Data Centers Spur Electricity Demand in Virginia, Says Greenpeace

Continued expansion of data centers in Virginia is driving demand for electricity, which gives Dominion Energy the justification for expanding its gas-fired generating fleet and building the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, according to a new report by Greenpeace, “Clicking Clean Virginia: The Dirty Energy Powering Data Center Alley.”

While several major providers of cloud services — Amazon, Facebook, and Microsoft most prominently — have committed to deriving their electricity from renewable energy sources, the boom in data centers has outpaced the ability of the data center industry, Amazon in particular, to line up renewable energy contracts.

“While electricity demand for utilities is flat or declining, electricity demand from data centers in Virginia has grown sharply, between 9 and 11 percent year year, offsetting declines elsewhere, with data center demand regularly touted by Dominion to its investors as a sign of continued growth,” states Greenpeace.

Ironically, although the Greenpeace opposes the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, information in the report undercuts an argument the environmental group’s Virginia allies use against the Atlantic Coast Pipeline: that Dominion forecasts have consistently overstated future electric load. While electricity load has plateaued or even declined in many states, demand from data centers continues to push demand incrementally higher in Virginia.

The Greenpeace report documents just how extensive that increase has been. Total demand from existing Virginia data centers and those under development approaches 4.5 gigawatts, concludes the report, roughly the same power output as nine large (500-megawatt) coal power plants.

Data centers have been a leading economic stimulus in Virginia, which has suffered from a sub-par rate of economic growth during the current business cycle. While individual data centers support only a handful of jobs, those jobs do pay well and the large number of data centers adds up. Moreover, the massive capital investment in servers and other equipment generates enormous local tax revenue.

The Greenpeace study argues that Virginia should enact policies that strengthen the state’s commitment to renewable energy and halt construction of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, which would support increased natural gas consumption. Last fall Dominion announced plans to develop 3 GW of solar and wind projects by 2022, and significantly more in the years following. But environmental groups have argued that the utility could be more aggressive and that it uses its political clout to create barriers to competition.

In its long-term planning, Dominion continues to project a need for more natural gas, but it has shifted its forecast for the type of gas facility from combined-cycle units — massive plants capable of providing base-load capacity — to gas-turbine units that ramp up and down with fluctuating supplies generated by intermittent solar and wind sources. In Dominion’s view, gas is a natural complement to wind and solar.

Greenpeace described Northern Virginia’s Data Center Alley, encompassing Loudoun, Fairfax and Prince William Counties, as “the beating heart” of the global internet. Those three counties are home to more than 100 data centers and more than 10 million square feet of data center space. States the report:

While the recent growth in larger data centers can be partially attributed to tax incentives offered by the state of Virginia, the presence of the largest piece of AWS’s global infrastructure is itself creating a gravitational effect on other major data center operators, who want to be able to market their operations as having a direct connect to AWS. The recent arrival of new high speed subsea data connections to Europe and Africa from Virginia Beach is attracting major new data center investment in Henrico as well as in southeast Virginia. …

Not only is the data center market in Virginia the largest in the world, but it’s also growing faster than any other region. In the first half of 2018, new multi-tenant colocation data center construction in Virginia was greater than construction in the next four largest areas combined, according to commercial realtor Jones Lang LaSall (JLL). In total, JLL estimates 645 additional megawatts of planned or under-construction colocation capacity in the next year. Dominion Energy has estimated its energy sales to data center customers to grow roughly 20 percent a year through 2021, adding a predicted 2.4 terawatt hours of demand.

In 2016 Virginia generated less than 2 percent of its energy from renewable sources, said the Greenpeace report, ignoring the fact that solar production is ramping up rapidly and will continue to do so for years. “The majority of rising electricity demand needed to power data centers in Virginia is driving even more demand for fossil fuels, and more CO2 emissions that are fueling global warming.”

While the U.S. tech sector has invested heavily in renewable energy, “very little” is occurring in Virginia. the report says. “Companies with 100 percent RE (renewable energy) commitments find when they break ground in Virginia that their options for RE are very limited. As Virginia is primarily a regulated energy market, data centers have few options for buying a renewable supply of energy if not offered by the local utility.”

The main work-around is by purchasing excess green power from other regions by means of renewable energy credits (RECs). But RECs don’t improve the energy mix in Virginia, the report says.

Of the 15 companies measured in this report, only Apple has invested in enough renewable energy procurement to match its demand in the region. Facebook and Microsoft have also shown notable efforts in deploying increasing amounts of local renewables as they scale up operations in Virginia. The remaining companies have energy demand that either far outstrips their supply of renewables (Amazon, for example) or have not deployed any local renewables at all.

Source: Greenpeace, “Clicking Clean Virginia: The Dirty Energy Powering Data Center Alley”

The report has particularly harsh words for Amazon. Amazon’s cloud subsidiary, AWS, committed in November 2014 to use 100% renewables for its global expansion. It embarked upon a rapid expansion in its supply of renewable energy in Virginia in 2015 and 2016, working with Dominion to create a new rate program to reduce the financial risk for companies signing renewable contracts. However, “Amazon has remained notoriously opaque when it comes to publicly reporting information about its current energy use and how fast it is growing.”

Based on what the company reports on its website, Amazon has not signed any new renewable contracts since November 2016, and has actually withdrawn from a previously wind-farm contract in Ohio. While Amazon has committed to adding 132 megawatts of renewable energy to the Dominion grid, it has added 23 new data centers since 2017, representing an additional 626 megawatts of demand. “AWS,” says the report, “no longer appears to be honoring its commitment to 100 percent renewables.”

