The well-shaded weeds and untilled earth under a Dominion solar facility. Dominion photo.
by Steve Haner
Perhaps issuing its ruling on the Ides of March by design, Virginia’s State Corporation Commission last week approved another major wave of requests from Dominion Energy Virginia for solar plants it will own, solar plants it will contract with, and a smattering of battery storage facilities added to provide some public relations cover.
In reviewing the massive case file that built up between July and February, without even diving into the long December hearing transcript, some key takeaways appear quickly.
- The utility proposal received strong pushback from the SCC staff in its analysis, from the Office of the Attorney General on questions of cost, accounting and necessity, and even from the environmental advocates who helped write the controlling Virginia Clean Economy Act. Each might rate an individual report.
- All the legal brilliance and accounting work were largely in vain, as the Commission has been reduced by law to merely checking boxes on the VCEA approval criteria list Dominion wrote for itself.
- Secrecy continues to rule, especially on the key issue of the levelized cost of energy (LCOE) used to compare and choose generation sources and related storage. The Cone of Silence was not broken in this case and the utility will fight like a banshee to keep it in place in the pending debate over its offshore wind proposal.
- While the overall LCOE numbers are secret, the utility is putting two huge thumbs on the scale by including 1) a high social cost of carbon as a financial benefit to offset the consumer cost of the projects and 2) a claimed “avoided cost” because it is meeting its clean energy goals and thus avoiding a VCEA financial penalty for failure. Dominion invents the fine, $45 per megawatt, then counts it as a boon to consumers that it doesn’t have to pay.
- The opponents did extract a possibly useful stipulation from the utility for future cases, and a careful read opens up the possibility that the VCEA’s rigid dictates may bend after all. I was not imagining things months ago when I sensed pending flexibility, just looking in the wrong place.
Cover page blocking public access to the engineering and cost details for Dominion’s proposed $10 billion plus Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind project.
By David Wojick
A previous article published by Bacon’s Rebellion and the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow challenged the notion that Dominion Energy Virginia can build a huge amount of wind and solar generating capacity and retire all of its fossil-fueled generators with almost none of the enormous storage capacity that is required to make the renewables viable.
This proposed long-term plan does not work and Dominion knows that, but in the short run it can make billions in profit by building the unreliable wind and solar. The disastrous unreliability shows up only in the long run. Continue reading
by Steve Haner
Virtue signaling can be fun. It can also be profitable if you can shift the overall cost onto somebody else. That is what is going on in the battle over a proposed “minimum bill” for Dominion Energy Virginia customers who seek to partially escape the utility by signing on with a separate shared solar provider.
Everybody who signs up for the outside service will still expect full power on cloudy days, or anytime some other circumstance reduces the flow from the solar panels owned by the third party. They just don’t want to pay the full freight for that back-up service, and would rather pass the bill on to you. Continue reading
by James A. Bacon
Governor Glenn Youngkin has proposed using $437 million in unanticipated transportation revenues, much of it generated by the wholesale tax on gasoline, to give Virginians a three-month break on the 26-cent retail gasoline tax.
During his campaign, Youngkin ran on a platform of addressing Virginia’s high cost of living and reversing the erosion of middle-class living standards. A vacation on the gasoline tax is certainly consistent with that theme. And with inflation running at nearly 8% over the past 12 months, Virginians need help wherever they can find it. They will find no succor from Democrats, whose list of unmet societal “needs” is endless. They are delighted to spend every dime in tax revenue on one of their favored causes — which, alas, rarely includes helping financially strapped middle-class taxpayers.
While Youngkin has identified a winning issue, he needs to think bigger and more systematically. It’s fine to dial back the gasoline tax for a time, remove the sales tax on groceries, and try to repeal the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) carbon tax, but there is so much more that he can do.
Forty-one percent of the cost of living, as calculated by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, is housing, 17% transportation, 7% medical care, and almost 7% education. Each of these categories is, to some degree, influenced by state-level budgetary and regulatory policy. Continue reading
Artist rendering of now-terminated Chickahominy Power. Click for larger view.
By Steve Haner
First published this morning by the Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy.
A long-embattled plan to build a natural gas-fueled generating plant not owned by Dominion Energy has become the latest victim of Virginia’s patent hostility toward fossil fuels. Environmental opponents and the incumbent utility will probably join in popping the corks.
Chickahominy Power in Charles City County has posted a notice on its website that the project, once scheduled to start construction in 2019 and begin operation in 2022, is terminated. Investors are seeking a location in Ohio or West Virginia, and the scope of the project has grown.
Irfan Ali of Herndon, who uses the title managing member and who is the principal investor, now plans to develop data centers to use power from the plant, which is also designed to use hydrogen for fuel if that becomes available and economical. He also plans to couple it with a carbon capture and storage system.
“And I would have done that in Virginia, so Virginia is losing out in a big way,” Ali said. Continue reading
by James A. Bacon
Virginia Democrats are calling upon Governor Glenn Youngkin to combat rising gasoline prices by declaring a state of emergency and activating the anti-price-gouging law.
