Crunching the Numbers on Dominion Virginia Power

A crew man for Dominion Virginia Power works to restore electric power.
A lineman for Dominion Virginia Power works to restore electric power.

Dominion Virginia Power has just released a press release touting three numbers it wants the public to know:

  1. Customers have experienced on average a 10 percent improvement in electric power reliability since 2011.
  2. The company’s new Brunswick County Power Station will lower costs by $1.5 billion.
  3. Dominion has reduced the carbon-intensity rating of its generation fleet by 43% company-wide.

And, by the way, Forbes magazine named the company to its list of “Just 100” best corporate citizens in the United States in 2016.

As one would expect from a press release, these numbers portray the company in a favorable light. They suggest that Dominion is doing an commendable job of handling the complex and often-conflicting trade-offs between the cost, reliability and sustainability of delivering electric power to its customers. Needless to say, Dominion has critics who subject every claim to withering scrutiny. The job of an energy journalist is to weigh the conflicting assertions.

Here’s my quick-and-dirty analysis of Dominion’s claims:

  1. True. Customers have experienced an improvement in reliability.
  2. Mostly true. Brunswick Power Station will lower costs in the short run, but long-term savings are predicated on assumptions, which, though not unreasonable, are contested and impossible to verify.
  3. True. Dominion has reduced the carbon-intensity of its generating fleet. But this side-steps the charge that the real problem with natural gas combustion isn’t the combustion but the emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, from drilling, processing and transporting associated with the combustion.

Let’s look at each of the three claims.

Electric reliability. The 10% improvement in reliability probably would stand up to close inspection, if anyone took exception to the number, which, as far as I know, no one has. Dominion’s corporate culture places tremendous emphasis on reliability, and the company has invested heavily to bury vulnerable distribution lines underground, upgrade its emergency response teams, and install smart-grid devices that give it better data on where the problems are.

To calculate the reliability number, Dominion tallies up the total number of outage-days across the system for a year.  To gauge performance under routine operating conditions, the company exempts major storms, such as hurricane Matthew last year, which are episodic by nature, beyond the company’s control, and obscure underlying trends. The methodology for determining reliability is standard in the industry.

“Throughout 2016, we have continued to invest in modernizing and strengthening the energy grid to make our service more reliable,” said Robert M. Blue, chief executive officer and president of Dominion Virginia Power, in an annual letter to the company’s 2.5 million customers. “We aim to continually improve reliability because every minute our customers are without power matters.”

Lower costs. While I did not delve into the $1.5 billion claim for the Brunswick County Power Station, I did examine a similar claim that the new Greensville County Power Station, still under construction, would save $2.1 billion. The logic behind the two numbers is largely the same. You can read the detailed explanation here.

The key question is this: Greensville (and by extension Brunswick) will save $2.1 billion compared to what? If Dominion did not build Greensville, it would have to purchase the megawatts from PJM Interconnection, the regional transmission organization of which Dominion is a part. How does Dominion know what PJM will charge in the future? It doesn’t. It relies upon its economic consulting company, IFC, to make realistic assumptions, and ICF assumes that prices will fluctuate around the long-term cost (including corporate profit) of generating the electricity from a basket of sources. Dominion projects that gas prices will increase from their current lows in the years ahead, from $2 to $3 per million BTUs to $5.11 by 2025.

Dominion states in its press release that Brunswick’s high-efficiency design utilizing state-of-the-art gas turbines will provide an estimated $100 million in fuel savings in its first year in operation and between $954 million and $1.5 billion over the life of the station. If gas prices remain depressed, Brunswick will save even more money; if prices shoot higher than $5.11 per million BTUs, the power station will save less.

Complicating the picture, critics say that solar power is fast becoming economically competitive with natural gas. While gas is cheaper today, they argue, the cost trajectory of solar and battery-storage backup will make them a lower cost option by the next decade. Brunswick Power Station may save money up-front, but it will be more costly over most of its expected 40-year life.

Of course, the critics are assuming that the cost of solar power and battery-storage will decline significantly, which it might… or might not. Future declines depend upon anticipated advances in technology and economies of scale in producing batteries, which may or may not materialize. The safest thing to say is that the further out Dominion projects savings, the more uncertain they are. Not wrong, but uncertain.