Amazon responded to the Greenpeace report as follows:

Greenpeace has chosen to report inaccurate data about the energy consumption and renewable mix of AWS’s infrastructure and did not perform proper due-diligence by fact checking with AWS before publishing. Greenpeace’s estimates overstate both AWS’s current and projected energy usage. Additionally, the report does not properly highlight that AWS has been a major investor in solar projects across the Commonwealth of Virginia and played a leading role in making it easier for us and other companies to bring more renewable energy to Virginia through our Market-Based Rate with Dominion Virginia Power.

As of December 2018, Amazon and AWS have invested in 53 renewable energy projects (six of which are in Virginia), totaling over 1,016 MW and are expected to deliver over 3,075,636 million megawatt-hours (MWh) of energy annually.

Further, AWS advocates for tax and regulatory policies at the federal and state levels to promote renewable energy usage. AWS remains firmly committed to achieving 100% renewable energy across our global network, achieving 50% renewable energy in 2018. We have a lot of exciting initiatives planned for 2019 as we work towards our goal and are nowhere near done.

Update: The originally published version of this story did not make it clear that Greenpeace opposes the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. I have edited the story to make it clear that it does. Greenpeace argues that the extraction, transportation and combustion of gas transported by the ACP would emit 69 million tons of greenhouse gasses annually, equivalent to 14 million passenger vehicles.

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52 responses to “Data Centers Spur Electricity Demand in Virginia, Says Greenpeace

  1. Huh? Where does the Greenpeace report back the Atlantic Coast Pipeline? Or is that just Jim Bacon extrapolating his opinions on someone else’s work?

    • I did not mean to imply such a thing. I have patched the post to make it very clear that Greenpeace opposes the ACP, even if data from its report can be used to support Dominion’s contention that electricity demand is increasing.

  2. The thing is – if you had enough solar – you could run all those data centers during most days with SOLAR and then dial up gas plants at night.

    If you did that – you’d not need any more gas than you are using right now for 24/7 combined cycle base load.

    So you would not need more gas.

    So because Dominion refuses to build enough solar nor will allow 3rd parties to build it in Virginia to supply Dominion’s grid – those companies go to PJM to buy solar – and the ridiculous thing is – some of of those solar companies are located in Virginia – feeding that power into the grid.

    There are problems with doing solar in such a convoluted way that ends up making it more expensive and more difficult for these companies to do and some of them are backing off their commitments now.

    but the bottom line is that Dominion COULD build enough solar to power these data centers during the day and then power them at night with gas – and not use any more gas than they are right now.

    The question is why won’t they do that and the answer is pretty obvious – it’s not as profitable as selling more higher-priced gas-generated electricity.

  3. I’m going to get you a copyeditor for your birthday.

  4. It takes 2.5 acres for one megawatt of solar.

    so one square mile (640 acres) will generate 256 MW of solar.

    So two square miles to generate 500 MW. That 2 square miles could
    easy be where a gas plant is located and/or along the power light right of way that connects to the gas plant.

    Then that site would operate off of solar – when available – and switch over to gas when it was not.

    Dominion could easily do this but it would not be as profitable as selling electricity generated from gas.

    This is why it’s time to change the way Dominion operates. Either convince them to do it or let other providers do it.

    It’s becoming increasingly clear that Dominion wants to preserve it’s business and profits – even if at the expense to others and that’s no longer acceptable.

    This really has nothing to do with Global Warming or the environment per se – it’s about generating electricity at the lowest cost and passing those savings on to customers and rate-payers.

  5. Larry,

    Remember Acbar’s fine commentaries about how our energy system works. Dominion buys all of its energy at wholesale from PJM and gets paid to generate as much as it can get dispatched from units it owns.

    Dominion wants to build as much solar as it can get approved. Just as with any other new source of generation, Dominion earns about $2 in profit for every $1 it invests in a new power plant (it also gets repaid the original $1 invested). Dominion also earns an additional profit when its generating facilities sell energy to PJM. They earn less net profit from PJM when their cost of generation is high such as with an old coal plant or a refurbished nuclear unit. A gas-fired peaking plant is also expensive to operate and will get more expensive to run as gas prices rise. Solar or wind has a nearly zero marginal cost to operate.

    Currently, the payback from PJM is highest during times of peak usage and lowest at night.

    Dominion wants to build as much solar as it can (over 5000 MW is projected) because it would be so profitable for them and would meet the needs of the data centers.

    The problem is that if Dominion builds the new solar it would be much more expensive for ratepayers. In other states, solar output from independently-owned solar is often sold via a PPA to the utilities or directly to customers with the cost of transmitting the energy paid to the utilities. This provides a much lower cost to customers compared to allowing the utility to put the solar facility in the rate base, as Dominion wants to do.

    The SCC knows how much more costly solar will be if Dominion builds it. Dominion also gets paid to build transmission for utility-scale solar whether they or someone else builds it. It might be tough sledding for Dominion to gain approval for all of the solar they want to build, because it won’t necessarily be a good deal for ratepayers compared to other ways of doing it. But our current energy policies make it difficult for independent producers to sell electricity directly to customers.

    A number of the data center owners wrote the SCC to say that although they will continue to build more data centers in Virginia, they don’t expect their annual electricity usage to increase by much. New server technology is continuing to improve in energy efficiency, as is the design and operation of the data centers themselves.

