion retail electric load in the Dominion retail service terrritories in those states. This is the sum of what is consumed by the DVP, DNC and DWV retail loads, and is also known within PJM circles as the Dominion LSE load (“LSE” stands for “load serving entity.”) The total load in the “Dominion Zone” of PJM is the sum of the Dominion LSE load and all the other LSE loads in that Zone (that is, all the REA cooperatives and municipal electric companies who buy at wholesale from PJM/others and re-sell to their own retail customers).

      Electricity pays no attention to State lines. Dominion, however, keeps track of its retail loads by State because it assigns/allocates operating costs by State and thus determines retail rates by State. In the IRP, you will see generation resources reported five different ways: (1) by “nameplate” or maximum output for each generating unit at a given location; (2) by maximum output for all units at a given location or “plant”; (3) by max. output for all units located within the Dominion Zone; (4) by max. output for the total of all units owned by or under long term contract to the “Dominion LSE” (DVP, DWV or DNC); or (5) by max. output for all units, or all units of a certain type (e.g., solar), located within PJM. The most significant of these for Dominion Virginia Power is (4), and that number usually isn’t discussed in the IRP on a State by State basis but Dominion-wide. And to be clear, there’s another level of complication: Dominion Energy owns electric generation scattered elsewhere across the country which is NOT included among its generators owned by its retail electric subsidiaries DVP, DNC and DWV; and NOT under contract to supply them either. Most of those units are not even within PJM but located on other electric grids.

      1. Rowinguy1 Avatar

        Dominion has not provided retail electric service in West Virginia for many years. While the Mt. Storm plant is physically within West Virginia, it is electrically part of the DVP grid through which the company provides service in Virginia and part of NC. However, for political purposes, DVP has long represented this quantity of power as being “imported.” This was part of the so-called capacity gap which led the General Assembly here about a decade ago to create, within the Electric Restructuring Act, incentives in the form of bonus returns for DVP and Apco to build plants inside the Commonwealth.

        1. kvdavis2 Avatar

          Thank you Rowinguy1; this dialog is fantastic!

      2. kvdavis2 Avatar

        Thanks Acbar, invaluable perspective!….and to think in the 90’s they doubted the Internet business model; I mean, who would provide free content!?!?

    3. Dominion’s IRP is submitted to both the Virginia SCC and the North Carolina Utility Commission for Dominion’s service territory in North Carolina. It is a planning document and does not constitute an official request to build any of the facilities mentioned. The past several years with the uncertainties involving the CPP, Dominion has not even identified a preferred alternative.

      Currently Dominion has 19,602 MW of owned capacity spread among 100 generating units. They also have 749 MW of Non-Utility Generation (NUGs) that is under contract from other parties. This includes both fossil-fired and renewable generation.

      One of the owned facilities is the 1629 MW Mt. Storm coal plant located in West Virginia.

      Dominion, as does any member of PJM, makes purchases from the PJM network to satisfy its load by purchasing power from the next lowest cost generator at any moment based on locational marginal pricing. Throughout the day some of the energy used in Virginia might be supplied from outside the state from an accounting point of view.

      Unfortunately, the U.S. energy industry is focused only on carbon. Partly because it is easier to measure and also because it can make it appear that we are making more progress on climate issues. But it ignores the greater greenhouse gas effects from methane leaks along the natural gas supply chain to its ultimate burning in the power plant. This considerably underestimates the climate consequences of using natural gas to create electricity. From a GHG perspective a gas-fired plant is about the same as a coal plant.

      As Mr. Penniman from the Sierra Club notes, although a natural gas plant produces less carbon dioxide than an equivalent sized coal plant, Dominion has embarked on a massive build-out of natural gas-fired plants so that the actual emissions of carbon in Virginia will increase over time.

  2. LarrytheG Avatar

    re: ” the company stressed that solar produced electricity only when the sun was shining, which made necessary extensive backup capacity, and that solar peak production in the mid-day did not match up well with peak demand for electricity on late summer afternoons or early winter mornings.”

    this is simply not the case .. it’s misleading..

    let’s assume there is no solar -NONE!

    what you have is ONLY baseload and gas peaker plants.

    baseload provides all the power until demand exceeds it’s ability then you turn on those gas peakers and you have to have enough of them to cover peak demand. remember no solar. just baseload and peakers.

    NOW, bring in solar in this context and you see that SOLAR does not require “backup”.. at all.. you only use the solar when it is available and when it’s not – you go back to the same peaker plants you had to have already.

    why that canard keeps getting repeated over and over… geeze

    1. TooManyTaxes Avatar

      Larry, I think your argument is right conceptually. But since the solar generation is available only when the sun shines, I suspect that will be less than when the baseload plants run, necessitating more operation from the peaker plants with solar than with the current technology. If the peaker plants are run more often, the higher cost of starting, running and stopping might well result in rate increases for customers. That is, unless the combined cost of baseload + peakers is lower than the combined cost of solar and peakers.

