Dems Win Big on Renewable Energy, But Issues Remain

by Jane Twitmyer

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.

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27 responses to “Dems Win Big on Renewable Energy, But Issues Remain

  1. Nice job, Jane.

    I lived in Nebraska, which eliminated private power companies in the 1930s, as I recall. All in and except for Dominion’s crappy maintenance of its distribution plant, I didn’t notice much difference between public and private power wherever I lived (Minnesota, Nebraska, Iowa and Virginia).

    I’ll skip the impacts on consumers from the Democrats’ legislation for now. But I have been reading articles that discuss the impact of non-fossil fuel energy on mining and the environment. Like most things in life, there are tradeoffs, many of which sail over the heads of many true believers. For example, Mike Mills, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, wrote in the March 5 edition of the National Review.

    “Batteries, windmills, and solar panels are physical systems that also require mining and processing of minerals. But there’s one important distinction. Compared with hydrocarbons, ‘clean technologies’ require a three- to ten-fold greater tonnage of stuff extracted, processed, and assembled to deliver the same amount of energy. The sheer quantities of materials involved are staggering. A wholesale switch to ‘clean tech’ would be a gift to the world’s miners and result in a radical increase in U.S. imports, as America has discouraged its mining industries for decades.”

    Where is the broader discussion of this “sub-issue”? If it comes, it must be on forums such as this. The MSM, the great respecter of science, won’t do it as it’s contrary to the secular religion and, likely, it’s too complex for many journalists to understand tradeoffs.

    • Tks … and I must say though that the issue you raise was brought up 8-9 years ago and has since been debunked by NREL and places like “Fact Check” at The Annenberg School at UPenn. I see the the tradeoffs to be more about replacing the jobs and local taxes the old industry produces.

      “It’s true that wind power isn’t a zero emission energy source. Greenhouse gas emissions are produced when wind turbines are manufactured, built, maintained and decommissioned. But the ‘life cycle’ greenhouse gas emissions from solar, wind, and nuclear technologies are considerably lower and less variable than emissions from technologies powered by combustion-based natural gas and coal,” says the NREL.

      …. “The data showed that life cycle greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from technologies powered by renewable resources are generally less than from those powered by fossil fuel-based resources. The central tendencies of all renewable technologies are between 400 and 1,000 g CO2eq/kWh lower than their fossil-fueled counterparts without carbon capture and sequestration (CCS). “

      • Thanks for the additional information. Sure isn’t available from any mainstream source. Just seeing someone admit that it’s unlikely we will ever be able to stop all greenhouse gas emissions gives me hope that discussion is possible and discussion is needed for both progress and consensus.

    • re: ” Compared with hydrocarbons, ‘clean technologies’ require a three- to ten-fold greater tonnage of stuff extracted, processed, and assembled to deliver the same amount of energy. The sheer quantities of materials involved are staggering. ”

      is there a reference to back up this claim?

      I would think that what it takes to create a wind turbine or a solar panel is not that different than it takes to create a gas turbine or a nuclear fuel rod but I’m willing to take a look at something credible.

      Failing that – it’s just blather talk.

      What’s TRUE is that fossil fuels and nuclear are much more energy dense than wind or solar. It does take a LOT of solar and/or a LOT of wind to match the output of a gas turbine – no question. But the gas turbine requires fuel to be extracted and transported and it gives off emissions – something that neither solar nor wind do.

      apples to apples – TMT –

  2. “Government sometimes does it better.” Okay, I guess we know what that means. Government ownership of the means of production. And energy is the ultimate means of production…

    Pushing the goal out to 2050 tells me two things. First, there is no immediate existential crisis, that’s all hype and second, trying to reach that goal by 2030 would crush the economy. In fact, you are getting a taste of the kind of economy it would create (no air travel for one). The bill that passed allowed all the natural gas plants to keep running, and under certain circumstances allowed new ones. It is just a big switcheroo, with Dominion going on a massive wind, solar and storage buying spree with our dollars. I doubt I’ll see 2050, but may be around to laugh in 204o when the nukes and natural gas are still providing most of the power on windless and/or cloudy days. But the solar and wind facilities standing idle on those days will still be costing us monthly payments.

    • I believe the only coal that was pushed out beyond 2030 was the recently built one that is suppos3d to b e the ‘cleanest in the country’. It was hard to find out exactly what did occur. However, all GHG emissions are to be stopped by 2050 and that means the gas too.
      I agree with you about the buying spree, although I would gladly exchange the ACP for the offshore wind whose price will diminish rapidly once the industry gets up and running.

