Back when work began on the Washington Metro’s Silver Line under the Kaine administration, planners expected Phase II to be complete by 2018. Here it is, mid-2021, and the officials in charge now are hoping to open in early 2022. Phase I went relatively smoothly, but Phase II, which extends the commuter rail system to Loudoun County, has been a fiasco. Press coverage of the incessant delays has taken on a fatalistic tone — oh, well, another delay. Stories enumerate the problems — more than 100 design changes, defective panels, flawed rail ties, bad concrete — but no one seems interested in the underlying cause of so many failures, which, one suspects, can be attributed to terrible project management by the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA).
The opportunity costs of the four-year delay continue to mount. Reston Now highlights the plight of Weird Brothers Coffee which opened at Worldgate Metro Plaza in anticipation that the Herndon station nearby would open in 2019 and generate foot traffic. Meanwhile, traffic congestion in Northern Virginia, which the multibillion-dollar project was designed to mitigate, is returning to the hellish pre-COVID conditions. Twenty years ago when Virginia Department of Transportation projects were running late and over budget, it was a statewide scandal. Today? Virginians are so inured to incompetence that there’s not a peep from anyone.
But, hey, government is something we all do together! We’re looking forward to Congress enacting a trillion-dollar infrastructure package to shower free money on the state. What could possibly go wrong?
More fiber. A joint venture involving Annandale-based Tenebris Fiber expects to begin constructing a 680-mile regional fiber optic network in Virginia. The network will run through Fairfax, Loudoun and Prince William Counties and connect with a Virginia Beach cable landing station that links to Europe and South America with subsea fiber-optic trunk lines, reports Virginia Business. The network will support the continued expansion of Virginia’s data center industry.
More rail. Virginia has finalized agreements with CSX, Amtrak and the Virginia Railway Express in a $3.7 billion project to build a new rail bridge over the Potomac River, add new track in the Washington-Richmond corridor, and buy hundreds of miles of passenger right of way from CSX. “This transformative plan will make travel faster and safer,” declared Governor Ralph Northam in celebrating the signature transportation achievement of his administration. “It will make it easier to move up and down the East Coast, and it will connect urban and rural Virginia.” Even more, he claimed, it will reduce traffic congestion, cut pollution and create “a more inclusive economy.” So reports The Washington Post. I have yet to see a cost-benefit analysis of this massive investment. But with Uncle Joe planning a $2.3 trillion infrastructure boondoggle, Virginia will be getting lots of free money, so who cares?
More thought crimes. Kiara Jennings, who leads Loudoun’s Minority Student Achievement Advisory Committee (MSAAC), said teachers who did not fully embrace the county’s diversity training should not be tolerated. “If our teachers and staff cannot be open and willing to learn how to be culturally competent then they do not need to be in the classrooms any longer,” she wrote in an email, as reported by The Daily Wire. The MSAAC then posted this on its Facebook page: “There is strength in numbers and we believe wholeheartedly, that united, we can and will silence the opposition.”
by James A. Bacon
You want more renewable energy? You’re going to need more high-voltage transmission lines to move intermittent wind and solar power around the country to balance fluctuating supply and demand. And you’d better get started. Transmission planning and construction involves long lead times, typically between seven and ten years.
“The window may be closing to develop the needed transmission expansion to enable the optimization of clean energy, meet state clean energy objectives, and other ‘voluntary’ demand for low-cost renewable energy,” summarizes a new study, “How Transmission Planning & Cost Allocation Processes Are Inhibiting Wind & Solar Development in SPP, MISO, & PJM.” Continue reading
Data source: LawnStart
The City of Richmond has the best water system among the seven Virginia cities included in a LawnStarter ranking of 2021’s Best Cities for Water Quality. The City of Chesapeake had the worst.