      I think the VSCC needs to know a lot more information than it does today.

      1. LarrytheG Avatar

        @TMT – you cannot run solar with baseload plants.

        and you do not run peakers when baseload is adequate.

        you ONLY run peakers when the baseload is fully engaged and the demand exceeds what baseload is providing.

        and you ALWAYS have to have enough “peaker” to completely fill the gap between baseload and peak demand –

        you SAVE MONEY when you MUST be running peakers plants (because baseload is 100% committed) … AND .. solar is available.

        what SOLAR does is save you money when it is available and you must run the peakers. It’s a cheaper alternative fuel than peakers.

        Folks have a mental block about this in part because Dominion has purposely confused the issue by claiming that SOLAR is “not reliable” and “cannot run at night”.

        You NEVER use SOLAR with baseload , you ONLY use it with peakers and only then when solar is available. Otherwise you cover the demand that exceeds baseload – with the peakers.

        1. Rowinguy1 Avatar

          Larry, there are not only baseload and peakers in a utility’s generation portfolio. There is a large quantity of power produced by a variety of mid-sized plants that are brought on and off system to follow load. These are called intermediate units.

          Your statement that “You NEVER use SOLAR with baseload…” is not correct. You use solar when the sun shines; you can’t turn it off.

          Consequently, one of the problems with solar, as experienced by the California system operator, is that once there is sufficient quantity of solar, which as I said cannot be turned off so long as the sun is shining, is that the power coming onto the grid from solar output forces baseload plants to be cycled up and down during a single day, something these high capital, long-lived units were never designed to do.

  3. Steve Haner Avatar
    Steve Haner

    Nice press release Jimbo, and I will be looking at the report today myself I hope (not a small document.) But a couple of questions I will be looking at: so is North Anna 3 off the table? If so, somebody buried the lede. What is the rate impact of this package of solar development? I suspect if the rate impact was highly positive it would have made the press release, but perhaps it will be close to neutral.

    Should the company really commit to this change in direction it will still have to go through the State Corporation Commission process. Unless of course the Virginia Supreme Court decides it no longer has to.

    1. No, North Anna 3 is not off the table. It is relegated to one of eight scenarios: the super low-carbon regulatory scenario.

      Rate impact. What Dominion is saying is that solar is competitive with other energy sources, in effect, that it is less expensive than coal, oil, natural gas or nuclear up to a certain percentage of the energy mix.

      1. kvdavis2 Avatar

        Yes, a tailwind for nuclear would be carbon pricing – ‘the super low-carbon regulatory scenario’.

        1. With the CPP off the table, carbon pricing will either come in the form of a carbon tax (cap and trade programs don’t work that well) or more likely by pricing carbon in the various ISO auction prices. FERC, the ISOs and states are working to establish an appropriate market price to value carbon (or lack of it) from various types of generation. They are hoping to create a price signal that will, by itself, identify what types of new generation should be added.

          This now has a greater priority because many nuclear plants can no longer compete economically with other units in the energy auctions, primariliy because of the current low price of natural gas. The market price signals say that they should be closed. New York, for example, is very concerned about this because they do not want to build any new gas-fired plants and be saddled with the emissions and potential stranded costs. NY regulators have proposed that ratepayers subsidize several of the existing nuclear plants in order to keep them open. This would cost NY ratepayers $962 million over the next two years, according to estimates.

          Excelon, a merchant generator that owns several nuclear plants in Illinois, has also asked for a bailout of several hundred million per year in order to keep its uneconomic nuclear plants open.

          Their argument is that the gas price advantage might be only temporary and that closing nuclear plants now would cost us significant amounts of zero carbon generation.

          State regulators in NY and Illinois are buying the argument and ratepayers will be asked to subsidize the nukes in order to keep them open. FERC and the ISOs are concerned because these huge subsidies are disrupting the market pricing mechansim. Even adding a carbon price would only keep a few of the nuclear units open because many of them are just too uneconomic.

          North Anna 3 would be way too expensive to clear the market. The only way it would make economic sense would be for ratepayers to pay an extraordinary premium for it.

          Dominion is also assuming that it can extend the life of the Surry and North Anna 1&2 units another 20 years. This would put them in uncharted territory: nuclear plants designed to last 40 years that operate for 80 years. Nuckear radiation degrades many important components, especially steam generators. Those and other components must often be replaced to assure safe operation beyond the original license period. The cost of these possible upgrades are not yet known, yet ratepayers are continuing to be charged to keep the option open.

