Photo Credit: The Washington Post
by Steve Haner
Dominion Energy Virginia’s effort to force its ratepayers to finance a fleet of electric school buses has finally crashed, defeated by the House of Delegates for a third time in the final roll call of the 2021 General Assembly Saturday night.
The 41-49 rejection by the House at about 11 p.m. followed an earlier 46-46 rejection just before 9 p.m. In both cases the House was rejecting near-identical conference reports on Senate Bill 1380, first killed and revived about ten days ago.
In all three cases, the utility had no problem getting exactly what it wanted from its compliant friends in the Virginia Senate, which backed these newest versions of the bill Saturday by 25-12 and 27-12.
Del. Dan Helmer, D-Fairfax, got the final word on the House floor before the final vote. “I think we have a really excellent opportunity to say we need regulatory reform in Virginia,” Helmer told his colleagues in urging rejection of the proposal. That linked this bill’s defeat to the earlier rejection – by those same utility-compliant senators – of a series of reform bills seeking to rebuild State Corporation Commission (SCC) authority over rates. Continue reading
by Steve Haner
First published in the Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star Feb. 26 then distributed by the Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy.
The lesson of the Texas grid collapse is not just about electricity. Imagine the week Texans would have had if once the power went out and stayed out, they had no gasoline, diesel, propane, or natural gas to fall back on. How much worse would their plight have been without natural gas heating homes and businesses, propane space heaters and grills, and gasoline or diesel-powered cars and trucks to get where they needed to go?
You might think it alarmist to imagine that, but it is not. An all-electric economy, with the electricity itself reliant on unreliable wind and solar generation, is exactly the future envisioned for Virginia and being put into place by Governor Ralph Northam and the majority in the General Assembly.
The 2020 Virginia Clean Economy Act already requires the retirement of coal and natural gas electricity generation in the state in less than 30 years. That’s what zero carbon means, although fortunately Virginia’s main electricity provider maintains a fleet of aging nuclear plants not mandated to close. Yet. Continue reading
by James A. Bacon
As Virginia hurtles towards its brave new future of a net zero-carbon economy, the political class needs more data so it can figure out who else to regulate and what else to shut down. Our overlords have a good handle on CO2 emissions in the electric grid and the transportation sector, but Virginia’s economy is so big and sprawling that many carbon “polluters” have not been identified.
A bill submitted by Sen. Joe Morrissey, D-Richmond, would correct that data deficiency. The bill would allow the state Department of Environmental Quality to conduct an inventory of “all greenhouse gas emissions” and to update it every four years. DEQ would publish the date on its website and show how emissions compared to the baseline. The bill has passed both the House and the Senate.
“Good policy requires good data and this legislation gives us the ability to get the data we need to craft good policy going forward,” The Virginia Mercury quotes DEQ Deputy Director Chris Bast as saying. Continue reading
North Anna nuclear power station
by James A. Bacon
Yesterday I highlighted a study by University of Virginia professor Bill Shobe purporting to show how Virginia can achieve a “zero carbon” economy by 2050. A key element for eliminating greenhouse gas emissions was re-licensing Virginia’s four nuclear power units — two at the North Anna power station and two at the Surry station — to provide reliable base-line capacity to offset the effects of intermittent power production from solar panels and wind turbines.
We cannot take it for granted, however, that Dominion Energy will win renewal of those licenses. The licenses for North Anna Units 1 and 2 expire in 2038 and 2040, at which time they will be 60 years old. Dominion would like to continue operating them for an additional 20 years. Foes of nuclear power hope to derail the renewal of the licenses for North Anna, which, located above a geologic fault line, shut down temporarily after a 2011 earthquake measuring 5.8 on the Richter scale.
