Category Archives: Resilience

First They Came for the Gas Pipelines. Then They Came for the Nukes…

North Anna nuclear power station

by James A. Bacon

Yesterday I highlighted a study by University of Virginia professor Bill Shobe purporting to show how Virginia can achieve a “zero carbon” economy by 2050. A key element for eliminating greenhouse gas emissions was re-licensing Virginia’s four nuclear power units — two at the North Anna power station and two at the Surry station — to provide reliable base-line capacity to offset the effects of intermittent power production from solar panels and wind turbines.

We cannot take it for granted, however, that Dominion Energy will win renewal of those licenses. The licenses for North Anna Units 1 and 2 expire in 2038 and 2040, at which time they will be 60 years old. Dominion would like to continue operating them for an additional 20 years. Foes of nuclear power hope to derail the renewal of the licenses for North Anna, which, located above a geologic fault line, shut down temporarily after a 2011 earthquake measuring 5.8 on the Richter scale.

Beyond Nuclear, the Sierra Club and the Alliance for a Progressive Virginia are seeking a formal hearing before an Atomic Safety and Licensing Board panel, according to The Central Virginian. The environmental groups say that because a new nuclear reactor at North Anna would have to meet a higher standard for withstanding an earthquake, an upgrade might be warranted for the two existing units also.  Continue reading

A Great First Inning: Reformers 6, Utilities 0

by Steve Haner

Six bills which reverse 15 years of Dominion Energy Virginia legislative dominance advanced out of a House of Delegates subcommittee today, setting up the strongest challenge to the utility’s profits and power in decades.

Most in one form or another restore authority to the State Corporation Commission to use its own discretion in reviewing the company’s earnings, profits, and accounting decisions in a rate case due to begin in April. It will be the first such review since 2015 and will cover four years of company operations, 2017 through 2020.  Continue reading

Shellenberger’s “Apocalypse Never” Lessons for VA

HarperCollins, 2020

“Climate change is real but it’s not the end of the world.  It is not even our most serious environmental problem.”

By Steve Haner

That statement opens the dust jacket summary for “Apocalypse Never:  Why Environmental Alarmism Hurts Us All” by Michael Shellenberger, once named “Hero of the Environment” by Time magazine. It remains the number one best-seller in Amazon’s Climate or Environmental Policy category, competing with alarmist sermons such as “The Uninhabitable Earth” by David Wallace-Wells and “How To Avoid A Climate Disaster” by Bill Gates. Anybody interested in the topic should seek it out.

The themes of the book also align well with views previously featured from a 2019 newspaper column by retired University of Richmond biology professor, R. Dean Decker. Both are totally at odds with the wild predictions of Climate Armageddon that drive the Virginia Clean Economy Act, the upcoming Virginia debate over the Transportation and Climate Initiative carbon tax, and just about every Democratic political campaign in the Virginia and the U.S.

Shellenberger’s book is particularly important for the debate over carbon taxes such as the TCI compact, and the VCEA’s energy cost inflation, because with his worldwide experience and perspective he has seen the interrelationship of income poverty, energy poverty and damaging environmental exploitation. Saving the Earth and its flora and fauna require energy sufficiency – from more than just renewables – and energy-intensive modern agriculture.  It requires wealth and economic growth.  Continue reading

A Reasonable Approach to Sea-Level Rise

by James A. Bacon

Virginia’s environmentalists are smarter and more forward-thinking than California’s environmentalists. That’s a low bar, admittedly, but it’s a not-inconsiderable consolation now that environmental lobbyists and their friends in the Democratic Party run the commonwealth.

In California, leaders of the environmental/political establishment fervently believe that human-caused climate change is increasing the incidence and severity of heat waves and droughts. But rather than follow through on the logical implications of such convictions, California persisted with forest-management practices and growth-management strategies that turned arid forests into tinderboxes while steering housing development into vulnerable areas. The result has been a series of massively destructive forest conflagrations. Bottom line: California’s environmental and political leaders are idiots.

Here in Virginia, leaders of the environmental/political establishment fervently believe that human-caused climate change is accelerating the rate of sea-level rise and flooding along Virginia’s coast. The difference is that they are following through the logical implications of this belief and giving serious thought to how to make coastal areas more resilient. Thus, while I could nitpick with the breathless conviction that the science is settled, I find the newly issued “Virginia Coastal Resilience Master Planning Framework” issued by the Northam administration to be a reasonable and useful document. 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

Getting Serious about Flooding

Click image to enlarge. Source: Governor’s Office

by James A. Bacon

Everybody talks about the weather, as the old saying goes, but nobody does anything about it. Well, here in Virginia, people are getting serious about one aspect of the weather — flooding.

