Dominion Plans Four New Gas Units

Photo credit; Southern Environmental Law Center

By Peter Galuszka

Despite its recent advertising campaign rebranding itself as a “green” utility, Dominion Energy is planning to build four natural gas “peaking units” costing $600 million at its Chesterfield County generating station.

The utility filed for a permit for the State Air Pollution Control Board, according to the Chesterfield Observer.

The gas plants would generate 1,000 megawatts of power to electrify 250,000 homes. One phase of the project would be completed in 2023 with another going online the following year. The units will be switched on when more power is needed.

Other than the Observer, there has been remarkably little news coverage of the plans. It could be that Dominion wanted to lie low after announcing plans to build 220 wind turbines off of the Virginia coast. Ads have touted Virginia as a “leader” nationally in renewable energy. Other announcements have involved solar farms and one to turn hog waste into methane.

The Chesterfield station at Dutch Gap has been coal-fired since the 1940s. It is Dominion’s largest coal-fired plant and one of the main air polluters in the state. Dominion shut down two coal-fired units this year and is considering closing two others, the Observer reports. The station also has major issues with removing coal ash from massive dumps not far from the James River.

Environmental groups have castigated the new gas plants as a “step in the wrong direction.” A recent S&P Global report was highly critical of Dominion for over estimating the growth of demand for power and for proposing unneeded gas plants. The utility’s huge $7 billion Atlantic Coast Pipeline project has been stalled for about a year due to legal and regulatory issues.

This is not the only news about natural gas in Virginia. According to the Virginia Mercury, C4GT has applied to build 24 miles of pipeline, build two new compressor stations and expand its gas plant planned near Ladysmith.

That’s not far from the Chickahominy Power Station, a 1,600 megawatt gas plant planned by another firm a short distance away.

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18 responses to “Dominion Plans Four New Gas Units”

  1. Re: The Link above, I think we should just expand the park and call it Mount Ashmore…the press/eco-groups are really hyping up the risk of the ash sites.

    Re: The 4 nat gas plants, I am not sure if we are talking 4 plants at 250 MW each unit in one 1000 MW plant or what. I am not a huge advocate of very large facilities. If we are talking 4000 MW thats big.

    As you mentioned last week, growth in nat gas demand is quite slow or moderate. Don’t forget rest of RGGI states use a lot of natural gas pumped directly to their houses. Virginia has more heat pumps so we need to divert more of that nat gas to the power plant.

    1. The other interesting news item this week was Maryland’s Gov Hogan’s proposed new energy plan. Hogan apparently wants to give some incentives for in-state power gen by gas and nukes. He was in reference to RGGI and saying he did not want to be sending big sums of money out-of-state due to RGGI requirements.

  2. vaconsumeradvocate Avatar

    It’s very wrong that these processes are not publicized widely early in the game. In Charles City some residents were denied the right to speak because they had not weighed in earlier. Sadly, they were unaware of the earlier notice.

    My question is why do we need these? Our use in Virginia is declining. We should not be investing in more polluting fossil fuel infrastructure. It’s lifespan will be far greater than even limited need. Rate payers will be saddled with unnecessary expense that the utility would never accept itself.

    Our rules for utilities and their infrastructure are in tremendous need of change. We need a new model for compensating utilities so they are not enticed to build things we don’t need so they can make more money.

    Public involvement rules need to change so these entities have reason to seriously work with landowners to respect landowner use of landowner property. Today they start with eminent domain threats.

    Changes are long overdue. Everything is set up to advantage the businesses and sacrifice the landowner, ratepayer, and community. This is anti-democracy and many of us no longer have faith in our country or our governance because we have realized we have no real rights today.

  3. Jane Twitmyer Avatar
    Jane Twitmyer

    Here is something I wrote last week re the 1000MWs of gas ‘peakers’ …

    Dominion wants to build new gas ‘peaker’ plants to balance generation when the sun and wind aren’t available. Here are the questions … Is more gas the best choice? Are there alternatives, or are the plants another excuse for the ACP?

    Reasons to leave gas behind … it is risky … stranded assets ahead?
    • How much gas is really available? Reserves listed by EIA are “rated as extremely optimistic.” Production in WVA peaked in Dec. 2018.
    • Shale gas reserves decline quickly … 76.5% decline rate in the first 3 years of production in Marcellus shale,
    • The economics of natural gas-fired power plants will be crushed by wind, solar, and batteries by 2035,
    • By 2035, it will be more expensive to run 90% of gas plants being proposed in the U.S. than it will be to build new wind and solar farms equipped with storage systems,
    • As gas plants lose their edge in power markets, the economics of pipelines will suffer,
    • Fracked gas is a climate killer

    Alternatives? Cheaper and better all around?
    • Reducing demand with efficient buildings
    • Incentivize customers to shifting time of peak demand with ‘demand response’,
    • Demand Flexibility … install “new generation of communication and control technologies that could “save annual generation costs of $1.9 billion” when compared with new gas-fired generation used to balance renewables
    • Storage … will beat gas ‘peakers’ on price by the time these peakers are built
    • The synergy of offshore wind and solar. Offshore wind is very productive when electric demand in the region is at its highest.

