Category Archives: Environment

Data Centers Spur Electricity Demand in Virginia, Says Greenpeace

Continued expansion of data centers in Virginia is driving demand for electricity, which gives Dominion Energy the justification for expanding its gas-fired generating fleet and building the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, according to a new report by Greenpeace, “Clicking Clean Virginia: The Dirty Energy Powering Data Center Alley.”

While several major providers of cloud services — Amazon, Facebook, and Microsoft most prominently — have committed to deriving their electricity from renewable energy sources, the boom in data centers has outpaced the ability of the data center industry, Amazon in particular, to line up renewable energy contracts.

“While electricity demand for utilities is flat or declining, electricity demand from data centers in Virginia has grown sharply, between 9 and 11 percent year year, offsetting declines elsewhere, with data center demand regularly touted by Dominion to its investors as a sign of continued growth,” states Greenpeace.

Ironically, although the Greenpeace opposes the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, information in the report undercuts an argument the environmental group’s Virginia allies use against the Atlantic Coast Pipeline: that Dominion forecasts have consistently overstated future electric load. While electricity load has plateaued or even declined in many states, demand from data centers continues to push demand incrementally higher in Virginia. Continue reading

Yum, Yum. Loblollies Love More CO2 Plant Food

Projected temperature increases in the range of loblolly pine in 2040-2059 time frame under IPCC worst case scenario

Despite rising temperatures, increasing concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere will give a 30.4% productivity boost to the growth loblolly pine forests in Virginia and 11 other Southeastern U.S. states by 2060, according to recent research from Virginia Tech.

The research team lead by Harold Burkhart, professor of forestry, modeled the effects of increased ambient CO2 concentrations and the interaction of changing climate and C02 enrichment on loblolly pines, which constitutes more than half of total pine volume.

Change in precipitation in loblolly pine range in 2040-2059 time-frame under worst-case IPCC scenario.

The study, “Regional Simulations of Loblolly Pine Productivity with CO2 Enrichment and Changing Climate Scenarios,” assumed that CO2 levels will continue to increase in line with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s worst-case RCP 8.5 scenario. It modeled the impact on a stand of planted loblolly of about 500 trees per acre growing until harvested after 25 years. Continue reading

Dominion Rolls Out Methane-Reduction Plan

Mapping gas pipeline leaks.

Dominion Energy has announced a plan to reduce methane emissions from its natural gas infrastructure by 50% from 2010 levels over the next decade. The voluntary initiative will prevent more than 430,000 metric tons of methane from entering the atmosphere, the equivalent of taking 2.3 million cars off the road or planting nearly 180 million new trees.

“We recognize we need to do more to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to further combat climate change,” said Diane Leopold, President and CEO of Dominion Energy’s Gas Infrastructure Group. “We’ve made significant progress, but we’re determined to go much further..” Continue reading

You May Pay A North Carolinian’s Coal Ash Costs

An illustration of the coal ash de-watering and treatment process at Bremo Bluff power station, which is now out of favor. Source: DEQ website.

The cost to Dominion Energy Virginia customers for recycling coal ash or moving it into more secure landfills is growing, because the proposed bill now recognizes that Dominion’s North Carolina electricity customers cannot be forced to pay by the Virginia General Assembly or the State Corporation Commission.

This phrase has been added to the current substitutes for House Bill 2786 and Senate Bill 1355: (v) any such costs that are allocated to the utility’s system customers outside of the Commonwealth that are not actually recovered from such customers shall be included for cost recovery from jurisdictional customers in the Commonwealth through the rate adjustment clause.  

Dominion Energy North Carolina’s customers in the northeastern part of that state depend on Virginia-based generation, including those coal plants, but the General Assembly so far seems fine with billing us for their share of these costs.  Why?  Absent that the company’s shareholders might have to pay it.   Continue reading

RGGI Debate Continues With New Comment Period

The clock is ticking toward a March 6 deadline if you are burning with a desire to comment on the latest version of Virginia’s proposed Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative regulation. Perusing the hundreds of comments from the 2018 round of comments, there may not be much to add.

If you liked the first version, you’ll love this revision. If you hated the first version, you will see this one as worse. It is very much the same, only more so – starting with the new beginning target for carbon dioxide emission from power plants of 28 million tons per year, down from the first proposal’s target of 33 million tons per year.   Continue reading

SCC: RGGI To Cost Dominion Customers Billions

Virginia’s participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), which would require the state’s utilities to pay a carbon tax on their fossil fuel power plants and to reduce operation of those plants, might cost the ratepayers of Dominion Energy Virginia $3.3 to $5.9 billion over the first decade, according to a State Corporation Commission staff estimate.

