Category Archives: Environment

What the Wind Project Costs You and Who Pays

The annual revenue required from Virginia customers to finance Dominion Energy Virginia’s offshore wind installation. It peaks at about $800 million in 2027, driving the amount to be collected on monthly bills. Source: SCC Testimony. Click for larger view.

by Steve Haner

If the project goes as planned, the consumer cost for Dominion Energy Virginia’s offshore wind installation will rapidly rise to a peak in 2027 and then descend annually over the following 20 years. If it produces power for 30 years, in the final phase the revenue related to the project will exceed the remaining capital costs.

What is this going to cost Dominion’s captive ratepayers?  There is also a related but often ignored question: which of those customers did the Virginia General Assembly exempt from those costs, effectively bumping up the price to those not exempt?

In its promotional materials, Dominion often mentions a figure of under $5 per month as the average cost over the years for that mythical residential customer using exactly 1,000 kilowatt hours per month. That smooths out the coming climb and descent shown in the illustration above, and assumes the projections of net positive years come to pass.

For that residential customer, the 2027 peak is estimated at $14.21 a month, or $170 per year, and then it ramps down gradually. It will be over $100 more per year for long stretch, and plenty of customers use well over 1,000 kwh per month. One electric vehicle will drive that up nicely. For commercial and industrial customers it will be equally significant.

It would be less if everybody paid, but everybody will not. Continue reading

Youngkin Endorses Dominion Wind Project

by Steve Haner

Republican Governor Glenn Youngkin’s administration has filed a letter with the State Corporation Commission asking the regulators to approve the Dominion Energy Virginia application to build a 176-turbine Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind (CVOW) project.

The letter was on Department of Energy letterhead and signed by that agency’s director, John Warren, a holdover from the Democratic Ralph Northam administration. Continue reading

Home Again

A double arch seen in Arches National Park.

by James A. Bacon

Ahh. It’s great to be back in Virginia. The wife and I had a fabulous time visiting state and national parks in Utah — a trip I recommend to everyone — but I’m glad to be back home. The Old Dominion may not have arches, hoodoos, mesas or other astonishing geological sights, but we’re not running out of water. We can take long, hot showers without feeling guilty about it.

Before I continue, I want to give a shout-out to Jim Sherlock and Dick Hall-Sizemore for keeping Bacon’s Rebellion lively and informative during my absence. For the first time in, like, forever, I spent a vacation without a laptop. It was refreshing not to be thinking incessantly about politics and policy, but I did check on the blog with my tablet, and I do confess that it was frustrating at times being unable to participate in the back-and-forth. Great job, guys! 

There’s nothing like a visit to the desert to appreciate something we East Coasters take totally for granted — an abundance of water. Annual rainfall in Virginia averages 40 to 50 inches per year. That’s two to three times the moistest locations in Utah, and four to six times that of Utah’s southern deserts. Despite our meteorological blessings, some parts of the state still find their water resources to be limited. Imagine supporting Virginia’s population on nine inches a year (the precipitation at Moab, population 5,000+, where we spent three nights). Continue reading

De Facto Secretary?

Andrew Wheeler, Senior Advisor to the Governor

On April 15, Governor Youngkin issued a press release announcing “additional key administration appointments”.  Several of those appointments were duly noted by various newspapers and other media outlets. Others were not, although they are interesting in their own right, raising some issues and shedding light on the administration.  Because different issues are raised with different appointments, I will discuss them in separate articles.