LawnStarter, an online marketplace for lawn-care and landscaping services, ranked the 200 most populated U.S. cities based on metrics of consumer satisfaction with drinking water, environmental violations, regulatory compliance for plumbing and sewage, and infrastructure vulnerability. Continue reading
by James A. Bacon
The $1.9 trillion COVID-relief bill just passed by Congress will shower billions of dollars upon Virginia citizens, businesses and government. State Secretary of Finance Aubrey Layne expects Virginia state government to receive about $3.8 billion and local governments to get about $3 billion, for a total of $6.8 billion.
The crazy thing, says Layne, is that Virginia made it through the COVID-19 pandemic in decent fiscal shape, so it doesn’t need the federal funds to maintain core functions of government as some other states do. Rather, he worries, legislators will be tempted to fritter away this once-in-a-lifetime bounty on pet projects or, worse, on new programs. This COVID-relief money is a one-time source of funding, he says, and it would be unwise to make financial commitments the state will have to continue honoring in subsequent years.
Congress has limited what the states can do with the money. Virginia can’t share this manna from heaven to citizens by reducing taxes. Nor can the state use it to reduce unfunded pension liabilities. As the guardian of the state fisc, Layne would like plow the revenue into one-time capital investment projects. This is Virginia’s opportunity to do something “transformational,” he says. Continue reading
By Peter Galuszka
I haven’t contributed much to BR lately since I am slammed with non-Virginia work. I did manage to help out on a Podcast about how the General Assembly has changed the state over the last two years as Democrats have gained power.
This Podcast is produced by WTJU, the University of Virginia radio station. I do a weekly talk show on state politics and economics and, on occasion, work on Podcasts.
Joining me is Sally Hudson, a delegate from the Charlottesville area. She is Assistant Professor of Public Policy, Education and Economics. Sally studied at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Stanford and is one of the youngest members of the General Assembly.
I hope you enjoy it.
Posted in Agriculture & forestry, Blogs and blog administration, Budgets, Business and Economy, Consumer protection, Courts and law, Demographics, Economic development, Energy, Entrepreneurialism, Environment, Finance (government), General Assembly, Health Care, Housing, Immigration, Individual rights, Infrastructure, Labor & workforce, Land use & development, Politics, Poverty & income gap, Property rights, Public safety & health, Race and race relations
The Virginia City hybrid energy center. Credit: David Hoffman, Flickr
By Peter Galuszka
Back in 2007, Dominion Energy was touting its new hybrid generating plant near St. Paul in Southwest Virginia as the wave of the future because it would burn coal and wood using advanced fluidized bed technologies.
But for eight months this year, the 624-megawatt Virginia City Hybrid Energy Center operated at only 20% and has never reached more than 65% capacity since going online in 2012.
Now, the utility must face the fact that it may close the plant, according to a new report by the non-profit Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis. Dominion has said it intends to keep the plant open.
If it closes, it would affect 153 full-time jobs and 400 additional ones. Localities would lose from $6 million to $8.5 million in taxes.
The Institute undertook its research at the request of Appalachian Voices, an environmental group. It is based on testimony provided to the State Corporation Commission by Atty. Gen. Mark Herring that ratepayers would have to shell out $472 million more than the plant is worth over the next 10 years. Continue reading
More wind turbines off the Mid-Atlantic coast. Electricity from the Kitty Hawk Offshore Wind project 27 miles off the coast of Corolla, N.C., construction of which could begin as soon as 2024, will be funneled into the electric grid via a substation in Virginia Beach’s Sandbridge community. Roughly 600 jobs will be generated within the Hampton Roads statistical area, which includes part of North Carolina. The project is expected to generate 2,500 megawatts of electricity eventually, enough to power 700,000 homes, reports Virginia Business. From Sandbridge a combination of underground and overhead cables will make the electricity available for resale by developer Avangrid Inc., to Dominion Energy, Duke Energy, Appalachian Power, and others.
No aggressive enforcement of COVID curfew. Chesterfield County police will not enforce Governor Ralph Northam’s midnight-to-5 p.m. COVID-19 curfew by stopping motorists who are otherwise driving lawfully. “The law requires officers to have reasonable suspicion to stop a driver,” wrote Police Chief Colonel Jeffery S. Katz on Facebook. “There are completely lawful reasons for people to be out and about during these times and therefore mere operation of a motor vehicle does not remotely meet the legal burden necessary to justify a lawful stop.” Responding to queries from The Virginia Star, Henrico County police and the Hanover County sheriffs department confirmed that they, too, require reasonable suspicion for conducting traffic stops.
