Category Archives: Environment

Smart Cities Council Comes to Virginia

The Smart Cities Council recently held a “Readiness Challenge” workshop in Virginia. I’ve banged the Smart Cities drum on and off over the years, but gave up when I saw so little reader interest. But I’ll take one more whack with a percussion mallet because the “smart cities” concept seems to be gaining momentum. The fact that several high-level people in the Northam administration attended the workshop signals more official interest than in the past.

A big focus of the workshop was universal broadband — bringing the benefits of high-speed Internet access to rural communities and the inner city. News that I had missed: Virginia now has a “chief broadband advisor” — Evan Feinman, who had served previously as executive director of the Virginia Tobacco Commission.

Other topics discussed:

  • Mobility options. Use smart mobility to reduce carbon emissions.
  • Energy planning. Deploy smart technologies to accelerate the adoption of electric vehicles.
  • Public safety. Improve data coordination between state agencies to address more complex public safety threats.
  • Standardize data. Improve data governance, develop a common architecture and data platform, and create incentives for data owners to work together. Also, prepare the next generation of data workers.

Information technology is not a silver bullet for Virginia’s immense challenges. But it is a potentially useful tool. Hopefully, some of the ideas spawned by this workshop will percolate through the impermeable strata of politics and bureaucracy to be adopted in the real world.

Read the Smart Cities Council account of the workshop here.

Global Climate Catastrophe (in 1501?)

Low water creates islands in the Danube at Budapest last week. The normal waterline is visible on the bridge above their heads and the gap equals the draft of Viking’s boats.

Once the Viking Cruise people have your mailing and email address the marketing is relentless, and the fog from 11 hours on two legs of Lufthansa had barely lifted before the email arrived with a fabulously attractive deal on a Rhine cruise in early 2019.

Ah, but I know now why the price is so low.  Drought and low water in central Europe have disrupted cruising all summer and fall.  That iconic sail past the Hungarian Parliament in Budapest so prominent in Viking ads turned into a slow roll on a motor coach.  The one Viking boat docked in Budapest hadn’t moved in weeks and was described as a ghost ship.  We stayed in a below-standard Budapest hotel far from the stunning night views (wash cloths?  Why would you want them?)

The low water on the Danube, Rhine and others is hardly Viking’s fault and they did their best.  One of the captains (we had to switch boats before reaching Vienna, where we left the second boat behind) said it was the worst sustained low water since 1947, and I heard others call it a 200-year drought.  Drought of course might not be the only problem as with low rainfall water draws for farm or human consumption also increase and have greater impact.

Meanwhile, back in the states, Evil-Human-Caused Climate Change created the opposite situation, with a nasty hurricane slamming the Florida Panhandle and matching Florence with its impact on Richmond.  Drought, storms – anything and everything can be blamed on warming temps (convenient), and the alarmists were out with another report that the end is nigh.

Flood levels recorded on Passau Rathaus (City Hall)

Then again, perhaps its all just normal variations.  Neither droughts or hurricanes are new and with a scale that goes up to five we’ve yet to see a hurricane that hits Spinal Tap’s eleven.  While the Dunube is low now, at Passau we were shown dramatic evidence of past floods, the most recent and second highest in 2013.

The fault of industrialization and fossil fuels?  Check out the year for the highest recorded, 1501, and the many others of similar impact during pre- or early-industrial times.  For North America, of course, there are at best only 200 years of records and perhaps 100 years of good ones.  Thomas Jefferson’s personal records pick up the ending of the so-called Little Ice Age.  Nasty hurricanes plagued the Jamestown settlement.

Getting off the river to drive for hours on the autobahns gave me a chance to see the extensive solar panels in Germany and the massive wind turbine installations in Hungary, visible again from the air during our departure.  Their addition to the landscape did not reduce the beauty of the scenery.

Turbines visible from a rest stop along the highway inside Hungary.

There is no question we need to move quickly away from burning filthy coal and increase the percentage of energy generated from sun and wind.  I still consider natural gas a good substitute for coal and a necessary part of the mix.   But do everything the environmentalists want and the hurricanes will continue, the floods and droughts will continue, and You Know Who provided excellent advice 2,100 years ago about building on rock, not sand, as recorded by Saint Matthew.

Viking is moving more emphasis onto its ocean cruise business, perhaps as a hedge against continued challenges on the rivers.  Odds are the rivers will be back up in a year or so and the concern will shift back to floods.  If indeed the climate is changing, and it seems to be, I just don’t buy that human activity is the single or dominant cause, or that adjustments now will make much difference down the road.

Coal Ash Lessons from Hurricane Florence

Flood waters from Hurricane Florence spilled over an earthen dike at Sutton Lake at the L.V. Sutton Power Station.

Last month pounding rains from Hurricane Florence eroded a Duke Energy landfill, releasing some 2,000 cubic yards of soil and coal ash. Although Duke declared that the majority of displaced ash was collected in a ditch and haul road surrounding the landfill, North Carolina news media reported the “possible release” of material into the L.V. Sutton Power Plant cooling lake. Later, floodwaters from the Cape Fear River inundated the power station with a foot of water in places.

Environmentalists emphasized the danger of Duke’s practice of disposing of coal ash near waterways throughout North and South Carolina. “After this storm, we hope that Duke Energy will commit itself to removing its ash from all its unlined waterfront pits and, if it refuses, that the state of North Carolina will require it to remove the ash from these unlined pits,” said a Southern Environmental Law Center spokesman.

As I predicted here, the incident was sure to impact the debate over coal ash disposal in Virginia. And it has. The headline to a Richmond Times-Dispatch article today tells the tale: “Hurricane’s lessons add pressure for solution to Dominion coal-ash storage.”

Hurricane Florence “punished North Carolina and swamped at least one utility coal ash storage pond in its path next to the Cape Fear River,” stated the article. Then followed a quote from SELC attorney Nathan Benforado during a hearing of a General Assembly Labor and Commerce subcommittee: “Hurricane Florence is a wake-up call.”

A wake-up call? Benforado does have a point. Regulators need to consider the dangers of rare but recurring extreme weather events for coal ash disposal just as they do for electric grid planning. But a lot of relevant material didn’t make it into the Times-Dispatch article. Virginians need to know… the rest of the story.