One of the most controversial early actions of Youngkin was the appointment of Andrew Wheeler as Secretary of Natural and Historic Resources.  Wheeler had been the director of the Environmental Protection Agency during the Trump administration.  Democrats in the General Assembly were incensed, and the Senate refused to confirm Wheeler’s appointment.  Wheeler stayed on as Acting Secretary until the legislative session ended, when state law prohibited his continuing in that position.  Youngkin then announced that Wheeler would remain in the administration as a senior advisor to the governor.  Travis Voyles, who had  earlier been appointed Deputy Secretary, was designated as Acting secretary. Continue reading

“Let the Sunshine In”

Dominion solar energy farm in Powhatan County.  Photo credit: Dominion Energy and Cardinal News

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

Dwight Yancey, editor of Cardinal News, has a fascinating piece today dealing with solar energy in Southwest Virginia and Southside Virginia.  In a piece replete with information and rumination, he sets out 13 takeaways from the recently-released Virginia Solar Survey “and other solar energy news, as viewed through the lens of the Southwest and Southside parts of the state.”

I am not going to go through all of them here, mainly because I could not do Yancey’s descriptions justice.  In addition to being an advocate for solar, he does acknowledge some of the problems and objections that have been raised. Here are some of the points that stood out to me: Continue reading

Miyares Challenges Secrecy in Dominion Wind Case

The Luxembourg-flagged Vole Au Vent is seen here installing one of Dominion Energy’s two experimental wind turbines 27 miles off the Virginia coast.

by Steve Haner

Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares (R) has moved to open to public inspection much of the secret data and analysis about Dominion Energy Virginia’s proposed Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind project. His petition filed with the State Corporation Commission April 29 comes about two weeks before formal hearings on the application begin in mid-May.

Dominion is seeking SCC approval to build the 176-turbine project off Virginia Beach, and to begin billing customers for it with a new monthly charge. Authorized and all-but-mandated by the Virginia Clean Economy Act of 2020, the current estimated capital cost is $9.8 billion, including the required transmission upgrades but not including financing costs and utility profits.

The liberal use in the initial application of claims that data were confidential or extraordinarily sensitive obscured much of the cost and risk the project imposes on the company’s customers. Once designated as secret, only parties who have signed non-disclosure agreements can see the data or be in the room when the data is discussed in a hearing. Continue reading

Stoney Versus the Environ-istas

Image credit: Virginia Public Media

by James A. Bacon

Environmental activists in the City of Richmond aren’t happy with Mayor Levar Stoney’s proposed budget. The City’s Draft Climate Equity Action Plan sets a goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions 45% by 2030 — and reaching net zero by 2050 — but Stoney’s budget plan doesn’t provide funding for conversion to electric vehicles, increasing the city’s urban forestry staff, or phasing out natural gas, as environmentalists would like.

“If we are truly serious about this master plan that puts environmental justice at the forefront, we need to put our money where our mouth is,” said Elle De La Cancela, an organizer with the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, as reported by Virginia Public Media.

“Our funding is not limitless, and we have many priorities in the city,” retorted Stoney spokesperson Jim Nolan in an email. “We have to provide funding for public education, affordable housing and homelessness, basic city services like sanitation and street cleaning, parks, clean water, all of the above.”

This is one of those rare occasions where I side with Stoney. As mayor, he has to consider the interests of a wide range of constituents — not the least of which include the city’s low-income minorities. Murders are up. Schools are melting down. Surging rents are intensifying the homeless problem. And, oh, by the way, the taxpayers paying for all this would like to maintain a modicum of city services like sanitation, pothole-free streets, litter-free parks and the like. The last thing Stoney wants is to preside over an exodus of middle- and upper-income taxpayers from the city. Continue reading

Coming Soon to a Grocery Store Near You — Climate Change Inflation

California’s Lake Oroville, Central Valley   Photo credit: The Mercury News

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

Some commenters on this blog have downplayed the effects of climate change and even derided early projections of serious consequences. Except for more frequent flooding in parts of Hampton Roads (which is serious for those directly affected), Virginians have not experienced serious consequences of climate change. However, the American West is experiencing serious effects of climate change and the ramifications of those effects will soon be felt by Virginians, if only indirectly.

Climate change is affecting the resource that has been at the heart of politics and development in the American West since Americans began settling there: water.