“Governor Youngkin has the power to act and help protect Virginians at the pump, but so far, has failed to do so. Instead, he continues to point fingers and waste precious time,” Eileen Filler-Corn, the House of Delegates minority leader said earlier today. “Virginians do not need talking points and failed campaign promises — we need leadership and action.”
This idea is wrong on so many levels. While I disagree with Democratic lawmakers on most issues, I count on them to maintain at least a tenuous connection with economic reality. I can draw only one of two conclusions. Either Democratic leadership is woefully illiterate about economics or it assumes that the American people are illiterate — and they can get away with peddling snake oil. Either way, it’s bad news.
Republicans have not impressed me with the power of their analysis either — they, too, have over-simplified the causes of rising oil prices in order to score partisan shots — but they haven’t been as abjectly wrong. Or hypocritical.
Let’s walk through the economics of gasoline prices. Continue reading
by Steve Haner
The elections of a Republican Virginia governor and a new Republican majority in the House of Delegates have not changed Virginia’s status as one of the greenest of Green New Deal states in the country. Every effort to reverse the course set during the previous period of Democratic hegemony has failed at the 2022 General Assembly.
The massive construction plans for ratepayer-funded solar, wind and battery facilities dictated by the 2020 Virginia Clean Economy Act remain on track. A bill to repeal VCEA failed in the majority-Democratic Virginia Senate. So did a simpler bill that merely restored the ability of the State Corporation Commission to review those construction plans for prudence, reasonableness and cost.
If California moves to ban the sales of new internal combustion engine cars and other vehicles starting with the 2035 model year, as expected, Virginia is still positioned to automatically follow suit. Until then, a growing percentage of all new car sales must be electric starting in 2025. A bill to revisit that 2021 legislation, and do a proper regulatory adoption process, also died in the Senate.
Legislative efforts to remove Virginia from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative regional compact all failed. A regulatory reversal may still be possible without legislation, but in the meantime the carbon tax remains on every Dominion Energy Virginia bill and works its way into everything touched by electricity costs. Continue reading
by James A. Bacon
Virginia environmentalists are coming to grips with the fact that while solar farms may help fight global warming, they’re not always good for the local environment. In the wealthy northern Piedmont, known for its wineries, horse farms and scenic vistas, some residents have complained about the clear-cutting of forest to make way to acres upon acres of solar panels.
“The number-one thing I hear from communities in which we serve is concern about the loss of farms and forests with regard to these projects,” said Dan Holmes, director of state policy for the Piedmont Environmental Council, tells the Virginia Mercury.
A recent Virginia Commonwealth University study found that roughly 8,000 of the 14,000 acres disturbed in Virginia for solar installations were previously forested. The loss of wooded land and the compaction of cropland contribute to run-off and erosion that sets back the effort to improve water quality in the Chesapeake Bay.
Legislation hammered out in the General Assembly this year, reports the Mercury, attempts to achieve a balance between protecting the local environment while allowing development of utility-scale solar farms to proceed. Projects affecting more than 50 acres of forested land or 10 acres of prime farmland will have to provide mitigation for those impacts, with the criteria to be worked out in a convening of stakeholders by the Department of Environmental Quality.
Chip Dicks, a lobbyist representing solar developers and renewable energy buyers, worries that the mitigation could be defined so narrowly as to preclude development on prime agricultural and forested lands entirely. That “would basically stop in its tracks most major solar projects in Virginia,” he has said. Continue reading
by Kerry Dougherty
Don’t you just love it when the sneering class responds to a serious problem with a glib solution?
When I wrote earlier this week about soaring gas prices one reader pointed out that her husband bought an electric bike and rides that everywhere. The fact that I prefer to commute to work — on the interstate — in an automobile is somehow proof that I want to “kill kids.”
Does she believe milk and bread can be delivered to the grocery store by electric bike? Does she think farmers can plow their fields with electric bikes? Does she believe rescue squads can get heart attack patients to the hospital by electric bikes? What utter nonsense.
One thing is clear. America is in need of an economics lesson.
For those who think the problem with astronomical gas prices is that spoiled suburbanites have to pay more to get their nails done WHILE UKRAINIANS ARE BEING BOMBED, please stop embarrassing yourselves. Continue reading
by James C. Sherlock
This is the fourth in a series of columns recommending bringing West Virginia natural gas to Virginia and from there to our allies.
The only way to do get that done with any assurance and speed under the energy emergency in which we find ourselves and the world is for a federal law to be passed that:
- strips jurisdiction from federal courts over this specific pipeline because of national security requirements;
- includes and similarly protects from lawsuits a new LNG terminal on either federal land or in the Port of Virginia or, helpfully, one or more floating LNG (FLNG) facilities offshore;
- directs federal regulatory agencies to work in partnership with developers to ensure the work meets environmental standards; and
- authorizes the costs as an expenditure for the Department of Energy.
