Category Archives: Energy

Behind Dominion’s Shift to Renewables

Image credit: Style Weekly

By Peter Galuszka

Ever wonder why Dominion Energy found religion and announced a major shift to renewable energy?

The answer is that modern, high technology businesses want it and the Richmond-based utility wants to respond to their desires.

This one of the themes in this recent cover story I did for Style Weekly that explores how Dominion’s major shift in direction is part of several dynamics that are pushing solar wind and other renewables instead of keeping on with fossil fuel.

Here’s the reporting in a nutshell:

  • Virginia’s economy is being driven more by data centers, giant box-like warehouses loaded with servers that can handle tremendous amounts of data. Northern Virginia, the incubator of the Internet, already handles about 70% to 80% of the global Net traffic and has a mature and still growing network of data centers.
  • The Northern Virginia experience is shifting downstate. Henrico County now has a partially construction data center run by social media giant Facebook. Centers have been announced or are being planned in Southside and Southwest Virginia.

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Carbon Tax Advocates Who Lost in November

From the Collins-Gideon contest in Maine this year, won by Senator Susan Collins.

Editor’s Note:  A cautionary tale as the 2021 Virginia General Assembly prepares to debate another major carbon tax? 

By Paul D. Craney

One of the most overlooked stories on Election Day was the defeat of pro-carbon tax politicians across the nation and here in New England.

The most notable carbon tax proponent to seek office in New England was Sara Gideon, the speaker of the Maine House who was challenging moderate incumbent Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins. As speaker, Gideon in 2019 supported the imposition of a carbon tax that’s end effect on fuel prices bore a striking similarity to the Transportation and Climate Initiative, or TCI, a regional effort to place a price on the carbon in vehicle fuels. The carbon tax proposal went nowhere in Maine and Gideon did not embrace it during her run for U.S. Senate.

Collins, however, continually highlighted Gideon’s previous support for the carbon tax proposal with TV and digital ads describing it as a 40 cent-per-gallon gas tax, which would add an “extra $10 for every fill up.” The ads closed by saying “higher fuel taxes hurt Maine workers, our farmers, and our families.” While most pundits felt Gideon was favored to prevail, Collins beat her 51-42, winning 14 of the 16 counties in Maine. Continue reading

GOP Group Seeks Repeal of 2020 Energy Omnibus

Dominion’s Scott Solar Facility.

By Steve Haner

A Virginia GOP activist group aimed at suburban voters will be advocating repeal of the Virginia Clean Economy Act by the 2021 General Assembly, seeking to return a herd of cows that is well out of the barn and busting down the pasture fence.

The Suburban Virginia Republican Coalition has produced a short video (here) and is mounting a petition drive (here), both of which might have been helpful a year ago. Of course, a year ago the VCEA was just a bunch of closed conversations to which only Climate Crisis True Believers were invited. The final bill appeared out of thin air just before it got voted on.

The video focuses on just one aspect of the coming energy conversion, the plans to destroy 490 square miles of forests and farmland to cover the land with up to 30,000 megawatts-worth of solar panels. That may indeed be the least popular aspect with suburban Virginians, but the most expensive and risky part of the plan involves the coming offshore wind turbines.

On a parallel track in the opposite direction, the Climate Crisis True Believers are arguing that it was President-elect Joe Biden’s deep commitment to their cause that got him elected. A recent column in Virginia Mercury argued: Continue reading

Solar Mega-Project Proposed for Pulaski County

by James A. Bacon

Developers of solar energy projects in Virginia often encounter resistance from rural communities where residents worry about the impact of vast solar farms on viewsheds, the tax base and the rural way of life. In Pulaski County, Hecate Energy LLC is dangling a new incentive to make its project palatable — the chance to attract lucrative data centers.

Hecate has proposed investing $400 million in a 280-megawatt solar project in three phases on 2,700 acres of land near the Town of Dublin, reports the [Pulaski County] Patriot. Hecate would pay leases to landowners, who currently use the land for low-value pasture and hayfields. The project is anticipated to generate $392,000 annually in added county tax revenue for a total of $13.7 million over the 35-year life of the project. As a bonus, the project would create 130 jobs during the construction phase. The new sweetener, never mentioned in press accounts of other solar projects I’ve seen, is the chance to vie for data-center projects.

