Category Archives: Planning

Confessions of a Virginia Whistleblower

by James C. Sherlock

State Inspector General Mike Westfall

I decided last week in a paroxysm of good citizenship to contact the Virginia Inspector General (IG) to report wrongdoing by state officials.

I have a considerable list centered around the failure of many state officials to carry out their longstanding, formally-assigned duties pre-COVID to plan for a pandemic emergency and exercise those plans to mitigate the effects of such an occurrence.  

My complaints are based on Virginia Executive Order No. 42  Promulgation of the Commonwealth of Virginia Emergency Operations Plan and Delegation of Authority. It was issued by Governor McDonnell and reissued by Governor Northam.

An actionable component of that Order is Hazard-Specific Annex #4 Pandemic Influenza Response (Non-Clinical) was published in August of 2012 (the Annex).  It contained prescient predictions about the course of a pandemic and directed specific agencies to prepare and exercise specific plans. Despite the clear language of the Annex, the plans were not written, personnel were not trained, exercises could not be conducted and systems were not tested under simulated stresses of a pandemic.

Those failures cost unnecessarily severe losses of life, suffering and economic distress among the citizens.  

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All According to Plan – the Biggest Government Scandal in Virginia History

by James C. Sherlock

The Virginia Mercury published  an excellent article on the difficulties being encountered in Virginia in scheduling COVID shots.

But who could have anticipated the need? Who indeed.

This story is part of the single biggest government scandal in Virginia history and the press is either ignorant of the underlying issue or has ignored it. I think ignorance is more likely. Certainly Governor Northam’s executive branch made every effort to hide it from them.

I say the executive branch because I firmly believe — and hope really — the Governor himself never had a clue.

The now-hidden-from-public-view Commonwealth of Virginia Emergency Operations Plan, Hazard-Specific Annex #4 Pandemic Influenza Response (Non-Clinical), Virginia Department of Emergency Management August 2012 (the Plan) required planning and exercise of a vaccine distribution plan and much more.

Never happened.

The Plan specified planning, exercise and operational responsibilities for
the following executive branch organizations: Continue reading

A Horse Built by a Committee

by James C. Sherlock

Updated Jan 31 at 8:46 AM

Virginia’s Attorney General has offered a bill to create a new state bureaucracy to handle the opioid settlement money about to flow into the Commonwealth to support prevention, treatment, and recovery. It is going to be a lot of money. The state opioid settlements will not be the end of it.  Federal money is coming for the same purpose. 

The Attorney General wants a new state Opioid Abatement Fund (OAF) for the money and a new state Opioid Abatement Authority (OAA) to spend it.  The AG admits he has no idea how much money will be available, yet his bill places constraints on how it may be spent and earmarks the distribution of the funds.

I disagree.

The Problem

According to the CDC, opioids—mainly synthetic opioids (other than methadone)—are currently the main driver of drug overdose deaths.

East of the Mississippi river, the legal product that kills is commercially produced opioids illegally prescribed and filled.  They include:

  • Natural opioids: Pain medications like morphine and codeine
  • Semi-synthetic opioids: Pain medications like oxycodone, hydrocodone, hydromorphone, and oxymorphone
  • Methadone: A synthetic opioid used to treat pain, but it can also be provided through opioid treatment programs to treat opioid use disorders.

Look below at the CDC map showing Opioid prescription dispensing rate  and see the dark scar through the Appalachians showing more than 112 prescriptions per 100 persons.

2015 Opioid Dispensing Rate per 100 Persons – Credit – CDC

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Behind Dominion’s Shift to Renewables

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.

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If You Pay Full Price for Flood Insurance, Ask our City/County Manager Why

Roanoke flooding in 1985

by James C. Sherlock

There were lots of comments in my last post about government programs to mitigate flooding damage in flood plains, specifically about buying and tearing down houses that repeatedly flood.

One of the carrots to do so is Community Rating System (CRS) discounts to flood insurance in communities that take an active role in flood plain risk mitigation.

CRS is a part of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP).  It is an incentive program that recognizes and encourages community floodplain management activities that exceed the minimum program requirements.

When that happens, not only is the risk of flooding diminished, but flood insurance premium rates for all citizens of a community that accomplishes the goals are appropriately discounted to reflect the reduced flood risk.

To quote the program web page,

“For National Flood Insurance Program Community Rating System participating communities, flood insurance premium rates are discounted in increments of 5 percent.