I have made that recommendation to Sen. Manchin’s Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Read Chairman Manchin’s opening remarks yesterday to his committee yesterday. You will consider Sen. Manchin to be a potential yes on the proposal.
Committee attorneys can figure out the jurisdiction stripping language. They can also determine whether a federal law that strips jurisdiction from federal courts will also protect the project from state courts under the Supremacy Clause or additional language is needed. Continue reading
by Bill O’Keefe
In 2020, as we all know, the Democrat-controlled General Assembly passed the Virginia Clean Economy Act (VCEA) to eliminate fossil energy for electric power generation while simultaneously restricting the regulatory oversight of the State Corporation Commission (SCC). The effect of the legislation was, in effect, a license to pick the pockets of Dominion ratepayers.
Dominion likes to portray itself as a standup corporate citizen that provides low-cost energy to its customers while also excelling at environmental stewardship. If that were true, Dominion and its lobbyists would not have worked so hard to restrict the State Corporation Commission or defeat a proposed amendment to VCEA by Delegate Lee Ware, R-Powhatan, to remove the restrictions on the SCC and allow it to exercise due diligence over Dominion’s almost $10 billion offshore wind farm.
Dominion will use its PR machine to demonstrate that it is honorable and had no hand in defeating Delegate Ware’s amendment. That might be potentially believable were it not for Dominion’s lobbying history and its scandalous political contributions to a PAC — Accountability Virginia — to suppress Republican turnout in our recent election. When the donation became public knowledge, Dominion first attempted to defend its action and then apologize claiming that the contribution was an innocent mistake. While it was demanding a return of its $200,000, Dominion’s CEO and other top executives were making personal contributions to the vote suppressing PAC. Continue reading
Green Party leader and German Economy and Climate Minister and Vice Chancellor Robert Habeck
by James C. Sherlock
Headlines from the war in Ukraine have raised exponentially the interest in natural gas and the extreme price volatility caused by supply constraints.
It is perhaps useful to understand the uses of natural gas, the prices Virginians pay relative to West Virginians, the decline of production in Virginia, and the costs and risks of supply constraints by the actions of green energy absolutists.
Not the enthusiasts, but the come-hell-or-high-water absolutists, who get way out in front of the thoughtful left. In Europe, greens let slip the dogs of war.
Putin thought Europe, with its far too early and thoughtless response to green pressure, too dependent upon Russian energy to oppose him. He proved wrong, but now both free Europeans and Russians will suffer. Ukrainians and Russians are dying for that miscalculation.
Virginia greens need to reconsider the value of natural gas and the risks of insufficient supply. And, like the German Green Party this week, get over their opposition to gas until real renewable alternatives at the scale of the economy are, well, real.
Find the full report here.
by Steve Haner
It was a Richmond City Council resolution back in the fall, expressing a desire to shut down its municipal natural gas utility, that triggered pending (and now struggling) Virginia legislation to prevent localities from prohibiting natural gas. Less attention has been given to the “climate action” plan by Virginia’s largest local government to discourage that energy source.
It is easy to dismiss Richmond’s action, which was vaguely-worded resolution with no timeline. Fairfax County’s 214-page climate action plan grew out of a serious stakeholder group, is relatively detailed, and on various elements the timeline says, “immediate.”
Action 2A: Electrify Existing Residential Buildings. Timeline: Immediate. Action 2B: Electrify Existing Commercial Buildings. Timeline: Immediate. Action 3B: Support All-Electric Residential and Commercial Building Construction. Timeline: Immediate. All three are efforts to eliminate use of natural gas the proposed legislation could prevent.
There are signs of realism in the document. The high cost of some ideas is acknowledged, and it falls short of calling for a ban on new natural gas connections, but the foundation is placed: Continue reading
by Steve Haner
Divide and conquer is an ancient tactic. Virginia’s residential natural gas customers were just divided from industrial and commercial users, and those big users then threw homeowners under the bus. Without blinking an eye.
House Bill 1257 had passed the House of Delegates on an almost party line vote, with two Democrats joining the 52 Republicans in support. As it passed it applied to all users of natural gas, whether supplied by municipal utilities or public service corporations, and also extended to certain propane customers.
It created a right to use gas, restricted local government authority to prevent it, and spelled out the steps any local government that owned a gas utility would have to take to get out of the business. But almost all of that disappeared in a puff of methane as a substitute to the bill appeared Tuesday afternoon in the Senate Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources Committee.
All the provisions dealing with the rights to use gas were stripped out. References to propane were stripped out. All that remained were the provisions protecting customers of a municipal provider, and those protections only apply to industrial or commercial users. A reference to “any class of customers” was stripped out. Continue reading
Mountain Valley Pipeline. Image source: The Virginia Mercury.
by James C. Sherlock
The green wall preventing businesses from operating at some level of certainty when and if their development proposals will be approved is missing a brick today.
The days of a Virginia State Air Pollution Control Board and State Water Control Board overruling the findings of the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality in permitting matters are over.
SB 657 passed the House and is on its way to the Governor. Continue reading