First the background: The General Assembly subcommittee is studying how Dominion Energy Virginia should dispose of 27 million cubic yards of coal ash buried in ponds and pits at four of its coal-fired power plants: Possum Point, Bremo, Chesterfield, and Chesapeake. Under old Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations, Dominion had dumped the coal combustion residue into large pits and mixed the material with water to keep down fugitive dust. After two major spills at other locations, including one at a Duke facility, the EPA wrote new regulations designed to prevent more spills. Dominion proposed de-watering its coal ash, consolidating the material into a single pit at each facility, and capping the pits with a synthetic liner to keep off rainwater.

SELC has raised at least two sets of concerns about the Dominion proposal. First, says the environmental group, there is nothing to prevent underground water from migrating through the ash pits, collecting heavy metals leached from the ash, and reaching public waters. Second, the proposed pits are located close to public waterways, hence they are vulnerable to erosion or inundation during extreme weather events like Hurricane Florence. SELC wants Dominion to remove the coal ash by truck or rail and bury it in lined landfills on higher ground. Dominion has said that the SELC proposal could cost billions of dollars. SELC has responded that recycling the ash into cement and cinderblocks could cut the cost dramatically. Dominion is now evaluating that alternative.

So, what exactly happened at Duke’s Sutton plant? Did the spillage and inundation create a human or environmental hazard? And knowing that conditions at each power plant are unique, is Sutton comparable to any of Dominion’s power plants? What lessons can we extract?

Duke spokesman Bill Norton told me that the hurricane caused incidents at two power plants — Sutton and, less publicized, H.F. Lee.

At Sutton the company had extracted four million tons of coal ash for placement in a landfill — precisely the solution the SELC and other environmental groups had called for. About three million tons remained when the hurricane hit. Norton described the scene as an “active construction site” and, thus, more vulnerable than the cap-in-place arrangement it has proposed for some of its other facilities. Pounding hurricane rain eroded the containment berm, releasing coal ash equivalent in volume to two-thirds that of an Olympic swimming pool. Flood waters from a swollen Cape Fear River also inundated the cooling lake  and overtopped a steel wall erected as a temporary structure. Other than the landfill erosion, however, the coal ash remained stable and the waters receded.

Water samples taken from the Cape Fear River showed that the floodwaters had washed away some “cenospheres,” lightweight, hollow beads comprised of alumina and silica that are environmentally benign, but not the heavier combustion residue which contains potentially toxic heavy metals. None of Duke’s tests found heavy metals in the water that exceeded state safety standards. Independent tests conducted by the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality came to the same conclusion.

At the H.F. Lee power plant site, the coal ash basins had been inactive so long that they had grown over with forest. These basins also were inundated by floodwaters but Duke and NCDEQ tests have shown no heavy metal levels exceeding state safety standards. Continue reading

How Will the SCC Approach Energy-Efficiency Investments?

The 2018 Grid Transformation and Security Act requires Dominion Energy Virginia to propose at least $870 million in energy-efficiency investments over the next ten years. Yesterday Dominion submitted the first wave of proposals, eleven projects totaling $280 million.

The company estimates that it would spend $215 million on new initiatives and $46.7 million on reconstituting existing programs, reports the Richmond Times-Dispatch. The proposals must be approved by the State Corporation Commission, which in the past has applied a skeptical eye toward energy-efficiency and conservation programs. Under the 2018 legislation, however, the General Assembly declared energy-efficiency to be in the public interest, presumably lowering the bar for approval.

The proposed programs include:

Residential:
1. Recycling older fridges and freezers
2. Gaining insights into energy usage to make suggestions on how to save
3. Rebates on purchases of specific energy-efficient appliances
4. Installation of energy-saving measures following a home-energy assessment
5. Management of heat pumps and air-conditioning units using smart thermostats to reduce peak demand
6. Rebates on qualifying smart thermostats coupled with energy saving recommendations

Non-residential:
1. Implementation of more efficient lighting
2. Upgrades to or implementation of more efficient HVAC technology
3. Installation of solar reduction window film
4. Energy efficiency improvements to small manufacturing facilities
5. Energy-efficiency improvements at smaller offices

In the past, the SCC has balked on energy-efficiency proposals for at least two reasons. First, proposed programs offered a poor return on financial investment — they cost more to implement than they provided in savings to rate payers. Second, some programs benefited narrow groups while loading the cost on rate payers generally. It’s not clear yet how the three SCC judges will reconcile their previous logic with the General Assembly’s declaration that energy efficiency and conservation are in the public interest.

A third question, which I have yet to see raised, is whether electric utilities are the logical entities to implement energy-efficiency measures. The free-market environmentalist Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) has just released an analysis concluding that zero-energy homes — homes that literally produce as much energy as they consume over the course of a year — are reaching cost parity with normal homes in many parts of the country.

While there is no one-size-fits-all solution, RMI says, “In all climates, the cost optimal solution … included 100-percent LED lighting, low-flow water fixtures, and ENERGY STAR appliances, all of which reduce load at a very minimal cost premium. In addition, heat pumps were used for both space heating and water heating.”

This raises a fundamental question: Should Virginia spend arbitrarily determined amounts of money on utility investments or should it rely upon developers and home builders driven by market forces? Or a third option: Should Dominion and Appalachian Power tailor programs to incentivize home builders to install energy-efficiency measures, making the construction of energy-efficient new homes, which, if RMI is to be believed, a no-brainer?

New Virginia Energy Plan Ramps Up Commitment to Carbon-Free Future

The Northam administration’s 2018 Virginia Energy Plan is the environmental movement’s dream come true. The administration is going “all in” for solar power, offshore wind energy, distributed energy resources, energy efficiency, and electric vehicles. Under the plan, Virginia won’t be as aggressive as California, which has set a goal of a 100% carbon-free electric grid by 2045, but it would follow the same trajectory.