  4. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    Steve, you raise an excellent point about North Anna 3. Funny you won’t read about it on this blog, but the global nuclear industry is in something of a meltdown after the implosion of Toshiba, which bought U.S. nuke maker Westinghouse. Dominion was always lowballing the price estimates (I think the latest by the SCC was $19 billion). It’s probably gone much higher now. If I had to guess, I’d say that Dominion new-found love of solar is to draw attention away from NA3. You could never pin Dominion down about the project anyway.

    On Bacons Rebellion, like Trump, the issue doesn’t seem to exist.

    1. Yes, the issue does exist, as I noted above: “A third nuclear unit for North Anna, said to approach $20 billion in cost, is included only in the scenario that assumes the most draconian regulatory restrictions on fossil fuels.”

      At the moment, that scenario seems highly unlikely, given the Trump administration’s effort to roll back restrictions on fossil fuels. But there is a very good chance that Trump will be gone in four years and replaced by a Democrat, who will impose tighter carbon emissions again. If new coal, oil and gas plants are taken off the table, and if existing fossil fuel plants are shuttered in order to meet aggressive anti-carbon goals, as environmental groups would like to see, then nuclear might be the only remaining alternative for providing base-load capacity. It would be irresponsible of Dominion not to consider such a scenario in a 15-year plan.

    2. djrippert Avatar

      Hard to imagine what to write about Trump. The travel ban never got implemented. The wall never got funded. The government didn’t shutdown. Obamacare repeal never came to a vote. Tax reform seems stuck in the GOP. He appointed a perfectly well qualified judge to the US Supreme Court. Three months have come and gone and nothing much has changed.

      Yesterday’s big news was Trump’s opinions on Andrew Jackson and the US Civil War. “I mean, had Andrew Jackson been a little later, you wouldn’t have had the Civil War,” Trump said. Needless to say this led to an outcry from the left with uncounted numbers of people saying that Andrew Jackson dies 16 years before the US Civil War. I guess that’s why Trump said ” … had Andrew Jackson been a little later …”.

      Talk about non-news.

      I will say that every time I underestimate Trump he surprises me. Who could have ever guessed he’d win the election? Maybe he’s laying low while the Snowflake Resistance dies out. Lord knows the “Occupy Movement” evaporated without leaving a trace. Or, maybe he’s totally inept and will spend the next 3 years and 9 months tilting at various windmills without making much of a difference. Either way, there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot to write about.

  5. kvdavis2 Avatar

    Several other headwinds against NA3 –
    1) demand has plateaued (state, regional national) and become decoupled from GDP;
    2) natgas prices plummeted with the flood of shale gas, combined with #1, and now Trump’s pullback on CPP makes the natgas market more bearish;
    3) there are a lot of keen and intelligent eyes on NA3 in Virginia; and
    4) Mark Herring is a hero for his understanding and defense of ratepayer interests, and [god bless ‘im] he’s not going anywhere for a while.

    1. Nobody wants to pay $18+ billion for a new nuclear plant. But as I explained in my response to Peter above, a nuclear plant might be the only non-fossil fuel alternative for providing base-load capacity under an extreme anti-carbon regulatory regime.

      1. TBill Avatar

        Politicians love that big money and Dominion would assured massive profits on a large nuke. That’s the whole problem with the monopolistic state/utility model. I can already hear the pro-argument – that CO2 is killing us so we regrettably need to spend $18 Billion on a huge nuke plant, and the host community benefits and campaign donations will be superb, as well as revolving door jobs. But I think I’d rather spend it on solar or even off-shore wind.

        1. Rowinguy1 Avatar

          DVP has nuclear units at Surrey and North Anna. Its original plan was to build 4 units at each location. It actually started down the road for the third unit at each location back in the late 1960s or early 1970s I believe. The plans for both were eventually scrapped, but the Company had by that point spent several hundred million bucks in the endeavor. The SCC eventually allowed DVP (or good old VEPCO as it was then) to recover its capital, but allowed a zero return on that capital.

          The Company has had 30+ years to propose another nuclear unit to the SCC, but has never done so. The odds of such a project being prudent and in the public interest are, at this time, vanishingly remote.

  6. kvdavis2 Avatar

    Um, yes, but you repeat yourself….I believe my comment to be well-grounded and to have merit.

    1. I’m not disagreeing with you. Indeed, if Virginia ever reached the point where North Anna 3 was given serious consideration, any project costing $18 billion (state-of-the-art natural gas plants cost about $1 billion) would deservedly encounter huge skepticism and pushback. Almost any alternative (excepting electricity blackouts) would be preferable.

      1. TBill Avatar

        $18 Trillion?

        1. Whoops! Thanks for the catch. I’ve made the correction.

      2. An alternative to new or extended service nuclear plants is energy efficiency. This option provides the equivalent of new generation at 2-3 cents/kWh, cheaper than any other source of generation currently available in Virginia. Greater building efficiency provides an offset 24 hours per day so it is a good equivalent for baseload operation, such as what nuclear provides.

