by Alleyn Harned
In an October 15th post, James Bacon asked the question: How should we tax electric vehicles?
Bacon’s bottom line is reasonable, and it is worth noting that electric vehicles (EVs) and clean fuels already pay more than their fair share in Virginia with equivalent or excessive taxes, according to Consumer Reports. It is easy to agree with Bacon’s ideas of user fees and externalities, where EVs also pay, and where pollution externalities are integrated into state fee structures.
However, Virginia has not ignored the transportation revenue potential of EVs and reaps a high tax on these vehicles. Since the McDonnell administration, electric vehicles been assessed a punishing $64 a year fee in order to gather an approximate amount of revenue equivalent to somewhat more than traditional vehicles pay in gas tax. This fee has been used by the oil industry to justify high fees nationwide.
A recent Consumer Reports study in September showed that now in many states, electric-car fees often cost far more than what owners of gasoline-powered cars pay in gas tax. Virginia’s fee is 5% higher, even though EVs and clean fuel vehicles have great benefit to the Commonwealth through emissions reduction.
I suggest we should tax electric vehicles no greater than gasoline and diesel vehicles. Other financing mechanisms are great, but punishing cleaner vehicles fueled by domestic energy creates an unbalanced playing field favoring high cost oil. Continue reading
No limits to human ingenuity, er, depravity. The developers of flying drones promised all manner of wonderful things, from saving lives to home deliveries. I doubt any of them considered the latest use for drones highlighted in the news: sneaking drugs into prison. In August, security staff of the Buckingham Correctional Center found a small white drone by the side of the road stuffed with $500 worth of marijuana, an eight ball of cocaine, a cell phone, three SIM cards and a handcuff key. That was only one of 33 drone sightings near prisons since January 2018, reports The Daily Press. Never forget Bacon’s Rule of Technology: for every beneficial use of a new technology conceived by the inventer, bad guys can think of a malevolent use.
$100 Million Gift for UVa Scholarships. David Walentas, a University of Virginia undergraduate and business school alumnus and New York real estate developer, is giving $75 million to the university in support of a $100 million Jefferson Scholars Foundation initiative to provide financial support to first-generation students from Virginia and New York. The gift will serve as “a cornerstone” for a larger $5 billion university fund-raising campaign, the university says. Walentas is to be admired for his generosity and for using his money to address the manifest injustice of the rising cost of attendance at UVa. Question: Does Walentas’ benefaction take pressure off the General Assembly to maintain financial support of the university and off the UVa administration to rein in runaway spending?
Oops, Virginia did it again. Ivy Main, an energy/environment blogger for the Virginia Sierra Club, is distressed by the latest electricity usage for Virginia, which showed a 2% increase last year, continuing a three-year upward trend and (something she doesn’t mention) confirming Dominion Energy’s forecast of continuing electricity demand growth for the state despite assurances from many quarters that electricity consumption would decline. Writing in the Virginia Mercury, she attributes growing electricity consumption to the proliferation of energy-intensive data centers and a failure to invest in energy efficiency. Continue reading
by James A. Bacon
California is getting a vivid lesson on the trade-offs between sustainability and reliability of the electric grid. Pacific Gas & Electric has taken the extraordinary action of cutting off electric power to 700,000 customers in California to reduce the risk of sparking forest fires. Many customers could go without power for as long as a week; the prolonged outages could cost customers billions of dollars in lost economic activity. Silicon Valley may have the most advanced technology in the world, but the Golden State increasingly resembles a Third World country. (Don’t get me started on the armies of homeless people.)
Virginians need to take notice. Virginia is not California, and Dominion and Appalachian Power Co. are not PG&E. … not now. What is happening in California will not be replicated here. But in our determination to build a “sustainable” zero-carbon grid, other equally horrendous scenarios are possible if we fail to pay sufficient attention to electric reliability.
PG&E filed for bankruptcy this year after being held liable for billions in damages and the loss of lives caused by wildfires ignited by poorly maintained electric lines. As a Wall Street Journal editorial summarizes the train of events:
by James A. Bacon
Dominion Energy is aggressively positioning itself as a leader among U.S. electric utilities in renewable energy and environmental stewardship. Whether the shift in strategic direction will win it any friends among Democrats and environmentalists who increasingly dominate Virginia politics is an open question. The environmental wing of the Democratic Party of Virginia continues to move the goal posts, now embracing the goal of a zero-carbon (and likely a zero-nuclear) electric grid for Virginia by 2050, a vision that is irreconcilable with Dominion’s commitment to nuclear and natural gas for the foreseeable future.
Regardless, like most other electric utilities, Dominion sees the direction the country is heading and is running to catch up. The company has detailed its move toward a renewable energy future in its just-issued Sustainability & Corporate Responsibility Report.
“The people of Dominion Energy are leading the country’s transition to clean energy,” said CEO Thomas F. Farrell, II, in a statement accompany the release of the report. “We are transforming everything we do to build a more sustainable future for our customers, the planet and our company. … We intend to become one of the most sustainable companies in the United States.”
