Category Archives: Energy

Does Facebook Solar Pay Its Own Way?

Dominion Energy has announced the construction of six new solar farms — three in Virginia and three in North Carolina – to offset the electricity demand of Facebook data centers in the two states. The 590 megawatts of new renewable energy generation will be enough to power 147,000 homes at peak output.

The partnership will support Dominion’s goal of having 3,000 megawatts of new solar and wind energy in operation or under development by 2022 and Facebook’s goal of supporting its  global operations with 100% renewable energy by the end of 2020. (See the press release here.)

In the abstract, I’m all in favor of generating electricity with clean, renewable energy sources like solar. But I’m still trying to understand the implications of the solar rush for grid stability and ratepayers. Continue reading

Bacon Bits: Restored Licenses; Dominion’s Millstone Plant; RGGI

Organic Carbon Capture Device

Wait.  How many suspended licenses? Today’s Virginia Mercury has one of those stories that raises more questions than it answers, this one about the suspended driving license issue. My warning that there would be massive lines at DMV were groundless because, hey, these people still have their actual licenses.  DMV never got them back or ordered them destroyed. Do you think that might have contributed to the decision so many debtors made to keep driving and blow off the collection efforts? And while DMV reports 627,000 licenses eligible for restoration, it turns out DMV has addresses for fewer than half that number, only 246,000. You can discern the problem may be less severe than the hype using the (excellent, by the way) interactive map included with the Virginia Mercury story. You will note only a handful of localities show a large percentage of suspended licenses (in Richmond City almost ten percent, but in most one to two.) That also raises questions about the reported numbers. Maybe there’s another explanation for the discrepancy between licenses and addresses?  Continue reading

Dominion Projects Tied To Facebook Approved

Ratepayers of Dominion Energy Virginia will start in June to pay for construction and operation of two solar energy facilities in Surry County intended to meet Facebook’s renewable energy goals.  The State Corporation Commission decided one issue created by the case in favor of consumers but punted on another that pit one group of customers against another.

In an opinion released this week, the SCC allowed Dominion to proceed with a new rate adjustment clause on customer but kept alive a dispute over how to allocate the costs between various classes of electricity customers.  The SCC staff and the Office of the Attorney General are complaining that the traditional cost allocation formula is less fair to residential customers when the generator is non-dispatchable, intermittent and provides its benefit through lower fuel costs.

Back in January, the SCC approved the certificates of public necessity for the project, 240 megawatts in two fields designated US-3, which will cost about $410 million to build and $843 million in total over its lifetime.  In response to SCC staff concerns, reported in Bacon’s Rebellion in November, it put various conditions on the approval intended to protect customers if the project fails to produce as much electricity as promised.  Continue reading

Is Winter Coming For Virginia Pipeline Projects?

The Mountain Valley Pipeline route on Brush Mountain, July 18, 2018. (Heather Rousseau/The Roanoke Times)

The building season is here, but for developers of Virginia’s two hotly-contested natural gas pipelines, activity is back in the government agencies and courthouses.  The construction sites remain largely silent, delays running up the ultimate cost of the projects, including the cost of failure.

Here is my (probably flawed) attempt at a status report.  And you thought Game of Thrones is a complicated plot.  Continue reading

Bacon Bits: I-81 Taxes, VCCS Shrinkage, Solar

The Numbers on Interstate 81:  Tax First, Explain Later

When you approve a major tax increase with amendments proposed just a few days before the General Assembly’s reconvened session, as happened last week, discussion is limited and there is almost no hard data on the financial impact available to the public.  You tax first and explain later.

The details appeared at this week’s meeting of the Commonwealth Transportation Board, which was given some charts on the six-year revenue and spending projections behind Governor Ralph Northam’s successful amendments. About 41 percent of the anticipated $1.5 billion over six years will support Interstate 81 projects, just a start on the $2 billion in planned improvements to that congested artery. Almost 60 percent is not for I-81. This is not a fix for I-81, but is something bigger than a Band-Aid.  Continue reading

Another Double Dip? That’s One Issue With Dominion’s Proposed Market-Based Rate

Dominion Energy Virginia’s proposed market-based pricing structure for large industrial customers has been criticized as a way for the utility to double collect, harking back to a key issue during the 2018 legislative push for its Grid Transformation and Security Act.

The criticism comes in an overall endorsement by Microsoft Corporation of the proposal pending at the State Corporation Commission. Microsoft owns a growing fleet of data centers in Dominion’s territory and is already eligible to seek electricity from a competitive service provider (CSP).   The purpose of this new rate (the full case record is here) is to keep big customers happy, so they lose interest in third-party providers.  One detail of the proposal has Microsoft unhappy. Continue reading

DEQ Pushes Back on RGGI Costs; Meeting Set

Current RGGI States

Virginia’s Air Pollution Control Board will meet April 19 to consider the next regulatory step to limit CO2 emissions from Virginia electricity plants through membership in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.

The agenda packet for the meeting, on-line here, contains more than 330 pages on the complicated issue, probably the best point counterpoint discussion on that already-voluminous record.  The entire record from the two comment periods is summarized, with DEQ staff politely thanking those who praise the regulation and vigorously disputing those who oppose it.   Continue reading

Retailers Still Push To Escape Dominion Monopoly

The large retail establishments seeking to aggregate their electricity demand and take their business away from Dominion Energy Virginia have not been dissuaded by a February ruling that went against them.  One of the petitioners in that case is seeking reconsideration, and the petitioner in another major case has sharpened its argument that the State Corporation Commission erred.

If the policy goal is now to slow demand, to prevent the need to build more utility-owned plants in Virginia, isn’t this the better and more reliable path?  The utility-managed demand response efforts funded by ratepayers aren’t having much impact, as previously reported. Continue reading

A kWh Saved Costs Triple A kWh Used. You Pay.