The Virginia Energy Plan embraces the same carbon-reduction goals incorporated into the 2018 Grid Transformation and Security Act (SB 966) but treats them as a starting point. The plan calls for an overhaul of the regulatory process and state priorities to advance goals in five broad areas:

  • Solar and onshore wind. Of the 5,000 MW of solar and wind resources deemed in the public interest under Senate Bill 966, 3,000 MW should come from solar and onshore wind. Specific proposals include expanding corporate clean energy offerings; enhancing collaboration on the siting of large solar and wind facilities; and expanding the net metering program, the power purchase agreement program, and the community solar program. The Energy Plan recommends increasing the Commonwealth’s renewable energy procurement target to 16% by 2022.
  • Offshore wind. The Energy Plan calls for building the 12 MW offshore wind demonstration project — two test turbines to show how well novel designs can withstand hurricane conditions — and then to develop 2,000 MW of offshore wind potential by 2028.
  • Energy efficiency. The plan calls for increasing utility-funded energy-efficiency programs to $100 million per year for Dominion Energy and $15 million per hear for Appalachian Power Co., as well as expanding state-sponsored energy-efficiency programs. The Commonwealth should set a goal of reducing retail electricity consumption by 10% by 2022 (using 2006 as a baseline) and consumption in state buildings by 20%.
  • Energy storage. Recognizing that intermittent wind and solar energy sources pose threats to the stability and reliability of the electric grid, the Energy Plan discusses pumped hydroelectric storage, lithium-ion batteries, and solid-state batteries. However, the plan makes no specific recommendations on which technologies or approaches should be adopted.
  • Electric vehicles. The Energy Plan calls for promoting the deployment of electric vehicles and using their battery storage capabilities to shift electric load to times that better align with solar and wind output. The state should adopt the Advanced Clean Cars program, develop a comprehensive electric-vehicle transportation plan, and set targets for building an electric-vehicle charging infrastructure.

The Energy Plan provides no estimate of what the sum total of these initiatives would cost nor who would pay for them. While the plan does address the challenge of matching solar and wind output with daily electric load, it does not explore how the system would hold up under rare-but-recurring extreme weather events such as hurricanes or the Polar Vortex.  The document can best be seen as a roadmap for where the Northam administration and its allies in the environmental movement would like to take the state.

The Eagles Have Landed


In 1975 bald eagles were extinct on the James River. Today, after years of effort by naturalists and conservationists, 280 nesting couples have made the river their home. The revival of the James River eagles is one of Virginia’s great environmental success stories.

I had the good fortune to be invited by my friends Linda and Steve Nash to accompany them and their out-of-town guests on a river trip to view the eagles. I have to say, it was a peak life experience — an expedition I will remember always. I am amazed that such a wealth of wildlife is accessible to Virginians just a few miles southeast of Richmond. Hardly anyone knows about it… which may be just as well, because no good can come of dozens of tour boats cruising up and down this near-wilderness river.

Captain Mike Ostrander has been boating this stretch of the James — downstream from the fall line in Richmond and upstream from where the river widens into an arm of the Chesapeake Bay — for years. He has tracked the eagles week by week, year by year, observing their most intimate habits. He knows the birds well enough to give them names, and he spins stories of their lives — how long they have mated, whether the male or the female builds nests and cares for the young, how many eagle chicks have survived to maturity, how interlopers have intruded upon their territories, how their territorial ranges have expanded and contracted in response, and even the eccentricities in how they fly.

One cannot call the river pristine — we entered the water, after all, at a small marina near the Henricus Historical Park. The Interstate 295 bridge spans the river, and in a few places houses peek through the trees. We saw perhaps a half dozen docks and encountered three other boats over three hours or so. But the signs of civilization were few. The riverbanks are lined with trees and reeds for mile after unbroken mile. We saw sturgeon leap from the water and smaller fish break the surface and flop around. We saw white ospreys, snowy egrets, blue herons, and, far overhead, flights of honking geese. And, of course, we saw the magnificent gold-beaked, white-maned bald eagles.

The eagles perch atop the tallest trees and scan the river with uncanny eyes. The bird has perhaps the keenest vision of the animal kingdom — roughly four to eight times sharper than that of humans — and it misses nothing that occurs within its domain. It can spot a small fish floating on the river. We saw an eagle swoop down from its aerie, stretch out its talons, snatch the fish from the water, and settle upon the branch of a nearby tree to pick it apart.

The eagle’s magnificent plumage and noble visage inspired Americans to make it a national symbol, and we expect the bird to display the virtues we expect of human greatness. But the eagle is a scavenger, not a hunter. If you want a bird that epitomizes martial prowess, go find a hawk. Like vultures, eagles eat carrion. They might dive down and grab a fish stranded in a mud flat, but they are just as likely to steal their prey as capture it themselves.

We witnessed such a theft as we approached our dock at the end of our trip. We saw an osprey, a true hunting bird about half the size of an eagle, gracefully scoop a fish from the water and then beat its wings furiously heading upstream, presumably looking for a spot where it could eat its catch in peace. Then, out of nowhere, an eagle descended from the sky in fast pursuit. The osprey dodged and waved, but it could not evade the larger, faster bird. At last the osprey dropped the fish into the water, yielding its prey to the eagle.

Poor osprey, we thought as we watched transfixed. Shortly after, the osprey spotted another fish. The bird descended, snatched the fish from the water, and headed upstream again. This time, the first eagle’s mate plunged from the sky and took after the poor osprey. The smaller bird careened around but could not shake the eagle. It dropped the fish, and the second eagle fed at the osprey’s expense.

The eagles, it appears, make a good living snatching the catch of ospreys. Such is the law of nature. Our human hearts sympathized with the smaller predator, but the eagles rule the river. What a tremendous experience it was to witness them in action.

If you’d like to view the eagles, visit Captain Mike’s website at DiscoverTheJames.com. (And, yeah, we got close enough to the eagle for me to take the photo atop this blog post.)

This Certainly Demonstrates Something (Don’t Ask)

Under normal circumstances, building two wind turbines 27 miles off the coast of Virginia at a cost of $300 million would  be neither reasonable nor prudent.  They may produce the most expensive 12 megawatts of electricity in Virginia history. The only rational reason to go forward is to test technology which is becoming more common around the world but is still untested in hurricane territory.

On that basis the proposed Dominion Energy Virginia project now pending approval at the State Corporation Commission received a lukewarm blessing from the SCC’s staff, mainly because Dominion continues to talk about quickly following up with a far more extensive turbine project in the same location.  Before building the big project, perhaps 2,000 MW, some testing is a good idea.

But the staff commentary also noted it would make sense to give the test project (known as Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind or CVOW) time to prove itself before building a multi-billion-dollar expansion.

“Should the Company decide to move forward with a larger scale offshore wind project before the CVOW Project is in service and the demonstration is complete, or before the CVOW Project has demonstrated that it can survive a hurricane type storm, the Commission may want to consider requiring the risk of such a decision be borne or shared by shareholders,” wrote Gregory L. Abbott of the Division of Public Utility Regulation in pre-filed testimony.  He also suggested the SCC put a hard cap on the cost.

He added: “…it appears unlikely that the CVOW Project will demonstrate that large-scale offshore wind will be economic compared to either the least-cost traditional generation option or to the least-cost carbon-free renewable generation option.”

