Category Archives: Environment

Fungible (and Vintage?) Green Virtue, For A Fee

Renewable energy certificates can have a vintage? Some might prefer fresh solar or wind power.

by Steve Haner

Like most major electric utilities now, Dominion Energy Virginia has a certain amount of energy generated by processes now designated “renewable.”  Hydro power has been around for a long time, and now that is supplemented by a growing number of solar generators – owned by the company or under contract to it.

All Dominion customers are getting some of their electricity from those sources.  Everyone is a little bit green.  But for an extra $4.21 per 1,000 kilowatt hours, some other customer can take away your green power and leave you less green or totally not green, at least on paper.  Overall the utility’s output stays the same, but it might pick up a few more dollars per month from up to 50,000 of its customers.  Continue reading

Bacon Bits: Whistling Past the Graveyard

Feel-good story of the day. Northern Virginia boy scouts have cleaned up the neglected Alexandria cemetery named for abolitionist Frederick Douglass. They raked leaves, trimmed trees, and installed a new sign, according to the Washington Post. The black cemetery fell into disrepair over the years because no Alexandria church or other nonprofit cares for it; the city of Alexandria allocates only a nominal sum for upkeep, mostly mowing.

Boomerang watch. The Mountain Valley Pipeline has suspended all construction activities that could negatively impact four endangered or threatened species: the Indiana bat, the northern long-eared bat, the Roanoke logperch, and the candy darter, reports Virginia Mercury. For the time being, the pipeline company will refrain from tree-clearing, non-maintenance-related road building, grading and trenching, and stream-disturbing activities. Inquiring minds want to know: If such activities are permanently banned in and around habitat of threatened species, will it be possible to build wind turbines anywhere in the Blue Ridge or Allegheny Mountains?

The real structural racism. John Butcher delves into the latest SOL scores for Richmond’s Carver Elementary school, where cheating by teachers and administrators had artificially elevated SOL test scores last year. Now that the testing issues have been resolved, the tragic dimensions of students’ educational under-performance have been laid bare. Students rated as “economically disadvantaged” passed reading, writing, math, history and science at rates in the 20% to 32% range — far lower than the rate for economically disadvantaged children in most other schools. Richmond school officials blame racial bias and under-funding. But the real racism is that poor kids are trapped in a failing because Virginia’s educational establishment does everything in its power to block escape hatches in the form of charter schools or tax-favored scholarships. Continue reading

Delay-and-Block for Pipelines… and Solar?

Last December the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond found that the 2,200-mile Appalachian Trail is part of the National Park System, which blocks federal agencies from authorizing a pipeline crossing. Depending upon U.S. Supreme Court action, the ruling in the Cowpasture River Preservation Association v. U.S. Forest Service case could well doom the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, which crosses the trail in order to connect Midwest shale gas with Southeastern markets.

Noah Sachs, an environmental law professor at the University of Richmond, asks a provocative question: “Did the Fourth Circuit really turn the Appalachian Trail into a ‘Great Wall’ that blocks all energy transport from the Midwest to the East Coast, as many energy industry analysts have suggested?”

In an essay in The American Prospect, Sachs argues that Cowpasture doesn’t preclude all crossings of the Appalachian Trail, so the “great wall” analogy may not be apt. But here’s a passage that I found profoundly disturbing:

The real significance of the Cowpasture case is that it uses the Appalachian Trail crossing as a legal hook to delay and block the pipeline and raise its costs. There’s nothing wrong with delay-and-block tactics. It’s a strategy that environmentalists have been using since the 1960s. And as the climate crisis heats up, it’s a virtuous one.

Continue reading

Dominion Protecting Renewable Energy Buyers?!

Dominion Energy Virginia is simply trying to protect the unsuspecting public from environmental fraudsters, you understand.  Companies like Costco Wholesale and The Kroger Company lack the energy expertise to decide for themselves if a competitive service provider really is providing 100 percent renewable energy. They are being denied that service by Dominion for their own good.

That’s the basic argument Dominion has advanced for its refusal to allow willing customers of Direct Energy Business or Calpine Energy Solutions to switch.  It has said so in briefs filed at the State Corporation Commission and repeated it during hearings on the two companies’ efforts to force Dominion to accept the various applications for competitive supply.  Continue reading

Bacon Bits: The Rules, California is Crazy, Rider E

The message is clear, the messenger not on this flyer attacking Emmett Hanger during the primary. There was a logo on the other side, but no disclaimer. Click for larger view.