During a House of Delegates subcommittee hearing a week ago, a member of the SCC staff told legislators that joining RGGI would add $7 to $12 to the monthly bill of residential customers. He provided no details that day and a request to the SCC’s communications staff didn’t produce clarity.   Continue reading

Where Goes PG&E, then Goes Dominion?

PG&E Corp., California’s largest electric utility, has filed for bankruptcy protection after incurring billions of dollars in liabilities and potential liabilities in wildfire damages. The California legislature, totally controlled by Democrats, is giving the utility no succor, reports the Wall Street Journal. Writes the Journal:

A company that was once one of the most influential in Sacramento and regularly got its way on legislation and regulation now has few defenders left. The reason, Sacramento veterans say, is that years of bad news related to deadly fires and other disasters have made the company unpopular among the public.

That sentiment now outweighs the goodwill PG&E had amassed from years of lobbying, donations and other close ties to key leaders, they say.

What brought about this turnabout? Decades of strict zoning in metropolitan areas pushed up housing prices to stratospheric levels, impelling hundreds of thousands (millions?) of Californians to seek housing in cheap land and housing in the boonies. PG&E was required as part of its mandate to serve the public to extend electric power lines to these scattered developments. Meanwhile, state policy overturned the previous practice of clear cutting and controlled burns in woodlands, resulting in the accumulation of a massive amount of fuel. Then nature intervened in the form of an extended drought. When power lines failed, as they periodically do, they sparked massive wildfires. Continue reading

The Coal Ash Deal: More Proof that Virginia Is Becoming New Jersey

Coal ash at the Chesterfield Power Station. Photo credit: Richmond Times-Dispatch

A deal cooked up between Governor Ralph Northam and legislative leaders, with the support of environmental groups and the acquiescence of Dominion Energy, will require Dominion to excavate coal ash ponds at four of its power plants, recycle at least 6.8 million cubic yards, and move the rest to modern landfills. The requirement, according to the Washington Post, will add about $1 billion to the $1.7 billion cost of Dominion’s preferred approach. The cost to ratepayers is not to exceed $225 million a year (the Richmond Times-Dispatch figure) or $5 per month per typical retail customer (Washington Post).

What I find disturbing is the totally false premise upon which the legislation is based: that landfilling of coal ash is necessary because existing coal ash ponds are leaking heavy metals. This assertion, made endlessly over the past year, provides the justification for the legislation. If you want proof that Virginia politically is becoming New Jersey, now you’ve got it.

Here are just a few recent examples of misleading rhetoric:

Continue reading

Chesapeake Bay Foundation State of the Bay: The Bay is Regressing

School daze. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation(CBF) recently issued it biannual State of the Bay Report.  The report can be found here.  The CBF assigns both a numeric and letter grade to the bay.  This report (2017 – 2018) garners a score of 33 for a grade of D+.  The last report (2015 – 2016) tallied a 34 / C-.  The grading scale is as follows

40 or below – dangerously out of balance
41 – 50 – improving
51 – 70 – stable
71+ – saved

The first State of the Bay Report was issued in 1998 and Bhe bay received a “grade” of 27.  Progress was slow but steady through 2016.  The recently issued report (2018) represents a rare regression in overall score since the report was started.

Rain, rain, go away.  An extremely wet 2018 is primarily to blame for the regression in the bay’s health.  And wet it was.  DC’s official recording site at Reagan National Airport ended up with 66.28″ of rain, which broke the previous record of 61.33″ from 1889. This total is over 2 feet above DC’s annual average of 39.74″, and is nearly as much rain as the previous 2 years combined of 67.3″ (2016 + 2017).  Baltimore’s BWI Airport recorded 71.82″ of rain against an annual average of 43.62″.  That was the wettest year on record and the weather book dates back to 1871.  The runoff from all that rain caused significant regressions in nitrogen (-5), phosphorus (-9) and water clarity (-4) from the prior report.  One ray of sunshine in the report was the fact that underwater grasses notched a small gain from 2015-2016 despite the deluges. Continue reading

Hey, Let’s Ban New Fossil Fuel Projects

Sam Rasoul

This is what you get when the General Assembly usurps the State Corporation Commission and starts dictating energy policy. HB1635 by Del. Sam Rasoul, D-Roanoke, would impose a moratorium on “any new electric generating facility that generates fossil fuel energy through the combustion of any fossil fuel resources,” along with any fossil-fuel pipeline or export facility. The bill has been approved by the Committee on Commerce and Labor and is being considered by the full House.