Last week Governor Ralph Northam issued an executive order, the Virginia Flood Risk Management Standard, to encourage the “smart and resilient construction of state buildings.” Based on sea-level rise projections developed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the new standard requires state-owned buildings constructed after 2021 to be built at elevations that will protect them from flooding.

“Flooding remains the most common and costliest natural disaster in Virginia and in the United States, and our state government is getting prepared. These standards will protect taxpayers by establishing critical protections for new state-owned property,” Northam said in a press release.

Meanwhile, the City of Virginia Beach is grappling with the reality that it needs an extra $20 million a year to improve its stormwater infrastructure. Continue reading

Reliability, Resilience and a 100% Renewable Electric Grid

by James A. Bacon

California is getting a vivid lesson on the trade-offs between sustainability and reliability of the electric grid. Pacific Gas & Electric has taken the extraordinary action of cutting off electric power to 700,000 customers in California to reduce the risk of sparking forest fires. Many customers could go without power for as long as a week; the prolonged outages could cost customers billions of dollars in lost economic activity. Silicon Valley may have the most advanced technology in the world, but the Golden State increasingly resembles a Third World country. (Don’t get me started on the armies of homeless people.)

Virginians need to take notice. Virginia is not California, and Dominion and Appalachian Power Co. are not PG&E. … not now. What is happening in California will not be replicated here. But in our determination to build a “sustainable” zero-carbon grid, other equally horrendous scenarios are possible if we fail to pay sufficient attention to electric reliability.

PG&E filed for bankruptcy this year after being held liable for billions in damages and the loss of lives caused by wildfires ignited by poorly maintained electric lines. As a Wall Street Journal editorial summarizes the train of events:

Continue reading

Should Virginia Beach Buy Out Flood-Prone Properties at Fair Market Value?

by James A. Bacon

As Hurricane Dorian bears down on the South Atlantic Coast, the Virginian-Pilot reports that Virginia Beach officials are considering a program to buy out residents who want to move out of homes that have flooded or face a risk of flooding. The land would be converted into parks, planted with trees, or used as a flood-control projects.

That’s just one of the strategies city officials are pondering to deal with sea-level rise. The seal level in Hampton Roads has increased by a foot since the 1960s, and some climatologists claim that the rate of rise could accelerate. If the city does not take preventive action, writes the Pilot, a projected three-foot rise in the sea level could cost $330 million yearly by 2065.

The Virginia Beach plan would be based on a similar program in Charlotte-Mecklenburg, N.C., which spends $3.8 million yearly in voluntary acquisitions, funded through stormwater fees, to manage local floodplains. The city assesses which properties are the most vulnerable and targets those first. Continue reading

Bacon Bits: Hydroponics, Seawalls, and Emotional Support Critters

The future of Virginia agriculture? Shenandoah Growers, an indoor agriculture company, is undertaking a $100 million expansion of its three locations in Virginia over the next year. The facilities not only grow vegetables and spices in greenhouses, they package and ship the produce, reports the Daily News-RecordLocating the greenhouses next door to the packaging facilities speeds the movement of produce from farm to market, preserving freshness. The website of the Rockingham County-based company describes its grand ambitions: “We are leveraging our indoor bioponic growing technology, national customer network, and distribution channels to be the world’s leading consumer brand of affordable, organic fresh produce.” 

Thirty-one billion bucks for seawalls? Protecting Virginia coastal communities from sea-level rise by building sea walls would cost $31.2 billion to build 4,063 miles of hardened infrastructure, according to a study by the Center for Climate Integrity. That price tag is exceeded only by the cost for Florida, Louisiana and North Carolina. Don’t take it too seriously. This is more environmental doom mongering, which the Virginian-Pilot of course accepts uncritically. The calculations are based on the unrealistic assumption that adaptation to rising sea levels takes the form of building sea walls. For example, the study tabulates the cost of building 645 miles of seawall in Accomack County, 299 miles in Gloucester, 231 miles in Mathews, and 218 miles in Northumberland — an economically idiotic approach to dealing with rising tides and flooding in sparsely populated areas. For the seven densely populated cities of Hampton Roads the cost would run $4.6 billion — a large number but doable, if spread over many years.