      • If the price is going to diminish, wait five years. This isn’t about operating costs, it is about capital costs, which we are stuck with the whole life of the project. You may have stirred me from my recent lethargy. Time to talk a bit more about this wind boondoggle. A worse use of capital could not be found.

        • First … the technical potential of the number of GW/hrs that can be produced by Virginia’s offshore wind is 3 times the amount of total electricity used in Virginia in 2013.
          Second, … as far as how Dominion is going about this project is, as Tom has told us, wrong because buying the electricity from an offshore developer with a PPA would be cheaper. That is the regulatory structure issue.

          BUT …The wind industry is about to take off. Dr. Fatih Birol, executive director, International Energy Agency, said that global offshore wind power capacity is set to increase by as much as 15 times over the next 20 years. This will turn the global offshore wind sector into a $1 [trillion] business, the leading source of electricity in Europe, and a viable source of hydrogen to reduce emissions from the iron, steel, and shipping sectors

          AND Maybe there is a place for part’s of the offshore oil and gas industry….
          The Wood MacKinsey’s report … “What’s got the attention of many oil and gas investors is the large potential of offshore wind and the fact that the wind developments are sited in the mature, well-established upstream areas they already know well. It’s conceivable that there will be a point of convergence in those regions in the 2020s where offshore wind investment will match oil and gas.”

          Then there is the price issue …. New York finalized its first large scale offshore wind solicitation in 2019, … According to an October NYSERDA analysis, prices for the solicitation were about 40% lower than 2018 projections, “signaling that offshore wind is an increasingly competitively priced renewable energy resource.”

          • re: ” the technical potential of the number of GW/hrs that can be produced by Virginia’s offshore wind is 3 times the amount of total electricity used in Virginia in 2013.”

            WOW!

            I bet Steve aint buying that number! 😉

          • Correct. And if you build it all in one place, those windless days are really going to hit hard….:) I used the “Temple to Baal” image intentionally because this is truly faith, not engineering. And we’re sacrificing a future generation.

  3. Don’t get me started…

  4. I like to think about this in reverse. Imagine if all of our power were generated from wind, solar, hydro and nuke. Then somebody has a bright idea – “Hey, we can dig up coal and burn it to make electricity. It will be cheaper than how we generate electricity now.” I assume right thinking people would say – oh hell no. You’re not going to burn coal for goodness sakes. Fill the skies with black smoke? Have you lost your mind?”

    Regardless of global warming there are many negative consequences of burning carbon to create energy. Acid rain. Mountaintop removal. Water supplies polluted by fracking.

    Conceptually the Democrats were right to press the accelerator on clean energy in Virginia. Did they press too hard? Maybe. Maybe not. However, those same Democrats (especially Filler-Corn) insidiously stuffed a bill that would have prevented regulated monopolies from making campaign contributions to the politicians who regulate them. In that moment they lost all credibility with me. Are Filler-Corn, Dominion Dick Saslaw and the other so-called environmental warriors really concerned with climate change or have they just found a new way to stick their tongues into the ears of Dominions’ executives.

    Note: Democrat Chap Petersen proposed the ban on contributions from regulated entities proving once again that the corrupt “Virginia Way” is non-partisan. Some Democrats understand that manipulating the energy markets in a way that raises costs to consumers can only be credibly done with a pristine distancing of the manipulators from the energy companies. Sadly, those Democrats are in the minority.

    • Expecting the Dems to fix something that has gone on for decades in their first go-around is not exactly realistic especially coming from those who had relentlessly dinged them for “virtue signaling”, “coon-face”, “leftism”, etc,etc.

      Yeah, it would have been great if they had but a good number of Dems have been on that campaign money train also – and apparently one or more had the ear of the speaker – I have no history on her specifically …does anyone know?

      Wanna know something not-so-funny?

      California Rep. Duncan Hunter pleaded guilty on Tuesday in federal court to a single felony count of misuse of campaign funds, Reuters reports.
      He and his wife were charged with 60 criminal counts of campaign finance violations in August 2018.

      They were under fire for having allegedly misused funds accrued during campaigning, spending it on personal items such as vacations, gas and groceries.”

      This is LEGAL in Virginia!

  5. Good piece, Jane. Some Republicans out there have claimed it is business as usual which it isn’t. They know who they are.

    • Thanks Peter
      Just trying to build some understanding out there for what we all learned from Tom here on Bacons about the limits of the structure of our utility’s regulation .