Beyond Nuclear, the Sierra Club and the Alliance for a Progressive Virginia are seeking a formal hearing before an Atomic Safety and Licensing Board panel, according to The Central Virginian. The environmental groups say that because a new nuclear reactor at North Anna would have to meet a higher standard for withstanding an earthquake, an upgrade might be warranted for the two existing units also. Continue reading
Where Virginia’s energy will come from in Bill Shobe’s 2050 zero-carbon future. Click for larger image.
by James A. Bacon
Bill Shobe, a professor of public policy at the University of Virginia, has outlined an approach to decarbonize Virginia’s economy — not just its electric grid, but the entire economy — by 2050. The scenarios and policies described in “Decarbonizing Virginia’s Economy: Pathways to 2050” may sound “out there” right now, but they seem fully consistent with what I’m hearing elsewhere in the environmental movement. There is so much momentum for a zero-carbon future that the document can be viewed as a roadmap of issues that Virginia environmentalists will be pushing over the next three decades.
The first priority is carrying out the decarbonization of the electric power industry, which accounts for approximately 30% of all of Virginia’s greenhouse gas emissions. As this has already been mandated by the Virginia Clean Economy Act, there’s little new in this particular aspect of the study. Virginia will have loads more wind, loads more solar. There is only one surprise. Shobe does not appear to labor under the illusion that Virginia can maintain grid stability through energy storage alone. He sees a continued role for nuclear energy to provide baseload power when a large majority of power production comes from intermittent wind and solar.
Next on the agenda will be wringing out CO2 emissions from the transportation sector through “electrification” — converting all vehicles to electric power. Virginia is just beginning to come to grips with that long-term goal as it debates electric-powered school buses and, more consequentially, the Transportation and Climate Initiative. Shobe’s timeline says to “electrify everything (almost)” by the 2030s. By the 2040s, Virginia will have completed electrification of transport and buildings as well. Continue reading
Seen in my neighborhood on my morning walk.
There has been a lively discussion in the comments threads of recent Bacon’s Rebellion posts about what lessons Virginia can learn from the near-collapse of Texas’ electric grid. A key difference between the two states is that Texas maintains its own reliability council, ERCOT, while Virginia belongs to an interstate compact, PJM. Both organizations administer auctions to sell electricity in near-real time. Unlike Texas, PJM maintains a market for future electricity “capacity.” The role of capacity markets is hard for most people (including me) to wrap their heads around. But reader Allen Barringer (Acbar), a retired utility regulatory lawyer, gives it a shot. — JAB
The concept of reliability in electricity grids is probabilistic. There is no such thing as absolute certainty of reliability. In general, the acceptable risk of an outage is defined by the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC), a standards-setting organization regulated by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), which sits atop around a dozen regional reliability councils whose members are the utilities and Independent System Operators (ISOs) that run the electric grid. The reliability criterion is that consumers should not lose electric service as the result of problems on the “bulk power” electric grid more often than one day in 10 years.
State regulatory authorities such as Virginia’s State Corporation Commission (SCC) don’t regulate the bulk power grid; they focus on local reliability issues like distribution line outages. But the states also regulate retail electric rates and, in Virginia, the SCC reviews the “integrated resource plans” (IRPs) of the retail electric companies. Continue reading
By Peter Galuszka
This is a shameless advertisement. Jim has written an excellent book and you should buy it and review it.
While some of Jim’s focus is at odds with a similar book I wrote eight years ago, “Maverick Miner” is a really well put together effort at research and writing.
In my reporting, I asked many people, mostly miners, what they thought about E. Morgan Massey. The response: tough on unions but good guy. I heard this over and over. I was told that if rank and file miners had a serious problem, they could call Morgan and he’d come to the mountains to work things out. I heard this a lot and it gives credence to Jim’s book.
You should buy the book, read it, and like it or not, post something on Amazon. Here’s something I did:
“In this book, Jim Bacon, a Richmond journalist, tells a fascinating story about 94-year-old E. Morgan Massey, the former head of coal company that would become highly controversial. Massey paid Bacon to write a private narrative about the Massey family and agreed to let Bacon write his own unabridged account. Taken as a biography and while understanding that this is from Massey’s viewpoint, the result works very well. Massey explains why he hired Donald L. Blankenship, who achieved remarkable notoriety as the boss of Massey Energy, a company spinoff. He ended up in federal prison. The book underestimates the human and environmental cost of coal mining in the Central Appalachians. It also takes Massey’s side in dissecting what caused the April 5, 2010 explosion that killed 29 miners – the worst such U.S. coal disaster in 40 years. Even so, Bacon’s access to internal sources and records is a welcome contribution to understanding a great story.