Third generation Nest programmable thermostat. You may be asked to buy one for your neighbor, with a sweetener for Dominion.

Buying yourself a kilowatt hour of electricity costs about twelve cents.  Persuading your next-door neighbor or the store at the corner to use less electricity is three times as expensive, costing about 35 cents per kilowatt hour.

That figure comes from a fresh exhibit filed by Dominion Energy Virginia with the State Corporation Commission, an exhibit only filed because a member of the court asked a simple question from the bench:  What has all the spending on energy efficiency programs cost to date and what has been the result?  If that information was buried in the thousands of pages of data on the case, he hadn’t found it.   Continue reading

Bacon Bits: Centrists, Solar, and CNU

A force for centrism and pragmatism. While Virginia increasingly emulates the hyper-polarized politics of Washington, D.C., a new group has entered the fray. Unite Virginia, an arm of Unite America, held  a “Unity breakfast” yesterday in Richmond to honor four Republican and Democratic legislators for their bipartisanship. Unite America, launched in 2013, says it is building a movement to “elect common-sense, independent candidates” to serve people, not party bosses or special interests, reports The Virginia Mercury. The organization will make endorsements and contribute to Virginia General Assembly campaigns this year.

Giant solar project approved in Charles City County. sPower’s proposed solar mega-project in Spotsylvania County remains mired in controversy, but the solar developer has had better luck in Charles City County. The Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to approve a special-use permit for the $415 million project. The solar farm will be built on 1,400 acres. Utah-based sPower will put an additional 800 acres at the site into conservation. The permit requires that the solar farm install a 100- to 300-foot vegetated barrier around the perimeter, reports the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Continue reading

On Energy Efficiency, Ratepayers Lose Again

Fellow electricity ratepayers, we just took it in the neck again.

This morning’s Richmond Times-Dispatch brings the news that Dominion Energy Virginia will not seek to count lost revenue as one of the cost elements in the energy efficiency program it was ordered to undertake by the 2018 Ratepayer Bill Transformation Act.  This follows an earlier story, also by the Associated Press, that Governor Ralph Northam has written the company to insist on that position.

Missing from both stories is a key fact:   Dominion won’t spend a dime.  It is all your money.  When the 2018 General Assembly mandated $870 million of spending on energy efficiency and demand response programs, it was the same as a near-billion dollar tax increase.  One of many in the bill.  Now the $870 million customer cost will get larger.   Continue reading

Energy Bacon Bits: VNG Case, LED, APCo’s Grid

LED Street Lights

The State Corporation Commission has approved a challenged natural gas contract between Virginia Natural Gas and an affiliated asset management firm, but the next request for proposal process will start this coming summer with substantially greater oversight.  The March 15 opinion is here.

As reported on Bacon’s Rebellion a few weeks ago, losing bidders for the contract to serve the Hampton Roads region gas distributor had complained that the RFP process they went through was not fair, a complaint that drew some support from an SCC hearing examiner.  VNG’s existing contract with Sequent Energy Management was about to run out, so the hearing examiner suggested a one-year approval followed by a re-do.    Continue reading

SCC Details High Customer Cost of RGGI

RGGI states

The State Corporation Commission staff has “shown its work” on an earlier estimate of electricity rate increases resulting from Virginia’s participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, despite a Democratic legislator’s complaint in Sunday’s Washington Post it was not being transparent.

“Even if you agree with the SCC, its analyses should be public information designed to inform the public debate. The SCC, however, has chosen a less transparent route, disadvantaging the public and the legislature from having all the necessary information to determine energy policy in the commonwealth,” Delegate David Toscano of Charlottesville wrote.   Continue reading

More Power for States: Good or Bad?

One of the most pleasant surprises that I discovered upon becoming a frequent follower of this blog was the whole world of energy regulation. RGGI, and, now, TCI, were new terms for me. I became aware of the cap- and-trade concept in its first widespread use in dealing with sulfur dioxide emissions, but was not aware of its current use for carbon dioxide.

Steve Haner’s recent post on TCI referred to RGGI and TCI as interstate compacts. That caught my attention. Long ago, in my political science courses, I learned about interstate compacts (my professor wrote what was then the definitive study on interstate compacts). The U.S. Constitution provides, “No state shall, without the consent of Congress…enter into any agreement or compact with another state….” (Article I, Section 10) Virginia has entered into a number of agreements with other states that fall under the ambit of this provision.  The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, which sets limits on the catches of certain fish species, is one example. Another, more familiar, example is the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority. But  RGGI and TCI have not been approved by Congress, which puzzled me.

It turns out that not all agreements among states constitute an “interstate compact” in the Constitutional sense. The Supreme Court in its first case dealing with interstate compacts (Tennessee v. Virginia, 1895), and confirmed in 1985 in its most recent case on this subject, declared that an agreement among states does not require the consent of Congress if it does not infringe on, or encroach upon, federal supremacy. Continue reading

Next Up: Carbon Tax, Cap and Trade On Your SUV

They are coming next for your SUV.

While the Air Pollution Control Board still has steps to take, it is safe to consider Virginia’s membership in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative a done deal.  That will quickly hit you in your electric bill, as Virginia’s two major electricity generators will have to pay a tax on their carbon emissions and alter their generation fleets to steadily reduce their CO2 output.

Here is what’s next:  The counterpart to RGGI for another major sector of the economy is the Transportation and Climate Initiative (TCI), which Virginia announced it would join in September.   In addition to Virginia, the current TCI member jurisdictions are Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Vermont, with policy support from Georgetown University.   Continue reading