Satellite broadband for Southwest Virginia. Wise County Public Schools will be the first school district in Virginia to use the Starlink satellite internet constellation founded by Elon Musk. The entrepreneur, better known for his Tesla electric vehicles, touts Starlink as delivering broadband to “locations where access has been unreliable, expensive, or completely unavailable.” Continue reading
Image credit: Style Weekly
By Peter Galuszka
Ever wonder why Dominion Energy found religion and announced a major shift to renewable energy?
The answer is that modern, high technology businesses want it and the Richmond-based utility wants to respond to their desires.
This one of the themes in this recent cover story I did for Style Weekly that explores how Dominion’s major shift in direction is part of several dynamics that are pushing solar wind and other renewables instead of keeping on with fossil fuel.
Here’s the reporting in a nutshell:
- Virginia’s economy is being driven more by data centers, giant box-like warehouses loaded with servers that can handle tremendous amounts of data. Northern Virginia, the incubator of the Internet, already handles about 70% to 80% of the global Net traffic and has a mature and still growing network of data centers.
- The Northern Virginia experience is shifting downstate. Henrico County now has a partially construction data center run by social media giant Facebook. Centers have been announced or are being planned in Southside and Southwest Virginia.
Corey A. Stewart, a conservative firebrand from Prince William County, is getting a last-minute going-away present from President Donald Trump.
As Trump’s administration comes to an end, Trump has created a position on trade at the U.S. Commerce Department that is just for him. In 2016, Stewart headed Trump’s Virginia election campaign before being fired. Stewart said that he was Trump before Trump was Trump.
Stewart is an international trade lawyer and is expected to strong arm Trump’s tough and confusing trade policies.
A special target is China, which Trump has castigated, with some justification, for cheating on business deals, fiddling with its currency exchange rates, growing its armed forces and trampling on human rights.
Stewart will toughen enforcement of Trump’s hostile trade relations, according to news reports.
Some trade experts wonder what the Stewart story is all about. According to Reuters, William Reinsch, a former Commerce undersecretary, said he viewed hiring as “peculiar” since he is filling a position that does not exist. Continue reading
Posted in Business and Economy, Culture wars, Defense, Economic development, Education (higher ed), Education (K-12), Federal, Finance (government), Government Oversight, Immigration, Individual rights, Infrastructure, Labor & workforce
Alpha Natural Resources mine facility
By Peter Galuszka
The General Assembly’s auditing watchdog has recommended the elimination of two coal tax credits that have been a bonanza to Virginia coal companies worth $315 million from 2010 to 2018 but have created only 10 jobs.
The report by the Joint Legislative and Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) studied 16 different tax credits to boost the state’s economy but recommended only eliminating the ones involving coal production.
Those credits involve the Coalfield Employment Enhancement Tax Credit, formed in 1995, and the Production Incentive Tax Credit, formed in 1986 to help with electricity generation.
Virginia’s coal production peaked in 1990 and has been declining since. In 2000, for instance, it had been 33 million short tons but in 2019, it had dropped to 12 million short tons.
By Peter Galuszka
For six long years, Dominion Energy and its partners in the $8 billion Atlantic Coast Pipeline have waged war against Virginians as they have pushed their way forward with the 600-mile-long natural gas project.
Their strong-armed methods have created untold misery and expense for land-owners, members of lower income minority communities, nature lovers, bird watchers, fishermen, and many others.
When some declined to let the ACP to trespass on their property for survey work, they ended up in lengthy and expensive lawsuits. Others spent hundreds of hours on their own time and dime fighting Virginia regulatory agencies who all but seemed to be in the pocket of the ACP.