Carbon intensity. It is an easy and uncontroversial matter for engineers to calculate the carbon-dioxide emissions from coal-, oil- and gas-fired power stations. It is well known and undisputed that natural gas releases less CO2 into the atmosphere per BTU of heat created than does coal. So, when Dominion says that its electric generating fleet, which has shifted significantly from coal to natural gas, generates 43% less CO2, there is little reason to doubt the claim. Indeed, even environmentalists don’t dispute it.

What critics of Dominion’s power-generation strategy argue is that CO2 emissions from gas production is only part of the picture. Burning gas in a power station is the last step in a logistical chain that includes drilling, collecting gas in gathering pipes, processing it (removing contaminants), and shipping it via interstate pipelines to Brunswick and other power stations. Methane, the primary component of natural gas, leaks from the wells, pipes, valves and compressors. And it so happens that over a 20-year time frame methane is 86 times more potent than CO2 as a greenhouse gas. When the effect of methane leakage is included, some environmentalists say, Dominion’s shift from coal to gas actually contributes more to global warming.

In testimony submitted to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), Richard Ball with the Sierra Club-Virginia Chapter calculated that the Atlantic Coast Pipeline would be associated with between 40.7 million and 68.4 million CO2-equivalent tons of greenhouse gas emissions. To get a sense of the magnitude, that compares to 7.2 million ton of CO2-equivalent tons of emissions from Dominion’s largest coal-producing plant at Chesterfield and 5.7 million tons at its Clover facility.

While Ball relied heavily upon an ExxonMobil analysis of operations in the same Marcellus shale fields that Dominion would tap, his study was loaded with uncertainties. Critical to his analysis were assumptions about the rate of methane leakage, which may vary widely and may not be applicable to the producers feeding gas to Dominion. Also, the analysis gives no consideration to the methane “leakage” in coal mines, from which large volumes of methane is routinely vented as an explosion-prevention measure.

The bottom line for Dominion’s claim of reducing carbon intensity: The number is likely accurate but it sidesteps the larger issue that environmentalists have raised. On the other hand, the environmentalists’s counter-assertions are themselves open to criticism. In the final analysis, who knows?

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33 responses to “Crunching the Numbers on Dominion Virginia Power”

  1. Good analysis, Jim. The discussion about methane emissions is important as it highlights the fact that EVERY source of energy imposes a cost. I agree with Ball, in principle these impacts should be compared beginning to end including fuel, even thought that’s not always easy. For example, how do you weigh the impact of hydroelectric power (e.g., river bottom land taken for the lake, the blockage of migratory species) versus wind power (the visual impact, choice locations compete with recreational uses, birds and bats killed) versus gas power (CH4 emissions from drilling and transporting gas field to plant, CO2 emissions, noise, heat at the plant) versus coal power, etc.? It can’t easily be done just in dollar terms. And the alternatives have to be evaluated on the same basis, apples to apples.

    As for the uncertainties, that’s the nature of running a business using equipment with a useful life in the 40 year range. You do the best you can.

  2. LarrytheG Avatar

    If the thing about methane is true – then it is unconscionable to not use solar as much as possible to minimize the need to produce gas. We’ve gone from the frying pan into the fire.

    And until we have practical battery storage – we’re literally endangering our future by burning gas willy nilly at the risk of it becoming scarce later.

    but heck – all along we’ve been spewing mercury across our landscape, blasting mountaintops off, and putting the acid-laced rocks in the valleys to turn streams into dead zones all the way to Pittsburg – and few folks found that to be unacceptable… either.

    Here’s the question I’d ask – is Dominion an environmentally responsible company for the longer term? Are they looking ahead for what happens based on what we are doing now?

  3. Dominion CEO was on Jim Cramer’s Mad Money the other day for a frequent interview. Cramer absolutely loves Dominion as a stock investment and as a well run company. They talked about many things, including the Clean Power Plan, which according to Dominion, is not necessarily “dead”. CPP is an EPA regulation, not an executive order, which means it cannot be over-turned without a more lengthy process. I told my wife, it’s so funny to hear someone (Cramer) who likes Dominion, when all I hear is trash talk on the blogs.

    Re: Methane
    Unlike CO2, methane has a fairly short half-life in the atmosphere. I do not currently feel methane emissions are some kind of “fatal flaw” that makes natural gas worse than coal. So that concern is sounding more like political bashing of natural gas to me. That said, I do feel we should try to minimize fugitive emissions.