This is the simple stuff, people.  Delegate Nick Freitas doesn’t seem to be the only person in the Republican camp complaining that the rules are a problem, at least when enforced.  A conservative activist group that went after state Senator Emmett Hanger in the June primary is now screaming “bloody murder” because Hanger filed a complaint with the Board of Elections over some handouts that lacked the state’s required disclaimer statements.  It is a simple rule we’ve all worked with for decades, and the penalty is a civil fine that might get up to $2,500, but probably won’t go near that high.  Yet here is the heated rhetoric being spouted, with a heavy push for funds: “This is nothing less than an elected official attempting to squash free speech and shut down our grassroots PAC. We will fight this effort for it endangers all voters of Virginia for the benefit of the political class.”  No, it’s just the rules. You already have a formal PAC, so you know about the rules.  By filing a complaint Hanger gave you the spotlight again for ten seconds, but that was his choice. 

Organic Carbon Capture Device

If you thought $20 for an LED bulb is nuts…Sarah Vogelsong over at Virginia Mercury (we shared a row at an SCC hearing Wednesday) has this story about how forest conservation groups in Virginia are being paid for the CO2 being absorbed by their trees.  Pay a carbon credit to a Virginia conservation group and your plant can pump out more carbon in the LA basin!  Without doubt 1) Californians can be talked into anything, simply anything, with the right green pitch, 2) this is truly a religion with Virginia reaping the indulgence payments for forgiveness of sins and 3) these people are not really serious about removing CO2 from the atmosphere if they think this does any good.  Continue reading

Saving the Planet Sometime Soon After Never

$20 a pop to give our neighbors one of these, buried on our electric bill.

What feeds persistent skepticism about those highly touted energy efficiency programs that we utility ratepayers get billed for? The actual reports on their costs and outcomes do not help.

Case in point: A quarterly report from Dominion Energy Virginia about its on-going efforts to reduce energy usage for low income or elderly residential customers. The utility spent more than $450 per household, a total of more than $713,000 to go into 1,568 homes, mostly apartments.  Continue reading

No Appeal Filed on RGGI Regulation, Now In Force

Virginia’s participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) is now fully authorized under a new state regulation, and the deadline to appeal that regulation has now passed with no appeal filed.  The text of the regulation is here.

Language inserted by General Assembly Republicans into the current state budget merely puts RGGI membership and its related carbon tax on hold.  It did not overturn the regulation, which went into effect June 26. The outcome of the November election will likely determine whether that roadblock remains in place beyond next summer, when the current budget provisions expire.   Continue reading

Sense and Nonsense on Climate Armageddon

R. Dean Decker, Ph.D.

A good sense discussion on the Most Important Threat to Human History was provided July 14 in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, in a guest column from a retired University of Richmond biology professor.  Few discussions of the climate change controversy have come closer to my personal views, but Dean Decker has that doctorate from North Carolina State so let him make the case.  Read it in full here.

The nonsense appeared quickly with what I suspect will be one of many letters to the editor seeking to tear down his argument (and I suspect the man, but I hope the RTD will weed out those letters.)  The letter accused him of “a disservice to science” and inspired me to give Decker’s column a slightly wider audience. Continue reading

Pollution Control Tax Break Not An Incentive

Industrial dust collector, 1450 cf per minute

Not every tax policy decision should be made or measured on whether it stimulates more economic activity and thus more taxable revenue for the government. There are things the government should not tax.

Yet, returning once again to the well-thumbed June report on manufacturing incentives produced by the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission, that economic value add test was applied to one of the oldest tax exemptions under the sales tax rules, an exemption for equipment purchased to comply with federal or state environmental laws.  Continue reading

Saving Atlantic Loggerheads from Plastics

Nesting loggerhead at Cape Hatteras

On the evening of June 11,  two endangered Loggerhead sea turtles crawled out of the ocean and wriggled up the sand at Virginia Beach. One dug a hole, laid 150-eggs and covered them with sand before returning to sea. The eggs had to be carefully relocated by human intervention to a safer nesting spot. In about 60-days, these eggs should hatch, and the baby loggerheads will instinctively head out to the Gulf Stream to mature, taking a  giant “lazy river” ride, circulating repeatedly to the other side of the Atlantic and back for more than a decade.

Should they survive, these hatchlings already know that Virginia is for Lovers, since they are biologically encoded to return here to mate and lay their eggs.  Virginia however is at the northernmost extent of the Loggerhead range and has only a few sporadic sea turtle nests.

To more closely study Loggerhead survival, our family recently made a scientific journey to prime Loggerhead breeding territory: Hilton Head Island, S.C. Continue reading

Bacon Bits: Two Reasons to Be Worried, and One Reason Not

Be afraid, very afraid. How frequent is cell phone use? According to a team of Old Dominion University researchers tallying seat belt use, some 4% of drivers they spot are on the phone or texting. So reports the Daily Press. Clearly, cell phone use is a problem. But I would argue that texting (which I never do) is far worse than yakking on the phone (which I do do… occasionally). Both may be a distraction, but the one requires drivers to take their eyes off the road, while the other doesn’t. If distractions are the issue, then the General Assembly should ban husbands and wives driving in the same car together. There’s nothing like a side-seat driver to grab one’s attention and increase the risk of accidents!

