In the 2019 election, Virginia voters finally figured out the one weird trick that allows any jurisdiction to pass good climate and clean-energy legislation, according to Dave Roberts at VOX. “They put Democrats in charge.”
Virginia is the first southern state in the U.S. to set a goal of sourcing 100% of its electricity from renewables by 2050. The recently passed “Clean Economy Act” mandates major change. All coal, oil burning and wood pellet plants must be retired, and all in-state power plant carbon emissions eliminated by 2050. Going forward, renewable resources such as energy efficiency, battery storage and expanded solar are now required. Net-metered solar will expand from 1% to 6%. The state’s commitment for offshore wind is the third largest in the country.
These new CEA requirements are being celebrated by the newly elected Democratic majority and the climate activists who all worked vigorously to pass them. During the Session, 53 House bills and 29 Senate bills were introduced relating to creating clean energy. So, although Virginia’s utilities and the South’s two other major utilities have lagged the rest of the country in developing their energy efficiency and renewable strategies, Virginia is now on the way to building a system resourced with clean energy.
The bills’ success may have been shaped by a critical report released in March by Synapse Energy Economics. “Investing in Failure” called our utility systems “prehistoric.” Dominion’s pre-CEA resources include 6,077 megawatts of old coal plants. In the past eight years, only 2,072 megawatts of old coal was converted to natural gas or biomass, not shuttered. Only 17% more were scheduled to close.
One reason for keeping them online … Dominion had invested hundreds of millions of dollars in the early 2000’s to make those old plants comply with environmental regulations. The state was being sued, for the first time, by several “downwind” states that could not meet their EPA required clean air levels due to the pollution generated in Virginia and in other upwind coal states. By not retiring those old plants the company was able to continue writing off the expense of those controls. The Synapse report says that an earlier closing of two 59+ year-old Chesterfield plants could have saved Virginia customers $191 million.
The CEA legislation solves many of the issues the Synapse report pointed out. Primarily, “It puts pressure on Dominion Virginia to massively expand renewables from their current 5% of capacity which is largely hydropower and biomass.”
However, as Dave Roberts points out in the March VOX article, “Virginia Democrats are legislating for the system they have, not the one they might want, and the system they have involves monopoly utilities that have held a lobbying lock on the legislature for years, have steadfastly resisted progress, and must be forced to take each step forward.”
The question posed by Synergy is … will the pressure to build renewable capacity force the recognition that grid modernization efforts are “not equal to the task?” … “Within a decarbonized system, the utility must also more dynamically balance supply and demand (and voltage) so that demand is able to follow supply. This requires advanced grid operation that enables increased grid visibility, and at times control, through automation, increased communication, and sensors.”
Can Dominion drop its “dogged fixation on the outdated build more-sell more business model?” The old regulatory system drives the utility’s desire to inflate demand and penalizes it for reducing reduced, either through efficient buildings or on-site generation.
National Grid, the utility that serves parts of New York Cit City and beyond, operates under a similar business model. One mayoral candidate has asked, “If National Grid cannot be a cooperative partner in the transition to greater use of clean energy, is it time to seriously explore how a public takeover … could allow us to make responsible, sustainable decisions about our energy future?”
Should Virginia ask the same question about the ownership of our primary utility? VEPCO was once its own company. Many Virginians are happy with their several Co-Op run electricity systems. Is it time for our primary utility to stand alone again?
Government sometimes does it better.
4There are currently no comments highlighted.