    This article should not be interpreted as a need for more generation in Virginia. Dominion has a surplus of generation with Greensville online and PJM has an even greater surplus. You don’t make investments in new facilities that take 40 years to pay off when there is no guarantee the demand will continue. It is possible that in 10-15 years we might have 50% more data centers with an aggregate electricity demand that is significantly less than what it is today. If we need a small amount of extra capacity for a few years, it can be purchased affordably from others over a short-term without burdening ratepayers.

    The Greenpeace article is about the data centers not following through on their pledge to be be powered mostly by renewable energy. The focus should be more on how Virginia’s archaic energy policies are keeping this from happening.

    How the ACP got into the conversation, I don’t know. It is so expensive, that even places that might need more gas (southeast Virginia) will not benefit from it. All of the gas-fired facilities that Dominion has are well-served by inexpensive existing pipelines.

  6. Jim, you need to post the Congressional testimony of Dr. Judith Curry.

    We’ve got the lefties opposing data centers. Any idiot knows that an electronic world will need more electricity. While most hope that much of that added demand can come from renewable sources, we need more electricity for an electronic world. Maybe we can go back to horse and buggy and worry about horse**** in the streets. Nah, we can haul it all to Alexandria where the City can dump it into the Potomac River.

    • TMT,

      I respectfully disagree. I have worked for electric and gas utilities and have founded a computer related business.

      If there is one defining characteristic of microprocessor-based technology it is that it will continue to provide more computer power at a lower cost while using less electricity per unit of computing power.

      Because so many of our consumer products are chip-based to some degree, we are seeing increases in capability while using less electricity per unit of function. The technology itself is helping to reduce energy use through home energy networks, smart-meters, etc. That is why we are seeing electricity use stabilize or decline even though our population and economic activity is increasing.

      Doing more for less is at the heart of the U.S. economic boom. The Luddites are the ones that want us to return to the brute force manufacturing methods of the 1950s and 60s.

      Our economy will improve as we continue to learn how to produce more goods and services using less energy per unit of output.

      Our state legislators seem to be willing to improve the profits of a few energy companies by increasing energy costs in a way that will reduce employment and increase costs to our businesses and families.

      This does not seem to be a very far-sighted policy. We can give our energy companies a path to higher profits by asking them to do things that are good for the rest of us. Let’s don’t keep them in the buggy whip business, just because it is still momentarily profitable.

      • Tom – of course there have been, are, and will be improvements in technology, including more ways to operate machinery with less electricity. Heck, one of my clients, a major national research university, has a goal of using remote sensors connected by radio for five years on two AA batteries. Grad students constantly work to simplify the code needed to take and send the measurements to reduce power consumption.

        But more important in my opinion is that we continue to grow the economy and see disruption. Big data and advanced telecommunications are critical to that growth and development. And affordable and reliable electric power are critical to data centers even if the additional power is not generated by renewable sources. I’m not opposed to renewable energy but it is not as important as economic growth.

        Incomes for many have been stagnant for decades. That’s not good for anyone. We need economic growth. And that’s going to take lot more than technicians installing rooftop solar.

        I’m not carrying water for Dominion. If it were up to me, Dominion would lose its Fairfax County franchise because of its lack of reliability. Every time the wind blows, power flickers or goes out. I certainly don’t support putting solar farms in the rate base if that is more expensive.

        I believe that humans can affect climate and that we need to be careful about everything we put into the air or water (except, of course, for raw sewerage in the case of Alexandria). But there is clear evidence that, just like every other profession, some scientists lie and doctor data. Climate scientists have been caught doctoring data from the 1930s and 1990s. Just because the Washington Post won’t write about it, doesn’t mean cheating does not occur.

        Climate science is more about money and power than science. President Obama had a goal to reduce carbon emissions by 28% below 2005 levels by 2025. A 2015 study using the “EPA MAGICC model” found that making this commitment “will prevent 0.03o C in warming by 2100.” And at what cost?

        • Thanks TMT for being informed, concerned and honest.

          Of course, our demand for electricity will continue to grow substantially for the foreseeable future, and the ability of renewable power to keep up with that rising demand will continue to shrink for the foreseeable future. Thus there will be an ever increasing need for non renewable power to fill the widening gap that will otherwise threaten our future.

          Any serious and independent student of this subject, not on some self interested party’s payroll, knows these simple truths concerning what is going on here in the real world.

          • I have to disagree that only growth is important .. this is the green lady talking and what we do to the earth is really important right now, but growth and clean energy are not an either or choice, they actually support each other.

            It used to be that as the economy expanded so did the amount of energy we required. That is no longer true and is becoming less true all the time. Take California ….

            “One third of California’s electricity already comes from renewable resources like wind and solar, and the state is on track to meet its goal of generating at least half of its electricity from renewable resources by 2030. And the change hasn’t hurt the state’s economy. California’s low carbon diet is working. The state has achieved a 13% reduction in emissions from their peak in 2004, while growing its economy by 26%.”

            Here are US stats … “Electricity demand is down 1.2 percent from its 2014 peak, while GDP has grown by 4.2 percent, according to the 2017 BNEF Factbook.”