States in the American Southwest depend on water from the Colorado River to grow their crops and sustain their towns and cities. Rather, they depend on Colorado River water stored in two huge reservoirs, Lake Powell and Lake Mead. Water from those reservoirs is allocated by law and interstate compacts among the states (and Mexico). Even Southern California has a straw in the Colorado River. The federal Bureau of Reclamation is charged with administering all the agreements. Continue reading

The Quest for Ways to Store Energy

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

We have frequently discussed on this blog one of the major shortcomings of solar and wind energy — intermittency and the problem of storing energy. There was a reference in a recent discussion about new technologies and even “outlandish” new technologies.

Along those lines, I just ran across this article in The New Yorker describing some of the research going into developing cheaper and more efficient means to store energy. Some of them are sort of wacky. But, a few things are clear: The problem has been recognized, there is a lot of money being funneled into finding solutions, and there are some really smart people with impressive resumes getting into this area.

The article’s author clearly favors renewable energy, but seems to be clear-eyed about the current lack of storage capacity and the need to account for it, along with the problems associated with expanding our storage capacity. I don’t pretend to understand it all nor am I an advocate of any of the approaches. This is all in the experimental stage and is an example of the entrepreneurial spirit at work.

All in all, the article is pretty fascinating.  It even gives a favorable nod to the pumped storage facility in Virginia’s Bath County. (The New Yorker allows people to access up to six articles a month free.)

Building Systems to Use Methane Not From Wells

Methane escaping from a well being burned off.

by Steve Haner

Methane (CH4) is money. It is also known as natural gas, one of the most efficient fossil fuels we use, and allowing it to leak into the atmosphere when it could be used wastes energy and money.

Methane is also a greenhouse gas (GHG). But the story gets more interesting here, because when CH4 leaks into the atmosphere it mixes with oxygen and begins to break down into carbon dioxide (CO2) and water vapor (H2O), also both greenhouse gases. Burn it in your home furnace and the same byproducts result, carbon dioxide and water (and valuable heat, of course).

Methane is better at absorbing radiation and thus a more potent GHG than CO2, but it also breaks down far faster than the CO2 it eventually becomes. It all becomes CO2, whether captured and burned or released. So it is debatable whether there are huge environmental benefits behind 2022 legislation to encourage Virginia’s gas utilities to capture and sell methane from sources other than traditional gas wells. Continue reading

SCC Asked for Hearing on Secret Renewables Costs

by Steve Haner

Appalachian Power Company has asked the State Corporation Commission to schedule a separate hearing on Attorney General Jason Miyares’ motion to break the seal on exhibits in its application for new renewable energy sources.

Miyares’ April 6 motion was first reported by Bacon’s Rebellion, in a story on Appalachian’s pending application for approval of the projects and of its overall plan for complying with the Virginia Clean Economy Act (VCEA). Appalachian’s response motion was filed April 13, claiming irreparable harm to its stockholders if the actual line-by-line project cost projections were revealed to its customers.

Although some of these discrete items may appear innocuous on their own, collectively they would enable a savvy party to discern the price paid for the facility, which is competitively sensitive.

What do they say in swanky restaurants? If you have to ask the price, you cannot afford it. Revelations could be politically sensitive, as well, given the partisan divide on the VCEA itself. Continue reading

VCEA Could Raise APCo Power Bills by Half

by Steve Haner

Compliance with the 2020 Virginia Clean Economy Act will result in a 49% increase in monthly costs by 2035 for residential customers of the Appalachian Power Company, according to a State Corporation Commission staff analysis. That’s a $57 increase on a typical 2020 residential bill of $117.

Rates on the largest industrial users are likely to climb 76% in the same period.  In later years additional costs adding to bills are probable, as the company works toward its 2050 mandatory goal of carbon-free electricity generation.

Appalachian serves about 500,000 customer accounts in western Virginia, with most of the generation it uses to serve them located outside Virginia. It is not proposing the same level of investment in new renewable generation as the larger Dominion Energy Virginia, which serves the bulk of Virginia, now focused on its $10 billion offshore wind proposal. Yet the long-term rate impact of VCEA for Appalachian customers is still substantial.