  6. Good piece, Jane. Some Republicans out there have claimed it is business as usual which it isn’t. They know who they are.

  7. Yep – good job Jane. Kudos!

    yeah… we’re getting a taste of calamity no question.

    not sure if we’ll use more energy or less though.

    I don’t think people are going to stay in their homes. I hear a fair number are now taking trips to places like Shenandoah Park and the “country” since gas is so cheap….

    • Energy use will drop like a rock, in all forms. Jeeze, Larry, factories are closing. When we try to bring things back, Jane and her friends will be signing petitions to keep aspects of the economy on ice claiming “too much CO2!” We’ll meet the RGGI goals by next year, and then when Dominion seeks to ramp back up, you watch and see if I’m not right. “No backsliding” will be the cry.

      • but people staying home and driving their cars a lot… and restaurants delivering food, etc.

        I dunno…

        Some factories are still running… the TP ones I hope… 😉

  8. “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 [demand], either through efficient buildings or on-site generation.”

    Yes, economic incentives matter. Right now, with retail base rates frozen so they don’t reflect retirements but all new generation going into the rates as adders (NONE built as competitive generation financed at shareholder risk), Dominion Energy has a risk-free gravy train to shareholder prosperity at ratepayer expense, and every incentive to build more, more, more utility-scale generation (including, build so much new utility-scale solar that distributed solar owned by customers can never take off like it is doing elsewhere). And shifting more low-income costs onto remaining ratepayers (through the new universal service fund) will only increase the pace at which retail electric rates for small businesses and ordinary mortals skyrocket.

    As for Democrats pressing the accelerator too hard: The thing that bothers me most is mandating specific renewables-generation percentages rather than instructing the SCC to report back on a short fuse what the optimal percentages are, and are going to be, and the assumptions about things like batteries and environmental impacts that underly their assessment of what is optimal. THEN let the fingers point and the fur fly. Instead, we have the GA playing the triple roles of utility planner, utility financeer and utility futurist, all with zero opportunity to study the situation other than as whispered by DE. It would be a miracle if the GA got it half-right!

    And don’t get me started about the failure to reinstate the SCC’s IRP and ratemaking powers. Saslaw!! What kind of Democrat are you?

    • Acbar blasts another fastball outta the Park:

      “… Dominion Energy has a risk-free gravy train to shareholder prosperity at ratepayer expense, and every incentive to build more, more, more utility-scale generation (including, build so much new utility-scale solar that distributed solar owned by customers can never take off like it is doing elsewhere). And shifting more low-income costs onto remaining ratepayers (through the new universal service fund) will only increase the pace at which retail electric rates for small businesses and ordinary mortals skyrocket.

      As for Democrats pressing the accelerator too hard: The thing that bothers me most is mandating specific renewables-generation percentages rather than instructing the SCC to report back on a short fuse what the optimal percentages are, and are going to be, and the assumptions about things like batteries and environmental impacts that underly their assessment of what is optimal. THEN let the fingers point and the fur fly. Instead, we have the GA playing the triple roles of utility planner, utility financeer and utility futurist, all with zero opportunity to study the situation other than as whispered by DE. It would be a miracle if the GA got it half-right!

      And don’t get me started about the failure to reinstate the SCC’s IRP and ratemaking powers. Saslaw!! What kind of Democrat are you?” End Quote.

      Remember that members of General Assembly are making far too much money off the players in this energy game to ever voluntarily give up their power over details of the state’s energy business.

    • All those bills … 82 of them for energy during this short session ????
      Evidently Virginia legislators would rather be inundated with info and negotiations than do as you suggest … give it to the SCC to evaluate and present their findings. That seemed true in the Education structure too.

      How will we ever get to “the system we might want”?

  9. “Should Virginia ask the same question about the ownership of our primary utility? VEPCO was once its own company.” Spilt milk, back in the distant decade of the 1990s. For those who’ve forgotten, here’s a summary from an on-line history of DE: “A protracted boardroom dispute was sparked in June 1994 when Dominion tried to increase its authority over Virginia Power, which was then accounting for more than 90 percent of DRI’s total revenue, by changing the make-up of the board. Dominion presented the change as an efficiency move, similar to efforts it had made in recent years to consolidate the financial and legal functions of Virginia Power into its own–efforts Virginia Power viewed as offensive and threatening. The fight was characterized not only as a turf war but also a personality clash between Thomas E. Capps, the CEO of Dominion, and James T. Rhodes, the CEO of Virginia Power. Relations became so strained that regulators from the Virginia State Corporation Commission had to intervene to protect the public interest. A tenuous truce was eventually reached in September 1995.” http://www.fundinguniverse.com/company-histories/dominion-resources-inc-history/ Ever since then, Vepco has been the compliant, captive retail subsidiary that corporate Dominion always wanted — along with the GA, apparently.