“Approval of this project instantly makes Pulaski a player in the high-stakes game of Data Center recruitment,” said Hecate spokesman Jay Poole. “Companies which build Data Centers and other high-tech companies which demand sufficient quantities of renewable energy, go to places which make renewable energy more available.” Continue reading

TCI: Taxing the Poor to Benefit the Rich

New Jersey environmental justice advocate Maria Lopez-Nunez, lower left, speaks with organizers of the Transportation and Climate Initiative on September 29. Hear her here.

By Steve Haner

“I think TCI is just taxing poor people so that we can subsidize rich people’s electric cars.” 

So said New Jersey’s Maria Lopez-Nuñez, Deputy Director, Organizing and Advocacy for the Ironbound Community Corporation. She was speaking during an online seminar September 29 organized by Transportation and Climate Initiative advocates.

That particular comment can be heard at about 3:10 into this recording of her speech. The full meeting is recorded here, and her remarks start at about 1hour and 43 minutes in. Listen to her whole speech if you can. Listen to those that follow and you will learn she was not alone.

Lopez-Nunez is dead on correct that TCI imposes a major and very regressive tax to deliver minor reductions in CO2 emissions, and that moving people into electric cars merely moves the source of CO2 emissions from the roads to the power plants.

Run the projected CO2 emissions savings from TCI through the climate change models at the heart of this whole worldwide debate and the result is infinitesimal changes in the feared future temperature increases. Selling this as saving the planet is not credible, so the push is on to find a new rationale. The effort to make that “environmental justice” by targeting the tax money to their causes is not being well received.

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One Governor Blinks on Carbon Tax. Will Northam?

By Steve Haner

The governor of Massachusetts stated yesterday that he and other unnamed governors in Transportation and Climate Initiative states are reconsidering the new carbon tax. Is our Governor Ralph Northam among them? He has a news conference this afternoon and somebody should ask.

From a post late yesterday at the Boston Herald:

“Gov. Charlie Baker said governors are re-evaluating support of a controversial carbon tax designed to limit greenhouse gas emissions as advocates renew calls for its passage.

“We’re living at a point in time right now that’s dramatically different than the point in time we were living in when people’s expectations about miles traveled and all the rest were a lot different,” Baker said Tuesday during a press conference at the State House.

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RGGI Carbon Tax Hits Dominion Bills Next Summer

By Steve Haner

Beginning August 1 of next year, Dominion Energy Virginia proposes to begin to collect the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative carbon tax from its customers, collecting $168 million during the first year through yet another of those proliferating rate adjustment clauses (or “RACs”).

It will get it by charging a flat $.002388 per kilowatt hour, or $2.39 on every 1,000 kWh. The same charge will be imposed on residential, business, industrial and even non-profit customers. The full case file is here.

Is the universal flat rate a break for residential customers or a break for the largest users? Usually, there are complicated differences in their tariffs. Look for example at the RAC charge for other environmental projects at the utility, Rider E. Residential customers pay $1.68 per 1,000 kWh for that, while large industrial accounts pay from $1.25 (GS-1) down to around 70 cents (Schedule 10).  Continue reading

Another VA Gas Pipeline Project Dies Under Fire

Still Alive? The northern part of the Header Improvement Project. Source: VNG Application.

By Steve Haner

Another proposal to build a pipeline pumping wealth and prosperity into the Virginia economy has been brought down. That is my impression of what the impact would be of expanding natural gas supply to our state – added wealth and prosperity. This beneficial project is not to be.

Virginia Natural Gas has notified (read it here) the State Corporation Commission that it is abandoning plans for the Header Improvement Project, a major expansion connecting existing major transportation pipelines with its Hampton Roads service territory. That also ends its plans to provide service to two merchant electricity generating plants in Charles City County that would have been served by the additional supply.

The dispute over the expansion was discussed here earlier this year. The project drew the usual environmental objections, based on their firm belief that natural gas pipelines deliver death, but the SCC itself sank the plans over its skepticism that one of the electric generation plants would actually get built and need the supply. Writes VNG through counsel:

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Initial Observations on the Virginia Election Results

by James C. Sherlock

Nobody asked, me, but I offer my Wednesday morning initial assessment of the elections in Virginia. In no particular order, here they are.