  4. LarrytheG Avatar

    half life or not – the following has to be troubling :

    ” Atmospheric methane concentrations are of interest because it is one of the most potent greenhouse gases in Earth’s atmosphere. The 100-year global warming potential of methane is 28 (i.e., over a 100-year period, it traps 28 times more heat per mass unit than carbon dioxide and 32 times the effect when accounted for aerosol interactions. Global methane levels, had risen to 1800 parts per billion (ppb) by 2011, an increase by a factor of 2.5 since pre-industrial times, from 722 ppb, the highest value in at least 800,000 years”

    We do not “know” with absolute certainty – that’s for sure – but “conservative” “thinkers” would never assume huge risks based on hopeful thinking and instead would normally be cautious.

    we’d want to conserve not squander resources that may only be abundant for a decade or two.

    Finally – we want the most cost-effective and least-damaging path to providing our power needs and I have to say – that the resistance to solar is just unconscionable from all 3 perspectives, environmental, resources and cost-effectiveness. The arguments against using solar are nonsensical and basically amount to bogus excuse-making that’s harmful not only to rate-payers but ultimately Dominion itself.

    As far as Dominion being a “good” or “bad” company they are, without question, one of the better run and reliable and SUCCESSFUL investor-owned companies in the country – but they are “holding the ball” on the disruptive technological changes now rapidly evolving.

    Their PR efforts are so transparent as to be almost comical… silly back-patting on just inane things almost like vanity preening…

    A GOOD Company stubbornly clinging to a 20th century utility model. They’ve basically swapped out coal for gas – while using their monopoly to fend off competitive challenges that are going to fundamentally change the way we do electricity – and they’re choosing to be Kodak-like.

  5. TooManyTaxes Avatar

    “Dominion’s corporate culture places tremendous emphasis on reliability, and the company has invested heavily to bury vulnerable distribution lines underground, upgrade its emergency response teams, and install smart-grid devices that give it better data on where the problems are.”

    What a crock! I lived part of my life in the Midwest and had fewer outages than with Dominion. Since we lived in our current house, we had outages almost anytime the wind guts hit 20 miles per hour or higher. Talking to Dominion was like talking the Department of Veterans Affairs. I got fed up with it and contacted Dominion with a threat to file a complaint with the SCC. That got the Company’s attention. An engineer called me and, after checking records, agreed that our neighborhood distribution line was out of service at rates that were excessive and costly to repair. The line was finally replaced and our outages dropped considerably. But should a customer have to threaten to file a government complaint for a company to fix a line that is costing excessive maintenance costs? A company dedicated to reliable service would look for network segments that were experiencing above average outages and fix them on its own.

    Secondly, during the Derecho, I talked with some out-of-state repair people. They told me that they loved coming to Dominion territory because the Company experienced more and longer outages than most because Dominion saves money by not trimming trees or otherwise maintaining its RoW and distribution facilities — lots of overtime pay.

    Walk through most neighborhoods. You’ll see multiple examples of poorly maintained power lines.

    1. I tend to agree. I called D a few years back on a drooping power line 7-ft over a sidewalk and they never came to fix it. Two years later finally fixed, someone must have finally seen it. But our house never loses power in the severe storms. Must be the underground lines are good or something.

    2. “Dominion saves money by not trimming trees or otherwise maintaining its RoW and distribution facilities.”

      Dominion has a portfolio of maintenance programs — from tree trimming to smart-grid sensors to burying power lines — each of which it has to justify on a Return on Investment basis to the State Corporation Commission. The SCC does not always approve the expenditures — a good example is Dominion’s recent bid to bury more electric power lines. The SCC allowed only a fraction of the sum that Dominion wanted to spend. But the SCC does approve spending that it thinks can be justified economically.

      Be careful about comparing the incidence of outages in different parts of the country. Virginia has different kinds of line maintenance issues than utilities in the Midwest. We get a lot more freezing rain in this part of the country. How many hurricanes do they get in Illinois? How much do Iowa utilities have to spend to protect their distribution system against salt corrosion from ocean winds?