  10. Pingback: Dems Win Big on Renewable Energy, But Issues Remain – Tech News From The Future

  11. re: ” Steve Haner | March 21, 2020 at 9:37 am |
    Correct. And if you build it all in one place, those windless days are really going to hit hard….:) I used the “Temple to Baal” image intentionally because this is truly faith, not engineering. And we’re sacrificing a future generation.”

    But ANY kind of generation has capacity issues… and we don’t rule them out because of that, we build those uncertainties into the engineering.

    Pump-storage – is limited

    coal and gas can be affected by winter weather as well as getting enough
    fuel in high demand periods.

    Nukes go down, sometimes not anticipated and sometimes anticipated and you have to build that into the overall environment also.

    The main problems with renewables is that they’re just starting out and there is not a whole lot of it which would provided some level of redundancy.

    It would be like building the first gas plant and realizing the pipeline was not big enough to supply it in high demand periods or to supply additional plants until it was expanded – in fact a Dominion claim for the ACP.

    These are all engineering and planning issues… in my view.

    Totally true – just building more wind and solar is not enough – the rest of the ancillary infrastructure has to be done also and that may well be more peaker gas plants.

    But at the end of the day, if you can ADD to the current generation mix – wind and solar, when available, and for less cost that the other fuels – then why wouldn’t we see solar/wind to the same thing to gas that gas did to coal?

    • It’s new and different and such things need to be viewed with extreme suspicion… especially if they might be after our wallets…

      🙂

  12. Response to Steve’s skepticism ….“this is truly faith, not engineering … and “those windless days are really going to hit hard”

    Larry is right that the intermittency issue is being addressed and there is always down time in all the generation industries. One way to manage … isn’t it great that exactly when the offshore wind picks up is the time in the afternoon when solar output diminishes, and peak time demand occurs?

    Don’t forget the greatly reduced demand levels possible with efficient buildings, and it is true there is a need for interconnection management software, especially when interconnections are many and widespread.

    How widespread matters too. For instance, the Mid-Atlantic Bight from Cape Cod to Cape Hatteras is considered one of the most productive global wind locations. Although I did not find out where it currently stands, the Atlantic Wind Connection is an underwater transmission project that will support the development of up to 6,000 megawatts of offshore wind energy – enough to power 2 million homes”.

    The AWC was designed to begin off the coast of northern New Jersey and could extend to southern Virginia … “when the winds are calm and there is little offshore wind power production, power from conventional generating plants can also be directed to the north, central or south on the offshore network to other land-based points of interconnection where the power is needed.” The flexibility of the HVDC offshore transmission system contributes to the reliability of the power transmission network.

    Engineering? “Analysis of wind power output offshore uses known turbine power curves and capacity factors estimated by using observational data from offshore buoys archived at the National Data Buoy Center, and validated model output from Wind Trends. The accuracy of these models is well documented. “

    Working on the continental shelf BOEM is the gatekeeper. The agency is responsible for identifying and leasing the wind energy areas, approving construction and operations plans, and giving final approval for the design and installation of each offshore wind farm.

    Finally, risk….
    • In Texas “many coastal wind farms weren’t affected by Harvey’s highest-level winds.
    • Shut down also occurred during a storm off Block Island for only several hours when wind speed exceeded 55 mph, although that is not hurricane levels.
    • existing turbines can withstand wind speeds of up to 112mph typical of a Category 2 or 3 hurricane –
    • Carnegie Mellon’s Rose … there’s only a 7% risk of hurricanes destroying at least half of turbines off the Gulf Coast and almost no chance of such damage on the East Coast
    • Stamford’s Jacobson theorizes that a large array of wind turbines could slow the wind enough to prevent turbine damage from a more powerful storm.
    • “turbines cost much less than sea walls to protect a city given that the turbines also generate electricity,” says a study, co-authored by Cristina Archer and Willett Kempton of the University of Delaware.

    Department of Energy found that the U.S. could install a total of 22,000 megawatts (MW) of offshore wind projects by 2030 and 86,000 MW by 2050, creating thousands of well-paying jobs in coastal communities. What’s not to like?

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