        Nuclear units are not particularly good matches for a greater mix of renewables. American operators and plant designs are not able to effectively follow load as has been accomplished to some degree in France.

        There is a general deficiency in the IRP. It is not really a state energy planning document because it does not include consideration of policies such as greater energy efficiency or the development of distributed solar. It only looks at energy planning from the point of view of the utility. That is a valuable perspective certainly, especially since Dominion is the state’s primary energy provider. But we must be aware that our current rules incentivize Dominion to build more, so we get plans that show the need to build more.

        PJM forecasts 2000 MW of distributed solar in Virginia during the planning period of the IRP. This is ignored in the IRP becuase Dominion wants to own all of the solar and does not want to show a lower system demand.

        We must give Dominion different incentives so that they can prosper by upgrading the grid and allow third-party participation in our energy markets to provide a variety of valuable services.

  7. The Energy Fix Avatar
    The Energy Fix

    Still no signal DOM is willing to enable a REAL market for community & residential solar. It’s their way or the highway. And, can ratepayers afford ANOTHER reactor, esp w/ problems in GA & SC?

    1. Dominion officials were somewhat contradictory on this issue. Their plan to invest millions or billions in a new “two-way” grid is predicated on the idea that energy production will become far more decentralized, which implies that there will be a lot more rooftop solar. On the other hand, they continue to insist that utility-scale solar will be more economical by a wide margin to install, therefore implying that small-scale deployment of solar will not be economically competitive. Bob Blue said he was “not sure” how much of the increased solar capacity will be rooftop.

      1. The Energy Fix Avatar
        The Energy Fix

        To be sure, utility scale solar and its declining costs are a win Virginia and for DOM. But just as Trump is trying to distract media from serious inquires about surveillance with a flurry of flip-flopping legislative talking points, DOM similarly is trying to distract attention from REAL residential and community solar. And make no mistake, DOM is within weeks of securing a combined construction and operating license for NA3. They don’t want that development stirring up more opposition; rather for now just keep actual production as an option.

  8. If the prevailing models are right, nuclear, in combination with renewables is perhaps the only way to meaningfully stem global warming given where we are. As indicated, nuclear faces tremendous headwinds, despite the fact that much safer alternatives to conventional reactors like Fukushima have existed for many years. Realistically, we face significant mitigation and remediation efforts with our current path.

  9. LarrytheG Avatar

    re: ” the only non-fossil fuel alternative for providing base-load capacity under an extreme anti-carbon regulatory regime.”

    There LIKELY IS an alternative to Nuclear!

    SOLAR ……. CAN produce hydrogen fuel.. which CAN be stored and used later.

    read: ” We’re One Step Closer to Creating Hydrogen Gas from Solar Energy
    Solar panels of the future could produce clean-burning hydrogen gas in a one-step process”

    are we there yet? Nope. Will we get there before the end of the lifespan of a nuke plant?

    Will we get there in 5, 10, 25 years?

    what happens to the fiscal viability of a nuke plant if solar to hydrogen comes online in the middle of it’s expected life?

    Nuclear is dead if and when solar to hydrogen reaches fiscal viability.

    When that happens – solar will explode – everywhere..

    1. Don’t get hysterical, Larry. Yes, you’re right, there is another alternative to nuclear — that’s solar + battery storage. Battery storage probably isn’t proven enough as a load-shifting concept for Dominion to crank it into its calculations, but the company does acknowledge that other utilities are experimenting with it on a fairly large scale. Give Dominion a few years, and I’ll bet they embrace the idea of battery storage, too. When they do that, unless the economics of nuclear changes dramatically, they’ll have no choice but to abandon North Anna 3.

      1. LarrytheG Avatar

        No hysterics Jim… simple common sense.. and you’re the guy always yipping about “disruptive technology”!!!!

        so I AGREE… and here’s the issue – do you think such disruptive technologies will occur before the expected physical and fiscal lifespan of a nuke is reached ?

        in other words do you think such disruptive technologies are not likely to emerge in the next 25-50 years?

        I think to believe that would be a sucker bet… the likelihood of new technologies is probably almost certain.

        I personally don’t think pure stand-alone storage will ever be viable.. there are certain immutable laws of physics involved.. but I still would not rule it out..

        Why should we “give Dominion a few years” when we should EXPECT them to be on the forefront of these evolutions.. not digging it’s heels in to essentially protect their business model from obsolescence and taking ratepayers and taxpayers down with it?

        This is like giving Kodak monopoly status and the right to donate unlimited money to the legislative folk to assure it!

  10. LarrytheG Avatar

    re: ” Trump will be gone in four years and replaced by a Democrat”


  11. kvdavis2 Avatar

    Another piece missing from our discussion is questioning the demand forecast assumptions – I am fairly certain they are high, and likely based on EIAs forecast of 2%/yr (more on this later).