    Gas is not clean, cheap or necessary. Dominion can come up with a better proposal. How about a storage pilot?

    And for you skeptics … here are some references
    David Hughes, Shale Reality Check, 2019
    Rocky Mountain Institute “Recalibrating Climate Prospects”
    Oil Change International, “Burning the Gas ‘Bridge Fuel’ Myth”.

  4. LarrytheG Avatar

    So, I’m going to ask some questions.

    1. – How expensive is electricity from PJM in peak demand periods?

    2. – If we build a LOT of solar and wind – how do we reliably provide power when they are not available?

    I don’t think I know the answers to these questions and it troubles me a little.

    I’m 100% all in on wind and solar – but I’m NOT 100% all in on no reasonable alternatives to when those renewables are not available.

    That separates me from the green weenies.

    We cannot transition to more green if we do it in an irresponsible way that renders our grid less reliable than it is now.

    I have no patience what-so-ever with the “battery power is getting better” argument. That narrative just empowers the anti-renewable crowd.

    What is worse than peaker plants? Base load plants.

    The “alternative” to peakers and renewables is to toss the renewables and power the grid with combined cycle gas plants.

    1. Jane Twitmyer Avatar
      Jane Twitmyer

      Here is the best answer for the progress of storage …

      There is a long way to go till we get to the 80% renewable energy that the people in the industry say can be handled on the grid and before we get to the point you rightly worry about. We will have the answers, I think, by the time they are required if we work at it.

      1. LarrytheG Avatar

        My “truth” on this is the worlds 10,000 inhabited islands that currently use diesel generators. When and if they convert to a grid for their island that is powered by solar with the diesel (or batteries) as a backup – we can then demand that of mainland grid power providers.

        Until then – I see a lot of paper and a lot of advocacy about what “could be” and we bounce that off agains the folks who are saying what it is right now.

        If we are going to go forward – it has to be not on a wish but an admission from both sides that the right path forward – they both agree on – are real and doeable.

        The neveredning battle right now between the folks who advocate one thing and the folks who say it’s not realistic is not moving us forward.

        I want an argument that DOminion has no answer to and they are forced to admit that it’s a reasonable path forward.

        1. Jane Twitmyer Avatar
          Jane Twitmyer

          Larry, The 80% is a fine goal and will take time. People agree that we can get there.
          Thirty years is a fair amount of time to accomplish a path from 80-100% and the RMI paper has lots of interesting ‘stuff’ that is in process.

          1. LarrytheG Avatar

            Jane – I guess I’m a bit frustrated and impatient – I think we can get there quicker if we can all agree better on what it will take.

            Peaker plants are bad – they are 1/2 as efficient as combined cycle – but you do not want combined-cycle plants unless they are hybrids and can run both modes.

            Think of peaker plants the way you’re think of a pump-storage reservoir. Huge amount of land needed and they use more power than they generate… right? So how can they be good?

            You have to have peaker plants for solar. There is no other way right now.

            In 20, 30 years, yes but right now what is Dominion to do with regard to gas plants?

            We oppose them no matter what?

            that’s the issue.

            and that’s exact same issue on an island that has no native fossil fuels. You must burn diesel when the sun goes down.

  5. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    Jane, i never saw your comments earlier on the chesterfield gas plants. Where were they? Thanks

  6. Jane Twitmyer Avatar
    Jane Twitmyer

    Just filed with a newspaper who did not print them …

  7. LarrytheG Avatar

    One of the things about solar and it’s unavailability at night is that it begets discussions of how to power the night without using fossil fuels.

    Perhaps if a LOT of on-shore and off-shore wind was built and we actually could get enough wind to power the grid at night? Do we have any idea at all about how much wind generation it would take to do that – in Virginia?

    If there actually is sufficient potential capacity of wind – then pinning hopes on storage technology becomes much less of a “hail Mary” reliable-grid proposition.

    So I’m ignorant of the numbers on wind….

    Second – what if the price of electricity was double or triple at night than what it cost during the day. Could we reduce demand at night so the shortfall from not having solar was not near as large and people would defer use until daytime when solar would be “up” again?

    So, we’d actually need even MORE solar than if we just wanted to meet daytime demand and not the additional deferred demand from night – basically shifted to day.

    What I say is that this is the KIND of thinking we have to do if we want to find a realistic path forward to use less fossil fuels.

    We just can’t line up on one side or the other to be either opposed to or in favor of – conventional fossil fuels to power the grid.

    Dominion is going to look out for Dominion. It’s not their job to figure out if solar can replace fossil fuels or not. Their job is to provide reliable grid power the best way they know how – and at a profit for their investors.

    It is actually the job of those who want to find ways to burn less fossil fuels to come up with approaches that are legitimate rather than just have a blind advocacy for “doing it” – no matter what and that it’s “okay” because some-day we”ll have “storage” so…. don’t built no more gas plants…

    That’s NOT a reasonable approach in my view. That’s how we end up at an impasse between the pro fossil fuels and anti fossil fuel folks.