            And more …
            • Renewables are now 18% of U.S. power generation — double their contribution a decade ago.
            • Energy productivity and GDP growth both accelerated —demonstrating that the U.S. economy can grow even as total energy consumption declines.
            Corporations are increasingly demanding cleaner energy and capturing gains from energy efficiency.
            • Consumers devoted a smaller share of spending toward electricity than at any time ever recorded.

            The problem here in VA is the need to change our old utility structure, so that we can keep developing and attracting corporations who require renewable energy. That would be easy if we moved forward with our offshore wind … cable of producing more electricity than we currently use.

          • Reed Fawell 3rd

            All propaganda, Jane. Most of it is wasted. The rest unreliable.

        • You two are having a “heated agreement”. TomH is right on a “per unit of work” basis while TMT is right on an “aggregate total energy” basis.

  7. The RGGI states mostly all depend heavily on natural gas (which they mostly import) and electricity (which they also import heavily). Somehow Virginia is the bad guy for using natural gas in a few power plants, but part of the reason for that is we have a lot of heat pumps, so we have less natural gas going to households than other RGGI states do. We just have to be more realistic, or else the future of Virginia is in question.

    • Just a comment Re RGGI … Yes, they are using a lot of gas and will add a bit more. However, the biggest thing about what the FGGI states have done is to put all those carbon monies into making buildings efficient. They have saved an annual 2,400 MW of electricity and plan to save another 2,000+ over the next 6 or so years.

      They also plan to increase their renewable energy over that time fram, including offshore wind that has already been contracted for. both solar and especially the offshore wind that they have already contracted for. Coal and oil will be gone soon and by 2026 the New England states plan to have enough wind, solar and efficiency to meet more than 50% of their electricity needs.

      • But they do not generate much electricity because they are shutting down their plants, import a lot, and also they use natural gas for home heat. So what are they saying, they *promise* to someday generate 50% of the little elec they do generate by renewables? And it does not translate to Virginia fairly because we have a different home heat scenario.

  8. If the collective Data Centers of Virginia want to spend $50-$100 Billion on Virginia renewables, collected from their global customers, I am all for it.

  9. TomH asserts some very interesting ideas which seem counter-intuitive. Am I interpreting his remarks accurately to be saying we may be seeing a decline in total electrical consumption and demand over the near term–say 3 to 7 years?

    Secondly, it appears he is saying that as consumers we should not want Dominion to be the creator of solar or “renewable” energy for reasons relating to regulation. Did I understand that correctly?

    If that is indeed the assertion, do recent demand tends support that?

    • LED lighting alone reportedly has the potential to reduce USA’s electric use by 40% by 2030. So the USA demand reduction is definite, but not necessarily true for all states due to growth. For example, if Virginia is king of data centers, we as a state might have less drop off or even growth in demand.

      In the recent news, TVA is shutting coal plants due to slack elec demand.

    • I was referring specifically to data centers, which was the topic of this article.

      A number of the leading data center owners wrote a letter to the SCC to clarify Dominion’s claims that the demand for electricity would continue to climb in Virginia, primarily as a result of data centers. They said that data centers will continue to be built in Virginia, but because of continuing advances in the equipment they utilize and the design of their facilities, there should not be a significant increase in the total usage of electricity from data centers even as the number of data centers continues to increase.

      Dominion also projects that electricity use will continue to climb because population and economic activity is increasing. The linkage between GDP and population growth with increasing use of electricity was real for over 100 years. However, that is no longer the case. Even Dominion’s own data show that is no longer the case.


      My comment regarding solar is that the most expensive way for solar to be developed in Virginia is to give our utilities the primary responsibility for developing it.

      When a utility builds a new generating facility in Virginia (gas, wind, solar, nuclear, etc.), in general, the ratepayers must repay the utility $4 for every $1 invested in the new facility. This is comprised of the following: $1 to repay the cost of the facility, $1 to repay the cost for debt financing, and $2 in profit to the utility. These are all undiscounted figures. They represent the total of a stream of payments from ratepayers over 35-40 years, probably to repay a RAC specifically designed for the project. The utility also receives a stream of income from the sale of energy from the facility to PJM.

      If an independent power producer (or a utility that does not put the facility in the rate base) builds the project, they would sell the energy from the project to a utility or a customer using a power purchase agreement. The cost of this energy would be much less than the cost of the energy resulting from the same project being put in the rate base.

      The investor owned utilities in Virginia are fighting hard to keep this from happening, even though it requires their customers to pay more than they should. This is because they are paid more when they build more. That is why the GA has foisted upon ratepayers billions in extra costs for various projects by Dominion that will have little benefit to customers. And, in many cases, they have cut off the SCC’s ability to determine the cost-effectiveness of the facility for customers. The offshore wind project is a dramatic example of how the utility’s interest was favored over the people of Virginia.

      As a former utility guy, I am unaccustomed to seeing such an outcome. The regulatory process is supposed to balance shareholders’ interest with ratepayers’ interest.

      I am concerned that by continuing to increase prices without a corresponding benefit to ratepayers, customers will find ways to purchase less energy from the utility (energy efficiency or self-generation). This is a good outcome if it does not hurt the utility. But as long as we continue to pay our utilities more only if they build more, we are headed for a lose-lose outcome.

      • “They said that data centers will continue to be built in Virginia, but because of continuing advances in the equipment they utilize and the design of their facilities, there should not be a significant increase in the total usage of electricity from data centers even as the number of data centers continues to increase.”

