Category Archives: Infrastructure

Extreme Weather Event, Extreme Weather Event, Go Away…

Now, we’re told, we have a new reason to fear climate change: Record rainfalls are straining the capacity of combined-sewer overflow (CSO) systems in Richmond, Lynchburg and Alexandria. In heavy rains, the antiquated systems, which combine stormwater runoff and wastewater, release untreated wastewater into the river.

“We’re on the frontlines dealing with climate change,” Grace LeRose, program manager for the Richmond public utilities, told The Virginia Mercury. “We’re seeing bigger and more frequent storms that are going to tax our system even more.”

In  May and June the city experienced 23 inches of rain, the highest ever recorded. That year, contends the Virginia Mercury, was indicative of a longer-term trend. There was a 33% increase in the number of heavy rainstorms in Virginia, and an 11% increase from the largest storms between 1948 and 2011.

Of course, you can make statistics say anything you want them to, so I thought I’d do some checking. Continue reading

Bacon Bits: Highs and Lows

Digital gold rush. How lucrative are data centers for Loudoun County? The prosperous Northern Virginia county expects to collect $200 million in fiscal 2020 from the property tax on computer equipment, up 35% over 2019, according to the Washington Business Journal. Last week, the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors adopted a $3.2 billion operating budget that featured a “significant cut” to the real estate tax rate, an across-the-board pay raise for county employees, and $100 million more for county schools. Data centers are worth roughly $1,000 a year in lower taxes to Loudoun homeowners.

And at the other end of the fiscal spectrum…

Digging out. In the wake of the worst financial crisis suffered by any Virginia locality since the Great Depression, the City of Petersburg is building back its fund balance, The FY 2020 budget of $75.8 million will run a $2.6 million surplus this year and the city is budgeting for $3.6 million next year. The city still has a long way to go before reaching a fund balance of $18 million, healthy enough to fund the General Fund for three months, but it represents a dramatic improvement since FY 2016 when the fund balance collapsed to negative $7.7 million. Tax and utility payments remain high, but at least the city has a functioning government.

And in the “Them That Has Gets” department… Continue reading

Loudoun Data Centers Drive Electricity Demand

Dominion Energy has filed an application to build two new electric substations in Loudoun County to serve a growing population and the boom in data centers…. mostly the data centers.

A typical data center consumes about the same amount of power as 7,500 residential households. There are more than 100 data centers operating in Loudoun now, according to the Washington Business Journal, with many more in the development pipeline. Their power demand is equal to that of about 750,000 homes. Loudoun County expects its population to grow from about 400,000 residents today to nearly 500,000 by 2045.

Dominion’s proposed 230-kilovolt switching stations will have dedicated circuits for future data center customers. Data center demand is forcing a reconfiguration of Virginia’s electric grid. In addition to the substations, Dominion needs to build or upgrade electric transmission lines to Northern Virginia. Needless to say, none of these projects are popular. Everyone likes the tax revenue they generate, but no one wants electric grid infrastructure in their back yard.

Amazon in Northern Virginia: 5 Positives

The road to the Silicon Swamp is paved with gold.

1-The Future. In 2011 Marc Andreessen, founder of Netscape, wrote an essay for the Wall Street Journal titled, “Why Software is Eating the World.” The eight years since Andreessen’s essay was published have served to vindicate, validate and verify the accuracy of his thesis. Yet while software eats the world, it doesn’t necessarily dine in the same old restaurants.  Car making used to be centered in Detroit. Now Silicon Valley is the new Detroit. Not only are upstarts like Tesla centered in The Valley but traditional car manufacturers are heading west too. As Andreessen noted, traditional non-technology companies all need to become software companies in order to survive. Metropolitan areas with strong software skills will attract not only technology companies but non-technology companies as well. Embrace software or be eaten by it. The future belongs to those who code.

2-Ecosystem. Silicon Valley isn’t Bentonville, Arkansas. No one company dominates Silicon valley and therein lies its enduring strength. The Valley is an economic growth machine fueled by start-ups, spin-outs, mergers, acquisitions, bankruptcies and oceans of venture capital. The idea that NoVa’s benefits from the Amazon deal start and stop with Amazon is myopic. Talented employees will come to National Landing, work for Amazon, and then leave to start new ventures. The 25,000 Amazon jobs should be seen as a starting point rather than a final outcome. In fact, startups founded by Amazon veterans like Fugue are already operating in the area. 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

Why Does King William Need a $11 Million Cash Reserve?

King William County cash reserves — how much is too much?

by Bob Shannon

We often listen to Pols cite the “gouging” we poor rubes are being subjected to. Members of Congress & our state legislative bodies –even local Pols get in on the game — tell us that big banks, big insurance companies, big brokerage firms, big pharmaceutical companies, big this or that are gouging us … and, by golly, the Pols are going to do something about it. Absent our Pols’ intervention, we would be bowled over by institutions cheating us at every turn.  

What they don’t talk about is the gouging they do themselves. No better example of this is what we have happening right here in King William County. A theft of epic proportions is taking place right in front of us.

Local governments need a reserve fund for a  time when the economy contracts and the local government needs funds to continue operating. This fund is supposed to be for the purpose of paying the ongoing routine costs of local government.  Continue reading

Bacon Bits: Scandal, Scandal, Scandal… and Dental Care

The Old Dominion is looking a lot like the Ante-Bellum Dominion. So, how are Virginia’s political scandals playing out nationally? Not very well. Headline from the New York Post: “Virginia is for Losers.” Lead story in the Wall Street Journal: “Virginia Faces Leadership Crisis as Attorney General Apologizes for Using  Blackface.”