Rasoul seems to be under the impression that it is possible for Virginia to transition to a 100% clean energy economy — in other words, one dominated by renewable energy sources such as solar, wind, and (a trivial contributor in Virginia) hydro. I don’t know what he thinks about nuclear, but if he agrees with the Sierra Club, he’s against that, too. The problem, as every reader of Bacon’s Rebellion knows, is that wind and solar are not dispatchable — that is, electric utilities cannot turn them on and off to meet fluctuations in demand. Continue reading

A Third Way for Coal Ash Disposal

EnCAP-IT schematic shows how coal ash can be stored on-site above ground level in synthetically lined cells, or bunkers. Source: “Macroencapsulation: Obtaining on-site clean closure,” Geosynthetics magazine.

By Dominion Energy’s most recent estimate, it will cost between $2.77 billion and $3.36 billion to recycle the utility’s 30 million tons of coal ash or bury it in synthetically lined landfills — as much as $2 billion more than burying it in place. Environmental groups say the risk is justified to offset the risk that toxic levels of heavy metals might leak into nearby rivers and streams.

But what if it were possible to reduce the environmental risks while also slashing the cost to rate payers? Shouldn’t the General Assembly be considering that option?

John Swenson, founder and managing partner of Henrico-based EnCAP-IT Solutions of VA, has developed 12 patents around a coal-ash disposal process he calls macroencapsulation, which combines the cost-efficiency of cap in place with the risk reduction of removal to landfills. He’s frustrated because he can’t get either Dominion Energy or environmental groups to consider his approach. Now a compromise solution backed by Governor Ralph Northam effectively removes the option from consideration.

Continue reading

Rage, Ruin, And You Pay The Bill In Full

I hear hurricanes a blowin’
And I know the end is coming soon
I fear rivers overflowing
I hear the voice for rage and ruin

Bad Moon Rising, Credence Clearwater Revival

The acronym we all must learn for the 2019 General Assembly session is “CCR,” but it doesn’t stand for Credence Clearwater Revival.  Coal combustion residuals – coal ash – are the environmental poster child of the moment, with the apocalyptic vision a hurricane or other event flooding the material into rivers.  John Fogerty, the prophet.

Legislation dealing with the issue will probably get good coverage in the standard news media, and Senator Scott Surovell’s Senate Bill 1533 may get through to Governor Ralph Northam for signature.  What is not mentioned in his or the other CCR bills, and not being reported, is who will pay for this process if the General Assembly orders the ash moved or recycled or both.

Continue reading

Dominion Withdraws Renewable Tariff Effort

In the wake of the State Corporation Commission’s recent approval of a renewable energy tariff for residential customers of Appalachian Power Company, Dominion Energy Virginia has given up the application for its own more expensive proposal for a similar service to its residential and smaller business customers.

Continue reading

The Compressor Station: Another Fact-Poor Debate

THis map shows the location of ACP’s proposed air compressor station in relation to houses in the Union Hill community. Source: Southern Environmental Law Center.

The State Air Pollution Control Board voted 4 to 0 last night to approve a controversial natural gas compressor station in Buckingham County that is crucial for the operation of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

Pipeline foes had argued that emissions from the compressor station would create a health hazard for nearby residents, a majority of whom, depending upon what mapping criteria are used, are African-American. This disproportionate impact upon a minority community, many contended, amounts to environmental racism.

But Dominion Energy and state regulators countered that the compressor station will be the cleanest in Virginia, emitting 50% to 80% less air pollution than any other gas compressor station in Virginia. “The bottom line here is the Buckingham Compression Station will be the most stringently regulated compressor station in the country and the public’s health will be protected,” said Michael Dowd, director of the Department of Environmental Quality’s Air Division, as reported by the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

As happens so often in such debates, there was no meaningful discussion of the level of risk associated with the project. Regardless of how tightly regulated the station is, how much pollution will it emit? And what health hazards are associated with that level of pollution — are they real or imagined? Numbers may exist deep in the bowels of the DEQ, but they have not surfaced in the public debate. Continue reading

At Last, a Green Tariff for APCo Customers

Western Virginians paying APCo’s renewable energy tariff will receive electricity from, among other sources, the Beech Ridge wind farm in West Virginia.

The State Corporation Commission has approved a proposal allowing Appalachian Power Company (APCo) customers to purchase electricity generated 100% from renewable energy. An average residential customer using 1,000 kilowatt hours of electricity would pay a premium of $4.25 a month.

The Commission had rejected two previous APCo proposals for a 100% renewable energy tariff. In an order issued Monday, however, the Commission found that under the latest iteration of the plan (1) the participating customer is receiving 100% renewable energy, (2) the tariff includes safeguards that do not offload costs to customers who do not participate, and (3) the rate is reasonable for the purposes of the renewable energy product being supplied. Continue reading