Tide turning against “emotional support animal” scam. Virginia landlords have long been frustrated by tenants who skirt lease restrictions by faking disability certifications to qualify their pets as emotional support animals. Continue reading

Moral Hazard and Sea Level Rise

Ann Phillips. Photo credit: Free Lance-Star

Why aren’t Virginia localities acting more aggressively to protect themselves from rising sea levels? You don’t have to believe in catastrophic global warming to acknowledge that sea levels are creeping steadily higher worldwide or that subsidence caused by shifting tectonic plates and shrinking aquifers is aggravating flooding in Virginia’s Tidewater.

A big reason for the complacency, says Navy Adm. Ann Phillips, is that people think someone will bail them out. Virginia’s coastal-adaptation czar, appointed by Governor Ralph Northam, drove home the point last month at a College of William & Mary forum. Reports the Free Lance-Star:

“As I talked to people about what options are, in passing, to deal with the future, I have a sense that many homeowners feel that the cities are going to bail them out. And that the cities feel that the states should bail them out, and that the state thinks the federal government should bail them out.”

Continue reading

The Waters Increased Greatly upon the Earth

Over the past decade or so, as I traveled with my family to Sandbridge Beach, I watched in amazement, and a touch of disbelief, as large, upscale houses sprouted from the landscape that was once flat, treeless farmland.

The development was Asheville Park.  It was approved in 2004 for 499 homes on 474 acres. The construction slowed noticeably during the 2008-2010 downturn, but then picked up.

In 2016, Hurricane Matthew hit, deluging the area with rain. Asheville Park became impassable for days and homes and cars flooded. Incredibly, “All of this area was approved for rezonings without looking at stormwater,” according to Barbara Henley, a member of city council. (She was not on the council when the development was approved.) Of the 35 proffers associated with the approval, there was no mention of stormwater and how to control it. Hurricane Matthew demonstrated that the pipes and outfalls were too small and a retention lake was shallower than planned, leading to flooding.

The residents of the development have been up in arms, demanding that the city take action. After all, these were homes for which they had paid several hundred thousand dollars and being flooded was not supposed to be part of the deal. The city has come up with a long-term plan to alleviate flooding, estimated to cost $35 million. The immediate fixes will cost $11 million. The city has reached an agreement with the developer in which the approved number of houses will be reduced by 44 and the developer will donate land for the construction of a retention pond by the city. In addition to a retention pond, the work will include the construction of a gated weir and a pump station. Finally, new building permits will not be issued for the next phase of the development until specific parts of the drainage system are fixed.

There is not much else the city can do about Asheville Park. The developer still has the right to construct more than double the number of houses currently there. However, the city has obviously learned from this experience and is taking steps to take sea level rise into consideration when evaluating future developments. Continue reading

Dudes, Buy the Friggin’ Flood Insurance!

Source: Virginian-Pilot

Sea levels may be rising and the risk of flooding increasing, but fewer Hampton Roads residents bought flood insurance in 2108 than five years previously, according to data presented by the Virginian-Pilot. Between 2013 and 2018 the number of households with flood insurance declined by about 5%. The only one of seven localities examined that bucked the trend was the City of Portsmouth.

The Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation is collaborating with local and regional authorities in Hampton Roads to boost the number of flood insurance policies. A $100,000 campaign, Get Flood Fluent, has launched a website and will continue with a concentrated ad campaign in print, radio and online. Among the points made: Continue reading

Floods, Roads and Risk Management

Storm-related road repairs in Northumberland County. Photo credit: Virginia Mercury.

In a blog post yesterday (“Risk and the Fisc”), I cited an Old Dominion University study that guesstimated that Katrina-scale hurricane could cause $40 billion in damages and lost economic activity in Hampton Roads. The cost to the Commonwealth of coping with such a disaster, said Secretary of Finance Aubrey Layne, “keeps me up at night.”

Today comes news that the cost of repairing road damage in the aftermath of Tropic Storm Michael is estimated to be $25 million. Six months after the storm hit Virginia, 17 roads around the state are still under repair, reports The Virginia Mercury. That’s the damage from a tropical storm, which generated a fraction of the rain, wind, and storm surge associated with a Class 5 hurricane.