    In many programs, such as, I imagine, IRPs, utilities can only “take credit” for intentional efficiency programs.

    Yet efficiency accrues, as ‘fleets’ of buildings and appliances continually turn over, with less and less power used. (I have a whole ‘nother meta-discussion on the digital economy, manufacturing and shipping, etc., but I will spare you for now…)

    Can’t lay my hands on it right now, but the most recent EIA Energy Outlook shows a reversal of the demand plateau that began ~2006. EIA carries out a very sound, “look-back”, or retrospective review process (AEO Table 15 below), of projections compared to actual demand. This review process is to EIAs credit–but it has shown an ***increase in over-projection of demand** since 1996.

    EIA does not seem to be considering that their own data shows US demand has truly become de-coupled from economic growth, because not only of accrued efficiencies but the profound shift to digital commerce.

    And we are now better considering costs and ratepayer exposure of over-generation.

  12. djrippert Avatar

    Unless North Anna is no longer sitting on an earthquake fault line I’d say that NA3 needs to come “off the table”. All it takes is one Three Mile Island, Chernobyl or Fukishima to ruin a good day. Regardless of anybody’s stand on global warming … as cars go electric and electricity goes solar we have a real chance to clean up the environment.

    1. Acbar Avatar

      It should have come off the table long ago. Only the uncertainty at the SCC and GA over which way to implement the CPP has kept it there, plus DOM’s inertia, in my view.

  13. kvdavis2 Avatar

    I was actually hoping to make a good deal of hay on the NA3-Mineral Earthquake topic. Sadly 😉 I came away reassured that the new plant would be designed with multiple fail-safe redundancies, with the new seismic standards from the NRC as a result of Fukushima.

    After the March 11, 2011 tsunami that destroyed the Fukushima plants, the nuclear industry undertook a very hard look worldwide at risk response, including backup power for cooling water.

    Then – ironically perhaps? – the Mineral Earthquake occured August 11, 2011 – 5 months later. Fukushima was a wake-up call, but Mineral concentrated Dominion’s mind wonderfully (to parapharase Samuel Johnson).

    Then I thought, well maybe the earthquake-proof hardening added to the NA3 costs – but that turned out to be minimal (I think). And, because of Price-Anderson indemnity, no single U.S. plant carries the cost of its own risk.

    I did not research what retrofit was undertaken for the two existing North Anna reactors.

  14. LarrytheG Avatar

    utility scale solar is about half the cost of nuclear.

    it’s comparing apples to oranges though as nuclear is baseload and solar is the opposite..

    which ought to be recognized that nuclear and solar do not go together at all since nuclear cannot vary in output ….

    if you had a world where there was no gas only nuclear and solar.. solar would be totally incompatible with nuclear.

    solar only works when used in tandem with generators that can ramp up and down fairly quickly.

    If nuclear was truly cost effective – it would sit on most islands in the world which right now have to burn diesel for electricity at 40-50 cents KWH.

    does that mean that nuclear on an island – cannot sell electricity for less than 40-50 cents KWH?

    right now – the BEST option for Island is to use solar in tandem with diesel turbines – which , like gas, can vary up and down quickly and thus ramp down when solar is available but then ramp back up when it’s not.

    diesel used in tandem with solar – is cheaper than diesel by itself without solar.

    diesel by itself, running 24/7 without solar is still cheaper than 24/7 nuclear.

    1. Acbar Avatar

      Re: “it’s comparing apples to oranges … as nuclear is baseload and solar is the opposite. [It] ought to be recognized that nuclear and solar do not go together at all since nuclear cannot vary in output ….”

      You’re absolutely right about solar and nuclear being a bad match. Tho, to be precise, solar isn’t the ‘opposite’ of baseload, which is quick-start peaking, but something else, which is cheap but intermittent and effectively non-dispatchable and never available at night — thus, limited. We SHOULD be using solar as much as it’s cost effective to do so, but, given the cost of backing it up, the total package of costs limits the percent that can efficiently be solar to the 30% range. There are good studies out there that have looked at that.

      Nuclear COULD BE a good deal on an island but for the fact that most nukes are large (~1000 MW) due to efficiency of scale and most islands don’t have anywhere near 1000 MW of base load (i.e., 24 hour load). Plus, the construction costs on an island would be much higher due to importing most of the materials, like concrete and steel.

      As for storage — glad you mentioned hydrogen storage earlier — that’s not a battery in the usual sense but a form of chemical storage that is nearly lossless as the conversion of electricity into hydrogen ions is 100% and the re-conversion to electricity in a fuel cell is very efficient. But — despite all the attention to fuel cells powered by hydrogen as potential auto/truck transportation power a few years ago, the hydrogen storage and fuel cell manufacturing and availability of refueling stations and safety issues have kept this technology from taking off like many thought it would. And we’ve discussed batteries here before: super potential in various technological breakthroughs that would improve greatly on today’s Li-ion are always “just 10 years away.” Obviously, if we could crack the storage nut, we could install lots more solar that would generate and store power whenever it could.

