Category Archives: Energy

The Trash Tax Returns; Energy Price Hikes Ignored

By Steve Haner

Proving once again how rare are the new ideas, Governor Ralph Northam’s proposed Special Session budget amendments resurrect a possible state-collected solid waste tipping fee, which crashed and burned in 2002 after being successfully tagged a “trash tax.”

The proposal calls for a study to be completed by November 1, laying the groundwork to include the new levy and substantial revenue when the Governor tweaks the budget again before the 2021 Regular Session. When former Governor Mark Warner proposed this, at the Veto Session following the 2002 Regular Session, it would have raised an estimated $75 million annually.

Frankly, what the language calls for (a plan) is something the Northam Administration can just do. By including this directive in the budget document, all the stakeholders are forewarned and forearmed. What’s the plan for the money? “The plan shall include recommendations for the amount and structure of any proposed fee, and recommendations for use of any revenue that may be generated from such fee.”    Continue reading

REC Coop to Invest in Battery Storage

A battery storage facility: not nearly as photogenic as solar panels and wind turbines

by James A. Bacon

Rappahannock Electric Cooperative (REC) is partnering with Charlottesville-based East Point Energy to install the first grid-scale battery-storage project by a Virginia electric cooperative.

The project has a peak capacity of two megawatts and a duration of eight megawatt hours, enough to power about 1,000 homes for eight hours, the coop stated in a press release two days ago. REC provides electricity to 170,000 connections in portions of 22 Virginia counties.

There has been much discussion about large-scale battery storage as a supplement to solar and wind power as Virginia moves to a carbon-free grid by 2050. In theory, batteries will be able to store excess electricity generated by the intermittent power sources and release it when the weather isn’t cooperating. But the aim of the REC energy-storage project, to be located in Spotsylvania County, is more modest. Anticipated benefits include: Continue reading

We Underpaid Dominion in 2019? Not Really.

Future Dominion price increases. Source: SCC.  Actually, 1000 kWh per month is a bit low for the average residential customer, so many Virginians will be paying much more. Click for large view.

By Steve Haner

You will be shocked to learn that we customers of Dominion Energy Virginia did not pay it enough money in 2019. The shareholders did not get the profit margin they were due, the utility reported to the State Corporation Commission, which subsequently reported it to us on August 18.

Actually, these guys were not utility accountants, but they were on the right track.

We’ve entered the realm of energy comedy. The utility accounting process now mirrors the famous movie “The Producers,” with the goal being to book little or no actual profit so high rates can be maintained or even made higher. There is honest accounting, show-biz accounting, but for real whiz bang results there is utility accounting.

The SCC’s annual report to the General Assembly on utility accounting, now including projections of future rate costs, normally comes out closer to September. I was tipped to expect it early by a Dominion big wig, which should have told me it was a report they wanted publicized. This is Dominion playing the long game, preparing for the 2021 showdown on its rates and profits in a formal SCC audit and rate case.

The rules for this long game have been rigged in the utility’s favor over several years by a compliant General Assembly. This is not news to Bacon’s Rebellion readers. But here we go again.  Continue reading

California, Here We Come!

by James A. Bacon

For a look at Virginia’s energy future, just take a look at California. It’s not a pretty picture. The state’s grid operator imposed short rolling blackouts twice over the weekend due to an inability to meet peak demand caused by a heat wave. More blackouts are possible later this week.

Both Virginia and California aspire to have 100% carb0n-free electric grids, but the Golden State is farther along in adopting wind and solar power. The California Energy Commission estimates that “34% of California’s electricity came from renewable sources in 2018.”