The SCC will hold hearings later this month on Appalachian’s proposed VCEA compliance plan, its second such annual review (the docket is here.) Continue reading

SCC Staff: Dominion May Exceed Wind Cost Cap

A schematic from the application for the proposed 14.7 megawatt turbines for the CVOW, with measurements. Click for larger view.

by Steve Haner

A similar article was published this morning by the Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy.

Testimony filed by the State Corporation Commission staff on April 8 opened a slight possibility that the Commission could reject Dominion Energy Virginia’s proposed $10 billion Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind project off Virginia Beach. It all depends on how the SCC decides to calculate the CVOW’s levelized cost of energy (LCOE), the dollar cost of every megawatt hour of electricity it produces plus the transmission costs.

When the 2020 General Assembly adopted the Virginia Clean Economy Act and related legislation, it set a cap on that key LCOE measure, which is used to compare the costs of various methods of making electricity.

If the utility failed to stay under the LCOE cap, the SCC would have the authority to reject the proposal as imprudent and unreasonable. If the project remains below the cap, legislators mandated approval by the SCC, despite any other doubts about its prudence and without considering less expensive alternatives.

The cap set was $125 per megawatt hour, after deducting the value of the very large tax credits granted for wind projects under federal law. In the application it filed late last year to build the facility, Dominion estimated the LCOE (after the tax credits) at about $83 per megawatt hour. But Katya Kuleshova of the SCC’s Division of Public Utility Regulation challenged several of the assumptions in her testimony and noted that if the assumptions prove wrong, that number rises substantially. Continue reading

Updates: Missing Wind, Lazy Assembly, Gas Wars

Germany’s energy generation mix, March 6 to April 6. When the wind and solar lag, the conventional (and related CO2 emissions) spike regularly. Click for larger view.     Source: Agora Energiewende, via Steve Milloy, @JunkScience

by Steve Haner

The German Energy Mix in March

When you dig in, the amount of data available on energy usage is stunning, and the presentations are often quite clear and informative. Case in point is the illustration above of Germany’s energy mix during March, in the news now as Europe seeks to wean itself from fossil fuels imported from Russia. But it cannot go without fossil fuels. For that matter, neither can Virginia.

Germany is far more dependent on onshore wind than offshore wind, as you can see in the chart. You can see the daily peaks and troughs from solar.  The vast majority of the delta between their output and the demand line is made up of conventional fossil fuels and apparently nuclear is in that category of “conventional.” But Germany is down to a handful of operating nukes now.

The power output tracks demand well, but the upper thin line shows the fluctuating CO2 emissions that go along with the coal and gas Germany will be using more of, unless Europe opens itself to modern drilling techniques to release gas in its shale formations (a.k.a. fracking) to retire coal.

Speaking of wind, check out this page from time to time. On windy days the output (again, watch both onshore and offshore) can be quite impressive. But not all days are windy. In the German example above, 19 of 31 days required big- time back-up. Continue reading

Virginia’s Greens Need to Change Their Strategy

Utility-scale solar farm

by James C. Sherlock

When you ask a question you have to be prepared for the answer.

McKinsey Global Institute, in collaboration with McKinsey Sustainability and the Global Energy & Materials and Advanced Industries practices released in January a massive study of the costs to get the planet to net zero emissions by 2050.

The study is “The Net Zero Transition – What it would cost, what it could bring.

McKinsey’s short answer to the question of cost is $275 trillion globally between now and 2050; $275 trillion is $9.2 trillion per year on average if the entire world participates.

It won’t. Some nations will not or cannot. At what point do we expect China and Russia to pay their share? Or impoverished nations?

McKinsey noted that the increase in costs over previous assessments is $3.5 trillion annually. The increase is “approximately equivalent, in 2020, to half of global corporate profits, one-quarter of total tax revenue, and 7 percent of household spending.”

For reference:

Continue reading