  15. Nuclear power in France is load following and varies output. I don’t think it is a technical issue for modern reactors.

    1. Acbar Avatar

      No, it remains a technical obstacle. To be precise, once a nuclear power unit is fueled, it creates the heat for steam 24/7 until the reaction is shut down. Unlike a coal or gas fueled boiler, a nuclear reactor cannot be ramped up and down in the short run. The fuel rods can be moved enough to fine-tune the heat output and adjust for the slowly changing level of fission activity, that’s all. BUT you don’t have to generate electricity with it. You can use the steam in lots of ways, including spin a turbine with it, use it to heat a parallel industrial process that operates opportunistically, or simply recondense (‘waste’) it and pass off the waste heat into a river or the air. My understanding is that in France, they (1) have lots of inducements to encourage customers to take cheap power at night and discourage daytime use, and (2) store what excess they can, and (3) sell the excess above load and storage at night to other EU countries, or, “dump” (waste) it.

      1. LarrytheG Avatar

        to be fair – the US and a few other nations have “miniaturized” nuclear reactors .. they sit on aircraft carriers and submarines.. so it’s a technical challenge that has been addressed.

        is it cost effective? that’s a question !

        I have no clue how much electricity “costs” on an aircraft carrier but one would think that – that technology would be “available” to civilian uses…

        1. The civilian nuclear power program was born in the nuclear Navy. In the utility business many of the nuclear specialists joined after tours in the nuclear Navy, primarily on aircraft carriers and submarines.

          That said, conditions are much different in the Armed Services than in civilian life. Sailors are paid to take risks. Thousands live 24 hours a day in close proximity to a nuclear reactor that would not be allowed in the civilian world.

          There are small modular reactors under development for utility use. They are many years away from use and currently prohibitively expensive and are likely to remain so if they get off the drawing board.

      2. Acbar, what I have read about France nuclear power indicates that they 1) have more recent reactor generations than those in the U.S., which give more flexibility — the U.S. remains stuck on 50 year old designs because they are what has been approved (the first reactor in the U.S. to come online in a long time was still a decades old design) 2) designed in features to allow load following. Note that when they got up to about 80% of power coming from nuclear, they really had to consider load following.

        Germany has made huge investment in renewables and France went for Nuclear power. France has lower electricity rates and a smaller carbon footprint.

        I worked in politics for a while, and that part of me tells me nuclear is dead. The wannabe scientist in me tells me we may have missed the boat because of this.

        1. I thought nuclear was dead in the U.S. after Three Mile Island. That turned out to be mostly true, except for the recent attempts to revive it in the South that are failing badly with the Westinghouse bankruptcy, etc.

          Even the French nuclear industry, whether they are attempting to build their own or for others are struggling mightily to bring in new nuclear units any where near on-budget and on-schedule. That has been the pattern for nuclear units for fifty years.

          Nuclear units are not going to get cheaper. And they are a poor fit for our modern energy system. We need smaller, more flexible units that can be built in short order. Nuclear units can be built in only large capacities and take over a decade to permit and build. Think network versus mainframe.

          They, like fossil units, also have large external costs that are not priced into their energy output. There is no repository for spent fuel and other highly radioactive wastes from decommissioned nuclear power plants. The supposedly “leak-proof” repository for weapons waste in New Mexico leaked recently for unknown reasons.

          It seems to be bad social and economic policy to expand a technology that is far more expensive than alternatives and requires oversight for a period longer than civilized human history.

          I would encourage you and others to put your scientific side to use to further develop demand side solutions that would solve the same issues that nuclear seeks to solve at far lower economic and social costs. Can you imagine the people we could employ to improve our state’s building stock and reduce everyone’s energy costs? Do you think we could find ways to save 1452 MW of energy for less than $20 billion?

          The only thing stopping this is that we are stuck on a supply-side model that is currently the only way for our utilities to make money. It’s time for a new way that will be better for everyone, including the utilities.

  16. kvdavis2 Avatar

    Taking this out of the ‘reply’ thread – In the Supreme Court’s first climate-change related decision since Gorsuch was confirmed, the justices upheld the USFWS designation of Arctic polar bear habitat, as threatened by greenhouse gases.

    This means the basic underpinning of Mass. v. EPA stands. GHG regulation is/was a slow slog, as various sources came under regulatory framework. But now SCOTUS has signaled they are basically on board.

  17. LarrytheG Avatar

    re: ” but, given the cost of backing it up, the total package of costs limits the percent that can efficiently be solar to the 30% range. There are good studies out there that have looked at that.”

    solar does not need backup.

    consider a grid without solar

    what do you do when demand exceeds baseload?

    how much of that power do you need to cover the demand over baseload?