The staff filed several sets of testimony, parts which are kept confidential at the request of Dominion.  There will be two hearings, the first and perhaps most important next week dealing with questions about the SCC’s authority when the General Assembly has deemed that a project is “in the public interest” based on lobbyist assurances.

The General Assembly used that phrase in connection with CVOW.  Does that reduce or even eliminate the Commission’s authority to reject things based on outrageous cost or imprudence?  Of all the many things to win that valued legislative endorsement, this is by far the worst use of your money.

It is your money.  In effect, Dominion will pay for the project with those excess profits it is not using to pay customer refunds.  There will not be a separate (and easy to track) rate adjustment clause.  When the accounting for this project finally comes up for SCC review in 2021, assuming the General Assembly doesn’t change the rules for the umpteenth time, whatever Dominion has spent on this will reduce the amount of potential profit for refund.

SCC staff witness Carol Myers dives into that, in a document replete with redaction.  The company hotly disputes her estimate of the real cost of the project at almost $700 million over 25 years, but it will have the incentive to prove a high cost in the next review because that prevents refunds or (the thought causes them to shiver) rate reductions.

Continue reading

A Thumb On The Scale for ACP?

Weather normalized summer peaks for Dominion compared to earlier and current projections by the company. Source: Southern Environmental Law Center

A witness to whom Dominion Energy Virginia had vehemently objected, Gregory Lander of a company called Skipping Stone, had his time on the stand anyway at the State Corporation Commission Tuesday. His testimony might still be stricken, but the two commissioners and everybody else in the room heard it and then a lengthy cross-examination underlined it.

If he is correct the entire integrated resource plan filed by the giant utility, a process ordered by the General Assembly to plan the utility’s future, had a fundamental flaw. One single input in a model had a ripple effect in its choices for future generation, some of which it hopes to support with the controversial Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

The three-day hearing on the integrated resource plan, which will stand for two years, opened with SCC Chairman Mark Christie deferring a ruling on the motion to exclude some of Lander’s testimony. He said the decision on the ruling would be announced with the full decision.

Christie also repeated what has become a standard SCC disclaimer on IRP cases. It is just a planning document, any future plants will need a full commission review, “and just because you admit evidence does not mean it’s a finding of fact.”  He also added that before the ratepayers are billed for gas from the ACP the cost will need to be judged reasonable and prudent in its own case.

A little background: Dominion uses a modeling system called Plexos that uses information such as the expected new demand, generating units which might need to retire, various types of generation and their costs and environmental expectations to design its future system. As engineers say, and it was said again this week at the SCC, all models are wrong but some of them are useful.

The five future generation configurations included in the integrated resource plan used the model with different inputs, many of the variations dealing with future carbon regulation. According to Lander, and this was apparently confirmed in interrogatories, the cost of transporting natural gas through the ACP to Dominion generators was simply left out. SCC staff witnesses pointed to the same omission.

The commodity cost for gas was plugged in, but the cost of getting that gas to the plant was not. This omission made the choice of natural gas more cost-competitive and perhaps skewed the model in favor of gas. It put a huge thumb on the scale.

It is the transportation charge for the gas which will include the cost recovery, plus profit, for the construction of the project. Lander claims that will add up to $3 billion to ratepayer costs over 20 years. Opponents claim gas from the ACP will be more expensive than from existing pipelines. Lander was an expert witness hired by Appalachian Voices, an anti-pipeline group.

The IRP cannot be found reasonable and prudent, Lander told the judges, if an important cost like fuel logistics is set at zero. “The model is making choices that are not reflective of total costs.” He said that instead of building new gas combustion turbine units, included in the plan to complement all the intermittent solar also planned, the company should just keep some of the other fossil fuel units it plans to retire early and run them less often.

Continue reading

BVG Makes Case for Virginia as Offshore Wind Supply-Chain Hub

Manufacturing job-creation potential for the offshore wind industry. Source: BVG.

Virginia is very well positioned to establish a supply-chain hub for an East Coast wind-power industry, says a report written by offshore-wind consulting firm BVG Associates and underwritten by the Virginia chapter of the Sierra Club.

Although Virginia will not participate in the “first wave” of  East Coast offshore wind projects, which is ramping up now in northern coastal states, Virginia-based businesses could supply key components to those pioneering efforts if the Commonwealth acts quickly, concludes the newly published report, “Offshore Wind in Virginia: a Vision.”

The report lays out the following scenario for wind farm-driven economic development:

Virginia will derive immediate economic benefits while maturing its offshore wind supply chain, ensure development of its own 2 GW [gigawatt] offshore wind by 2028, and provide the tipping point for a second wave of lower-cost projects off Dominion Energy’s service territories, notably the Kitty Hawk lease area in North Carolina.

The study should be read with the understanding that Sierra Club-Virginia is promoting Virginia offshore wind generation to advance its long-term goal of eliminating fossil fuels and nuclear power from Virginia’s energy mix. Even with that caveat in mind, the study provides the most detailed analysis yet published of how Virginia can leverage offshore wind into a major economic-development boon for the Hampton Roads maritime sector. The Northam administration has hired a BVG associate to help the state fashion a strategy to build an offshore wind supply chain.

According to the report, Virginia has five big competitive advantages:

  • An industrial coastal infrastructure, with large areas for laydown and storage, quayside length for load-out, and direct access to the open ocean with unlimited vertical clearance.
  • A large workforce with competitive pay scales and experience in shipbuilding, ship repair, ports, logistics, and vessel operation.
  • Highway, rail, and inland waterway connections linking Virginia’s ports to industrial centers throughout the Southeast, Mid-Atlantic, and Midwest.
  • Eastern population centers with high and growing electricity demand, particularly for the Internet economy. Northern Virginia has a large and growing data-center corridor, and two new data centers are being built in Virginia Beach.
  • High-voltage interconnection capability in Virginia Beach sufficient to handle the anticipated commercial wind-lease area after “moderate investment.”

The first two advantages make Hampton Roads an attractive location for the fabrication and assembly of jacket foundations and offshore substation platforms. Two sites in the region could be made ready for a steel fabricator within 20 to 29 months at a cost of $5 million to $15 million. Jacket and substation production could create more than 2,000 new direct and indirect jobs.

