Category Archives: Environment

Stoney Versus the Environ-istas

Image credit: Virginia Public Media

by James A. Bacon

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

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

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

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

The Quest for Ways to Store Energy

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

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

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

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

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

Building Systems to Use Methane Not From Wells

Methane escaping from a well being burned off.

by Steve Haner

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

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

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

SCC Asked for Hearing on Secret Renewables Costs

by Steve Haner

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

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

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

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

VCEA Could Raise APCo Power Bills by Half

by Steve Haner

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

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

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

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

SCC Staff: Dominion May Exceed Wind Cost Cap

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

by Steve Haner

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

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

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

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

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

Updates: Missing Wind, Lazy Assembly, Gas Wars

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

by Steve Haner

The German Energy Mix in March

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

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

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

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

Virginia’s Greens Need to Change Their Strategy

Utility-scale solar farm

by James C. Sherlock

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

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

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

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

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

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

For reference:

Continue reading

AG Expert: Wind Project Unneeded, Accounting Off

Exhibit submitted by Office of the Attorney General showing the excessive generation Dominion Energy will have compared to its expected demand, funded by ratepayers. The black line in the middle is the projected customer demand. Click for larger view.

by Steve Haner

There is no justification for Dominion’s $10 billion offshore wind project other than that the General Assembly has ordered it, a witness for Virginia’s Attorney General has testified. The utility doesn’t need its electricity, doesn’t need its renewable energy attributes, and is ignoring lower cost alternatives if it does need generation in the future. Further, its claims of economic benefit are based on faulty assumptions.

Virginia’s Attorney General Jason Miyares is the customers’ main representative at the table as the State Corporation Commission reviews this pending application. By law the AG office serves as Consumer Counsel in these matters.  Despite all the concerns raised in his expert’s review, Miyares is not recommending that the SCC reject the project.

In fact, as mentioned in an earlier Richmond Times-Dispatch review of the case testimony, no party so far has recommended that the SCC reject it. That was noted by a triumphant Dominion spokesman at the end of the newspaper’s story when it might properly have been the headline.

That is the headline at this stage of the case. The language inserted into the 2020 Virginia Clean Economy Act by Dominion and its environmentalist allies demands approval of the project without regard to proving necessity, reasonableness or prudence. The law orders the SCC to find the project prudent unless it misses a very high cost target or fails to have a plan to start operation by 2028. (Note, it doesn’t have to be in operation then, merely have a plan.) Continue reading

Another Try for Natural Gas to Hampton Roads

Existing 12″ natural gas pipelines proposed for replacement with new 24″ lines. Click for larger view.

by Steve Haner

Natural gas pipeline companies have applied to federal regulators with another proposal to enhance supply into Virginia’s Hampton Roads region, despite the earlier failures of two similar high profile efforts.

Columbia Gas Transmission, part of TC Energy which is best known for the recently-rejected Keystone XL pipeline, is proposing to replace 48 miles of existing, 1950s-era, 12-inch diameter pipe with new 24-inch pipe. Compressor stations and other facilities would also be modernized. This proposal is being marketed as the Virginia Reliability Project and stays within existing right of way from Sussex County to Chesapeake.

Transcontinental (Transco), in a separate application to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, wants to add a 6.35-mile loop of new 24-inch pipe in Brunswick and Greensville counties, and improve a compressor there, allowing it to supply an additional 105,000 dekatherms per day to points east and south. It has been named the Commonwealth Energy Connector Project.

From the S&P Global story linked in the adjacent paragraph. Click for larger view.

To some writing for the energy trade press, the combined projects look like an effort to make up for the loss of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, abandoned by Dominion Energy. It was to provide substantial new supply to regional retailer Virginia Natural Gas. Following that retreat in the face of environmental opposition and a change in attitude by elected Virginia leaders, the VNG Header project was also abandoned. Will this third proposal fare better? Continue reading

If U.S. Copies Europe, “It Will End In Tears”

Dr. Benny Peiser

by Steve Haner

First published this morning by the Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy.

A major European voice for climate and energy rationality told a small Charlottesville audience March 30 that his home, the United Kingdom, and the rest of Europe face an immediate energy crisis that was brewing long before the war in Ukraine.

Benny Peiser of the Global Warming Policy Foundation said prices in Britain jump as of today, April 1. Householders are seeing the rising electricity and natural gas costs suddenly double, from about 1,000 pounds to 2,000 pounds annually. By the end of the year another jump to 3,000 pounds annually (almost $4,000) is predicted. The parallel impact on business and transportation will push up food and other commodity prices. Continue reading

No Other State Plans Utility-Owned Wind Farms

Clean Virginia’s witness prepared this list of current U.S. offshore wind projects, their owners, size and contract structure. Click for larger view.

by Steve Haner

The table reproduced above may one of the most interesting exhibits submitted to the State Corporation Commission as it considers Dominion Energy Virginia’s offshore wind application. Two things jump out, both highlighted in pre-filed expert testimony sponsored by environmental activist group Clean Virginia.

First, only in Virginia is such a project being financed directly by the captive ratepayers of a monopoly electric utility. Only in Virginia will the turbines be owned by the utility rather than a private investor. Continue reading

Wind Case Spinning Up; Your Comments Sought

Yes, it is that big. Click for larger view, and note the on-shore transmission expansions.

by Steve Haner

In the coming weeks, Virginia’s State Corporation Commission takes up one of the largest utility investments ever undertaken in the Commonwealth, where the cost and the risk will rest squarely on Virginia’s citizens: Dominion Energy Virginia’s $10 billion Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind project.

In applications and appendices filed late last year, probably running to hundreds of thousands of words and hundreds of technical drawings, Dominion outlined its request to build the project 27 statute miles (24 nautical miles) off the mouth of Hampton Roads. The project area covers 176 square miles of seabed. It uses about one square mile for each of the planned 176 turbine towers. Continue reading

AG Sought Rejection of Some Solar Over Cost

Jason Miyares. Photo credit: Washington Post

by Steve Haner

On behalf of Dominion Energy Virginia’s customers, Attorney General Jason Miyares (R) asked the State Corporation Commission to reject five of the solar projects included in the statewide renewable energy development package the Commission approved last week.

The Commission, however, did not take them off the approved list and thus did not “use its authority to send a regulatory signal to the Company that excessively priced projects will not be approved,” as Miyares requested. This is just the beginning of a years-long process of many such applications, including the pending offshore wind project. Such a missed opportunity could be important. Continue reading