      I refer you to this article I wrote last year:

      1. LarrytheG Avatar

        It seems a bit counter-intuitive that a govt bureaucrat is the one to determine ROI… Do they really have the data, knowledge and expertise to substitute their judgement for Dominions?

        why would Dominion propose something that would not return adequate ROI in the first place if the SCC is going to limit how much can be spent and assigned to rate payers? Why not let Dominion do what they think they can do on scope as long as they are limited to what they can charge ratepayers for?

        why not give Dominion the amount of rate increase and then let Dominion figure do more scope for the same money if they can?

      2. TooManyTaxes Avatar

        Jim, Dominion rarely trims trees in Fairfax County. It’s easy to walk through neighborhoods and see branches overhanging power lines. And sometimes even between wires. There are no crews that periodically check and trim trees.

        1. Maybe we get better treatment here in Richmond. I see tree-trimming crews at work frequently, and I have noticed a major (way more than 10%) improvement in our outage rate. Of course, all anecdotal impressions are… anecdotal.

          1. TooManyTaxes Avatar

            Outside storm cleanup, I’ve never seen a Dominion crew (employees or contractors) trimming trees since I moved here in late 1984. Agree this is anecdotal.

            Dominion and any other power company should have lists of lines that regularly have outages; check them for excessive outages and trim its way to better service.

        2. PS- TMT- Maybe you should consider a Prius…one nice thing about hybrids is you can hook up an inverter to 12v battery and get emergency power. The gasoline engine runs intermittently as needed to recharge the two batteries (hybrid battery and 12v battery).

          Just a thought. We’re lucky to live in a more reliable area, so we have not had to do that. But I do have a smaller 300W inverter ready to go.

  6. LarrytheG Avatar

    Notice there are no such calls for “transparency and accountability” from Jim on the claims for “more reliable” and “less costly”, etc..

    Perhaps Jim should DEMAND that the govt mandate the collection of statistical data so that consumers can actually see if Dominion versus other providers like APC or the Cooperatives – REALLY IS more reliable or is it just more marketing blather for the gullible?

    I bet Dominion would not consider such an advocacy from Jim as “supportive”, eh but hey.. he’s the one always yammering about holding
    institutions accountable.. if UVA, K-12 schools, insurance companies and Hospitals.. why not Dominion?


    1. Reliability varies depending upon geography and weather patterns, so it can be tricky comparing one utility to another. Dominion says it benchmarks against itself, trying to steadily improve its numbers.

      1. LarrytheG Avatar

        so reliability is essentially not measureable and an easily made claim that cannot be verified?

  7. CleanAir&Water Avatar

    The choices made by Dominion can be seen as very good … if we remember that those choices are circumscribed by a monopoly regulatory structure based on 20th century technology.

    One example is the way reliability is judged. In New England, where Hurricane Sandy left so many without electricity for so long the states are working hard to evaluate and multiply the islandable micro-grids, especially for critical facilities. They are combining renewable energy generated onsite with storage and in some cases CHP to assure reliability. Those states are changing their regulations to allow and encourage these installations because they increase their customer’s energy security and reliability. The military in Virginia reached the same conclusions.

    Jim’s evaluation seems on point when he says … “Brunswick Power Station will lower costs in the short run, but long-term savings are predicated on assumptions, which, though not unreasonable, are contested and impossible to verify.” It is certainly good that the new gas plants are now much more efficient and create less pollution than earlier gas plants, but they are still gas plants and as such we need to understand the questions raised about methane.

    Some say that given methane emissions during the extraction and shipping of gas, we do not actually save anything when compared to coal’s Green House Gas emissions. Dominion does sidestep that issue as Jim says. In addition, some say the ‘fugitive’ emissions are much, much greater than our government has calculated, and several critics have done measurements to show the government’s inaccuracy. But to me the biggest misconception about doubling down on new gas plants is based on the comparison of methane and CO2 as Green House Gases.

    “Scientists refer to a gas’s ability to heat the atmosphere as its “Global Warming Potential“ (GWP), which is a factor of its heat-trapping ability and how long it remains in the atmosphere.” US policy uses the 100 year time frame when comparing the 2 green house gases, a comparison that makes using natural gas look a whole lot greener than it actually is.

    According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), methane’s GWP is 84 times greater than CO2 over a 20 year period, but only 28 times greater over a hundred year period, because it quickly leaves the atmosphere and is gone after a century.

    Anthony Ingraffea, a Cornell scientist, warns that US policy is based on “reckless assumptions that lead to climate chaos … by using the 100-year time scale, methane leak rates can be much higher while still appearing “greener” than other fossil fuels.”