The first phase of offshore wind production will be expensive. Wind supply chains in Europe like to see an annual market of at least 1 gigawatt, the equivalent of 80 to 125 turbine nacelles, turbine towers, blades, or foundations. A factory owner would look to produce 200 kilometers of cable per year, a volume needed to apply lean manufacturing strategies. Lacking U.S.-based investment, first movers in offshore wind would have to pay premium prices. Another complication is the Jones Act, which prohibits European-built and based vessels from transporting components between U.S. harbors. Offshore wind-service companies cannot yet justify building state-of-the-art jack-up vessels in the U.S. in compliance with the Jones Act.

First-mover states — Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, and Maryland — have committed to build more than 3 gigawatts of offshore capacity. Virginia has committed to build 5 gigawatts of renewable energy, including a substantial component from wind, by 2028. Dominion Energy has proposed to build two turbines with experimental designs to ensure that a larger wind farm could stand up to hurricane conditions frequently experienced in the Mid-Atlantic.

Writes BVG:

By the middle of the next decade, Virginia could be a leading U.S. market for offshore wind, driven by the ability to benefit from the lessons learned from northeast coast states and the maturing U.S. supply chain, complemented by Virginia’s strong infrastructure, location benefits, and deployment of offshore wind at scale.

Suppliers to the wind industry, such as turbine, foundation and cable manufacturers, like to see a regular run-rate for installed capacity. This allows easier investment planning and more efficient facilities. Manufacturers also need projects of a certain size to achieve economies of scale. … The Virginia market in our scenario is … not big enough by itself to attract investment, so the Atlantic Coast market as a whole is crucial. In our scenario, Virginia provides the tipping point, creating the demand needed to support an investment decision.

Some infrastructure investment in Hampton Roads may be necessary. Given the inevitable time lags in gaining regulatory approvals, BVG says, Virginia needs to act quickly. Portsmouth Marine Terminal would need between $11 million and $25 million to upgrade the port for major offshore use, with “additional costs in the facilities themselves.”

The report provides no estimate of how much it would cost to upgrade Virginia’s electric grid to accommodate a massive supply of offshore wind, nor, beyond general statements that wind power is complementary with solar power, does it discuss the impact of intermittent wind power on reliability. Fossil fuel advocates argue that wind and solar provide no surge capacity in extreme, polar vortex-like weather events.

The BVG study make no policy recommendations. It cedes that task to the Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy, which is developing a strategic plant to identify supply-chain businesses and how to market Virginia as a hub for the industry.

Bacon Bits: In with the New, Out with the Old

In with the new…

Data Center Alley too hot to handle. The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) has sold 424 acres west of Dulles International Airport to data-center developer Digital Realty Trust for an eye-popping $236.5 million — $558,000 per acre. MWAA will place $207 million in a segregated account used to reduce costs that airlines pay to do business at the airport. The transaction expands the large and growing data-center presence of Digital Realty in Loudoun County, reports the Washington Business Journal.

Virginia’s next big solar project? Solar developer Community Energy has applied to build 125-megawatts in solar capacity in Augusta County, reports PV magazine. To offset concerns about neighborhood impact, Community Energy plans to surround the facility with a buffer of vegetation and put into place measures to diminish the limited audio output. Instead of purchasing the land, the power company is leasing it from landowners, providing farmers an ongoing revenue stream rather than a lump-sum payment.

Out with the old..

Gutted newsrooms. Ned Oliver with the Virginia Mercury has quantified the shrinkage of news staff at Virginia’s largest daily newspapers in recent years. After quietly laying off another eight newspaper employees at the beginning of the month, the Richmond Times-Dispatch newsroom has gone from 42 news and sports reporters in 2010 to 26 today, from nine to six photographers, and from 20 to 13 editors. The Virginian-Pilot has dropped from 67 reporters to 33, 35 editors from to 22, and eight photographers to five. Newsroom staff at the Roanoke Times has eroded by 35% to 25 reporters, 11 editors, and three photographers.

“Meanwhile,” writes Oliver, “there is still no clear model for metro and community newspapers to make up for the loss of all that ad money to digital giants like Google and Facebook.”

Tarheel coal ash overflow. In an event sure to impact the debate over coal ash in Virginia, heavy rains from Hurricane Florence eroded a coal ash facility at a Duke Energy power plant near Wilmington, N.C. The utility is investigating the possible release of about 2,000 cubic yards of the material — enough to fill two-thirds of an Olympic-size swimming pool, according to the Herald-Sun. It was not clear whether any of the ash, which contains traces of heavy metals, reached public waterways.

The release reinforces the necessity of removing coal ash from unlined, uncapped containment ponds where electric utilities have been restoring the coal-combustion residue for decades. Environmental Protection Agency regulations were designed to prevent incidents like this by consolidating and capping coal ash ponds. While environmentalists, regulators and utilities haggle over whether it’s better to store the material in lined landfills, a process that could take two to three decades, existing containment ponds remain vulnerable to extreme weather events like Florence.

What Virginia’s Electric Grid Could Look Like

A Next-Era Energy Resources battery storage facility.

by Jane Twitmyer

Virginia has all the tools it needs to build an inexpensive, reliable, clean energy future. We’re not talking about exotic technologies that might become available some day in the future. Solar power, wind power, battery storage, microgrids, energy-efficient buildings and other clean-power technologies are available right now at a cost competitive with fossil fuels and nuclear. The Old Dominion just needs a regulatory structure to match.

Virginia’s energy landscape has changed faster than many thought possible. Electricity-hungry data centers are demanding electricity generated from 100% renewable sources. As projected demand has shifted, Dominion Energy has canceled two planned large, base-load natural gas plants. In their place the company now plans to build 3,600 megawatts of gas-fired “peakers’” designed to back up the promised 5,000 megawatts of solar and solar power when clouds block the sun or there is a lull in the wind.

But the experience of other utilities is showing that even the peaker plants aren’t necessary. Consider the Moss Landing gas-powered plant in California. In 1998 PG&E sold Moss Landing to Duke Energy, which spent $500 million upgrading the plant before selling it to Dynergy. Last year Dynergy retired two super-critical steam units because they were no longer economically competitive. Now, a newly reinvented Moss Landing anticipates becoming an energy storage facility filled with 300 megawatt/1,200 megawatt-hour batteries.

In Vermont, Green Mountain Power has built a system of distributed stored energy. Solar customers pay $15 a month to host a utility-owned and-operated Tesla Powerwall in exchange for backup power. During peak energy days the utility pulls from 500 Tesla Powerwalls as well as energy storage facilities in Rutland and Panton. Vice President Josh Castonguay says these alternatives to gas work as planned this summer when the batteries took the equivalent of 5,000 homes off the grid.