        That is a huge SWAG. In fact, I’d say it is intentionally misleading. That statement requires the “data center operators” to accurately estimate their future efficiency curves and to accurately estimate the aggregate demand for technology provided through these data centers. The first estimate might be possible. The second is pure guesswork. For example, how much electricity would you think it takes to cool something down to absolute zero? I’d guess a lot. And that’s how quantum computers work. They have to be in environments cooled to -460F. Yes, they are predicted to be incredibly powerful but most of the applications they are expected to perform are things that can’t be done at all yet.

        I’d also say that if you think Dominion is evil (and I do), you haven’t seen anything compared to Facebook, Google, Apple and many of the other “leading data center owners”. Our hapless state government trying to deal with FAANG is like Billy Markham shooting dice with the devil.

        • What I would also say is, last time I checked, Virginia imports a lot of electricity. If Dominion miscalculated slightly about growth and (heaven forbid) made a little extra electricity, we would still be importers, and also it would probably put pressure on WV coal fired plants, which would clean our air and reduce our carbon somewhat.

          Can you imagine PA and WV actually make more elec than they need as states? That’s because the blue RGGI states are committing to not build any power plants, and import power, but the world still has to go round.

          • Reed Fawell 3rd

            Here is an interesting comment from today’s WSJ-

            “Since the financial crisis, the Italian economy – measured in Euros- has been shrinking at an average rate of .05% a year, while the French economy has been growing at an average of only 0.8%. Only the gush of cheap cheap energy made possible by the American Fracking keeps these fragile economies afloat; at an oil price of $125 a barrel, the Eurozone – and its banking system – might well face another economic crisis.”
            See Walter Russell Mead, Europe’s Challenge is Decline, Not Trump, in today’s WSJ.

            Welcome to knee jerk renewable energy, France and Italy.

  10. I realize that the system we have now is one in which Dominion has monopoly power that basically guarantees them a profit no matter how the power is produced.

    And because of that – solar does not “work” the same way it does in states and countries with more market freedom.

    But the fundamentals are this: SOLAR can generate power. But it is not “dispatchable” (reliable). That does not mean it is not valuable. and cannot replace gas – when solar is “available”.

    What it does mean is that gas and solar are complementary.

    You generate electricity with solar – when you can – and then you fire up gas when solar is not available.

    There are plants in existence right now that have both solar and gas on the same site and computers switch between the two – harvesting solar when it is available and switching to gas when it is not.

    It’s the same basic idea behind gas – which has become the fuel of choice over coal – not because coal is not still available but because gas is cheaper. In the same way, solar is cheaper than gas – and when you can, you use the cheaper fuel – and when you can’t you use a more expensive fuel.

    This is now being done on some islands which use diesel. They run the solar during the day when it is available and when it’s not they fire up the diesel turbines. But if MW that is produce from solar is far less costly that a MW of power from a diesel generator.

    Conversations to this are now occurring worldwide.

    It may not happen in Virginia as long as Dominion has the monopoly it currently has but as some point – the rest of the world is going to be using solar as a cheaper fuel – when they can – and gas/diesel when they can’t.

    • “In the same way, solar is cheaper than gas – and when you can, you use the cheaper fuel – and when you can’t you use a more expensive fuel.”

      That is another big myth too, the result of chronic lying by ‘experts’. In fact, everywhere that renewable power goes the overall price of electricity goes up. Look at California, and now what is happening in New York to see the obvious truth, despite all of the obvious lying going on in this country by those who better.

      • Do tell ..who do you believe?
        Over all, most projections see a possible 30% reduction in the amount of electric energy we use by 2030.
         McKinsey estimates a 23% reduction by 2020.
         The Lawrence Berkeley National Lab sees only a 16% decrease in demand, but they also foresee a return on efficiency investments of 91%.
        “Joseph Stiglitz, who was awarded the Nobel Memorial Prize for economics in 2001 and has written extensively about environmental economics and climate change, makes an economic case that the costs of maintaining a fossil fuel-based economy are “incalculable,” while transitioning to a lower-carbon system will cost far less.”

        • Great news. We don’t have to change anything to reduce carbon emissions. Just wait 11 years and we’ll be down 30% – even if we keep burning coal and other fossil fuels!

          Joseph Stiglitz? You mean the guy who sang Hugo Chavez’s economic praises in 2006 – 2007?

          I may not be as green as you but I’m at least chartreuse. We can’t simultaneously have a carbon output crisis and a 30% decline in energy usage. And like all socialists Stiglitz is often wrong but never in doubt.

    • Larry,

      Be careful confusing dispatchability with reliability. Solar output can be accurately forecast at least 30 minutes or more in advance. This gives PJM or another ISO plenty of time to have other resources available when the expected decline in solar output occurs, thus maintaining reliability.

  11. One of the demand side technologies that can dramatically reduce demand as well as pay for itself over 7-10 years is what is known as a ground-source heat pump.

    they get their “heat” and “cool” this way:

    This is an example of a much more efficient and cost effective technology that costs initially twice as much as a conventional heat pump.

    Ground source works even better in northern climates because the ground stays at 54 degrees even when it’s subzero outside.

    What’s holding them back is the up-front cost and like LED lights, in the long run they are far cheaper to operate and use far less electricity but initial cost is higher.

    The only argument against this is the higher up front cost which you would increase the cost of electricity to pay for loans to buy this equipment. In the longer run – the electric bill is not any higher – it’s probably lower… and the costs of excessive use of electricity is rightly put on those who are using more – and those who use less are rewarded with lower costs.

