Category Archives: Energy

Dominion Must Move Customers To Competitors

by Steve Haner

The State Corporation Commission Wednesday granted motions by two competitive service providers and ordered Dominion Energy Virginia to hand over various customers.  The two companies, Direct Energy Business LLC and Calpine Energy Solutions LLC, offer a 100 percent renewable energy option in the monopoly utility’s territory.

“The Commission has found that: (a) absent the instant order, Direct Energy and Calpine will suffer irreparable harm; (b) Direct Energy and Calpine have no adequate remedy at law; and (c) the Commission is satisfied of Direct Energy’s and Calpine’s equity,” reads a footnote in the order (here). Continue reading

Fungible (and Vintage?) Green Virtue, For A Fee

Renewable energy certificates can have a vintage? Some might prefer fresh solar or wind power.

by Steve Haner

Like most major electric utilities now, Dominion Energy Virginia has a certain amount of energy generated by processes now designated “renewable.”  Hydro power has been around for a long time, and now that is supplemented by a growing number of solar generators – owned by the company or under contract to it.

All Dominion customers are getting some of their electricity from those sources.  Everyone is a little bit green.  But for an extra $4.21 per 1,000 kilowatt hours, some other customer can take away your green power and leave you less green or totally not green, at least on paper.  Overall the utility’s output stays the same, but it might pick up a few more dollars per month from up to 50,000 of its customers.  Continue reading

Bacon Bits: Whistling Past the Graveyard

Feel-good story of the day. Northern Virginia boy scouts have cleaned up the neglected Alexandria cemetery named for abolitionist Frederick Douglass. They raked leaves, trimmed trees, and installed a new sign, according to the Washington Post. The black cemetery fell into disrepair over the years because no Alexandria church or other nonprofit cares for it; the city of Alexandria allocates only a nominal sum for upkeep, mostly mowing.

Boomerang watch. The Mountain Valley Pipeline has suspended all construction activities that could negatively impact four endangered or threatened species: the Indiana bat, the northern long-eared bat, the Roanoke logperch, and the candy darter, reports Virginia Mercury. For the time being, the pipeline company will refrain from tree-clearing, non-maintenance-related road building, grading and trenching, and stream-disturbing activities. Inquiring minds want to know: If such activities are permanently banned in and around habitat of threatened species, will it be possible to build wind turbines anywhere in the Blue Ridge or Allegheny Mountains?

The real structural racism. John Butcher delves into the latest SOL scores for Richmond’s Carver Elementary school, where cheating by teachers and administrators had artificially elevated SOL test scores last year. Now that the testing issues have been resolved, the tragic dimensions of students’ educational under-performance have been laid bare. Students rated as “economically disadvantaged” passed reading, writing, math, history and science at rates in the 20% to 32% range — far lower than the rate for economically disadvantaged children in most other schools. Richmond school officials blame racial bias and under-funding. But the real racism is that poor kids are trapped in a failing because Virginia’s educational establishment does everything in its power to block escape hatches in the form of charter schools or tax-favored scholarships. Continue reading

What Does Dominion Lose When Customers Leave?

With a competitive service provider, you pay it and not the utility for generation, transmission and fuel – the elements of electricity supply service.

When you use a competitive service provider (CSP) instead of the monopoly electricity company, what does the monopoly provider stop collecting?  Just what part of the electric bill are big customers such as Costco and Kroger and Walmart seeking to avoid by leaving Dominion Energy Virginia?

The answer is most of it, everything covered under the bill heading “Electricity Supply Service” on the sample bill illustrated above.  With a CSP, customers would stop paying Dominion for generation, transmission and fuel.  If future legislation makes retail choice the rule in Virginia, customers could leave the utility and pay a CSP for their energy and the cost to make or buy it and get it to Virginia’s local grid.  Continue reading

Dominion Protecting Renewable Energy Buyers?!

Dominion Energy Virginia is simply trying to protect the unsuspecting public from environmental fraudsters, you understand.  Companies like Costco Wholesale and The Kroger Company lack the energy expertise to decide for themselves if a competitive service provider really is providing 100 percent renewable energy. They are being denied that service by Dominion for their own good.

That’s the basic argument Dominion has advanced for its refusal to allow willing customers of Direct Energy Business or Calpine Energy Solutions to switch.  It has said so in briefs filed at the State Corporation Commission and repeated it during hearings on the two companies’ efforts to force Dominion to accept the various applications for competitive supply.  Continue reading

Bacon Bits: Mostly Good News for a Change

Energy efficiency done right. After investing $2 million over three years to update the energy and water infrastructure of Clark Hall, the University of Virginia calculates that it is saving $75o,ooo a year in electricity bills and $22,000 in water bills — a payback in less than three years. The university replaced 5,000 interior and exterior fixtures with LEDs, put into place an electronically controlled HVAC system, and installed low-flow toilets and faucet aerators, among other changes. Since 2010, Office of Sustainability projects have avoided $35 million in energy fees, reports the Cavalier Daily. Building automation kills two birds with one stone: It dampens runaway higher-ed costs, and it reduces energy consumption.