In New Hampshire, Liberty Utilities wants to own and install 1,000 Tesla Powerwalls in the homes of its customers. The five megawatts of aggregated battery capacity would allow Liberty to reduce its load peak, saving an estimated $693,000 a year in transmission costs and potentially offsetting traditional wires upgrades.

Another approach to meeting peak demand is to combine offshore wind with solar. Rooftop solar combined with our extraordinary offshore wind resource can meet all of Virginia’s summer peak demand. Solar’s peak production ends as the wind picks up, and thanks to the sea breeze effect, an offshore wind farm is very productive when electric demand in the region is at its highest.

Virginia’s offshore wind has the potential to generate three times as much net energy as Dominion’s 2017 net energy load with no fuel required. Just the offshore leases acquired by Dominion in 2013 can provide the electricity equivalent of 2.5 nuclear plants. More leases will be available in the future, yet the utility’s 2018 Integrated Resource Plan anticipates building only two “demonstration” windmills on Dominion’s leased waters during the next 15 years. Offshore wind looks like a missed opportunity.

The Virginia coast is located on the Mid Atlantic Bight, the geological formation that runs from Cape Cod to Cape Hatteras. The Bight is the shallow, wide edge of the continental shelf 30 miles, more or less, from shore. Wind speeds on the Bight are higher, blades can be larger, and the “sea breeze effect” generates power during times of high demand onshore.

The Mid-Atlantic Bight has been called the potential “Saudi Arabia of Wind.” Bight wind installations are underway in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and Maryland. The Governor of New Jersey Governor’s has signed an executive order setting a goal of generating 3,500 megawatts of offshore wind energy by 2030. New York Governor Cuomo has called for developing 2,400 megawatts of offshore wind by 2030, targeting 800 megawatts for this year and next.

The U.S. offshore wind industry will be built. A pipeline of wind projects totals 25.46 gigawatts, including 1.3 gigawatts added last year. Building Offshore Wind means building a whole new industry. Costs will drop rapidly as supply chains and construction capabilities develop. Gov. Ralph Northam’s recent hiring of the international energy consultants BVG Associates to analyze how the state can become a coastal leader for the offshore wind industry is important. The Hampton Roads area is well suited to becoming an offshore wind hub. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), it will bring 4,377 jobs and $641 million economic benefits to the state.

Price has been an issue but onshore support for the new industry changes the pricing picture. Block Island’s wind farm, built only last year without onshore support facilities, cost $244 per megawatt-hour. Recent bids for Vineyard Wind have come in at $74/megawatt hour, demonstrating the financial value of onshore support facilities. In Massachusetts the old whaling port of New Bedford is undergoing a commercial makeover of more than $200 million, including the construction of a marine commerce terminal financed by the state, to prepare for the offshore wind industry.

The clean energy economy is being created around the world. Virginia needs to diversify away from gas as its primary, centrally distributed resource. We all want Virginia’s privately owned utilities to remain profitable, but it will take writing basic new rules to avoid the “death spiral” of declining monopoly utility sales and rising electricity rates. A utility-owned multi-directional grid that can accommodate a multiplicity of solar and wind is proving to be the most reliable and affordable choice for other states, and can be for Virginia, too.

Jane Twitmyer is a member of Renewable Loudoun. She has been a renewable energy consultant and advocate since 2011.

Northam To Ask Again To Spend Carbon Fees

The gap between the amount of generation Dominion projects it will need by 2033, and what the SCC and an outside consultant project. It deals with thousand of megawatts of capacity. Source: SCC staff comments on Integrated Resource Plan case.

Virginia Secretary of Natural Resources Matthew Strickler told a legislative commission today the Governor will again ask the General Assembly to keep and spend the proceeds of a new electricity carbon tax, rather than find a way to return it to ratepayers.

Strickler pointed to Senate Bill 696 and its companion House Bill 1273, defeated by General Assembly Republicans on party-line votes, as models for what might come back in the 2019 session.  He estimated that once Virginia joins the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), and Virginia utilities are having to buy carbon credits at auction for their fossil fuel generation, it will generate $200 million per year.  The fiscal note on the failed bill estimates between $175 million and $208 million.

(Here’s an earlier discussion of RGGI on Bacon’s Rebellion, and here is the Richmond Times-Dispatch coverage of the meeting.)

The draft regulation pending at the Department of Environmental Quality would have the money paid to RGGI in the auctions eventually return to the utilities, after RGGI dips into the pot for its cut.  When former Governor Terrence McAuliffe started the regulatory process in 2016 he said the money would come back as credits to ratepayers and in effect create a shell game with little final cost.

The bottom line of the briefing before the Manufacturing Development Commission was all talk of money is just speculation until DEQ and the Air Pollution Control Board release the final regulation, and no details on that were reported.  The draft sparked 7,500 written comments and the Air Board can amend it before it takes a final vote.  Strickler predicted release of that in early December.

With all the other electricity rate increases barreling toward Virginians because of recent state legislation – building new solar and wind, a major effort to place residential lines underground, a massive roll out of smart metering and other grid improvements – it is easy to dismiss the cost of RGGI fees as a rounding error.  But $200 million more piled on annually will make a difference if the money is spent on other things the state wants, or somehow is retained by the utilities – which is very possible.  Some of that will be paid by customers of Appalachian Power or other smaller generators.

The State Corporation Commission staff told the commission that any cost estimate will depend on the actual CO2 emission targets set for Virginia by RGGI.  The starting point from which you measure the planned 3 percent annual reductions will matter.  Greg Abbott of the SCC staff said it is possible the utility could have an easy time meeting early goals and make a profit on the effort.  Just what happens to those dollars once RGGI sends them back to Virginia is not spelled out in the law and may depend on how the utilities treat the money in their own accounting.

The issue is also tied up in the SCC’s review of the Dominion Energy Virginia integrated resource plan.  Several of Dominion’s proposed capital plans assume a need to comply with RGGI and assign a cost.  But the SCC and others are challenging a key assumption behind those projections – the growth in demand for electricity from Dominion customers.  Slower growth makes meeting the RGGI goals easier and cheaper.

A chart from the SCC testimony in that case illustrates how its projections vary is at the top of this post.  An outside consultant to the SCC, Robert McBride of DrillingInfo Inc., believes Dominion will need less generation in 2033 than it currently has.