Peter Galuszka is author of “Thunder on the Mountain: Death At Massey and the Dirty Secrets Behind Big Coal.” (St. Martin’s Press, 2012)
Posted in Business and Economy, Culture wars, Disaster planning, Energy, Environment, Labor & workforce, Money in politics, Political Influence, Politics, Regulation, Unions
by Peter Galuszka
The Texas freeze and ensuing energy disaster has clear lessons for Virginia as it sorts out its energy future.
Yet much of the media coverage in Virginia and certainly on Bacon’s Rebellion conveniently leaves out pertinent observations.
The statewide freeze in Texas completely fouled up the entire energy infrastructure as natural gas pipelines and oil wells stopped working, coal at generating plants iced over and wind turbines stopped working.
Making matters much worse, Texas opted not to have power links with other states. Its “free market” system of purchasing power meant utilities skimped on maintenance and adding weather-relative preventive measures such as making sure key generation components were weatherproof.
The result? Scores dead and millions without electricity. Here are more points worth considering in Virginia:
Climate Change is For Real
It is a shame that so much comment in Bacon’s Rebellion is propaganda from people who are or were paid, either directly or indirectly, by the fossil fuel industry. Thus, the blog diminishes the importance of dealing with climate change in a progressive way. Continue reading
Posted in Blogs and blog administration, Budgets, Business and Economy, Consumer protection, Culture wars, Disaster planning, Economic development, Energy, Environment, Insurance, Labor & workforce, Land use & development, Money in politics, Political Influence, Politics, Property rights, Public corruption, Public safety & health, Regulation, Science & Technology
by Steve Haner
Tax on Paycheck Protection Program Grants
The General Assembly session deadlines require final decisions on various revenue bills before the final budget bill is adopted, in theory keeping the two issues separate. What is good tax policy should not be driven by the need or greed of the appropriators.
But the conference committee overseeing the final decision on how much of the Paycheck Protection Program Grants will be taxed is dominated by appropriators, including the chairs of the both the House and Senate budget panels. The Senate’s proposal to allow $100,000 of PPP grants to be tax free produces less revenue, so the House’s position of allowing only $25,000 to be tax free meant the House budget includes another $70 million in spending.
The announcement that the state’s economy continues to hum and produce additional revenue, adding $730 million more in the General Fund, would allow for the Senate position to prevail without the need to cut the existing House budget. But the pressure remains to tax more and spend more, with Governor Ralph Northam raising expectations even higher with a late proposal for fatter employee raises. Continue reading
Minutes away from monthslong blackouts. Partisans and their friends in the media will debate forever how to apportion the blame between renewables, natural gas and other factors in the rolling blackouts in Texas. What the situation in the Lone Star State indisputably does do, however, is drive home the absolute necessity of maintaining an electric grid that can withstand rare but extreme weather events. As terrible as conditions are now, with people now going without water and power, it could have been worse. According to officials with the Electric Reliability Council of Texas or ERCOT, the power grid was “seconds and minutes” away from catastrophic failure that could have left Texans in the dark for months, reports The Texas Tribune. Anyone who does not think the same thing could happen in Virginia as we hurtle toward a zero-carbon (and potentially zer0-nuclear) energy grid is homicidally naive.
More news you’ll never read in a Virginia news outlet. We have to rely upon New York-based National Review magazine for this revelation: “While Virginia’s teachers unions have been vocal regarding their worries about returning to school, and their disapproval of the school reopening bill (SB 1303), new documents obtained by National Review show the unions also have engaged in an intense behind-the-scenes pressure campaign to influence Democratic state lawmakers over the reopening issue. Over just the past few months, the unions have combined to send thousands of emails to Democratic House delegates about school-reopening plans. And so far, the lawmakers have refused to release the vast majority of the emails, citing a state law that allows them to shield their correspondence from the public.” (Hat tip: TooManyTaxes)
Healthcare consolidation continues apace. Bacon’s Rebellion is the only publication in Virginia that is worried about the ongoing consolidation of the healthcare industry. The public doesn’t seem to care either, but we’re going to document the trend anyway. The latest news is that the University of Virginia Health System has signed a letter of intent to buy out Novant Health U.Va. Health System, a Northern Virginia regional health system owned and operated by the two companies since 2016. Winston-Salem, N.C.,-based Novant owns 60% of the health system. Under the deal, UVa Health, which owns 40%, will own the whole kit and caboodle. Continue reading
School bus? Storage battery? No, utility profit center.