Wytheville as winner. The Brookings Institution has highlighted Wytheville, population 8,000, as a successful example of community development in a rural town. Step one: Invest in downtown place-making through streetscape renovations, improved sidewalks, lighting, and crosswalks. Step two: Create a self-sustaining entrepreneurial ecosystem. With a grant from the Virginia Department of Housing and Urban Development, Downtown Wytheville launched a competition to recruit local businesses and build partnerships with property owners. Inducements such as reduced rent, mentorships, and $75,000 in prize money were used to recruit the businesses downtown. As a result Wytheville has two (not one, but two) breweries, a Vietnamese bakery, and an art school id didn’t have before. In 2018, downtown received $800,000 in public investment and $5.7 in private investment. Continue reading

Bacon Bits: The Rules, California is Crazy, Rider E

The message is clear, the messenger not on this flyer attacking Emmett Hanger during the primary. There was a logo on the other side, but no disclaimer. Click for larger view.

This is the simple stuff, people.  Delegate Nick Freitas doesn’t seem to be the only person in the Republican camp complaining that the rules are a problem, at least when enforced.  A conservative activist group that went after state Senator Emmett Hanger in the June primary is now screaming “bloody murder” because Hanger filed a complaint with the Board of Elections over some handouts that lacked the state’s required disclaimer statements.  It is a simple rule we’ve all worked with for decades, and the penalty is a civil fine that might get up to $2,500, but probably won’t go near that high.  Yet here is the heated rhetoric being spouted, with a heavy push for funds: “This is nothing less than an elected official attempting to squash free speech and shut down our grassroots PAC. We will fight this effort for it endangers all voters of Virginia for the benefit of the political class.”  No, it’s just the rules. You already have a formal PAC, so you know about the rules.  By filing a complaint Hanger gave you the spotlight again for ten seconds, but that was his choice. 

Organic Carbon Capture Device

If you thought $20 for an LED bulb is nuts…Sarah Vogelsong over at Virginia Mercury (we shared a row at an SCC hearing Wednesday) has this story about how forest conservation groups in Virginia are being paid for the CO2 being absorbed by their trees.  Pay a carbon credit to a Virginia conservation group and your plant can pump out more carbon in the LA basin!  Without doubt 1) Californians can be talked into anything, simply anything, with the right green pitch, 2) this is truly a religion with Virginia reaping the indulgence payments for forgiveness of sins and 3) these people are not really serious about removing CO2 from the atmosphere if they think this does any good.  Continue reading

Saving the Planet Sometime Soon After Never

$20 a pop to give our neighbors one of these, buried on our electric bill.

What feeds persistent skepticism about those highly touted energy efficiency programs that we utility ratepayers get billed for? The actual reports on their costs and outcomes do not help.

Case in point: A quarterly report from Dominion Energy Virginia about its on-going efforts to reduce energy usage for low income or elderly residential customers. The utility spent more than $450 per household, a total of more than $713,000 to go into 1,568 homes, mostly apartments.  Continue reading

The Microgrid Option

Microgrids would make it easier to integrate more rooftop solar and other distributed energy resources into the electric grid.

By Jane Twitmyer

Building a clean electric system takes more than switching from fossil fuels to renewables. To make good use of wind and solar power, Virginia needs a modern, flexible electric grid that can exploit and optimize the unique attributes those resources bring to bear. And it needs new rules — laws and regulations — that can allow such a system to develop.

A more flexible electric system will be built in part around microgrids. The Navigant consulting firm defines microgrids as networks incorporating a variety of distributed energy resources, such as wind and solar, that can be aggregated, can balance loads and generation with or without energy storage, and can function whether connected or not to a traditional utility power grid.

As distributed renewable energy resources replace large central generation plants — more rooftop solar, more community wind and solar — electricity generation becomes more localized. Localized generators, particularly photovoltaic solar, require less supporting infrastructure. For instance, local generation doesn’t require transmission lines to wheel electricity across long distances (leaking electricity in the process). And unlike natural gas, it doesn’t require pipelines to deliver fuel to the generating site. Continue reading

Dominion Seeks First Battery-Storage Investment

Battery storage racks used in a data center.

Dominion Energy has filed with the State Corporation Commission for approval to invest in 16 megawatts of battery-storage pilot projects costing $33 million. As the company expands its solar fleet, currently the 4th largest of any utility holding company in the country, Dominion said, it is looking for “new and innovative ways” to store renewable energy and maintain reliable electric service.