Crews have been fixing pipes and washed-out roads, mostly inland where heavy rains caused flash flooding. Continue reading

Does Virginia Beach Have the Right Investment Priorities?

The City of Virginia Beach has shelled out $265 million in public funds to support 13 major public-private development projects from the Cavalier Hotel renovation to the Sandler Center for the Performing Arts. Those projects have attracted more than $1 billion in private investment, said Virginia Beach Mayor Bobby Dyer in his state-of-the-city address two days ago. “That’s a solid return that has meant money for schools, public safety, roads and other essential city services.”

“I have not always been on board with every public-private partnership as considered, but I do know a good deal when I see it,” Dyer said, according to the Virginian-PilotBut the city’s overall approach to P3s has paid off, he contended. The city has a AAA bond rating. All of its public schools are accredited. And the crime rate is the lowest it has been since the 1960s.

Bacon’s bottom line: Public-private partnership always warrant close scrutiny. Private interests have every incentive to seek public subsidies in order to maximize their private returns, and studies ginned up to support P3 projects often are loaded with dubious and unsupported assumptions. But if a locality works to minimize risks and ensure that each project is cash-flow positive, I can be converted on a case-by-case basis.

Virginia Beach is an especially interesting case because its proximity to the Atlantic Ocean and its low-lying elevation make it especially vulnerable to the rising sea level. Continue reading

Bacon Bits: Rails, Roads, Hurricanes and Rainbows

Still off the tracks. Despite promising efforts by top-level management, the Washington Metro corporate culture is still dysfunctional. An audit of $1.9 million in blanket purchase agreements found missing and incomplete documents, reports the Washington Times.

“Auditors found that Metro employees failed to record $845,000 as BPAs in their accounting software, a problem the inspector general attributed to poor controls and lack of staff training,” the newspaper reports. “As a result, $1.8 million of the $1.9 million sampled contained internal control issues.”

Long and winding road. Southwest Virginia’s twisty, windy roads have been long considered a barrier to economic development because they are so inhospitable to commercial trucking. But local promoters in Tazewell County have turned Route 16 into a tourist magnet. The road, dubbed “Back of the Dragon,” provides gut-wrenching turns and spectacular vistas. Last year an estimated 60,000 motorcycle and sports car enthusiasts passed through the nearby 4,240-person town of Tazewell.

Chris Cannon, executive director of Friends of Southwest Virginia, told the New York Times: “We focus on natural and cultural assets” rather than coal, tobacco and lumber. The region has a bluegrass heritage trail, a crafts collective, and outdoor activities like ATV, riding, hiking, mountain biking, and river running. “We as a region are trying to diversify.”

Resiliency reminder. Former Hurricane Michael was only a tropical storm by the time it barreled through Virginia, but it still caused havoc. Some 585,000 customers in Dominion Energy’s Virginia and North Carolina service territory lost their electric power. As of 7 a.m. Friday, nearly 450,000 still had lights out. reported Dominion in a press release this morning:

Early reports of damage include broken poles, cross arms and downed wire in many locations, as well as transmission lines impacted due to tree damage. There were multiple reports of tornadoes within our service territory. In Northern Neck, a tornado touched down and damaged a Dominion Energy substation.

I hope Dominion is keeping good numbers. Legislators and the public will want an after-action report, with a particular focus on the efficacy of the utility’s undergrounding program. How many underground lines experienced disruption compared to the number that would have been predicted before the lines were buried? How much time did Dominion’s repair teams save as a consequence, and how many customer-hours of electric outages were avoided?

Who’s got the brightest rainbow? The city of Richmond scored higher on the Municipal Equality Index, a scorecard measuring municipal policies regarding the LGBTQ community, than the People’s Republic of Arlington and the People’s Republic of Charlottesville — and Mayor Levar Stoney is darn proud of it. “I am delighted that Richmond is able to progress at this level,” said Stoney in a recent press release drawing attention to the ranking.

“Diversity and inclusion are … cornerstones for attracting and retaining residents, top talent, and industry,” wrote Richard Florida, author of “The Rise of the Creative Class,” in a letter published in the MEI study. “Cities that do not guarantee equal rights to LGBTQ send a strong unwelcoming message to potential visitors, residents, and investors, stymying their potential for economic advancement. In short, many businesses and top talent consider LGBTQ discrimination a deal breaker. … It pays to prioritize inclusion.”