    No side is going to prevail and impose their own preferred approach – we’ll just end up agreeing to disagree.

    For those who say they are concerned about Climate Change, this puts to the test if they are actually concerned enough to do what is necessary to convince others on a path forward.

    That’s the job and duty of those who are concerned about Climate.

    Today, we as a society have become so polarized on how to go forward on a wide range of issues – and what we end up with is no compromises to go forward and each side blaming the other.

    So our current approach is something along the lines of ” We cannot agree on the right way to proceed, so we’ll both stand here and watch the house burn down”

    We could do better.

  8. Jane Twitmyer Avatar
    Jane Twitmyer

    No reason for an impasse … there is too much potential there. But i too believe we need a PLAN.

    The technical potential of offshore wind in Virginia is about 3 times the total Virginia demand according to NREL. The price will come down, as it is coming down in New England, as the industry develops. DNV GL’s recent report says the supply chain is “not mature, supporting infrastructure is needed and federal policies are still developing. “

    However, $70 billion is the projected development over the next decade, offshore wind will become a significant part of renewable energy development.

    Buoys out on the continental shelf collecting data on the wind speeds and times. Maybe someone else knows what those buoys can tell us about our resource. I only have read about the fact that the wind increases as solar output decreases making the combination a fine way to meet late afternoon/early evening peak demand.

    1. Jane Twitmyer Avatar
      Jane Twitmyer

      A PS … new info for “the wind is always blowing somewhere” … for a potential 100%. Those who support grid expansions have a point, particularly out west. Reported by IEEFA from the Denver Post …

      “Xcel Energy, Black Hills Colorado Electric, Colorado Springs Utilities and the Platte River Power Authority announced Tuesday that they will join the California Western Energy Imbalance Market. (WEIM) Starting in 2021, the four utilities will be able to trade electricity in real time with utilities in California, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico and Wyoming.”

      “’The decision is an important next step in our efforts to keep our customers’ bills low and provide more 100% carbon-free energy like wind and solar,’ said Alice Jackson, president of Xcel Energy Colorado, in a statement.”

      “The utilities, … currently have a joint dispatch agreement, the equivalent of a mutual aid society. If someone is short of electricity on a given day, say because a gas turbine went down, the others will step in and fill the gap. If they have a surplus, the others will see if they can make use of it.”

      “Within two years, if everything goes as planned, they will have dozens of other partners to turn too, all on the fly. If it is cloudy and snowing in eastern Colorado, the four utilities can pick up power from solar arrays in California or a hydro dam in Washington. If it’s a blustery day here, they can sell the extra wind power rather than shut turbines down because there isn’t enough demand.”

  9. Jane Twitmyer Avatar
    Jane Twitmyer

    PPS …More research that says …Yes we Can! 🙂
    NREL has a new report whose conclusion says … “Load and operating reserves can be met in US grid with up to 55% PV with storage. … for all hours.”

    A summary … “With rapid declines in solar photovoltaic (PV) and energy storage costs, futures with PV penetrations approaching or exceeding 50% of total annual US generation are becoming conceivable.

    The operational merits of such a national-scale system have not been evaluated sufficiently. Here, we analyze in detail the operational impacts of a future US power system with very high annual levels of PV (>50%) with storage. We show that load and operating reserve requirements can be met for all hours while considering key generator operational constraints. Storage plays an active role in maintaining the balance of supply and demand during sunset hours.

  10. […] 12-20-19 Bacon’s Rebellion. Dominion Plans Four New Gas Units. […]

  11. LarrytheG Avatar

    I notice in California, the utilities are pushing back on rooftop solar. They say (sounds familiar)…

    Are California’s Utilities Undermining Rooftop Solar Installations?

    California now has one million solar roofs, representing about 14% of all renewable power generated in the state. But solar advocates “said the milestone has come despite escalating efforts by utilities to undermine rooftop solar installations,” according to the San Diego Union-Tribune.

    “They said those attacks include everything from hefty fees on ratepayers to calling for dramatic cuts to the credits residents receive for generating energy from the sun.”
    “We will seek sensible solutions that continue to encourage solar power but don’t adversely affect working families who can’t afford solar systems,” said SDG&E spokesman Wes Jones.

  12. LarrytheG Avatar

    I think the fact that offshore wind is pretty much at the beginning – that we have to look at what we’re going to do NOW.

    We can’t keep saying that “WHEN” offshore starts producing BIG or WHEN battery storage matures that we don’t need GAS – right now.

    and that’s my basic issue. I just do not see how those who advocate renewables can oppose gas – right now. We have no alternatives right now and the advocacy against gas – feels irresponsible…

    More than anyone else, I want to see us do as much as we possibly can with renewables – but I’m not going to advocate that we essentially damage our grid reliability.

    The opponents are having our lunch on this – and are justified in my mind.

    Advocates of renewables must be responsible if they are to be taken seriously and expect people to sign on with their plan forward.

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