Category Archives: Environment

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

A Reasonable Approach to Sea-Level Rise

by James A. Bacon

Virginia’s environmentalists are smarter and more forward-thinking than California’s environmentalists. That’s a low bar, admittedly, but it’s a not-inconsiderable consolation now that environmental lobbyists and their friends in the Democratic Party run the commonwealth.

In California, leaders of the environmental/political establishment fervently believe that human-caused climate change is increasing the incidence and severity of heat waves and droughts. But rather than follow through on the logical implications of such convictions, California persisted with forest-management practices and growth-management strategies that turned arid forests into tinderboxes while steering housing development into vulnerable areas. The result has been a series of massively destructive forest conflagrations. Bottom line: California’s environmental and political leaders are idiots.

Here in Virginia, leaders of the environmental/political establishment fervently believe that human-caused climate change is accelerating the rate of sea-level rise and flooding along Virginia’s coast. The difference is that they are following through the logical implications of this belief and giving serious thought to how to make coastal areas more resilient. Thus, while I could nitpick with the breathless conviction that the science is settled, I find the newly issued “Virginia Coastal Resilience Master Planning Framework” issued by the Northam administration to be a reasonable and useful document. Continue reading

Transportation Carbon Tax Debate Starts Again

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

By Steve Haner

Having imposed a carbon tax on Virginia electricity generation in 2020, the General Assembly starting in January 2021 will consider adding a similar tax on every gallon of gasoline and diesel sold for vehicle use. The Transportation and Climate Initiative, an environmentalist dream for a decade, is finally ready for its close up.

Advocates in the 12-state region that would make up the proposed interstate compact held two webinars in September, one focused on additional modeling on the project and the other discussing all the racially and environmentally just ways they believe states can spend the billions in new taxes.

The new modeling results did not change the basics of the program. TCI is a cap, tax and trade system that imposes a dollars-per-ton cost on the carbon dioxide emissions released by burning the fuels. The tax rate is set by an interstate auction, and the tax itself is imposed on the fuel wholesalers. The amount of fossil fuel emission credits that wholesalers may bid for will be capped and then will shrink a certain percentage every year.  Continue reading

Dominion Green Energy Costs Continue to Grow

Dominion Energy Virginia’s major capital projects, listed in its pending integrated resource plan. The SCC staff added the lifetime revenue requirement, the total dollars extracted from ratepayers over time which includes financing costs and the company’s current profit margin. Source: SCC

by Steve Haner

As sobering as they were, the initial estimates of how a green energy conversion will explode Dominion Energy Virginia rates have now been revised up. The State Corporation Commission staff now sees it costing an additional $800 per year for a residential customer to purchase 1,000 kWh per month by 2030, an increase of just under 60%.

The main drivers of the higher costs will be all the offshore wind and solar generation Dominion proposes to build, as outlined in its most recent integrated resource plan. That plan is now being reviewed by the SCC, and the staff filed its analysis late last week, summarized here on pages 4-5.

The separate cost analysis by Carol Myers of the SCC’s Division of Utility Accounting pushed up the utility-issued estimate by disputing assumptions the utility made. Staff disagrees with the utility projection that by 2030 less than half of its electricity will be used by residential customers. It is now about 55%. Should the portion shrink as Dominion projects, more of the project costs would be imposed on commercial users.

Myers reported it is also unrealistic to assume most residential households use 1,000 kWh per month, when the history show usage at or above 1,100 kWh.  Plugging that into the data would increase the projected cost to families even beyond $800. Myers’ testimony also shows huge increase in commercial (60%) and industrial (65%) power costs by 2030, even larger on a percentage basis than residential. For the state’s economy, they also matter. Continue reading

The Long and Winding Road to Net Zero

by Bill O’Keefe

State law, embodied in SB 851, requires Dominion Energy to supply 30% percent of its power from renewable energy sources by 2030 and to close all carbon-emitting power plants by 2045. In other words, Dominion must develop a plan to be emission free by 2045, less than 25 years from now.

The preeminent energy historian and author, Daniel Yergin, has just published The New Map: Energy, Climate, and the Clash of Nations. Not only does he address the geopolitics of energy but he addresses the challenges of transitioning from an energy budget that is 80% oil, gas, and coal to one that has net zero emissions.

The history of energy transitions shows that they do not happen quickly,  according to Yergin. The movement from wood to the dominance of coal took 200 years and it took another 100 years for oil to replace coal as our dominant energy source. Of course, those transitions did not involve the incentives created by government policies and funding, political activism, and the push for new energy technologies. The use of industrial policy to bring about this transition sooner may succeed but right now it is a triumph of hope over experience. During the time when the first oil embargo created economic havoc, the administrations of Richard Nixon and Jimmy Carter invested heavily to bring about alternatives to oil. All they achieved was a waste of billions of dollars. Continue reading

Keep California on the West Coast

Rolling blackout in Pasadena, CA.

by Bill O’Keefe

Virginia has passed a law — SB 851 — requiring Dominion Energy to supply 30% percent of its power from renewable energy sources by 2030 and to close all carbon-emitting power plants by 2045. According to the Energy Information Administration, natural gas fueled 53% of Virginia’s electricity net generation in 2018, nuclear power provided almost 31%, coal fueled about 10% and renewable resources, primarily biomass, supplied nearly 7%. Over the next decade, Virginia must replace its coal fired power and reduce its gas-generated electricity by over 40%. From its public statements, Dominion plans to go all out in wind and solar, emulating California.