    I say you need 24/7 coverage for everything above baseload…

    so you have to have that – no matter what.

    so how does solar fit in ?

    it’s simple.. you use solar when it is available so you don’t have to burn the other fuel (gas peakers).

    I don’t know where the 30% came from but I suspect it’s probably in the areas of how much power is generated that is above baseload.

    so the max solar you could use – theoretically – is everything that is above baseload – WHEN it is available.

    when it’s not you fall back on what you’d be using anyhow – for whatever demand is above baseload.

    solar does not “need” backup.. it’s just a substitute fuel … for the demand that is above baseload.

    before solar came along -you needed 24/7 peakers anyhow. You donj’t have to build anything extra to back up solar…. it’s already there.

  18. In the meantime, federal policy seems to be moving in the opposite direction as the trends within the energy industry. E&E News reports President Trump will select Daniel Simmons, former director of the natural resources task force at the American Legislative Exchange Council, to head the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy (EERE). Simmons, who also formerly worked with the Koch-funded Institute for Energy Research, will be tapped to lead the DOE’s renewables and efficiency office. It is a peculiar posting for a man who has opposed clean energy incentives and warned of higher energy prices that can result.

  19. LarrytheG Avatar

    I do not expect any kind of a cogent approach from these folks other than to dismantle policies supportive towards renewables and bring back policies to try to resuscitate fossil fuels.

    But I don’t think it will matter as the market forces are already in motion and moving forward.

    I STILL would point out a couple of things:

    1. there are over a thousand islands on this planet and to this point -less than a handful have done anything substantial with renewables … wind or solar and of all the places – one would think islands would be the perfect venues.

    2. – There are over 250 million passenger vehicles in the US – and 99% of them are still burning fossil fuels.

    some day- people will drive electric cars with 400 mile ranges, and park under solar carports. That day is not yet here … and no amount of govt mandates will make it so.

    1. The islands are not avoiding it because it is not cost-effective for them. Those that have the financing and the ease of getting the materials delivered such as Kaua’i are doing it in a big way.

      Smaller islands do not have the access to capital or delivery infrastructure to make this possible yet. I’m sure they would love to do when they can find the means to do it.

  20. Like I said, I think nuclear faces a huge political hurdle. But when I see things like this. . .

    “In 2016, Germany generated 545 terawatt-hours (TWh) of electricity at an average rate of approximately 560 grams of carbon dioxide emitted per kWh. By contrast, France generated 530 TWh of electricity at an average rate of approximately 58 grams of carbon dioxide emitted per kWh.”

    Essentially, Germany, which leads the world in renewable investment per capita, but has 10X the carbon dioxide emission per kWh of France, which has historically invested in nuclear. (German emissions actually went up in 2016 despite renewable investments) French electricity prices are also well below Germany.

    If there is any future in nuclear, I don’t think it would be plants like NA3. It would be smaller, cheaper, safer, next generation ones perhaps like NuScale.

    1. Germany abandoned its nuclear sector after Fukushima. That is a major factor that drove their move to renewables. They have segregated their utility sector into two enterprises: one that is based on renewables and one that is based on conventional generation. The renewable enterprise is the only one making money.

      I agree with Larry, there are no smaller, cheaper, safer nuclear plants compared to existing alternatives.

      The renewable subsidies are scheduled to phase out in two years. The nuclear subsidy just for the insurance component alone is estimated to be $0.20 – $1.00 /kWh. The billions of federal loan guarantees are not included in that amount. Nuclear is even more subsidized than fossil fuels. I will stop harping on nuclear, but there is no way the economics will ever work out, even with the enormous subsidies. Operationally, it is an extremely poor fit with the trend of the industry. You can do so much that has far greater value for a much lower price doing something else.

  21. LarrytheG Avatar

    re: ” If there is any future in nuclear, I don’t think it would be plants like NA3. It would be smaller, cheaper, safer, next generation ones perhaps like NuScale.”

    and when I see Dominion make such a proposal instead of the one they have now – I will reassess.

    In fact, if I actually KNEW of ANY REAL “smaller, cheaper, safer” plants actually be planned and constructed… I’d reassess

    but again – we can’t make the argument that solar has to compete on a dollar for dollar basis with no subsidies then turn around and not require the same standard for Nukes.

    or at the least – have a consistent standard that applies to all..

  22. kvdavis2 Avatar

    I heard one version from a natgas planner in the Caribbean, that the existing “delivery infrastructure” of propane is pretty, um, organized, to oppose alternatives!

    1. We visited several Caribbean islands a few months ago. I was looking for solar and wind generation and found very little. It made no sense…. Unless the local government-owned utilities squelched the competition.