Until there is a Republican Party of Virginia, not the current Republican Party of me, the party candidates will remain eclectic to the point of statewide incoherence. Not sure who has the juice to pull that together.

It looks at this point like Abigail Spanberger lost to Nick Freitas by about 3,000 votes with 100% counted. I suspect there will be a recount. The rest of the House races were pretty one-sided. Redistricting by the new commission established by the new constitutional amendment will be crucial.

Northern Virginia is the bedroom of the federal government. It has been a long time since there were a significant number of Republicans in the career bureaucracy. Dispersing the offices of those bureaucrats around the country, generically a good idea, may not help the Republicans in swing states.

One question with a potential huge impact on Virginia legislation: Will the Virginia Supreme court take cases that result in an assertive role for that court in assessing new laws for constitutionality?

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The Big Gamble

Image source: www.piqsels.com

by Bill O’Keefe

Virginia’s Clean Economy act requires Dominion to provide a 100% carbon-free grid by 2045. This law represents a big gamble that Dominion embraced with a “balls to the wall” enthusiasm because the $9 billion cost, which will most likely be higher, will be provided by rate payers, not share owners. To quote a truism, nobody spends someone else’s money like their own. This legislation proves it.

Dominion’s confidence in achieving the General Assembly’s mandate is unrealistic. Given technological uncertainties, it is the height of folly to accept a mandate that establishes a goal and the date by which it is must be achieved. The history of technology-forcing mandates is a sorry one.

Dominion has touted the recent tests of two offshore turbines as reason for optimism for the planned project of 180 to 220 turbines located 27 miles offshore will cover 112,800 acres. That represents 176 square miles, roughly the size of King George County and more than three times as large as Norfolk. And the turbines will stand 600 feet about the surface. Continue reading

Shellenberger’s “Apocalypse Never” Lessons for VA

HarperCollins, 2020

“Climate change is real but it’s not the end of the world.  It is not even our most serious environmental problem.”

By Steve Haner

That statement opens the dust jacket summary for “Apocalypse Never:  Why Environmental Alarmism Hurts Us All” by Michael Shellenberger, once named “Hero of the Environment” by Time magazine. It remains the number one best-seller in Amazon’s Climate or Environmental Policy category, competing with alarmist sermons such as “The Uninhabitable Earth” by David Wallace-Wells and “How To Avoid A Climate Disaster” by Bill Gates. Anybody interested in the topic should seek it out.

The themes of the book also align well with views previously featured from a 2019 newspaper column by retired University of Richmond biology professor, R. Dean Decker. Both are totally at odds with the wild predictions of Climate Armageddon that drive the Virginia Clean Economy Act, the upcoming Virginia debate over the Transportation and Climate Initiative carbon tax, and just about every Democratic political campaign in the Virginia and the U.S.

Shellenberger’s book is particularly important for the debate over carbon taxes such as the TCI compact, and the VCEA’s energy cost inflation, because with his worldwide experience and perspective he has seen the interrelationship of income poverty, energy poverty and damaging environmental exploitation. Saving the Earth and its flora and fauna require energy sufficiency – from more than just renewables – and energy-intensive modern agriculture.  It requires wealth and economic growth.  Continue reading

What’s Worse for the Environment: Natural Gas or Rare-Earth Metals?

Projected demand for rare metals production required to meet Paris climate accord CO2 emission goals. Source: “Metal Demand for Renewable Electricity and generation in the Netherlands.”

by James A. Bacon

Tom Hadwin is one of the smartest, most well-informed commentators in Virginia on the subject of the electric grid, utility regulation and Dominion Virginia Energy. He sets a high standard for the discussion about energy policy in Virginia. He is calm, rational and fact-based, he refrains from ad hominem attacks and does not engage in partisan hysterics. It is a pleasure exchanging views with him, even when we disagree, and I would recommend readers with an interest in the future of the electric grid to read his thorough and thoughtful comments on Dominion’s 2020 Integrated Research Plan, which you can find below.