“Energy storage is critical to providing continued reliability for our customers as we expand our renewable portfolio,” Mark D. Mitchell, vice president-generation construction, said in a press release. “Battery storage has made significant strides in recent years, in both efficiency and cost. These pilot projects will enable Dominion Energy to better understand how best to deploy batteries to help overcome the inherent fluctuation of wind and solar energy sources.” Continue reading

No Appeal Filed on RGGI Regulation, Now In Force

Virginia’s participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) is now fully authorized under a new state regulation, and the deadline to appeal that regulation has now passed with no appeal filed.  The text of the regulation is here.

Language inserted by General Assembly Republicans into the current state budget merely puts RGGI membership and its related carbon tax on hold.  It did not overturn the regulation, which went into effect June 26. The outcome of the November election will likely determine whether that roadblock remains in place beyond next summer, when the current budget provisions expire.   Continue reading

$7 More on Dominion Bills for Transmission

Two of seventeen towers supporting the new 500kv transmission line across the James River, paid for through Rider T on your bills. Dominion photo.

Electricity bills for Dominion Energy Virginia customers jump again in September – almost $7 monthly for a residential customer using 1000 kilowatt hours – as it begins to collect on $845 million in transmission system investments over the past year.  A similar level of investment is planned for next year.

The rate hike will appear on the bills in the transmission charge, Rider T, following approval of the annual Rider T update by the State Corporation Commission July 25.  The final order is hereContinue reading

New Industrial Rate Still Challenged By Microsoft

Outdoor data modules at Microsoft’s Boydton, VA server facility. Photo: Microsoft

A hearing on Dominion Energy Virginia’s proposal for a new market-based electricity rate for its largest customers opened Thursday with the announcement it had settled its differences with the State Corporation Commission staff and that part of the dispute was over.  (The case file is here.)

As the SCC staff lined up with the utility, one of Dominion’s competitors – which has intervened in the case – took a harder line against proposal.  Direct Energy Services LLC’s attorney Cliona M. Robb complained this is not a true market-based rate, but “a means for Dominion to negotiate special deals” without the SCC oversight usually required on single-company contracts.

One of the huge customers Dominion and Direct Energy are fighting over, Microsoft with its Virginia server farms, showed no enthusiasm for the compromise the SCC staff had negotiated.  Microsoft is the only Dominion customer taking an active role in the dispute.  It complains that the new rules are too vague and too favorable to the utility.  It wants them to be much clearer, adding an “or else.”  Continue reading

What, Exactly, Will We Learn from Those Experimental Wind Turbines?

Earlier this month, Dominion Energy announced that it had commenced construction of the $300 million Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind (CVOW) project, which entails building two experimental wind turbines and a half-mile electrical conduit to connect them to the electric grid. Construction of the two turbines at such a cost cannot be justified by the paltry amount of electricity they will generate by themselves. Rather, according to Dominion, the demonstration project paves the way for a large-scale exploitation of wind power off Virginia Beach. If Dominion proceeds with commercial-scale development, the $1.1 billion project will generate 2,000 megawatts of zero-carbon energy, enough to power 500,000 homes.

“As the first deployment of commercial-scale offshore wind turbines in federal waters,” said Governor Ralph Northam in a press release at the time, “I am thrilled that Virginia’s project will help determine best practices for future offshore wind construction along the East Coast.”

The question has arisen in this blog: Why the need for the two experimental turbines? Europeans have been extracting wind power from turbines in the North Sea, which is known for its powerful storms. Haven’t they already demonstrated the ability of wind turbines to hold up under extreme weather conditions? What can we learn, and can we learn it in time to inform the construction of the larger project? Continue reading

New Front In Dominion’s War Against Competition

Dominion Energy Virginia has opened a new and aggressive front in its economic war against companies seeking to offer Virginians retail choice for electricity service, directly attacking two firms promising 100 percent renewable energy to lure away environmentally minded customers.

In separate filings on July 15, the utility charged that both Direct Energy Services LLC and Calpine Energy Solutions LLC are not meeting the requirements under the law to claim they are offering 100 percent renewable energy.   It asks the State Corporation Commission for a declaratory judgment on those requirements and refuses to transfer any more of its customer accounts over to those firms until the SCC rules.  Here is the motion against Direct Energy and here is the similar move against Calpine.

Both companies quickly responded with motions for  injunctive relief, asking the SCC to order Dominion to continue transferring customers until the dispute is resolved.  How many customers have signed up for the competitive service providers only to be held in limbo is not included in the filings, although Calpine provided a confidential list to the SCC.  Continue reading