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The ACP Wins One But The War Drags On

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

Why Do 58 Nursing Homes Lack PPE?

by Carol J. Bova

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) publishes COVID-19 data reported by nursing homes as of May 31. Only five Virginia facilities reported not having enough essential supplies for current use, but that still put the safety of 554 residents plus an unknown number of staff members at risk for COVID-19 or other infections.

Glenburnie Rehab and Manorcare–Imperial, both in Richmond, reported no current supplies of hand sanitizer, gloves, N-95 masks, surgical masks, eye protection or gowns.

Woodbine Rehabilitation in Alexandria reported no N-95 or surgical masks and no gowns.

Albemarle Health and Rehab in Charlottesville and The Springs Nursing Center in Hot Springs didn’t have any N-95 masks.

Looking ahead, CMS had also asked if nursing homes had a week’s supply of the five PPE items and hand sanitizer. Continue reading

WTJU Podcast: COVID-19 and the Economy

By Peter Galuszka

Here’s is the twice-monthly podcast produced by WTJU, the official radio station of the University of Virginia. With me on this podcast  are Nathan Moore, the station general manager, and Sarah Vogelsong, who covers, labor, energy and environmental issues across the state for the Virginia Mercury, a fairly new and highly regarded non-profit news outlet. Our topic is how Virginia is handling the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Is It the Death Knell For Dominion’s Pipeline?

By Peter Galuszka

For more than a decade, hydraulic fracturing drilling for natural gas and oil has transformed the American energy picture, leading to big revivals in such energy fields such as Marcellus in West Virginia and Pennsylvania and the Bakken field in the Dakotas.

It has prompted Dominion Energy and its utility partners to push forward with an $8 billion or so Atlantic Coast Pipeline that will take Marcellus gas through Virginia all the way to South Carolina. The project, tied up in court fights, has been enormously divisive as property owners have protested the utilities’ strong arm methods of securing rights of way.

But now there’s clear evidence that the fracking boom is over, and that has huge implications for the ACL project. The reason? Oil and gas prices have dropped thanks to a perfect storm of issues. There’s the coronavirus pandemic tanking the U.S. economy, bitter energy wars between Russia and Saudi Arabia, and the fact that fracking gas and oil rigs are enormously expensive and wells can produce for only a short period.

The Hill reported last week: “Oil sank to $23 (a barrel) from a high of $53 in mid-February, far below the break even point that producers need to drill new wells to maintain supply, and with volumes rapidly diminishing at existing wells.”

The newspaper points out that a fracking well can cost more than $10 million while a traditional well is only $2 million. As price pressure mounts, the number of wells nationally has plummeted from 790 to 772 in one week.  At the Bakken field, reports The Washington Post, producers are cutting costs.

The situation has clear implications for the ACL project which was conceived at the height of the Marcellus boom. Dominion claimed that the gas would be badly needed in coming years while others claimed there isn’t enough demand. Continue reading

A Look at Richmond and COVID-19

By Peter Galuszka

Here is a roundup story I wrote for Style Weekly that was published today that explains the effects of COVID-19 on the Richmond area. Hopefully, BR readers will find it of interest.

It was a tough piece to report. The impacts of the deadly virus are very complicated and multi-faceted. An especially hard part was trying to keep with the fast-changing news, notably the number of new cases and deaths. We were updating right up until the story closed Monday afternoon. It was hard to talk to people with social-distancing and closings.

The experience shows the delicate balancing act between taking tough measures to stem the contagion and keeping the economy going. My view is that tough measures are needed because without them, it will all be much worse, particularly more illness and death as the experience in Italy has shown.

Incredibly, our utterly incompetent president, Donald Trump, now wants to focus on the economy more than taking necessary containment steps. It’s far too soon for that. Regrettably, a number of Bacon’s Rebellion commenters are sounding the same irresponsible tune in keeping with their big business and anti-regulation laud of free market capitalism. Continue reading

More Bad News on Coronavirus

All I need is the air that I breathe. Recent research indicates that the coronavirus can live in air for 3 hours post aerosolization. The Hill reports that, “A study awaiting peer review from scientists at Princeton University, the University of California-Los Angeles and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) posted online Wednesday indicated that the COVID-19 virus could remain viable in the air up to 3 hours post aerosolization, while remaining alive on plastic and other surfaces for up to three days.” Previous media reports maintained that the Coronavirus required direct human contact in order to be transmitted. To be clear, this research has not been peer reviewed. However, public policy decisions would seem to be impacted if the Coronavirus can survive for hours suspended in air.