    Ingraffea’s calculations show the US will glide past it’s maximum emissions in 20 years if we only curb CO2 emissions, and that restrictions including methane and black carbon as well as CO2 will give us an extra 20 years of transition. Measuring on the 100-year time frame makes no sense.

    Dominion’s choices look very “Kodak like” to me too.

  8. LarrytheG Avatar

    re: ” According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), methane’s GWP is 84 times greater than CO2 over a 20 year period, but only 28 times greater over a hundred year period, because it quickly leaves the atmosphere and is gone after a century.”

    well you don’t need to be a scientists to see that if we stampede towards shale gas – that we’re actually accelerating the effects of global warming earlier with the idea that later on -a century from now it will “depart”.

    that idea ought to scare the daylights out of anyone who was already worried about the effects of CO2 in the upcoming 100 years.

    This is exactly why we should burn every watt of solar that we can when we can – to offset having to burn gas… gas should be used sparingly only when we have no choice but whenever we can use solar – we should.

    Dominions business model though – is based on burning as much gas as it can and that’s evidenced by the fact that the two new gas plants seem to be primarily baseload plants. Developing plans to burn gas 24/7 for the next 40 years – KNOWING it could be actually generating 28 times MORE greenhouse gases is unconscionable.

    Dominion – for it’s own economic health as well as the planet needs to be deploying and allowing to be deployed by others – as much solar as the Grid can accommodate. There goal should be to transition their grid to solar-capable as much as feasible.

  9. Just an observation or two:

    1. Solar plus after-dark-only fossil-fueled cycling generation may equal or exceed the carbon footprint of 24-hour baseload fossil-fueled generation, due to the differences in generating efficiency and the inability to add combined-cycle components to fast cycling units.

    2. By law, Dominion is charged with providing electric service at lowest cost in an environmentally responsible way. Those goals are potentially in conflict. Dominion, subject to SCC approval, decides how to balance these, but leans heavily towards lowest cost consistent with those environmental requirements that are MANDATED. If that is not OK with you, complain to the SCC and tell them you’d like to pay more in order to emit less.

    3. Re, “methane’s GWP is 84 times greater than CO2 over a 20 year period, but only 28 times greater over a hundred year period,” that is a straight-line projection assuming no changes in consumption or losses over those 100 years. I don’t think the supply of accessible methane is expected to last nearly that long — in fact that’s the source of the stranded cost concern.

    4. Re, “Developing plans to burn gas 24/7 for the next 40 years – KNOWING it could be actually generating 28 times MORE greenhouse gases is unconscionable,” misrepresents the facts. “28 times” simply compares the “greenhouse potential” effect of a given amount of methane to the same amount of CO2. As CA&W points out, we need to know a lot more about how much methane actually is getting released as the result of all this extraction and piping going on. I’m not dismissing the methane concern nor should Dominion, but I’m not seeing anywhere that the methane volumes escaping from those sources are nearly so large as the CO2 emitted by burning the gas. And what’s the alternative in the short run — crank up those old coal units?

    5. Re, “Dominion’s . . . goal should be to transition their grid to solar-capable as much as feasible.” The PJM regional grid is the leader nationally in deploying batteries and capacitors to control voltage on the transmission and distribution grid, and Dominion is one of the most important participants in that. A major purpose of all that voltage stabilization infrastructure investment is to be able to absorb more solar and wind power without degrading the reliability of the grid, particularly distributed solar generation pumping directly into the distribution system.

    1. TooManyTaxes Avatar

      Acbar – It’s my recollection that Dominion has offered customers an option to buy all their electricity from renewable sources at a higher price for several years. How many choose this option? I sense what a sizable minority really want to do is decide for everyone that paying higher prices is a good thing.

      I’ve always been of mixed mind on global warming n/k/a climate change. The climate always changes and it is certainly possible that human behavior can affect climate–at least to some degree. And it simply makes sense to find cheap, reliable sources of renewable energy simply because there is some finite limit to non-renewable sources. But like my feelings for Wall Street, I don’t trust people who are seeking access to other people’s money or to control the commercial behavior of others.

      From what I’ve been reading, few believe anything short of living in caves and subsisting on plants will make any significant difference in world temperatures. My experience suggests much of the professional climate change industry is designed to get access to public money and political power.