California’s electricity rates are 61% higher than Virginia’s — 19.79 cents per Kwh versus 12.28 cents. Over the past month, there have been numerous news stories about rolling blackouts in California caused by renewable energy mandates and inability to substitute enough from other sources when solar and wind aren’t able to meet demand. Continue reading

Is Green Hydrogen the Answer?

By Peter Galuszka

Utilities, including Dominion Energy, are increasingly exploring the use of now-costly hydrogen technology to produce electricity with little or no carbon.

One of the most promising uses involves using excess renewable electricity from solar farms or wind turbines to power electrolyzer devices that strip hydrogen away from oxygen in water. The hydrogen is then used to power special batteries.

The result? Carbon free power that is available at just about any time when winds are blowing or the sun isn’t shining.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Dominion plans on experimenting with hydrogen for another use. It will try to blend hydrogen into its natural gas distribution system to reduce carbon and methane emissions. It will be testing a 5% hydrogen blend in some natural gas shipments next year, the Journal reports.

Eventually, it may go the route of electrolyzers and use solar and wind power to produce hydrogen. It appears that Dominion’s experiments may take place in the Far West where it owns power generation and distribution systems in Utah.

Another firm that has plans for hydrogen is NextEra Energy Inc., based in Florida. It plans on using hydrogen and natural gas to run a power plant in California. “What makes us really excited about hydrogen is that it has the potential to supplement significant deployment of renewables,” the Journal quotes NextEra CFO Rebecca Kujawa as saying. Continue reading

If You Pay Full Price for Flood Insurance, Ask our City/County Manager Why

Roanoke flooding in 1985

by James C. Sherlock

There were lots of comments in my last post about government programs to mitigate flooding damage in flood plains, specifically about buying and tearing down houses that repeatedly flood.

One of the carrots to do so is Community Rating System (CRS) discounts to flood insurance in communities that take an active role in flood plain risk mitigation.

CRS is a part of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP).  It is an incentive program that recognizes and encourages community floodplain management activities that exceed the minimum program requirements.

When that happens, not only is the risk of flooding diminished, but flood insurance premium rates for all citizens of a community that accomplishes the goals are appropriately discounted to reflect the reduced flood risk.

To quote the program web page,

“For National Flood Insurance Program Community Rating System participating communities, flood insurance premium rates are discounted in increments of 5 percent.

Continue reading

Virginia’s Return on Investment in Corps of Engineers Civil Works Projects

by James C. Sherlock

In response to my suggestion to use the Corps of Engineers to assess Virginia’s needs for hurricane and flood control, libertarian commenters on this blog used the argument that only oceanfront landowners will benefit.

That shows a fundamental misunderstanding of how the process works.  I ran into that same level of ignorance in the General Assembly.

No plan can defend everything everywhere, but a proper plan will do a cost-benefit analysis, and the USACE by law does that in every plan. Corps plans will protect what that its cost-benefit analysis indicates can be protected with a significant return on investment.   The value of people, disadvantaged communities, historically minority communities and areas of historical and ecological significance are counted in that assessment, not just property.

The Corps is a designated federal enforcer of environmental laws with regards to water and water related projects. They first will do everything they can with natural solutions before shifting to such construction projects as levies, pumps, seawalls, flood gates and berms.

The Corps uses a Regional Economic System (RECONS) model, which is a program used to assess the regional, state, and national impacts of projects. It is constantly assessed and updated. Continue reading

Trees, Temperatures and Racism


by James A. Bacon

The New York Times has drawn a straight-line linkage between the redlining of neighborhoods in Richmond nearly a hundred years ago and the fact that African-American neighborhoods have higher average temperatures than mostly white neighborhoods. Black neighborhoods, often comprised of public housing, have fewer trees “to shield people from the sun’s relentless glare.” Writes the NYT of Richmond’s Gilpin Court housing project:

More than 2,000 residents, mostly Black, live in low-income public housing that lacks central air conditioning. Many front yards are paved with concrete, which absorbs and traps heat. The ZIP code has among the highest rates of hear-related ambulance calls in the country.

There are places like Gilpin Court all over the United States where neighborhoods can be 5 to 20 degrees Fahrenheit hotter in summer than wealthier, white parts of the city, the Times says.

And there’s growing evidence that this is no coincidence. In the 20th century, local and federal officials, usually white, enacted policies that reinforced racial segregation in cities and diverted investment away from minority neighborhoods in ways that created large disparities in the urban heat environment.

It’s certainly true that there was redlining in the 1930s, and the NYTimes makes a good case that many of the redlined neighborhoods remain predominantly African-American today. Trouble is, when you interpret everything through the lens of race, every disparity looks like a racial inequity. Continue reading

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

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

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

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