  23. kvdavis2 Avatar

    This whole thread is frustrating to me, because many of these very smart and knowledgeable people seem to be thinking there is a – state, federal, global – “energy policy”. Some developed nations have energy policies, but we don’t. No one is evaluating what is the optimum cost/environmental/benefit mix of fuel sources, in the near medium and long term. Various plans are put forward by various entities. In the U.S., electricity is regulated – to the extent it is – by the states. But since the abandonment of the Public Utilities Holding Companies Act (PUHCA) in 2005, we’re pretty much on our own. This should be borne in mind with comments that say this entity or that one “should” be doing x or y.

    1. kvdavis2,
      I agree completely. I virtually attended the FERC technical conference the past two days that was trying to reconcile how FERC was going to maintain functioning wholesale price markets in the various ISOs in the face of the states’ huge policy interventions for things like the recent nuclear subsidies, RPSs, etc. There was a great deal of gnashing of teeth due the state-by-state and regional differences as to how electricity is regulated throughout the U.S.

      In its place we get policy by special interests and antiquated regulatory schemes that have not yet recognized changes in the utility industry. And we are about to get new FERC commissioners that have a “build baby build” mentality that they think will somehow result in more jobs and lower cost energy, despite what the results in the electricity sector are telling them.

      We could at least get a proper energy policy for Virginia. But that would require the political will to do it. Our General Assembly seems intent on preserving the status quo, even though that might harm the utility they are trying to protect, in the long run.

  24. One last word on nuclear and promises for the future. In the early days, we were told that energy generated from nuclear units was going to be “too cheap to meter”. The actual results that I have observed for 50+ years have been remarkably different from those promises.

  25. LarrytheG Avatar

    well you might hit me but I see the pro-nuke folks similar to the way I see the “storage” folks.

    cheap, safe, small scale nukes are “almost’ here will safe the earth from climate change, and will render “subsidized” renewables irrelevant…


    utility scale storage is almost here and renewables will be “dispatchable” and provide power 24/7 and save the earth from climate change!

    I’ll believe either one or both when I see a real example in operation on an Island somewhere.

    I think the small scale nukes are already here.. they sit in virtually every air craft carrier and submarine that we produce… why don’t we have one in civilian operation?

  26. I don’t disagree that small, modular, reactors need to be proven. There has been talk for quite a while about that, recycling fuel, passive nuclear safety, etc.

    There is always this nagging cognitive dissonance with nuclear. It seems cost prohibitive in the U.S. with $18B estimated for NA3, but the Chinese appear to be building for about half that or less. They have 60 plants planned. The U.S. 3-4 perhaps.

  27. kvdavis2 Avatar

    You all know I seek to understand as best I can the technical basis for policy , but I know my limits, and nuclear power innovation is one of them! I continually hear from lay people – and to be frank, nuclear industry advocates – of the Next Big Thing (modular, molten salt….)

    So, I found what I believe to be the most sound international organization that uses peer review and collaboration to shed bright light on these technologies’ feasibility to merit further R&D dollars, safety, environmental soundness, etc. – the OECD Nuclear Energy Agency for the Generation IV International Forum.

    Here is the Roadmap. All these technologies remain 20-30 years out, as they have for the last 20-30 years. The cost in R&D is heartbreaking.

    This pdf is made (probably deliberately) impossible to cut-and-paste/OCR, but here’s the key takeway:

    ‘Depending on their respective degrees of technical maturity, the Generation IV systems are expected to become available for commercial introduction in the period around 2030 or beyond.’

    And I don’t have time right now, but somewhere in there it talks about key parameters that aren’t adequately addressed, such as waste and non-proliferation. You know, minor fine points.

    Here you go, guys, knock yourselves out! Your report is due in September…. 😉

    Solar is the only free, clean, infinite power source, that originates outside the earth’s thermodynamic system. The current technology is proven and affordable. R&D is fine for investor speculation….but if I ruled the world, I’d make a lot of that money go to meeting human power needs rightnow.

  28. kvdavis2 Avatar

    Hmm, local utilities squelching competition? Stranger things have happened….

  29. LarrytheG Avatar

    @kvdavis – thanks! BTW – I can cut/paste it…

    but I have a much simpler way of verifying claims about nuclear power and that is to take a look around the world… to see what’s actually being built right now.

    I take into account that some countries will allow riskier efforts and have less regulation.. etc.. but that does give you an idea of what is actually physically and fiscally feasible BEFORE the govt gets involved.. and to this point.. I’ve not seen the kinds of small, modular, units installed.. and I include many places in this world – islands – which have no native fossil fuels and have t burn fuel oil for electricity- none of them to date have nuclear plants – of any size – large or small…

    when I see some of them starting to get small modular nukes.. I’ll believe they are “here”…

    until then – no matter who is making such claims .. I’ll consider them – claims and not reality.

    next question please.

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