The Northam administration has signed legislation requiring Dominion Energy to generate 100% of its electricity from renewable sources (primarily solar and wind) by 2045, and Appalachian Power to meet that goal by 2050. All coal-fired plants must close by the end of 2024. California’s present is Virginia’s future just a few years out. Continue reading

Meters Keep Spinning On Unpaid Utility Bills

Amounts various Virginia utilities are owed by customers as of June 30, four months after the State Corporation Commission prohibited utility disconnections. Source: SCC

By Steve Haner

During the first four months of the COVID-19 pandemic, Virginians piled up $184 million or more in unpaid bills with several Virginia utilities, and that was before the worst of the heat arrived in July.

The figure comes from a short letter from the State Corporation Commission to General Assembly leaders dated today, listing the totals in arrears as of June 30.  The SCC issued an order in March, renewed in June, which prohibited the disconnection of regulated utility customers for unpaid bills during the recession. The order was extended after legislators claimed they would be addressing the problem at the August special session.

The SCC’s order suspending disconnections expires on August 31. That legislative session is now just four days away and no suggestions for a solution have surfaced publicly. No bill on the topic is filed. This issue is not mentioned in a story in today’s Richmond Times-Dispatch listing some of the budget actions Governor Ralph Northam will propose next week.  Continue reading

How Discount Power For Poor Will Raise Your Bill

By Steve Haner

Virginia’s two major electric utilities estimate that as many as 150,000 of their poorest residential customers will see their monthly bills reduced next year using money extracted from all their other customers on their own power bills.

Appalachian Power Company projects about 30,000 of its low income customers will receive subsidies of $500-$600 per year. Dominion Energy Virginia projects bill subsidies to about 120,000 households of about $750 per year.

Both companies told the State Corporation Commission recently that to pay for this, about $1.12 will be added to the cost of every 1,000 kWh of electricity used by homes, businesses, and industries in Virginia. The cost per kWh is the same for all customer classes, and thus represents a larger percentage price increase for the commercial and industrial users.  Continue reading

What Needs To Be Done After the ACP

By Peter Galuszka

For six long years, Dominion Energy and its partners in the $8 billion Atlantic Coast Pipeline have waged war against Virginians as they have pushed their way forward with the 600-mile-long natural gas project.

Their strong-armed methods have created untold misery and expense  for land-owners, members of lower income minority communities, nature lovers, bird watchers, fishermen, and many others.

When some declined to let the ACP to trespass on their property for survey work, they ended up in lengthy and expensive lawsuits. Others spent hundreds of hours on their own time and dime fighting Virginia regulatory agencies who all but seemed to be in the pocket of the ACP.

And so it goes. For what? So Dominion and its partners could make billions of dollars, some of it paid for by electricity ratepayers, for a project whose public need was always in doubt. On July 5, the ACP threw in the towel.

I put together this commentary in The Washington Post suggesting what might be done to prevent this from happening again: Continue reading

Virginia Supremes Uphold SCC, Rule Against Wal-Mart

by L. Steve Emmert

Yesterday the Supreme Court of Virginia issued a ruling in Wal-Mart Stores East, LP v. SCC. The question here is whether Wal-Mart can shed the shackles of buying electricity from the dominant utility, a regulated monopoly that you know as VEPCO or APCO, depending on where in Virginia you are.

Some time ago, the 140 Troublemakers created a framework for some semblance of competition in electric utilities. Nonresidential customers whose demand exceeds five megawatts have the right to buy electricity from a competitor to VEPCO and APCO. Any customer, including a plain-old homeowner, has the same right if they want 100% renewable energy and their “host” utility doesn’t offer a choice.

There’s a third category for nonresidential customers. If separately they demand less than five MW but can aggregate different locations to exceed that threshold, they may ask the State Corporation Commission to permit them to bolt and get their electricity elsewhere. The commission has the discretion to approve the request if there are no adverse effects to other customers and the request is consistent with the public interest.

Wal-Mart, as you know well, operates a lot of stores in Virginia. The individual locations don’t use five MW, but when you add up all of them, they greatly exceed that figure. Wal-Mart accordingly filed an application seeking to enter the wholesale energy market, to save a few dollars. Continue reading

What Cost to Make a 100% Carbon-Free Grid Resilient?