The report highlights the following: Continue reading
by James A. Bacon
The Van Kesteren family, owner of Van Kesteren Farms in Accomack County, wants to build solar panels on 180 acres as a way to supplement the income from its farming operations. But the price tag for connecting to the regional grid is posing a major barrier.
The estimate for connecting to the Eastern Shore electric grid has increased from $3-4 million in March 2017 to $26.5 million today, according to an article in Energy News Network. The article focuses mainly on the Van Kesteren family’s thwarted ambitions, as made clear by the sub-head: “An Eastern Shore farming family is frustrated that its solar project is at the mercy of the local utility and grid operator.”
But the story illustrates a broader story regarding a critical and often overlooked aspect of solar-power economics: how some proposed locations for solar farms can be rendered uncompetitive by high interconnection costs. Continue reading
By Steve Haner
What Was Lost Is Found Again. Couldn’t they wait at least another few weeks? Anybody foolish enough to believe that Dominion Energy Virginia and the Virginia Democratic Party establishment have really parted ways (as Jim Bacon seemed to think a while back), take note of this from today’s Richmond Times-Dispatch: Governor Ralph Northam’s new communications director, Grant Neely, is totally plugged into the Dominion Energy/Richmond’s Navy Hill/Mark Warner and Bob Blue nexus. You can fool some of the people some of the time, but certain Democrats just about any time you want.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer
The P in PJM Now Joining RGGI. Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf, a Democrat, has signed an executive order that his state should be the next to join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. According to this from The Philadelphia Inquirer, the executive order route comes after being rebuffed by the legislature. It is a strong first step but not a done deal, with litigation one possible route for opponents. Virginia’s on-hold membership will likely be determined by the General Assembly elected next month.
Duke Energy solar farm
by James A. Bacon
The surge in solar power production in North Carolina has caused an increase in nitrogen oxide (NOx), a serious air pollutant, North Carolina’s Duke Energy has concluded. Without changes to state regulatory policy, according to a report by North State Journal, carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions also could increase.
These counter-intuitive findings stem from the fact that solar power is an intermittent source of power, which must be offset by on-again, off-again generation from fossil fuel sources, primarily natural gas. The on-and-off cycling of power stations leads to inefficient combustion and higher NOx emissions. The effect on CO2 emissions is less clear, although utility officials raised the prospect of a “slight increase” in CO2 at the plant level under certain conditions.
I have no idea if Duke’s conclusions will stand up to close scrutiny. For sure, they will be attacked by those who are committed to intermittent renewable energy sources at any cost. But the debate in North Carolina is highly relevant to Virginia. North Carolina has the largest installed base of solar power of any state outside of California. But Virginia is adding solar capacity rapidly, and the Northam administration has set a goal of attaining a zero-carbon electric grid by 2050.
Let me be very clear. I am not advocating a dial-back in Virginia’s commitment to solar. But I do say, if we are going to aggressively expand our reliance upon an intermittent energy source, we need to know what we’re getting into. Continue reading
by James A. Bacon
According to what the nation’s ruling elites tell us is the climate-change consensus, a warming climate increases the frequency and intensity of hurricanes. “Because global warming is intensifying, scientists expect the number of extreme storms to continue rising,” writes David Leonhardt, a New York Times opinion columnist.
One would think, then, that this insight would inform the remedies proposed for climate change, such as re-engineering the nation’s electric grid to rely almost exclusively upon wind and solar power. If the frequency and intensity of hurricanes is increasing, it would be appropriate to ask here in Virginia, what standards do we have in place for the construction of wind turbines and solar panels to ensure that they can withstand hurricane-force winds?
North Carolina had a recent opportunity to observe the interaction of hurricanes and solar panels. Hurricane Dorian pummeled the Tarheel state last month, striking solar a solar farm in Currituck County with wind speeds near 60 miles per hour. The solar arrays are supposed to withstand wind speeds of up to 120 miles per hour. How did they hold up? Continue reading
Source: Rachel Carson Council, cited by Cindy Elmore in RTD. Click for larger view.
by Steve Haner
In parts of Virginia, conservation groups are being paid by California to preserve forest land because trees capture the CO2 considered the culprit in global warming. In other parts of Virginia, large swaths of trees are being cut to convert into biomass fuel for European power plants, based on a claim that is a way to reduce CO2 in the atmosphere.
It would be so much easier to accept the climate crisis doomsday scenario if the proponents were not so contradictory and hypocritical. In both cases, the Californians and Europeans are doing this so they can keep pumping CO2-rich emissions into their atmosphere. They obviously don’t really fear CO2. Continue reading
Susan Swecker, chair of the Democratic Party of Virginia. Photo credit: Richmond Times-Dispatch
Dominion Energy is fast losing the Democratic Party. Following the lead of dozens of Democratic candidates and elected officials, the Democratic Party of Virginia has declared that it will no long accept political contributions from the electric utility. Reports the Richmond Times-Dispatch:
Party Chairwoman Susan Swecker said Dominion’s contributions are a “very contentious issue with a lot of folks all across the commonwealth, and we thought it was time for us to just step up and say this is where we are,” according to an interview published on the left-leaning blog Blue Virginia.