For its part, Dominion today provided absolutely no details at all on the cost or policy implications of RGGI, not even what it has included in the IRP.  It turned up with a short slide set to show how low its rates already are in comparison to other states, and tell how it helps low income customers.

Senator Frank Wagner, R-Virginia Beach, chair of this Commission and obviously still a RGGI skeptic, indicated he may call everybody back before his Joint Commission on Administrative Rules, which has statutory authority to challenge pending regulations.  Wagner questioned the need for RGGI membership, pointing to his own 2018 bill which authorized up to 5,000 MW of new renewable generation.

If that gets built, he asked Strickler, doesn’t that more than meet any carbon reduction goals RGGI might set?  So why join RGGI and layer on the carbon tax costs?   Strickler zeroed in on “if” and pointed out that the legislation did not actually order construction of those assets.  Joining RGGI sets a goal that creates more pressure to build them, he argued.

Limousine liberalism in Alexandria, Va

Stinking to high heaven.  The City of Alexandria spews an astonishing 11 million gallons of raw sewage into the Potomac River every year.  The overflows happen just about every time it rains.  This is the result of a combined sewer system that is designed to collect sewage and runoff in a single system.  When it rains, the runoff spikes and Alexandria’s treatment plant can’t handle the volume.  The excess of mixed runoff and sewage is intentionally overflowed into the Potomac River in four separate dumping locations.  This has been happening for 100 years.

Raising procrastination to an art form.  Many U.S. cities have combined sewer overflow (CSO) problems.  The environmental damage is well understood and the approach to solving the problem is well understood.  You basically build a great big underground holding tank to catch the excess sewage and runoff until the treatment plant can catch up to demand. Washington, D.C., Richmond and Lynchburg join Alexandria in needing to deal with their CSO problem.  The difference between Alexandria and the other three cities is that the other cities are well along in solving the problem while the well-heeled progressives in Alexandria were content to spew human waste into the Chesapeake Bay watershed without any more than a pretense of a plan to remedy the situation.  However, in a stunning stroke of clarity, the Virginia General Assembly changed all that.  They boxed Alexandria’s ears leaving the snowflakes in that city’s government with an epic case of tinnitus.

Our glorious General Assembly.  During the 2017 session the Virginia General Assembly essentially told Alexandria that “enough was enough.”  The legislature passed bills setting a fast-paced schedule for Alexandria to fix its disgusting sewer system.  The city has eight years to attend to a problem that should have been addressed a decade ago.  The Mayor and City Council members of Alexandria cried like babies after being told they needed to stop dumping raw sewage into the river.  Alexandria has a median household income of $89,200 and can afford an “Office for Women” along with hybrid buses that cost $750,000 apiece (twice the cost of a normal diesel bus and they idle all the time anyway).  However, they can’t fund a fix to dumping raw sewage?

Odd bedfellows. The Alexandria sewage affair made for some odd bedfellows.  Progressive Democratic state Senator Scott Surovell, D-Mount Vernon, launched a Twitter offensive against his lefty pals in Alexandria over the matter.  Of course Surovell represents the district immediately downriver from Alexandria!  Conservative Republican state senator Richard Stuart, R-Westmoreland, patroned the initial legislation, which was much more draconian than what was ultimately passed.  Stuart also represents a district downriver from Alexandria.  Support for the bill in both the House and Senate came primarily from Republicans while opposition was primarily from Democrats. Governor McAuliffe tried to elongate Alexandria’s schedule but was rebuffed by the General Assembly and ultimately signed the strict bill.

Update. After insisting that the city needed five years to study the matter Alexandria’s plan was written and approved within a year. After insisting that the eight-year schedule was an engineering impossibility the city now says the schedule is doable. Funny what happens when liberals are forced to do the things they insist everybody else must do.

Warning. Before any of you wizards in the peanut gallery start carping about my anti-liberal bias … remember this post.  I am anti-two-faced politicians who espouse a political philosophy like property rights or environmentalism but then backtrack on their supposed beliefs when it comes time to act.

Hero award: Scott Surovell.

— Don Rippert

Pipelines, Fake Racism and the Environmental Justice Hustle

Photo credit: The Interfaith Alliance for Climate Justice

A 15-member advisory council has recommended that the state rescind permits for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and Mountain Valley Pipeline on the grounds of environmental justice, the Washington Post reports.

The Advisory Council on Environmental Justice, created by former Governor Terry McAuliffe, said that Governor Ralph Northam should appoint an emergency task force “to ensure that predominately poor, indigenous, brown and/or black communities do not bear an unequal burden of environmental pollutants and life-altering disruptions.”

Environmental justice advocates have focused in recent months on the community of Union Hill in Buckingham County, a historically African-American area where the ACP wants to build a compressor station. The compressor requires an state air-quality permit, the denial of which would put a serious crimp in the pipeline plans. African-American residents would be impacted by the noise and dust of construction as well as from air pollution emanating from the compressor station. A draft letter (I haven’t been able to find a copy of the final letter) from the group declares that the compressor station “exhibits racism.”

Friends, the environmental justice/social justice movement has jumped the shark. Pipeline foes raise serious issues about landowner rights (are property owners sufficiently compensated for rights of way?) and water quality (will erosion and sedimentation in mountainous karst terrain damage local water supplies?). But the environmental justice angle is hokum.  We live in an era in which labeling someone or something as “racist” trumps all other facts and logic. The anti-communist McCarthyism of the 1950s has revisited America a half-century later in a new guise. Today, social justice warriors espy racists behind every bush. But tarring the ACP as exhibiting “racism” deprives the term “racism” of any meaning.

Let’s consider a few facts about the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. The pipeline is 600 miles long. Architects of the pipeline route circumvented sites of historical or cultural significance (including those associated with African-Americans), as well as sites of ecological importance, including large tracts of land protected by conservation easements and national park status. Concerned about the impact on local economies and local tax bases, the ACP made efforts (not entirely successful) to minimize impact on sites with economic value. The unavoidable consequence was to steer the pipeline through properties with less economic value.

Steering a pipeline through areas with lower property values means redirecting it from affluent areas to lower-income areas. Insofar as there is overlap between the lower-income population and the African-American population, that means routing the pipeline through areas populated by African-Americans. ACP didn’t route its pipeline with an intention of discriminating against African-Americans, it reconfigured the route in response to pressure emanating from those with political power. If there is institutional racism in the picture, it’s the superior ability of affluent white pipeline foes to protect their property.