Source: “Cost Projections for Utility-Scale Battery Storage,” National Renewable Energy Laboratory

by James A. Bacon

The Northam administration has set the goal of achieving a zero-carbon energy grid by 2045, that is, an energy grid that uses zero fossil fuels. Natural gas and coal would be replaced in the Clean Energy Virginia plan Governor Ralph Northam announced yesterday, with “new investments in solar, onshore wind, offshore wind, energy efficiency, and battery storage.”

The key to making a 100% renewable electric grid work is battery storage. Solar and wind power are inherently intermittent, dependent upon weather conditions that cannot be controlled. Renewables advocates say the way to even out the fluctuations in power output is to store excess power in batteries when the sun is shining and the wind blowing, and to release the power when conditions are cloudy and calm. While the cost of battery storage is extremely high now — batteries are used at present mainly to regulate minute fluctuations in voltage and frequency — costs per kilowatt hour (kWh) are expected to decline dramatically, as seen in the chart above.

The questions then become, how much battery storage capacity will we need? How will reliance upon batteries change the need for redundant renewable power facilities? And how much will the package cost? Continue reading

Brace Yourself for a Zero-Carbon Electric Grid

Mike Tidwell

The defeat of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline is just one battle in the ongoing war against fossil fuels in Virginia. Consider these statements in a column published by Mike Tidwell, executive director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, in the Virginia Mercury:

It’s no longer enough to say you support wind and solar power. You must be AGAINST fossil fuels. By supporting fracked gas, Democrats have been enablers to Republicans and companies like Dominion Energy who have allowed the destructive fossil fuel era to last much longer than it should have — here and worldwide. …

The mantra for the Democratic Party – and for Republicans when they one day wake up – should be this: No new fossil fuel projects of any kind, anywhere. Period. Stop all the proposed pipelines everywhere. Keep dirty energy in the ground. And rapidly tear down the existing monuments to that bygone era – the drilling towers, the power plants, the compressor stations.

In the historic aftermath of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline cancellation, Virginia should adopt a statutory moratorium on all new fossil fuel infrastructure. This is the next step for a state now moving — albeit belatedly — in the right direction.

Tidwell is not an outlier. He reflects the thinking of the environmentalist mainstream in Virginia. The goal is to achieve a 100% zero-carbon energy grid in Virginia by 2050.  Continue reading

What a Long, Strange Trip It’s Been

By Peter Galuszka

Back in the winter of 2015, Craig Vanderhoef, a former Navy captain, got a disturbing surprise in his mailbox at his retirement home near Afton in Nelson County. A letter from Dominion Resources noted that it wanted to survey his land for a new 600-mile-long natural gas pipeline.

On two occasions, he wrote the utility telling them no. Then he got another surprise. A sheriff’s deputy knocked on his door to serve him with papers notifying him that Dominion was suing him to get access to his property.

In short order, about 240 Virginia landowners were on notice that they too might be sued for Dominion’s proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline. The county sheriff was notified that he, too, was being sued, although it was an error.

Thus, the stage was set for one of the nastiest environmental and property rights battles in Old Dominion history.

It centered around the Atlantic Coast Pipeline that would run from Harrison County, W.Va. across the rugged Appalachians, down through some of the most peacefully bucolic land in the Virginia., to Union Hill, a mostly African-American community in Buckingham county and on into North Carolina, running through the Tar Heel state’s mostly African-American concentration along its northeastern border with Virginia. Continue reading

Virginia’s Latest Folly – Offshore Wind Power

Crews install turbine foundations for the Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind pilot project. Image source: Energy News Network

by David Wojick

Dominion Energy is planning to begin construction on 2,600 MW of offshore wind generating capacity within the next few years. The wind farm planned off the cost of Virginia Beach would be the largest offshore project in the United States. We are talking about something like 220 giant windmills, embedded in the ocean floor and sticking hundreds of feet into the air above the water. They will be on the order of one and a half times taller than the Washington Monument, which is really tall.