    You don’t have to call it RGGI or even join RGGI – but the net result is lower emissions….also…

    We simply waste electricity in this country by NOT employing known and proven technology that reduces the use of it – and that technology pays for itself in a short number of years not decades.

    • My dad installed one of those in his house. He lived in Norfolk. I never queried him on the economics of it. I think he was satisfied overall, although I do recall the system did have problems at one point. Which I’d paid more attention.

    • The upfront costs are a significant issue that policy makers aren’t addressing. For a business owning large buildings, the payback time is probably manageable. If you are worth $16 billion and live in Atherton, CA, the payback period doesn’t matter.

      But for the rest of the businesses and most residences, I submit the payback period is often too long for the size of the upfront investment. And in many areas of the U.S., housing prices are already unaffordable for many people. A brand new survey by Edelman, hardly a far right organization, indicates 53% of Californians (and 63% of millennials) are thinking about leaving the state. The chief complaint is unaffordable housing but many just believe California’s best days are behind it. Even in Green California, many people want to leave. People who are saving the planet in progressive California want to leave.

      Even here, as Larry has explained many times, the exurbs are full of people who want a nice house and yard but cannot afford to buy it closer into D.C. and its immediate suburbs.

      Also, many people in the U.S. are older and aren’t likely to see the benefits of a long payback period.

      Now if the goal was really to reduce energy use, we could start funding tax credits by cutting the money spent “researching” climate change and ending a jobs program. We could also amend the Internal Revenue Code by subjecting all of the tax-free organizations lobbying the climate change issue to income taxes. A business or trade association cannot deduct the costs of lobbying. (In all fairness, I think we should tax any organization that lobbies or tries to influence public policy.)

      A whole lot of people with advance degrees would lose their jobs. But, if the greater goal is to reduce energy consumption, why wouldn’t environmental groups support these types of reforms? Or is skimming off the top more important?

      I continue to submit that climate change is chiefly about money and political power.

      • I would agree in the U.S., climate change is about picking political enemies (oil and gas) and trying to destroy that industry. Great red meat for libs.

        That’s why I think we are on a little different wavelength than Europe etc. They are less concerned about oil and gas industry hate mongering.

      • Well you kinda veered off a little but if you want to compare California high taxes to NoVa high taxes and folks will leave – That won’t really hurt California nor NoVa and it will ease demand for housing and highway congestion and even boost wages if labor is more scarce.

        Perhaps that’s not a bad thing, eh?

        • My point is so many comments set up California as a place of success on the energy/climate change issues. And the arguments tend to suggest people will save significant amounts of money by moving to renewable energy and major conservation efforts.

          Yet, California is a general mess with massive wealth among a limited few; massive poverty, especially among illegal immigrants; and a significant segment of the middle class that is either leaving or wants to leave. Paradise Isn’t.

    • I believe former Delegate Dave Albo, Repub. of Springfield installed that system in his house. He was staunch supporter of renewables. But many of us have small lots in suburbia cannot really retrofit for that.

  12. Reed … I give you statistics showing what I claim and you tell me its
    propaganda. How do you know that? You are welcome to your opinion but you need to back it up. What information led yo0 to your conclusions?

    TBill .. yes RGGI heating, and most up north use oil actually, makes a difference but RGGI monies so far have gone to subsidize making buildings more efficient and as far as renewables, the states are jumping all in for offshore wind.

    I think those ground source heat pumps would be especially useful in New England but the upfront cost is an issue. Again, property assessed clean energy loans (PACE) are the answer. They do not depend on equity , are relatively low cost because the loans are low risk for the lender, and are paid back with monies that would be spent on utility bills anyway.

    • Jane, is there analysis for PACE loans as to the payback periods for various types of energy saving improvements, including the assumptions? Do you know how much use of the loans occur in the Metro D.C. area? If there are a growing number of green voters in the area (which there seems to be), I would expect a sizable number of those people would be using PACE loans. Thanks.

      • PACE … is the non-profit that supported PACE loans around the country. Here in the DC area ..DC and Arlington have programs.
        Here is the Maguire Woods description of a PACE program
        The typical steps to financing a PACE improvement are shown below.
        1 A locality creates a PACE program, identifies lenders or other sources of capital willing to participate and considers whether to hire a third party to administer the program.
        2 A property owner desiring to add a PACE-qualifying improvement to the property applies to the locality for PACE financing.
        3 The owner and the locality’s PACE program work with the sources of capital to obtain the requisite approvals and negotiate applicable terms.
        4 The property owner receives the capital and installs the PACE improvement and the locality imposes the special assessment.
        5 The locality is repaid from the special assessment on the property and remits those repayments to the capital provider.

        Years back the federal loan banks refused to do PACE and so the programs that were set up locally are for commercial properties. There is legislation in the GA now to make PACE available to residential properties and the natIonal lenders, FHA and Fannie etc have changed their tunes.
        Arlington set their program up to be able to be copied by other taxing districts in VA. The DMME did the loan parameters, I think. At least they were involved.
        There is also a regional PACE non-profit promoter. I seem to be missing their address. MidAtlantic???

        Hope this is helpful and you can find what you are looking for.

        • Thank you. I’ve noticed that the on-bill financing you note below is limited to electric co-ops. I find that to be rather telling that big, for-profit power companies may well be trying to avoid energy conservation.

          While I question the value to individual owners based on upfront costs and paybacks, so long as on-bill financing does not burden other ratepayers, I can see no reason why utilities don’t offer financing for conservation investments.

