Dominion Takes a Big Step in the Right Direction

Dominion Virginia Power is getting the message — at last it’s taking substantive steps to promote conservation and energy efficiency. The power company has asked the State Corporation Commission for permission to bring to Virginia a number of strategies implemented successfully in other states. A series of programs would:

  • Enroll 4,000 residential customers in four different energy-saving pilots that would (a) control air-conditioning during peak-demand times, (b) inform consumers about their real-time energy consumption patterns, (c) promote programmable thermostats that allow customers to control their use of electricity, and (d) educate customers about the value of reducing energy use during peak-demand times.
  • Provide free energy audits and energy efficiency kits to 250 existing residential customers and 50 small commercial customers.
  • Incentivize large commercial, industrial and non-residential customers to reduce load during periods of peak demand, by using their generators, to produce up to 100 megawatts of electricity. This would supplement an existing program in which large commercial and industrial customers already reduce demand by 275 megawatts during peak-demand periods.

Additionally, in partnership with Home Depot, Dominion will distribute 1.4 million energy-saving compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) at significantly discounted prices. CFLs cut energy usage by 75 percent.

These initiatives, which are expected to begin early next year and continue through 2009, are designed to complement efforts by the SCC to determine the feasibility of reducing electrical consumption by 10 percent by 2022 — a target established by the Virginia General Assembly in electric utility re-regulation legislation adopted earlier this year.

Said Dominion CEO Thomas F. Farrell II in a prepared statement: “These pilots will gather valuable information about what customers are willing to do and what programs may be most effective in achieving sustainable energy savings. … It is important that our company learn as much as possible through implementation of the pilots so that we can design programs with the greatest customer satisfaction, market participation and energy savings.”

Some people will never be satisfied with anything that Dominion does. But this looks to me like a good indication that attitudes within the Dominion hierarchy are changing. The SCC is exceedingly cautious and won’t implement any conservation measure without testing it first, so there is no avoiding the pilot test phase. Unless I see evidence to the contrary, I presume that Dominion will implement the tests in good faith.

While these pilot programs are a very big step in the right direction, they hardly begin to exhaust the conservation possibilities. For starters: Dominion should be working with Northern Virginia technology groups to phase in more energy-efficient computers at the energy-hogging server farms that are so ubiquitous in the region. (A Dominion spokesman told me that another 23 server farms are on the drawing boards!) We don’t need to pioneer anything — just follow the lead established by California tech companies. Question: Where is the Northern Virginia Technology Council on this? This program would be a natural for that group.

Another option: Reform SCC regulations to allow Dominion to earn a favorable rate on investments made in energy efficiency. By energy efficiency, I refer to improvements that enable the company to squeeze more electricity from the same number of BTUs expended in coal- and gas-fired plants, and to waste less electricity in transmission and distribution. My understanding — and I’m willing to stand corrected — is that Virginia does not treat such investments as favorably as investments in new generating capacity. We can’t blame Dominion for neglecting these investments if they don’t make an adequate return. If we need to change the rules to change Dominion’s behavior, let’s change the rules.

Of course, these measures don’t even touch the realm of renewable energy sources. Much remains to be done. But Dominion should be commended for moving as far as it has. Clearly, the terms of debate are changing. No longer will Virginia meet its electricity needs solely through adding capacity. Now the state will seek a balance between conservation/energy efficiency/renewable fuels on the one hand and investments in power plants and transmission lines on the other. Once we’ve established that principle, it’s a matter of finding the right balance.

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8 responses to “Dominion Takes a Big Step in the Right Direction”

  1. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    ….”Provide free energy audits and energy efficiency kits to 250 existing residential customers”

    In a State with 6 million people?

    I’m scratching my head here…

    what is this REALLY about?

  2. Anonymous Avatar

    Has anyone determined the true savings of the florescent bulbs given their disposal costs? That subject has been touched on here before, but I don’t recall a true factual analysis.

  3. Anonymous Avatar

    This Dominion “energy program” is targeted at Va. However if Dominion was really interested in these kind of energy initiatives, it would be more global within their company. Dominion is the largest engergy supplier in the New England corredor. In my opinion this is a *simple* VA public relations campaign. This is a peace offering for the powerline approval because the SCC got such overwhelming negative response at their hearings. This token gesture by Dominion are merely VA “pilots”. Pilots go away…probably right after the SCC approves all the 500KV Lines in VA that Dominion has asked for this year.


  4. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    FYI: ….”compact fluorescent bulbs are responsible for less mercury contamination than the incandescent bulbs they replaced, even though incandescents don’t contain any mercury. The highest source of mercury in America’s air and water results from the burning of fossil fuels, such as coal, at utilities that supply electricity. Since a compact fluorescent bulb uses 75 percent less energy than an incandescent bulb, and lasts at least six times longer, it is responsible for far less mercury pollution in the long run. A coal-burning power plant will emit four times more mercury to produce the electricity for an incandescent bulb than for a compact fluorescent.”
    ( I had also wondered)

  5. Anonymous Avatar

    Nice one, Larry. That’s the kind of stuff I love to see.


  6. Anonymous Avatar

    Trade outdoor, diffuse mercury emissions for indoor, more concentrated ones (if a bulb breaks – and face it, we all break bulbs)?

  7. Anonymous Avatar

    “I’m late, I’m late, for a very important date”

    Mad Hatter

    The mercury situation is still a lot better than it once was.

  8. Chris Harmon Avatar
    Chris Harmon

    Interesting timing. Just this morning I received an email announcing that this week is “Energy Conservation Awareness Week”. I work for the Commonwealth (the state) of Virginia:

    I am proud to announce this week as Energy Conservation Awareness Week, which will be followed by our first ENERGY STAR Sales Tax Holiday event. I am encouraging Virginians to use energy wisely and begin to explore how all of us can be more energy efficient.

    The ENERGY STAR Sales Tax Holiday will take place from Friday, October 5 through Monday, October 8, 2007. During this holiday, Everyone will be exempt from paying sales tax in Virginia on ENERGY STAR qualified products that cost $2,500 or less, like compact fluorescent light bulbs, ceiling fans, clothes washers, dehumidifiers, dishwashers, programmable thermostats, refrigerators, and room air conditioners.

    As a first step to preserving Virginia’s energy resources and environment, I encourage you to replace at least one incandescent bulb or fixture at home with one that has earned the government’s ENERGY STAR label. If every state employee takes the pledge to change just one bulb or fixture, we could save over 32 million kWh and prevent over 45 million pounds of greenhouse gas emissions each year! Please make this simple, yet meaningful commitment by taking the online ENERGY STAR Change a Light Pledge.

    This came from an email from Our Governor.

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