Two features make this offshore wind plan a folly — too little wind and too much wind. Let’s look at too little wind first.

The proposed site is around 30 miles offshore of the giant Norfolk naval complex. Sites are usually much closer in than this, but maybe the Navy told them to keep their distance. Or perhaps they are out beyond the very busy shipping lanes. Every ship from Central and South America, or the southeast U.S., headed for ports from Baltimore north to Canada, passes through this area. This in itself is a concern but not one we are looking at now.

The problem is that this area frequently gets periods of a week or more when the wind is too low to generate any power. These are winds of 10 mph or less. Normal wind turbines require sustained wind of 33 mph or more to generate full power. Some new models with giant blades can do full power at just 23 mph. But neither generates much of anything at 10 mph. It is not a matter of no wind; low wind is enough. Continue reading

Dominion Scraps the Atlantic Coast Pipeline

Breaking news: Dominion Energy and Duke Energy have announced the cancellation of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, citing ongoing delays and increasing cost uncertainty. The cost of the project had escalated from $5 billion to $8 billion, and, despite winning a victory in the United States Supreme Court, the power companies still have no certainty of gaining all the needed regulatory approvals.

Said Dominion CEO Thomas F. Farrell, II, and Duke CEO Lynn J. Good in a joint statement:

We regret that we will be unable to complete the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. For almost six years we have worked diligently and invested billions of dollars to complete the project and deliver the much-needed infrastructure to our customers and communities. Throughout we have engaged extensively with and incorporated feedback from local communities, labor and industrial leaders, government and permitting agencies, environmental interests and social justice organizations. … This announcement reflects the increasing legal uncertainty that overhangs large-scale energy and industrial infrastructure development in the United States. Until these issues are resolved, the ability to satisfy the country’s energy needs will be significantly challenged.

Continue reading

Virginia Joins the Wind Power Club

Photo credit: Associated Press

Well, well, Virginia finally has an offshore wind turbine industry. The last 253-foot blade was attached Friday to a turbine and pylon off Virginia Beach. At a cost of $300 million, the two turbines owned by Dominion Energy will provide some of the world’s most expensive electricity, but they  do pave the way for a $8 billion, 180-turbine wind farm that Dominion plans to build next. The wind farm, endorsed by Virginia’s major environmental groups, will be free of CO2 emissions. It will also generate the highest-cost electricity in Dominion’s energy portfolio. Governor Ralph Northam hopes the wind farm will stimulate development of a cluster of major wind-power fabricators and service companies in Hampton Roads. We’ll see how that works out. Early indicators could be better: The two towers were assembled in Nova Scotia and transported to Virginia on a special ship.

— JAB

Who Pays The Unpaid Bills? Watch Out.

By Steve Haner

This was published this morning in The Roanoke Times and then distributed by the Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy.

There may be a second wave of COVID-19 disease coming, but the secondary effects of various pandemic economic decisions may hit us sooner. Rent and utility bills customers can delay paying because of the crisis will eventually come due.But for whom?

The Legal Aid Justice Center looked at U.S. Census survey data that indicated many Virginians have fallen behind on their rent and did not expect to pay their next bill. It predicted an “eviction catastrophe” as eviction and foreclosure bans end, and lenders and landlords rush into newly reopened courts for judgments.

“The Governor should use emergency powers to immediately enact a moratorium on evictions or should allow localities to enact their own until the General Assembly can address tenants’ mounting debt. The General Assembly should create relief for tenants who are significantly behind in rent payments through a waiver or rent cancellation plan,” the advocacy group asserted.

Governor Ralph Northam took up the call, and the Virginia Supreme Court has agreed to hold off eviction proceedings a few more weeks, until June 28.   Continue reading