That said, Hadwin advances several propositions that are at best debatable. In this post, I wish to focus on one in particular: the way he frames his analysis to include the system-wide costs of drilling and distribution when calculating the environmental costs of natural gas and ignoring the system-wide costs of mining and processing rare-earth metals when calculating the environmental costs of solar panels and wind turbines.

Hadwin observes that many energy executives and financiers promoted natural gas as the “bridge fuel” to a clean energy future on the grounds that CO2 emissions from power-plant combustion are half that of coal. But he goes on to argue that it is not adequate to consider natural-gas combustion alone. One must take a holistic approach of natural gas drilling, fracking, and distribution as well as combustion. Writes Hadwin: Continue reading

Assembly Protected Utilities, Not Other Businesses

First published this morning (with some slight differences) by the Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy.

By Steve Haner

Now that the Virginia General Assembly’s “Cops and COVID” special session is all but finished, will it be easier or harder for the state’s struggling economy to recover in 2021? It will be harder, probably, except for the utilities.

The initial reason Governor Ralph Northam recalled legislators starting August 18 was to review the state budget for COVID recession-related changes. Then a series of confrontations between police and Black Americans added law enforcement and criminal punishment to the agenda.

But the legislators reached far beyond those issues in the 270 pieces of legislation introduced, of which 56 have now passed (many of them duplicates).  The Assembly recessed October 16, but did not adjourn, and that will delay the effective date of the various new laws until perhaps March 1.

What did the legislature do for or to the business climate in Virginia? Continue reading

Wind and the Grid: a Precautionary Tale from the U.K.

U.K. wind farm. Photo credit: Daily Mail

by James A. Bacon

So, you think the rolling blackouts experienced in California were a fluke and of no relevance to Virginia? Well, then, consider what’s happening right now in the United Kingdom, where “unusually low wind output” and a series of planned power plant outages puts the nation at risk of blackouts. You see, the U.K. relies upon wind power for literally half of its electricity, which is just dandy when the wind is blowing, but not so great when the airs are calm.

As it happens, here in Virginia, Dominion Virginia Power has finished installation of its first two offshore wind turbines. Those two units are paving the way for a much wider deployment of wind power in the Atlantic Ocean. The utility forecasts that wind will account for 5.1 megawatts of its electric-generating capacity (about 20%) within 15 years.

In the U.K. the becalming of the wind — windpower is expected to drop from 51% of output to as low as 10% over the weekend — coincides with planned outages at two of the country’s nuclear reactors, reports the Daily Mail. The National Grid Electricity System Operator reassured the Brits that it would “make sure there is enough generation” to prevent blackouts…. In other words, the U.K. will be cutting it really close. Continue reading

Only in Virginia…

Source: National Renewable Energy Laboratory

Who came up with this idea? Now that Dominion Energy has completed reliability testing for its first two offshore wind turbines, the Northam administration is announcing the formation of the Mid-Atlantic Wind Training Alliance to provide industry certifications for wind-project operations and maintenance. What better place to base such a program than…. 200 miles away from the wind industry in a place with virtually no wind. Yes, friends, the new program will be hosted by the New College in Martinsville where average wind speeds (see map) are among the lowest in the state. To be fair, according to Virginia Business, alliance partners Centura College and the Mid-Atlantic Maritime Academy are located in Hampton Roads where the wind industry will be located.

JMU’s enrollment meltdown. James Madison University is getting hammered by the COVID-19 epidemic — and the administration’s handling of it. First, 250 students, mostly freshmen, chose to defer their enrollment. That’s out of an undergraduate student body of roughly 22,000. Then, after a spike in positive cases early in the semester, students were sent home in mid-September for about a month. Now they’re returning. But not all are returning. As of the latest report, according to the Daily News-Record, 1,798 had discontinued at JMU. That far exceeds the normal attribution rate; last year only 1,063 students dropped out during the fall semester.

Loudoun Schools briefly recover sanity. The Loudoun County School Board has voted to revise its “Professional Conduct” policy governing speech off school property, which would have forbidden employees from making public utterances opposing a controversial school policy to dismantle “white supremacy” and “systemic racism.” After an outcry from teachers unions and community members against this blatant violation of free speech, the board voted 9 to 0 to refer the draft policy back to the human resources department, reports The Virginia Star.