by Steve Haner
When the Senate bill that allowed Dominion Energy Virginia to buy a fleet of electric school buses with ratepayer dollars was up for discussion last week, three environmentalist lobbyists spoke against it. They focused on the excessive cost and questioned whether it was a reasonable way to develop useful battery storage.
The counterattack was immediate and fierce and came from a Hampton Roads Democratic delegate. “I can’t believe environmentalists are testifying that electric school buses are bad for the environment!” he shouted into his computer’s microphone. He ignored what they actually said and attacked on a false front, seeking to force them back into their accustomed swim lane. Continue reading
by Bill O’Keefe
Dominion Energy’s decision to build a gigantic windfarm and have net zero emissions by 2045 is a political ploy rather than a well-developed business decision. Why do I say that? First, Dominion buys bi-partisan political support in the General Assembly, as if it was needed. Second, it now gets broad support from the environmental community. And, if it flops, as it is likely to do, rate payers will be left holding the bail-out bag.
Dominion plans to site over 200 windmills 27 miles off of the coast of Virginia. The area occupied will be about 176 square miles, which is three times larger than Richmond and about the size of Clarke County. The current cost estimate for this project is $7.8 billion, but that will certainly increase.
By committing to a project of this size, Dominion is freezing innovation and putting its transmission grid at risk. The cold spell that is gripping the U.S. reveals a major vulnerability of wind and solar as well as the vulnerability of the grid. Continue reading
Sen. Dick Saslaw (D)
by James C. Sherlock
Associate Press headline Feb. 15: “Virginia Senate Democrats kill electric rate reform bills.”
Fish gotta swim, Senator Richard L. “Dominion Dick” Saslaw gotta be Senate Majority Leader and Chairman of the Virginia Senate Commerce and Labor Committee.
Saslaw has received nearly a half million dollars in campaign donations from Dominion Energy and its previous CEO, Thomas Farrell. The Chairman literally would be cheap at ten times the price.
From the AP:
“The Senate Commerce and Labor Committee on Monday swiftly killed the last of more than half a dozen bills this session that aimed to reform Virginia’s system of electric utility rate review, which is seen by Wall Street investors as favorable to the utilities and by critics as an example of legislative capture by companies with an outsize influence over the General Assembly.”
Dominion sweeping all before it actually gives some sense of stability to the General Assembly.
Below is a list of campaign donations by Dominion Energy and Tom Farrell to the Senators who voted with Dominion on the closest vote, 8-7 to table Virginia HB1132 Electric utility regulation; initial triennial review, requirements, sponsored by Del. Jay Jones (D). Continue reading
Frozen Texas wind turbine. Credit: Watts Up With That?
As I repeatedly remind people, you don’t build an electric power grid to handle routine weather conditions, you build them to survive rare but extreme weather events. Texas, which became enamored with wind power — wind accounted for between 22% of the state’s electricity in the first half of 2019 — has learned this lesson the hard way. In the midst of a bitter cold snap expected to last several days, ice storms knocked out nearly half the state’s wind-power generating supply. The spot price of electricity has surged to $9,000 per megawatt hour, compared to $100 per megawatt hour during periods of high summer demand. The Electric Reliability Council of Texas called on consumers and businesses to reduce electricity use as much as possible Feb. 14, through Feb. 16. Just imagine how bad the situation would be if Texas derived 100% of its electricity from renewable energy.
Meanwhile, the question Virginians need to be asking in anticipation of the commonwealth deriving much of its electricity from offshore wind power within a few years is this: What’s the freezing temperature for salt water?
Answer: 28.4° Fahrenheit. Continue reading
Posted in Energy
Tagged Wind power