Virginia lost a big one. I have long hoped that the Wallops Space Flight facility might engender the rise of a space industry in Virginia. But the odds of the Old Dominion developing a critical mass in this industry of the future suffered a significant setback yesterday when Boeing announced that it would relocate the headquarters of its Space and Launch division from Arlington to Titusville, on Florida’s Space Coast. States the aerospace giant: “Looking to the future, this storied Florida space community will be the center of gravity for Boeing’s space programs as we continue to build our company’s leadership beyond gravity.”

Scary ignorance about coal ash. Coal ash is a potential hazard to human health, but the risks it poses are extremely low level. Unfortunately, an article in the Prince William Times, describing how Governor Ralph Northam signed a coal ash regulation bill into law, incorporates some of the hysterical rhetoric that has infiltrated our discourse. The article refers to the coal combustion residue as “toxic coal ash” and describes it as “composed of lead, mercury, cobalt, arsenic, hexavalent chromium and other heavy metals, many of which are carcinogens.” In truth, coal ash is comprised mainly of rock mixed with coal that is not removed in the coal cleaning process and does not combust in boilers used for electric generation. The ash does contain trace amounts of all the aforesaid metals, which can leach in minute quantities into ground water, but is toxic only when it rises above certain levels. If the ash itself were toxic, then the new law requiring utilities to recycle at least 25 percent of it into cinderblocks and pavers would the greatest folly indeed.

The Waters Increased Greatly upon the Earth

Over the past decade or so, as I traveled with my family to Sandbridge Beach, I watched in amazement, and a touch of disbelief, as large, upscale houses sprouted from the landscape that was once flat, treeless farmland.

The development was Asheville Park.  It was approved in 2004 for 499 homes on 474 acres. The construction slowed noticeably during the 2008-2010 downturn, but then picked up.

In 2016, Hurricane Matthew hit, deluging the area with rain. Asheville Park became impassable for days and homes and cars flooded. Incredibly, “All of this area was approved for rezonings without looking at stormwater,” according to Barbara Henley, a member of city council. (She was not on the council when the development was approved.) Of the 35 proffers associated with the approval, there was no mention of stormwater and how to control it. Hurricane Matthew demonstrated that the pipes and outfalls were too small and a retention lake was shallower than planned, leading to flooding.

The residents of the development have been up in arms, demanding that the city take action. After all, these were homes for which they had paid several hundred thousand dollars and being flooded was not supposed to be part of the deal. The city has come up with a long-term plan to alleviate flooding, estimated to cost $35 million. The immediate fixes will cost $11 million. The city has reached an agreement with the developer in which the approved number of houses will be reduced by 44 and the developer will donate land for the construction of a retention pond by the city. In addition to a retention pond, the work will include the construction of a gated weir and a pump station. Finally, new building permits will not be issued for the next phase of the development until specific parts of the drainage system are fixed.

There is not much else the city can do about Asheville Park. The developer still has the right to construct more than double the number of houses currently there. However, the city has obviously learned from this experience and is taking steps to take sea level rise into consideration when evaluating future developments. Continue reading

Rider E Case Shows Many Flaws With This Process

Key operating data on some Dominion Virginia coal plants, important to the Rider E case but hidden from us. Source: Office of Attorney General testimony.  Click for larger view.

Dominion Energy Virginia’s pending application for a new charge on electric bills for coal ash remediation is both a fairly routine request and an illustration of what is deeply wrong with Virginia’s electricity regulation.

When the major investor-owned utilities negotiated a return to regulation in 2007, the ability to create and collect these stand-alone add-on charges (“rate adjustment clauses”) was one of their demands.  It was the other major Virginia utility, Appalachian Power Company, that was most concerned about the ability to collect the cost of environmental compliance and it has had a rider on its bills for that purpose for some time.  Continue reading

VA Energy Regulatory Conference All About Carbon

The Hon. Bernard McNamee, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission

WILLIAMSBURG — “The environmentalists don’t want to admit when they’ve won, but they’ve already won.”

That line was delivered by Joseph A. Rosenthal, principal attorney at Connecticut’s Office of Consumer Counsel, during a discussion Thursday on the status electricity grid modernization efforts in his state and several others.  It was a part of a day-and-a-half National Regulatory Conference and William and Mary’s law school which had several nominal topics but was really about carbon regulation.  Continue reading

Dominion Energy Joins Consortium Demanding Climate Change Legislation

Image credit: Power for the People VA

I am not making this up.  Yesterday, Dominion Energy joined a newly launched coalition of more than a dozen major corporations and environmental groups – CEO Climate Dialog.  This organization will urge Congress to pass climate change legislation.  Example members of the group include BP – an oil and gas company, Citibank, Dow Chemical, DuPont, Exelon – a power company and The Nature Conservancy, an environmental organization. Continue reading