Overstaying your welcome. Researchers have evidence that people infected with the Coronavirus will remain infectious longer than previously believed. The Hill reports on a study by The Lancet, a British medical journal, indicating that people suffering from COVID-19 may be able to spread the disease for up to 37 days. If true, this finding calls into question the previously held expert opinion that recommended an isolation period of 14 days after infection.

Cancel culture. Cancellations of anything and almost everything continue to pile up. Examples include Ireland closing its schools and colleges, the NCAA Men’s National Basketball Tournament being held without fans in the audience, Italy closing almost all shops (other than grocery stores and pharmacies) and the NBA suspending its season starting today.

Implications for Virginia. Virginia’s response to the COVID-19 breakout remains sporadic at best. Continue reading

A Critical Coronavirus Graph

By DJ Rippert

OK, Boomer. A study conducted last month from the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention provides statistics about the lethality of COVID-19.  Those statistics were analyzed by Business Insider.  You can see those statistics in the graph on the left. Younger people have a one in 10,000 (0.01%) chance of dying from the flu and a one in 500 (0.2%) chance of dying from COVID-19. So, COVID-19 is 20 times more lethal for a 15 year old than the flu. That mortality rate rises quickly as the victims get older. Between one and two 55 year olds out of 100 who contract COVID-19 will die of the disease. That’s 22 times the mortality rate of the flu. However, the real jump occurs in those who are 60 and above. Almost 15% of those aged 80+ will die if they contract the coronavirus.

Old Dominion. The average age of a Virginia resident is 38.1 years. There are 142,300 Virginians over the age of 80, 518,900 between 70 and 79 and 934,400 between 60 and 69. That’s 1,595,600 Virginians (19% of the population) with more than a 3.5% chance of dying if they develop COVID-19.

Hysteria? There is no vaccine against COVID-19. There is no cure. The only way for a 60+ year old Virginian to avoid a 3.6% – 14.8% chance of dying is to avoid the disease. The real odds of dying are the infection rate multiplied by the mortality rate. But once you contract the disease you are far more likely to die than if you contracted the flu. Is there any activity on Earth that a rational person would undertake with a 3.6% – 14.8% chance of dying? For comparison purposes an American sent to fight in Vietnam had about a 0.5% chance of dying. Given those odds, is it really “hysteria” to cancel fan participation at sporting events or to insist that people in contact with the public wear gloves? Our only defense is containment and containment comes with a fair amount of inconvenience. What is the alternative? Hope, as they say, is not a strategy.

Richmond’s World of Secrecy and Collusion

VCU President Michael Rao

by Peter Galuszka

There’s long been the “Virginia Way” of ruling oligarchs making decisions in backrooms while leaving the public out of the picture. But then there’s also the “Richmond Way,” which is the same thing on steroids.

The key focus today is the so-called Navy Hill District Corporation, a group headed by Dominion Energy chieftain Tom Farrell that wants to replace the aging Richmond Coliseum and build a $1.4 billion mixed-use project on 10 blocks just north of Broad Street downtown.

With Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney complicit, the group which involves some of the city’s biggest movers and shakers has worked mostly in secret and has gone to great lengths to keep the public as far away from planning as possible.

Richmond has had its share of flops when it gets into top-down, centralized economic planning somewhat reminiscent of Moscow, where I used to live and work. One was the 6th Street market, a failed project not far from Navy Hill. The city, which has a poverty rate of about 25%, is paying millions to the Washington Redskins, one of the richest firms in the National Football League, to train at a city facility for three weeks every summer.

Navy Hill also had an inauspicious start. When the city sent out requests for proposals for replacing the Coliseum a few years ago, it got exactly one proposal – from Farrell’s group.  Continue reading

Richmond and DC Among Cities People Are Most Eager to Ditch

by Don Rippert

Anywhere but here. Moneywise Publishing is citing a “study” detailing the most and least desirable American cities based on real estate inquiries. Real estate brokerage firm Redfin tracks Americans using their web site to find new places to live.  According to the company, 25% of people browsing home listings online are “looking to get outta town.” Tracking the places people want to leave isn’t very encouraging for Virginia. Both the Richmond metropolitan area and the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area are on the list of 19 top places to leave. Redfin also tracks the 10 places people most want to go. No Virginia city makes that list. Continue reading

On the Fine Art of Forecasting Peak Load Demand

Comparison of Dominion and PJM growth forecasts in peak load. Source: Dominion 2017 Integrated Resource Plan.