Party spokesman Jake Rubenstein confirmed the decision but would not comment further. DPVA’s pledge also includes Appalachian Power, the state’s other electric monopoly.
The House Democratic Caucus and Gov. Ralph Northam’s political arm The Way Ahead are still accepting Dominion money, but it’s clear which way the party is heading. Virginia Democrats increasingly embrace a progressive/left ideology along with an apocalyptic view of climate change and a thorough-going hostility toward fossil fuels. Although Dominion is moving aggressively toward renewable energy, including a just-announced $7.8 billion offshore wind project as well as billions of dollars in solar projects, the utility still remains committed to natural gas, as highlighted by its Atlantic Coast Pipeline project, and nuclear power, which is also unpopular with the Left, as supplementary energy sources. Continue reading
Two big energy news updates today:
Dominion files for large-scale offshore wind project. Dominion Energy has filed an application with PJM, the regional transmission organization of which Virginia is part, to interconnect 220 wind turbines off the Virginia Coast with the electric grid, the company announced this morning. Dominion has begun work already on the installation of a two-turbine demonstration project. The PJM filing for the $7.8 billion project represents “a vital first step to move forward in developing Virginia’s full offshore wind potential,” the company stated.
Apco to offer time-of-day pricing for EVs. Appalachian Power will offer residential owners of plug-in electric vehicles a discount for charging their cars when power demand is lower, the company announced today. A residential customer with a a typical car consumption will save about $86.50 annually for home-charging the vehicle during off-peak hours, generally during the night. Recent data indicate that nearly 700 plug-in EVs are registered to owners in Apco’s Virginia service territory.
by Steve Haner
The verdict is in and green energy virtue in Virginia’s electricity market remains available in monthly increments. You do not need to be green twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, tracking every change of demand.
That was the requirement demanded by Dominion Energy Virginia in its recent effort to block competitive service providers who are taking away customers who want 100% renewable power. In a 22-page opinion issued today (here), the State Corporation Commission rejected every Dominion assertion across the board. It said the two companies, Calpine Energy Solutions and Direct Energy Business, are operating within Virginia law. Continue reading
by James A. Bacon
Governor Ralph Northam has issued an executive order outlining how Virginia can reach the goals of producing 30% of its electricity from renewable energy sources by 2030 and 100% from carbon-free sources by 2050. The governor’s vision relies heavily upon solar power, offshore wind, and energy storage, while emphasizing “energy equity” for “communities of color” and lower-income Virginians.
Northam’s plan relies heavily upon Virginia’s investor-owned utilities, Dominion Energy and Appalachian Power Co., to make investments in solar, wind, and energy-storage, and contemplates no significant changes to the existing electric-utility framework. The plan also has won the blessing of at least one of Virginia’s leading environmental groups.
“Governor Northam’s announcement today shows real leadership on climate change in the face of its absence at the federal level,” said Will Cleveland, a senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center in a prepared statement. “It’s time for this kind of cost effective, smart and modern solution to bring Virginia into the future.” Continue reading
Off limits to utility-scale solar? Civil War battlefield locations in Virginia.
by James A. Bacon
Culpeper County prohibits construction of solar farms on Civil War battlefields. Now a proposal under consideration by the Board of Supervisors would discourage large solar projects adjacent to battlefield land held in historic easement, reports the Culpeper Star-Exponent. And that restriction is just one of many changes to the county’s Utility Scale Solar Facility Development Policy under review by the board.
Last year the board approved the 1,000-acre Greenwood Solar project over local opposition. Since then resistance to the land-consuming facilities has gotten more organized. One group, Citizens for Responsible Solar, has actively pursued a policy of delay and encumber to restrict development of large-scale solar farms. Last month Cricket Solar pulled a proposal for a 1,600-acre solar farm in the county. Meanwhile, local opposition has stalled progress on utility-scale projects in other counties.
On the state level, it is the policy of the Northam administration, the General Assembly, the environmental community, and Dominion Energy to boost the contribution of solar power to Virginia’s energy mix. People may disagree about how far and how fast to go, but just about everyone agrees on the desirability of having more solar than we have now. But opposition at the local level has emerged as a significant barrier to large-scale deployment of solar. Continue reading
by James A. Bacon
If Virginians want more renewable energy, they need to solve a number of practical problems. One of those is how to decommission old solar panels and wind turbines. When their useful lives have expired, we can’t just let these devices litter the landscape and collect rust. In particular the question of what happens to old solar panels, which contain high levels of heavy metals like cadmium, is one that has concerned many residents of rural counties where solar farms have been proposed.
SolUnesco, a Reston-based developer of solar farms, has given considerable thought to how to plan for the end of utility-scale solar projects. As Lea Maamari and Melody S. Gee write in a company blog post, “finding a good balance of shared benefits, costs, and risks is in the best interest of all stakeholders.” Continue reading