      1. LarrytheG Avatar

        @TMT – people don’t’ want public money or political power – they only want to be able to install and use solar when it’s a cheaper option than grid power.

        you keep thinking in conspiracy terms on these things.

        what motivates most people – and I suspect you also – is that if you can save money on something that is costly – you want to do it. It has little to do with ” the professional climate change industry” whoever the heck they are.

        so most folks don’t want to BUY overpriced “green” power from Dominion or others .. they want to buy direct – 3rd party solar either from a company with a facility or have it installed on their own site. There is no conspiracy to enrich ” the professional climate change industry”.

        They would sign up with a 3rd party provider if they could.. just like the Navy, and Amazon, and Colleges and countless others are doing.. individual homeowners want the same..

        and just to point out – a tax credit for solar is not much different than a tax-credit for health insurance or a mortgage or a pension plan.. do you categorize those tax credits as “power” and “public money” any more or less so?

        1. TooManyTaxes Avatar

          Larry – who funds the climate scientists – generally tax dollars one way or the other.

          1. LarrytheG Avatar

            @TMT – any more than any other scientists? Cancer? Vaccines? weather satellites? GPS ? Chesapeake Bay, studying the Oceans, earthquakes? flooding, genetics, etc?

            do you think any/all science funded by govt is inherently “power and public money” or do you just think that about some – the kind you disagree with?

            and what in the world does any of that have to do with people who want to use solar to save money on their electricity?

            how are they funding these scientists you distrust?

          2. TooManyTaxes Avatar

            Larry – the Obama administration totally politicized climate science. Read the following for a bit of balanced perspective.

            Again, I don’t argue that it is impossible for human behavior to affect climate or that we should not be looking for renewable energy or energy efficiency. But it strikes me as “odd” that climate science has no one challenging accepted beliefs. I often watch the Science Channel and generally find scientists investigating new theories and challenging old ones. That doesn’t mean the older, established beliefs are wrong. But science involves skepticism — something almost totally missing from this one segment of science.

          3. CleanAir&Water Avatar

            There are valid disagreements about the speed and effects of Climate Change, but there has been a very big problem with the people who said that Climate Change was simply ‘normal’. Those were supported by The Merchants of Doubt as documented in the book of that name. Have a look … They were well funded by the fossil industries and used the methods of propaganda developed by those fighting government regulation of tobacco. Even used many of the same people to push the story that climate change was just Doubtful!
            Let’s see what the case against Exxon and the API shows … Exxon scientists took the evidence to their executive committee in the 70’s.

  10. LarrytheG Avatar

    @Acbar – thanks –

    I’m seeing stuff like this:

    ” To provide a solution that would allow plant owners better dispatch options, a system was developed that provides base load outputs with maximum efficiencies as well as incrementally selectable peaking outputs with high plant efficiencies.
    Termed as Complementary Fired Combined Cycle (CFCC), this system is predicated on the use of fractionally sized gas turbines, with their exhaust ducted into the HRSG(s) associated with their base GT(s). ”

    the technology exists – it’s a reality…

    and what you are essentially advocating is “prove we are doing harm before you stop us” ( the now discredited environmental protection paradigm) and I am advocating a
    ” be cautious if there is evidence indicating potential harm” and especially so if there are real technological solutions today .. why are they building older technology plants on a 40-year use basis?

    there is no question in my mind that combined-cycle hybrid plants, while new, do exist – and they allow more cost-effective and less damaging operation.

    You say that running peakers/solar instead of combined cycle (24/7) might use more gas – I would ask what happens when you don’t run peakers with solar and instead run combined cycle baseload 24/7 – and demand drops below baseload output and you continue burning fuel but idle the turbines?

    how does that work? My understanding is that these new plants have multiple turbines and they can be fired individually and the gap time for ramping up or down is covered by buying PJM but the newer technology plants not only have separate turbines for combined cycle – they also have complimentary peaker turbines at the same plant – “hybrids”.

    these are highly efficient plants that ought to NOT run baseline 24/7 with turbines idled to start with now that the technology does exist to link combined-cycle with peakers at the same physical plant with one computer controlling the whole shebang.

    that’s my complaint. why are we buying pure combined-cycle plants designed to last 40 years and will burn gas for base-load even when demand drops below output and the turbines themselves are idled but the burning of gas continues?

    How do you mesh that kind of operation with SOLAR?