The PC police strike again. But there’s no let-up in the racial identity wars. A fraternity and a sorority at the University of Virginia have been criticized for holding parties in which people dressed up wearing Native American attire in one instance and sombreros and maracas in another, according to the University of Virginia’s Cavalier Daily. The Inter-Fraternity Council issued a statement condemning the attire as “prejudiced and culturally insensitive.” “The IFC condemns these actions and any others that appropriate cultures.” Continue reading

The Art of Streetscaping

Naples, Fla., a city of some 20,000 inhabitants, is one of the wealthiest communities in the United States. Reputedly, the jurisdiction has the second highest proportion of millionaires. Modest lots within walking distance of the beach sell for a couple million dollars, and tear-downs are common. The landscaping in residential neighborhoods is as manicured as the Japanese Imperial Palace. With a formidable tax base to spend upon public works, one would expect the public spaces in a place like this to be attractive — and the bits and pieces of Naples that I have seen in the past 24 hours do not disappoint.

We had occasion to stroll along 5th Avenue — less famous than its New York counterpart, but far friendlier. Indeed, Naples’ 5th Avenue is one of the most inviting streets I have seen anywhere in the United States. It compares favorably even to the great streets of Europe. The local authorities have done everything right. While Virginia communities are unlikely to have as much money to lavish upon brick crosswalks or the year-round sub-tropical climate to support such lush flowering plants, they can learn a lot.

First, look at the bones. 5th Avenue has four lanes, two of which are dedicated to on-street parking. The line of parked cars creates a barrier between moving automobiles and the sidewalk, separating pedestrians from motorists. Not that safety is a huge consideration — the lanes are fairly narrow, so the cars don’t drive very fast. Equally important, the street has a broad sidewalk, creating abundant space for plantings, benches, artwork, and outdoor restaurant seating. Continue reading

Virginia’s If-You-Don’t-Build-It-They-Won’t-Come Economic Development Strategy

Kevin Costner bet the farm in “Field of Dreams.” But “build it and they will come” is not a sound economic development strategy.

The City of Emporia, one of Virginia’s poorest cities, has poured $25 million into the 1,600-acre Mid-Atlantic Advanced Manufacturing Center. To date the industrial park has yet to attract a tenant. Over the past decade, Virginians have sunk more than $100 million into land acquisition and development for industrial “megasites” in the hope of luring major manufacturing investment, reports the Associated Press. So far, the Old Dominion has little to show for it. Continue reading

Hey, Let’s Ban New Fossil Fuel Projects

Sam Rasoul

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

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

I-66 Rush-Hour Travel Speeds Up 12%

Source: Nick Donohue, Deputy Secretary of Transportation

Did the implementation of tolls on Interstate 66 inside the Beltway hurt or harm rush-hour travel times? I addressed that issue yesterday based on data from a Washington Post article. Now I supplement that post with data direct from Deputy Secretary Transportation Nick Donohue.

The tolls have been widely criticized by commuters, many of whom recoil at charges that have exceeded $40 for a one-way trip during rush hour. However, average eastbound travel speeds improved 12.2% for all lanes in the year since the tolls were implemented, according to Virginia Department of Transportation data that Donohue cited in a presentation to the Joint Commission on Transportation Accountability last week. The greatest gains occurred between 6:00 and 6:30 a.m. and around 9:30 a.m. Continue reading

Transportation Revenue Focus of Concern Again

U.S. retail gasoline prices adjusted for inflation. Source: EIA . The blue line is the adjusted price, looking back into the 1970s. Note the peak just about when Virginia thought it wiser to tax a percentage of price rather than a fixed tax per gallon. Find the interactive version here: https://www.eia.gov/outlooks/steo/realprices/

In the middle of a booming economy, with many state revenue sources surging, flat transportation revenues were the focus of warnings Monday in presentations by Virginia Secretary of Finance Aubrey Layne and Secretary of Transportation Shannon Valentine.

“I think we are heading for a cliff,” Layne told the House Appropriations Committee.  “For the first time in our history, we’re seeing no increase in fuel tax revenue while vehicle miles traveled goes up.”

Continue reading

No Quick Fix for I-66

Image credit: Washington Post

When the Interstate 66 Express Lanes opened a year ago, they triggered a maelstrom of controversy as Northern Virginia commuters encountered new driving patterns. Motorists were particularly irate at peak rush-hour tolls rising as high as $47.50 to drive just a few miles on I-66 inside the Beltway. Virginia transportation officials said, never fear, people would adapt and the picture would improve.

So… Has it? The Washington Post has taken a close look at the numbers. And the newspaper’s verdict is: The express lanes have caused shifts in driving behavior — shifting more people to carpooling, more to mass transit — but for the most part commuters are as miserable as ever. Continue reading

At Last, a Green Tariff for APCo Customers

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

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

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

Who’s Got Broadband and Who Doesn’t?

Percentage of households with broadband by locality. Source: Virginia Public Access Project based on the 2013-2017 American Community Survey.

This map, published today by the Virginia Public Access Project, shows clearly the metropolitan/rural divide in access to broadband Internet access. Some rural areas obviously enjoy better broadband service than others. Look at the cluster of counties to the south and west of the Washington metropolitan area. Look at the cities and counties running down the I-81 corridor from Winchester to Blacksburg. Many are low-density localities, but somehow they have higher broadband penetration. Continue reading