Category Archives: Energy

Surprise! State Underestimated Carbon Tax Cost

by Steve Haner

Virginia has collected its first wave of carbon taxes from the state’s electricity generators, costs which will eventually show up on future bills. The $43.6 million take just about doubles the revenue estimates used when participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative was being approved by the Virginia General Assembly last year. Surprise!   Continue reading

In the Face of Local Resistance, Can Virginia Meet Its Solar Goals?

by James A. Bacon

Virginia needs to build dozens of square miles of solar panels if there is any hope of reaching the goal of a zero-carbon electric grid by 2045 in Dominion Energy territory and 2050 across the state. The General Assembly can compel the state’s electric utilities to purchase the solar power but it can’t compel anyone to develop the solar farms, especially if local governments are opposed.

Numerous solar projects have been approved — including, most recently, $400 million in a 280-megawatt in Pulaski County, so there’s no question that solar will be a big part of Virginia’s energy future. But are enough projects getting approved?

The odds are looking slim for a $200 million, 149-megawatt proposal by North Carolina-based Strata Solar in Culpeper County. County staff had expressed concerns about the proposed 1,700-acre Maroon Solar power plant, and yesterday the planning commission unanimously recommended denial of the plan, reports the Culpeper Star-Exponent. Continue reading

Hey, Mount Trashmore, Top This!

by Bill Tracy

According to WJLA-TV7, The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors has approved the next phase in the evolution of the former Lorton landfill off of Interstate 95: It will become a 1,700-foot ski slope. That’s right, a ski resort. In Northern Virginia. Only 10 minutes from my home.

The project, Fairfax Peak, will be a 450,000-square-foot indoor snow sports facility with a 100-room luxury hotel, sky bar, restaurants, and a bunny slope. The first of its kind in the United States, it will have not have only the longest indoor ski slope in North America but one of the longest in the world.  

The project will be super-green too. Aside from the obligatory solar panels, the planned facilities will use waste heat from the adjacent county Waste-To-Energy plant. In other words, the incinerator will serve as bona fide co-gen plant.

Interestingly, per a Google search, Landfills-to-Ski Slopes is a global trend.  The picture above is an artist rendering of a Denmark power plant that will incinerate trash while using the energy produced to power the city and the ski slope. Continue reading

Centuries of Energy Already Sitting in Cans

“Slightly Used” Nuclear Fuel Storage Casks.

by Steve Haner

First published this morning by the Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy.

If you are serious about making electricity without carbon emissions and also serious about making enough electricity to run a real economy 24-7-365, the discussion keeps coming back to nuclear energy. It is the obvious choice if you believe we must eliminate natural gas soon.  Continue reading

Politicians Get the Gold Mine, the Middle Class Gets the Shaft

by James A. Bacon

Thousands have Virginians have fallen behind on their electric bill payments as they struggle through the COVID-19 epidemic. The General Assembly wants to help. So, in the budget compromise reached by the House of Delegates and the state Senate, Dominion Energy will be directed to forgive customers’ unpaid balances that were more than 30 days in arrears as of Dec. 31, 2020.

Who will pay for this? Not the Commonwealth of Virginia. The state may be awash in $2.4 billion in federal COVID relief funds plus $410 million in tax revenue over forecasts this year, but, no, legislators want to spend every dime.

And not Dominion Energy. The budget bill reaffirms the utility’s right to use the bill-forgiveness costs to offset earnings from 2017 to 2020 in the State Corporation Commission’s next review of its profits, reports The Virginia Mercury.

You, dear ratepayer, will pay the cost (unless you’re one of those who have fallen behind in your payments). With apologies to Jerry Reed, the politicians get the gold mine, and Virginia’s middle class gets the shaft. Continue reading

Dominion EV School Bus Crash #3 Ends Session

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.  Continue reading

The Virginia War On Fossil Fuels

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?  Continue reading

First They Come for the Gas Pipelines, Then the Nukes, and Then… Your Gas Grill?

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

First They Came for the Gas Pipelines. Then They Came for the Nukes…

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

A Terrifying Plan to Get Virginia to Zero Carbon by 2050

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

The Future is Now

Seen in my neighborhood on my morning walk.

How Electricity “Capacity” Markets Work

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

Buy Bacon’s Book

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)

What Texas’s Crisis Means for Virginia

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

Updates: PPP, PIPP, Dominion’s School Buses

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.  Continue reading