  13. Jane –

    Go out a buy yourself a solar powered car. Then see what happens.

    1. On cloudy mornings, you can’t get out of your driveway to go to work, because your car is dead as a dead animal.

    2. On cloudy late afternoons, you can’t get home from work to pick up your kids from day care, get them home, feed them dinner, or put them to bed, because your car is dead as a dead animal at work.

    3. If the sun is shining when you start out for work or to return home from work, but clouds move across the sun while you are driving on the freeway, then your little car will surely die in the middle off rush hour freeway traffic, unleashing a skein of horrible consequences.

    4. At night you can’t go away anywhere in your little car, its dead then too, no matter that yourneed to get somewhere to save yourself or your family, or just visit your sick mom.

    5. And, if everything goes perfect sunny all bright all day long hot and beautiful, then your little car takes off over the horizon whether it is carrying you with it or not, unstoppable, and if you are in it, it will fly you past your office where you work and carry you far out across the country as a hostage until finally darkness falls and your little car then dies yet again leaving you abandoned, stranded, and all alone, for only God knows how long.

    But that, Jane, is only the first installment of what that solar car cost you and everyone around you. Because by now you’ve got to tally up all your seen and unforeseen loses and damages that little monster caused to you, your family, your livelihood, your employer, your community, and your nation, what this little car somebody talked you into did to everybody. And remember too that all these innocent bystanders now have to pay even more huge costs to try to fix all the flaws in the system so that little Frankenstein monster of yours never gets loose to rampage again.

    This, of course too, also explains why all but the very rich and very poor are fleeing Green California California and New York just as fast as they can before these increasingly dysfunctional places collapse for all but very rich.

    • Toyota has a solar roof powered plug-in hybrid Prius Prime in Japan which is not allowed in the USA due to our roof rollover-crash safety standards. But it can get about 10% of miles from solar which is really wonderful technical accomplishment.

      • Yes, TBill, but that dream is far into the future as concerns ultility solar to generate all but a small unreliable portion of electric power. In addition, the overwhelming evidence of facts now occurring on the ground all over the world are showing that as more and more renewables are added into the mix of power generation for electricity, then the more unstable, costly, and threatened the entire grid becomes. And the higher the costs of all electricity becomes, as that instability imposes ever more stress on the entire grid and its costs of transmission, distribution, and market pricing, whether wholesale or retail. Hence, the idea that 100% renewable power, and anything remotely close to it, is going to solve the carbon problem anytime soon with any degree of certainty or acceptable risk, is not only a fool’s errand but also obvious lie if one has seriously studied the subject.

        This problem too is compounded by the rapid increase in demand for electricity throughout most of the world, including the most populated and fastest growing places in the world. This is why most serious investors, those most seriously concerned about solving real problems, including carbon issues, are rapidly moving forward in the development of safe, affordable, highly reliable, and practical nuclear power plants. These people include Bill Gates, for example, as well as China and Russia. This is where our best bet on saving our climate future lies. Renewables at best will play a secondary and supporting roll in the foreseeable future.

        I know for fact, that many key players in the environmental community have know about these issues, problems, and opportunities of teaming nukes and renewables since the year 2000, but done nothing about them, other than obstruct solutions.

        • Reed … “A secondary supporting role …a fool’s errand … “
          Here is the scope on nuclear from Scott Sklar, on Our Energy Policy .

          “Aside that nuclear power plants take longer to build than any other type of power plant, uses more clean water than any other type of electric power plant (clean water that we do not have to spare), has wastes products that take significant political and financial resources to deal with – there is no way the technology becomes a serious option at the scale, speed, and costs our world needs to address greenhouse gas reduction. It is a fantasy.”

          “And finally, the electric grid is following exactly in the foot steps of telecommunications (both wired and wireless self-healing grids), of information and data (with wires and wirelessly connected data centers in self-healing grids), and now the electric grid (with wired smart grids, tied to microgrids and distributed generation that can connect and disconnect seamlessly). Nuclear is anachronistic because it does not have the agility of distributed electric generation resources which now include natural gas and propane, but moving to hydrogen fuel cells, combined heat & power, energy storage, and the entire portfolio of distributed renewables.”

          “While nuclear energy can boil water, it is not a front line solution to addressing greenhouse gas reduction, and would require levels of capital that could not be raised and sustained.”

          Then there are the energy demand and investment figures for renewable energy from ….
          DNV GL
          • The world will need less energy from 2030 on due to efficiency
          • Electricity demand will more than double to meet 45% of global energy demand with solar and wind supplying 2/3rd of that.
          • The transition is affordable with world GDP expenditure on energy lower in 2050 than it is today
          • from 1929 on more … investment will go in to the grid and renewables than fossil projects.

          And from Bloomberg …
          • Global clean energy Investment exceeded $300 billion for the 5th year in a row.
          • Europe clean energy investment up 27% to $74.5Billion … with 5 offshore wind projects in the billion dollar category
          • Global venture capital and private equity jumped 127% to $9.2 billion, the highest since 2010.
          • Solar retreated 24% as cost dropped and China policy changed , but wind was up 27% to $24.5 billion.

          • “And finally, the electric grid is following exactly in the foot steps of telecommunications (both wired and wireless self-healing grids), of information and data (with wires and wirelessly connected data centers in self-healing grid.”