Billions of investment dollars ride on the long-range forecast of Dominion’s peak load electricity demand. But whose projections do we believe — Dominion’s or PJM’s?

In its 2017 Integrated Resource Plan (IRP), Dominion Energy forecasts the increase in its peak electric load and anticipates what combination of new gas, solar and nuclear facilities it will take to meet that demand. Although the IRP is a highly technical document, against the backdrop of the debate over the future of Virginia’s electric grid, it has major political implications. Environmentalists argue that Dominion overstates future electric load and, consequently, it overestimates the number of new combustion turbines (gas-fired turbines designed to generate electricity on call) or the amount of new nuclear capacity that it will need to add.

As evidence, Dominion’s opponents point to the 2017 peak load forecast by PJM Interconnection, the regional transmission organization of which Dominion is a part. Where Dominion’s IRP projects an average annual increase in summer peak load of 1.4%, PJM projects an increase of only 0.4%. Projected over the 15-year planning horizon of the IRP, that amounts to a tremendous difference in peak electric load, as can be seen in the graph above.

Needless to say, Dominion defends its forecast, and offers detailed reasoning in the IRP to support its position.

Which forecast is correct? That of Dominion, which has a more intimate, granular knowledge of its service territory, of that of PJM, which has no profit-maximizing agenda?

It might come as a surprise to outsiders, given the big gap between their projections, but Dominion and PJM coordinate their planning and forecasts very closely. In most ways, the two forecasts are closely aligned. In PJM’s estimation, the difference boils down to two main factors: (1) the assumptions that Dominion and PJM make about the growth in demand from energy-intensive data centers beyond 2021, and (2) assumptions about how to account for rapidly “behind-the-meter” electric generation by homeowners and businesses. To those two issues, Dominion adds two more arcane issues of methodology.

Data centers. Data centers figure largely in Dominion’s forecasts because Northern Virginia has emerged as one of the world’s leading clusters of energy-intensive server farms, drawing upon the region’s rich network of high-capacity fiber-optic cable, low-cost electricity, tech-savvy workforce, and friendly state-local policies. Having observed the success of Loudoun County, other Virginia localities from Virginia Beach to Wise County in far Southwest Virginia, are getting into the act.

Data centers are an anomaly for economic and electric-load forecasters. Because they are such big consumers of electricity to run thousands of servers and cool the heat they throw off, they skew the normal relationship between economic growth and energy consumption. Accordingly, Dominion and PJM have to make special adjustments to their economic models to take them into account.

“Each year Dominion comes to us with information about their projections of data center growth,” says Tom Falin, director of resource adequacy planning for PJM. “We do analysis to see if that growth is already embedded in our forecast. In general, it isn’t. [Data centers] put a drain on the energy grid that’s not normally associated with economic growth — there’s not a lot of employment and housing associated with it.”

Data-center loads reached more than 800 megawatts by 2016 and are projected to amount to 1,500 megawatts by 2021.  That compares to a total peak load of about 20,000 megawatts for Dominion. PJM estimated that it needs to adjust Dominion’s peak load forecast upward by 500 megawatts by 2021 to account for the data centers. At that point, says Falin, PJM assumes that the growth in energy demand will be embedded in the historical load history and won’t require further adjustment. “Perhaps Dominion is assuming stronger growth in these data centers than we are.”

Indeed it is. As Dominion explains in its 2017 IRP:

PJM has eliminated new data center growth in the DOM Zone beginning in 2021 – in other words, it excluded incremental data center growth beyond what is captured in historic trends. This is a significant change from PJM’s 2016 peak demand forecast, which included new data center growth continuing for the balance of the forecast. In comparison, the Company utilizes historical trend data center load coupled with interconnect data from new and existing data center customers to forecast data center growth within its service territory. Over the longer term, the Company relies on data center forecasts that are included in a 2015 study prepared for the Company by Quanta Technology, LLC, entitled “Dominion Northern Virginia Load Forecast.”

The difference between the Dominion and PJM forecasts can be seen in this graph taken from the 2017 IRP:

Source: Dominion 2017 IRP.

The dotted line shows what PJM’s peak demand forecast would look like if adjusted for data-center growth. Continue reading