    I don’t see how SOLAR works at all – if it is putting into the grid – essentially in competition for baseload GAS plants that cannot easily adjust their output to complement SOLAR – so all they can really do – is continue burning gas but take the turbines off line when SOLAR is generating.

    Isn’t that why Dominion is not so keen on SOLAR to start with?

    it simply does not fit into a baseload generation philosophy…

    perhaps a better question is – how does running baseload gas 24/7 even when demand varies and turbines have to be idled…

    with .. less efficient peakers running in tandem with SOLAR – with the ability of the peakers to modulate output in real time in concert with SOLAR?

    I’d say the MORE SOLAR you have – the more you must use the peakers or else the SOLAR is not going to save gas at all if they’re running in tandem with base-load with cannot modulate. You end up just having to idle the combined cycle turbines while still burning gas – and the more solar you have coming into the grid – the more baseload turbines have to be idled while still burning gas.

    SOLAR does not “work” with baseload but baseload is what Dominion is committing to with those two plants.

  11. LarrytheG Avatar

    @Adbar – here is GE’s take:

    “The variability of solar power and wind power can play havoc with the grid.

    In a political era where California and other states are mandating 20 percent or 33 percent or even 40 percent Renewable Portfolio Standards, the current system is not designed to deal with that level of variability, according to Jim Detmers, former COO of the California Independent Systems Operator (CAISO). “The system is not designed to accept that proportion of renewables.”

    Increasing penetration of renewables like wind and solar actually require an increase in the amount of natural gas-fired backup. And natural gas plants are at their least efficient when they are are ramped up and down. Natural gas, despite its recent good press for being cleaner than coal and of domestic origin, is still a fossil fuel that pollutes the air when combusted and the water when extracted via fracking. Estimates from the Energy Information Administration suggest that shale gas could make up 45 percent of all natural gas production in the U.S. by 2035 — up from the current 14 percent.

    Any improvement in the efficiency of natural gas-fired plants is going to help the transition to a more renewable-fueled future — and reduce the amount of natural gas we might use.

    General Electric just introduced their new 510-megawatt combined-cycle power plant that offers fuel efficiency greater than 61 percent — the result of an investment of more than $500 million in R&D by GE.

    GE drew from the company’s jet engine expertise to engineer a plant that will ramp up at a rate of more than 50 megawatts per minute.

    Detmers’ figures differ from that claim. “We can currently ramp generators at 63 megawatts per minute,” but “early studies show that we need over 400 megawatts per minute to cope with a 33 percent RPS,” according to Detmers. “We need new technology,” he concludes.

    The GE plant is engineered for flexible operation by integrating a next-generation 9FB Gas Turbine that operates at 50 Hz, a power frequency that is most used in countries around the world; a 109D-14 Steam Turbine, which runs on the waste heat produced by the gas turbine; GE’s W28 Generator; an integrated control system that links all of the technologies; and a heat recovery steam generator.”

    so let me REPEAT the part that I think is important:

    ” … new 510-megawatt combined-cycle power plant that offers fuel efficiency greater than 61 percent

    GE drew from the company’s jet engine expertise to engineer a plant that will ramp up at a rate of more than 50 megawatts per minute.”

    It’s obvious to GE – if you don’t change the way combined cycle gas plants works – SOLAR actually is of not good use to the grid – it disrupts it.

    that’s where Dominion should be headed – not doubling down on baseload plants.

  12. CleanAir&Water Avatar

    I am crawling out of my cave to add a few points …

    Guess I wasn’t very clear about the methane/CO2 comparison. For every methane molecule we throw out into the atmosphere we could throw 86 CO2 molecules to have the same heat itrapping effect in the earth’s atmosphere. Using the 100-year time frame, methane leak rates can be much higher while still appearing “greener” than other fossil fuels.” The mitigation approach taken by our government, one gas at a time, existing plants vs. new plants, took us down this rat hole.

    Price comparisons … Be careful what is included in the comparison.

    On an unsubsidized basis, Lazard estimated the LCOE of :
    • land-based wind …. $32/MWh and $62/MWh,
    • combined cycle natural gas plant, … $48/MWh and $78/MWh.
    • Utility-scale solar … $46/MWh and $56/MWh for thin film installation
    • Rooftop and community solar costs were higher, due largely to scale.