Despite this unintentional bias in the routing process, it is difficult to see a disproportionate impact on lower-income or African-American Virginians in the numbers.

According to the ACP Environmental Impact Statementin Virginia 11.5% of the population lives below the poverty line. Thirty-four of the 63 census tracts in Virginia within one mile of the pipeline have a higher percentage of the population living below the poverty line when compared to the state. Consider how elastic this definition is. The pipeline doesn’t have run through a lower-income census district, it can run within a mile of such a district! Furthermore, the methodology fails to adjust the “poverty” line for the lower cost of rural living. Thus the percentage of poor Virginians who are truly poor — and the putative impact on truly poor people — is significantly overstated.

Likewise, minorities in Virginia comprise 30.8% of the population, according to the ACP’s Environmental Impact Statement. The pipeline route goes through, or within one mile of, census tracts with minority populations ranging from o.2% to 100%. In 15 of the 63 census tracts, the minority population is either (1) greater than 50% or (2) is meaningfully greater than the percentage of the minority population in that particular jurisdiction. Nice trick: Create two definitions for describing disparate impact and rather than pick one or the other, use both!

Despite the way the process is loaded, it strikes me that you would have gotten much the same impact if you had plotted the pipeline route by random chance. In 48 census tracts, the disparate-impact criteria do not apply.

In a state in which the African-American population is scattered throughout the countryside, it is impossible using random selection criteria to avoid impacting some African American landowners and communities. As it happens, one cluster of the minority communities in the path of the pipeline is located in Buckingham County near a proposed compressor station, the location of which was picked not because of proximity to African-Americans but because of the availability of an industrial parcel in proximity to the anticipated junction with the Transco pipeline.

The social justice warriors are focusing on one African-American community along a 600-mile pipeline and using it as a stand-in for the entire African-American population along the route. Then the SJWs purport to speak for that community (some of whose members may not share their views), and insist that the alleged injustices visited upon that single community are grounds for scuttling the entire project. If this logic prevails, SJWs will be given the power to exercise veto power over major infrastructure projects — not just gas pipelines, but electric transmission lines, highways, or any major industrial project — on the basis of race.

Of course, as I have frequently pointed out in other contexts, the SJWs are highly selective in assigning racism. One could just as easily describe the SJWs as the racists. Pipeline construction will open up hundreds of jobs for African-Americans working for the Laborers International Union of America. By augmenting local supplies of gas, the pipeline also will make rural counties with large African-American populations eligible to recruit new categories of manufacturing business.

Dominion Energy and other ACP partners would be fully within their rights to accuse the predominantly white SJWs of trying to shut off economic opportunities for blacks to advance their anti-fossil fuel agenda — an accusation which has considerable validity. Dominion doesn’t play the game that way. But I wouldn’t blame them if they did.

Solar Power and the Gentrification of the Countryside

Consider two mega-trends: (1) the push to renewable solar power and, (2) the changing economics of rural land that places an increasing value on pristine “viewsheds.” Both are powerful forces, and the two are coming into conflict here in Virginia. How the story ends, nobody yet knows. Hopefully, the two can be reconciled.

The American Battlefield Trust has published a study, “A War-Time Viewshed Study of Culpeper County,” that examines how far Confederate and Union troops see from the half-dozen signal stations around Culpeper County during the Civil War. The study asks, according to today’s Free Lance-Star, “what is the modern-day value of preserving such elevated vistas near the same areas proposed for two large solar farm projects?”

Virginia has committed itself to an energy future that eventually will rely upon solar energy for some 25% of its electric generating capacity. While a portion of that capacity will be installed on rooftops and other urban/sububurban locations, most of it will take the form of vast solar farms consuming thousands of acres in the countryside.

Once upon a time, when the countryside was inhabited mainly by farmers, that might not have caused consternation. Farmers held a strictly utilitarian attitude toward their land, and as long as a solar facility did not interfere with their farming operations, they wouldn’t have cared. But Virginia’s countryside has fundamentally changed. Farmers no longer predominate. Much of the countryside is now classified as “exurbs” — scattered, extremely low density development, primarily residential. In many places, farming is now seen as an intrusive activity, and homeowners get angry at slow-moving farm tractors clogging commuter traffic on country roads. Homeowners place a tremendous premium on the views from their back porches, the quality of that view affects the price of their property, and they get up in arms over anything that affects that view.

Another facet of this gentrification of the countryside is the proliferation of vineyards, breweries, and restaurants whose owners selected their locations for the beautiful views their patrons would enjoy while dining on the back patio. Increasingly, viewsheds have commercial economic value. Yet another aspect is the issued raised by the American Battlefield Trust of historic viewsheds. In a region with a rich history, such as Virginia’s northern Piedmont, there is strong sentiment for preserving historic viewsheds, both for practical economic reasons, such as preserving the local tourism trade, and for intrinsic reasons, such as protecting hallowed ground.

It’s no surprise, then, that Virginia has witnessed unprecedented levels of activism in opposition to infrastructure projects of any kind, be they natural gas pipelines, electric transmission lines, and now solar farms. The debate gets interesting because foes of pipelines and electric transmission lines have latched onto environmentalist arguments in support of their opposition. The pipelines, in particular, have been portrayed as antithetical to environmental goals of reducing CO2 emissions and combating global warming.

Environmentalists propose to reduce CO2 emissions by ramping up solar production — a land-intensive endeavor. While not as visually intrusive as high-voltage electric transmission towers, solar farms are comparable in visual impact to, say, a buried natural gas pipeline where trees have been cut down along the route.

“View sheds continually rank within the state as very significant to visitors,” said Glenn Stach, author of the American Battlefield Trust study. “Battlefield preservation and the experience of a battlefield today are best protected by the protection of agricultural lands.” Reports the Free Lance-Star:

“A contemporary viewshed policy says five miles is what you should manage, the mitigation of resources within that viewshed is most important,” he said.

The two proposed solar projects both are within that five-mile area. The panels will stretch up to maximum 15-feet during peak times, according to the extensive application submitted earlier this year by Texas-based Greenwood Solar seeking to build a utility scale project on 1,000 acres south of Stevensburg.

A separate project by Virginia Solar seeks to build on 172 acres between Stevensburg and Brandy Station with both following the existing Dominion Power transmission line.

A spokesman for one of the solar companies said the project would be out of view from the county’s “core battlefields, and the solar panels would have low, 12-foot profile.

And, thus, a new battle is joined.