And so it goes. For what? So Dominion and its partners could make billions of dollars, some of it paid for by electricity ratepayers, for a project whose public need was always in doubt. On July 5, the ACP threw in the towel.
I put together this commentary in The Washington Post suggesting what might be done to prevent this from happening again: Continue reading
By Peter Galuszka
Back in the winter of 2015, Craig Vanderhoef, a former Navy captain, got a disturbing surprise in his mailbox at his retirement home near Afton in Nelson County. A letter from Dominion Resources noted that it wanted to survey his land for a new 600-mile-long natural gas pipeline.
On two occasions, he wrote the utility telling them no. Then he got another surprise. A sheriff’s deputy knocked on his door to serve him with papers notifying him that Dominion was suing him to get access to his property.
In short order, about 240 Virginia landowners were on notice that they too might be sued for Dominion’s proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline. The county sheriff was notified that he, too, was being sued, although it was an error.
Thus, the stage was set for one of the nastiest environmental and property rights battles in Old Dominion history.
It centered around the Atlantic Coast Pipeline that would run from Harrison County, W.Va. across the rugged Appalachians, down through some of the most peacefully bucolic land in the Virginia., to Union Hill, a mostly African-American community in Buckingham county and on into North Carolina, running through the Tar Heel state’s mostly African-American concentration along its northeastern border with Virginia. Continue reading
Posted in Agriculture & forestry, Energy, Environment, Federal, Government Oversight, Housing, Individual rights, Infrastructure, Land use & development, Money in politics, Politics, Poverty & income gap, Property rights, Public corruption
By Peter Galuszka
The $8.5 billion Atlantic Coast Pipeline has won a significant legal victory but the war is far from over.
The U.S. Supreme Court, in a 7-2 decision, has ruled in favor of project operated by Dominion Energy and Duke Energy saying that its 42-inch pipeline can cross under the Appalachian Trail in the George Washington National Forest.
The Court ruled that the pipeline can pass 600 feet underneath the trail and that the U.S. Forest Service has the right to allow a right of way. The Richmond-based 4th Circuit Court of Appeals had previously ruled that the Forest Service had no such authority.
Dissenting, Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan wrote that the U.S. Minerals Leasing Act does give the federal government the right to regulate federal land, including trails. Justice Clarence Thomas, who wrote the majority ruling, said that plans to bury the pipeline under the Appalachian Trail represent an easement which is not the same as “land.”
The project still faces eight other permitting issues involving the Forest Service, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the National Park Service and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Continue reading
Posted in Agriculture & forestry, Business and Economy, Economic development, Energy, Environment, Federal, Infrastructure, Labor & workforce, Land use & development, Planning, Politics, Property rights, Regulation
Tagged Peter Galuszka
Felix Dzerzhinsky toppled. Photo credit: AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko.
By Peter Galuszka
For three decades, a 15-ton statue of Felix Dzerzhinsky loomed over a square in downtown Moscow. He rose high near the Lubyanka building, a turn of the century, yellow-colored one-time insurance office that served as the national headquarters for the KGB.
“Iron Felix,” born of Polish nobility, is best known as V.I. Lenin’s henchman, the leader of the Red secret police who orchestrated the deaths of hundreds of thousands during the Russian Civil War. He became regarded as the grandfather of various Soviet security agencies, including the MVD, NKVD, KGB and now the FSB and SVR.
Then in August 1991, Soviet hardliners attempted a coup against Mikhail Gorbachev, the reform-minded Communist Party chief. The coup failed, touching off a storm of retribution.
As many as 1,320 statues of Lenin cross the country came down. Leningrad became St. Petersburg, the Kirov Ballet reverted to its old name, the Mariinsky Ballet, and the city of Moscow ordered the statue of Felix taken down.
In order words, there is a strong similarity between what happened just before the Soviet Union fell apart in December 1991 and what is going on today in this country, especially in Virginia. Continue reading
Posted in Business and Economy, Crime , corrections and law enforcement, Culture wars, Energy, Governance, Government Oversight, Individual rights, Infrastructure, Politics, Public safety & health, Race and race relations