    Lazard expects that, “if industry projections materialize over the next five years, cost-effective energy storage technologies … could provide an alternative to conventional gas-fired peaking plants in certain areas…”

    Cycling .. this English major cannot argue those points, BUT I did just read a piece from Scott Madden about revisiting the Duck Curve. Evidently the curve changes and cycling needs get much worse if the solar is utility scale solar. Using on-site requires less cycling, so DER vs utility scale solar makes a difference.. We are a long way from the 33% PJM said we could accommodate without major grid changes. North Carolina has installed ten times Virginia’s total solar, California … 100 times.

    Finally, as Tom H has explained so well, to get community and onsite generators built we must change the rules. Dominion is doing what makes sense under the old ‘build more, sell more’ rules. That proposed $5Billion pipeline will lock us into more and more gas for longer and longer.

  13. CleanAir&Water Avatar

    Pleaseremove the double … that is directly above.

  14. LarrytheG Avatar

    @tmt – This looks and reads like a FAKE science site guy.

    who are the folks that run this site and how are they funded?

    good grief TMT!

    Do you think that any/all govt supported scientific research has a conflict of interest and ends up publishing conclusions that conform to whoever is currently in charge ?

    How do you believe any of it if that is your basic premise.

    and when you read websites that you have no idea who the people are that run it or where they get their money from -how is that more believable?

    good grief guy!

  15. LarrytheG Avatar

    interesting discussion

    1 Cost factors
    1.1 Levelized cost of electricity
    1.2 Avoided cost
    1.3 Marginal cost of electricity
    1.4 External costs of energy sources
    1.5 Additional cost factors

    The levelized cost of electricity (LCOE) is given by:

    interesting chart – of which there are many different ones …conflicting data, etc

    but I still do not see how solar meshes with baseload plants since the baseload plants unless advanced combined cycle – cannot modulate with respect to fuel burning. They can idle turbines to lower input to the grid but they still burn fuel so if you’re trying to “use” solar in tandem with inflexible baseload plants – there is no fuel savings at all.. you’re still burning the same amount of fuel.

    with a peaker plant – you are able to modulate but the efficiency factor for a peaker plant is much lower than a conventional combined cycle …

    Acbar seems to think – (I think) what you gain in solar – you lose in the inefficiency of the peaker plant.

    the new advanced combined cycle plants DO seem to be able to have both – efficiency AND the ability to ramp.

    My question is – are the two plants that Dominion are building for a 40-year life the kind of advanced combined cycle that can ramp?

    If they are not – I can now understand why Dominion doesn’t see a real role for solar… solar appears to have no advantage when it’s run complementary to older technology combined cycle plants if they can’t ramp quickly – they cannot modulate their fuel burning .. they just idle turbines while fuel continues to burn.

    It appears the two new plants have multiple generation units – each with it’s it’s own turbines -which would allow them to run as many or as few as they need – such that they could take some offline as solar comes online.

    but that chart (of which I realize is one of many that don’t totally agree) – I’d be curious to hear from others because the levelized costs don’t look that compelling for renewables.. when total life cycle costs are calculated.

  16. CleanAir&Water Avatar

    Here is the full chart from Lazard …

    I see that your chart did not differential between utility scale and roof-top PV. Scale makes a big cost difference with PV. And the Lazard used only the unsubsidized costs, which shows on your chart but is not the final number.

  17. Sorry for coming to this discussion so late. Just a few quick comments if anyone is still paying attention.

    In Virginia, the savior for the combined cycle plants we have already built will be a rapid decline in the cost of storage. Although storage does not differentiate where the energy comes from – conceptually a good amount of grid storage would allow combined cycle plants to run at optimum efficiency all day long. When solar input is high (presuming we choose the lower cost choice of solar for future plant additions) rather than cycling down, the combined cycle units would remain at full capacity and the excess energy would be shunted to storage for use to cover variations in solar and to meet demand as sunlight declines in the evening, avoiding the rapid ramp up of the duck curve. This avoids the expensive and inefficient use of peakers, as much as possible, and the uneconomic operation of the combined cycle plants.

    Under our current rules, this also lowers the auction clearing prices during peak periods and reduces revenues to conventional sources of generation. So although this would lower energy prices and emissions, it is not currently favored by utilities because it lowers their revenues. This is why we need to change the rules regulating utilities so that what is good for us is also good for them.

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