Category Archives: Environment

SCC Details High Customer Cost of RGGI

RGGI states

The State Corporation Commission staff has “shown its work” on an earlier estimate of electricity rate increases resulting from Virginia’s participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, despite a Democratic legislator’s complaint in Sunday’s Washington Post it was not being transparent.

“Even if you agree with the SCC, its analyses should be public information designed to inform the public debate. The SCC, however, has chosen a less transparent route, disadvantaging the public and the legislature from having all the necessary information to determine energy policy in the commonwealth,” Delegate David Toscano of Charlottesville wrote.   Continue reading

Next Up: Carbon Tax, Cap and Trade On Your SUV

They are coming next for your SUV.

While the Air Pollution Control Board still has steps to take, it is safe to consider Virginia’s membership in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative a done deal.  That will quickly hit you in your electric bill, as Virginia’s two major electricity generators will have to pay a tax on their carbon emissions and alter their generation fleets to steadily reduce their CO2 output.

Here is what’s next:  The counterpart to RGGI for another major sector of the economy is the Transportation and Climate Initiative (TCI), which Virginia announced it would join in September.   In addition to Virginia, the current TCI member jurisdictions are Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Vermont, with policy support from Georgetown University.   Continue reading

Conservation Vs. Solar in Powhatan County

Conservation easements don’t just block projects like pipelines, highways and electric transmission lines. As demonstrated in Powhatan County Monday, they can block solar farms as well.

Faced with skepticism from the Powhatan County Board of Supervisors, Cartersville Solar LLC has withdrawn a proposal to build a solar farm on a 3,000-acre tract of property, reports the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

The proposal had encountered opposition from Powhatan residents. Citizens commenting at public hearings cited negative ecological impact on protected wetlands — the only remaining wildlife corridor connecting the James and Appomattox rivers — and on rare and endangered species.

Cartersville Solar had acquired 2,998 acres near the intersection of Cartersville and Duke roads for the purpose of building a solar farm. (The RTD article does not say how much power it would generate.) In November, the Powhatan County Planning Commission voted to recommend denial of the project on the grounds that the proposed use is not consistent with the 2010 Long-Range Comprehensive Plan. Part of the project would fall into an area designed Priority Conservation Area and Protected Land. Continue reading

Are Chemical Storage Facilities Safe from Sea Level Rise?

Map source: “Toxic Floodwaters”

If the threat of leaking coal ash pits kept you up at night, wait until you read, “Toxic Floodwaters: The Threat of Climate-Driven Chemical Disaster in Virginia’s James River Watershed,” a report just published by the Center for Progressive Reform.

Authors Noah Sachs (a University of Richmond professor and a friend of mine) and David Flores argue that the James River watershed “is among the regions of the country most vulnerable to the consequences of climate change” due to higher-than-average sea-level rise, intensifying rainfall, and increased hurricane risk. “As major storms cause serious and potentially toxic flooding in the James River watershed … residents are reminded that the industries surrounding them are not doing enough to plan and adapt to our changing world.”

Also, as we have come to expect from the modern environmental movement, there is a social justice component to the report. “Social vulnerability interacts with geography and climate to produce a climate crisis,” the authors write.

The study raises some legitimate questions, but I can’t find any evidence to buttress its strongest assertions. I’ll get to those reservations in a moment. But first, let’s see what the report says. Continue reading

Virginia’s Water Quality Improving… Virginia’s Political Environment Not

Source: Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, Draft 2018 Water Quality Assessment Integrated Report

The Department of Environmental Quality has published its draft 2018 Water Quality Assessment Report rating the conditions of Virginia rivers, streams and other waterways. You can read read impenetrable prose of the executive summary here, which is like hacking your way through the dense jungle of a ’30s-vintage Tarzan movie, or you can read Tamara Dietrich’s distillation in the Daily Press. Dietrich’s summary:

Virginia’s waters are by no means pristine, but they’re mostly holding their own or even improving a bit in water quality, despite an influx of 1.6 million people over the last 20 years. … Over the last six years, water clarity in particular shows “significant improvement” overall, the report states, particularly in the Chesapeake Bay. Underwater grasses are surging, hitting 55 percent of the statewide goal, up from 47 percent just two years ago. And several segments of the bay and its tributaries — the James and Elizabeth rivers, for instance — once listed as impaired are showing improvement, particularly in low-oxygen dead zones.

Bacon’s bottom line: One of the more useful aspects of the report is that it shows that impairments to Virginia’s waters are many and varied. Certain issues — such as coal ash disposal — hog the media spotlight, generate public hysteria, seize the attention of lawmakers, and grab disproportionate public funding, while other issues go neglected. Continue reading

Sow the Wind and Reap the Whirlwind

Environmentalists have created a monster. They have engendered a climate of hysteria by hyping risks for everything from global warming to coal ash, water quality to environmental racism. They have mastered the art of throwing every conceivable objection against the wall to see what sticks. They have perfected the strategy of question, question, delay, delay, obstruct, obstruct, sue, sue. Now, in the Spotsylvania County controversy over a solar farm, their tactics are biting them in the hindquarters.

After a nine-hour meeting at which more than 100 people spoke, reports the Virginia Mercury, the Spotsylvania Board of Supervisors delayed yesterday a decision on whether a 500-megawatt solar facility will be built in the western part of the county.

A large majority of the hundreds of people packing the Spotsylvania County auditorium opposed the sPower project, which would be the largest east of the Rocky Mountains and would almost double the amount of solar energy Virginia is currently producing. The concerns expressed seem utterly without merit, as far as I can tell. Yet hundreds of Spotsylvania citizens have convinced themselves that the 6,000-acre solar farm with 1.8 million solar panels would pose a hazard to their community. Continue reading

Sorry, Mr. Bloomberg, You Can’t Pay for Virginia Justice

Earlier this year I described how Attorney General Mark Herring had applied for funding from the Michael Bloomberg-funded New York University School of Law to hire a special assistant attorney to pursue climate-change and clean-energy initiatives. (See “Following the Dark Money.”) NYU had agreed to provide the funding but, for reasons as yet unclear, Herring’s office never made the hire.

Chris Horner, a Virginia resident and senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, raised the alarm — entirely ignored by Virginia’s mainstream media — about the potential danger of allowing private interests, in effect, to commandeer the police powers of the state.

Herring’s bid to use private funds to hire an attorney also raised a separation-of-powers issue. While the OAG is arguably free to accept outside money, it has no authority to spend it unless it is appropriated by the General Assembly. Clearly, someone in the General Assembly was paying attention to the matter. Language in the budget conference report directly addresses the ability of the AG’s office to hire mercenary attorneys: Continue reading

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