            Self-healing networks, generally using multiple fiber optic rings, has been around for quite some time. Network intelligence has gone through periods of centralization and movement towards network edges. Today, obviously, we are in the mode of centralization with intelligence and services provided heavily from the cloud and accessed through virtual networks (IP based). It reminds me of the late 70s and early 80s with Wang terminals connected to centralized servers.

  14. Reed …. Problems trying tio operate a solar car on cloudy days is the reason you think everything about creating a clean energy economy is all propaganda? Really? Who said anything about solar powered cars?

    AND yes changing our economy to one that is not powered by fossil fuels is, unfortunately, about money and power. That is the path the fossil fuel companies choose when they buried their own scientists information about Green House Gases in the 70’s nd 80’s.

    The American Petroleumtitute went along and they all agreed to “create doubt” , their words, about climate change, spending lots of money to send out that message and to keep doing what they were doing. They have only recently begun to address the changes their industries will have to make. AND the climate suits are making their way forward.

  15. here’s the idea with expensive but cost-effective equipment like ground source. If the unit will pay for itself over 10 years or so then it’s cheaper than having an air-source heat pump.

    But most folks either don’t have that kind of savings or if they do, prefer the savings in hand rather than invested. But the funny thing is, many folks today will, in fact, put THAT KIND OF MONEY into a car – yes 30K-40K into a car, SUV or pickup that will NOT pay for itself and in terms of point a to point b transportation – you can get a car for 1/2 that.

    And many get loans that add substantially to the cost.

    IF we had a program when the upfront cost was put into the bill itself on a pro-rata basis – the lower operating costs would likely offset the upfront costs.

    in terms of “solar” cars…. or solar anything – solar is near as energy dense as fossil fuels – which ironically came from solar also but over eons.

    so solar in cars is done by battery that stores electricity whether from solar panels or from the grid – which can be fueled by solar also.

    solar is a legitimate and valuable fuel but it’s not a 100% replacement fuel for fossil fuels. That does not mean that it can’t replace a substantial amount of fossil fuels and here’s the point – whatever percent of fossil fuels that solar CAN replace is fossil fuels you don’t have to burn. That means LESS emissions… and any amount of less emissions is good – whether from solar or demand side conservation.
    AND it saves money also..even if you don’t care about emissions.

    • Larry –

      My solar car example was a metaphor for the electric grid. That metaphor is a way to understand in a general way how too rapid expansion of solar for utility electricity can threaten not only the grid, but also our economy, people, and survival. Those threats, in all their variety, are now becoming plain and apparent worldwide.

      An excellent primer on these threats and challenges, including how too rapid expansion of solar for electricity threatens not only us, but also the future of solar power itself, is a new book on the subject called Taming the Sun, by Varun Sivaram.

      This book is by far the most definitive treatment of the subject available today. Reading it, you will be amazed at how complicated and still obscure these issues and their solutions are, and how often the reality of these problems and possible solutions are grossly misrepresented by many proponents of renewable power. You can trust Sivaram because he himself is a strong proponent of renewable power. But he is also an honest proponent, so he points up the problems and unknowns instead of trying to hide them. It is extremely important we do this right, instead of believing we live in a magical world.

  16. Larry, good thoughts … here are states that are using the utility financing for energy improvements. It is called “on-bill financing” and they are doing it in GA, SC, Kentucky and other states. This site has good info on the variations of implementation …

  17. I’ve been away and just had a moment to read this post. Put this alongside the post a few days ago,
    and you will see the larger pattern:

    Dominion attracts data centers with low-priced industrial electricity.

    Dominion builds new gas plants to supply more low priced electricity — but even gas plants cost a lot of capital.

    Dominion insists on ratebasing those plants, so ratepayers (not shareholders) both pay for them now and take on the risk of future obsolescence and stranded cost due to future changes in grid technology.

    Dominion has to raise retail rates to pay for all that rate-based (as opposed to competitive, shareholder-risk) generation.

    Dominion realizes that these higher retail rates will jeopardize the attractiveness of Virginia to those big data centers and without their rapid growth, it can’t justify all that new generation, not to mention ratebased generation, let alone the gas pipeline built on the basis of contracted-for sales to that generation Moreover, there’s an old law still on the books that allows large industrial customers in Dominion’s territory to seek competitive retail electricity from other suppliers on the grid.

    Dominion runs to the GA to force a fix: (1) compel the SCC to subsidize industrial rates by overcharging on residential and small business rates, so industrial rates can remain competitive; and (2) also compel residential ratepayers to pay for Dominion’s distribution grid enhancements, mainly for undergrounding and storm resistance, beyond what makes sense cost-wise because customers love the greater reliability., and also because that distracts from the pressure on Dominion to invest in customer energy savings and in facilitating customer distributed generation, both of which Dominion sees as threats to future retail sales growth.

    TomH, you said, “That is why the GA has foisted upon ratepayers billions in extra costs for various projects by Dominion that will have little benefit to customers. And, in many cases, they have cut off the SCC’s ability to determine the cost-effectiveness of the facility for customers.” Yup. That is why.

  18. Nice rundown of Virginia’s energy picture in the past decade or so … AND I want to ask why has Virginia allowed this to happen?
    Is it only political monies? I think it is more than that.
    I think it is the resistance to change of any sort that seems to be the essence of the South. Maybe that just goes along with the label Conservative … but it is all just too frustrating for this “Damn Green Yankee” ….
    Hope you can find a fix ….

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