Dominion Vies to Become Sustainability Leader — at What Cost?

by James A. Bacon

Dominion Energy is aggressively positioning itself as a leader among U.S. electric utilities in renewable energy and environmental stewardship. Whether the shift in strategic direction will win it any friends among Democrats and environmentalists who increasingly dominate Virginia politics is an open question. The environmental wing of the Democratic Party of Virginia continues to move the goal posts, now embracing the goal of a zero-carbon (and likely a zero-nuclear) electric grid for Virginia by 2050, a vision that is irreconcilable with Dominion’s commitment to nuclear and natural gas for the foreseeable future.

Regardless, like most other electric utilities, Dominion sees the direction the country is heading and is running to catch up. The company has detailed its move toward a renewable energy future in its just-issued Sustainability & Corporate Responsibility Report.

“The people of Dominion Energy are leading the country’s transition to clean energy,” said CEO Thomas F. Farrell, II, in a statement accompany the release of the report. “We are transforming everything we do to build a more sustainable future for our customers, the planet and our company. … We intend to become one of the most sustainable companies in the United States.”

The report highlights the following:

  • Dominion has built the fourth-largest solar portfolio among utility holding companies.
  • The company is developing the largest offshore wind farm in the United States.
  • It has joined with Smithfield Foods in the largest renewable natural gas program in history.
  • It is extending the life of its Virginia nuclear power plants to guarantee carbon-free energy 24/7.

The report notes that Dominion has cut CO2 emissions 52% since 2005 and prevented more than 250,000 metric tons of methane from entering the atmosphere in the past decade — the equivalent of planting 103 million trees. The company has committed to reducing carbon emissions from its power stations 55% by 203 and 80% by 2050, and to cut methane emissions in half by 2030.

Ten years ago, such accomplishments and commitments would have been regarded as astonishing, but it’s not likely to satisfy environmentalists or the new generation of Democrats who accept the proposition that climate change represents an existential threat to human civilization and much of life on the planet. Dominion’s vision still allows for 20% of its electric portfolio to come from natural gas — and, though glossed over in the report, it still wants to build the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

Indeed, on the environmental side, Dominion is still criticized for doing too little to promote energy efficiency and reduce electricity consumption, for resisting community solar power, for blocking large commercial customers from building their own solar, for contemplating the extension of nuclear power (which, though carbon free is still anathema), and for stubbornly insisting that natural gas will continue to be part of the fuel mix for decades to come. Meanwhile, the rising generation of Virginia Democrats (along with some free-market Republicans and Libertarians) will attack Dominion for its excess profits, its campaign contributions and out-sized role in lobbying the General Assembly. I will be amazed if the company’s sustainability initiatives win it any friends on the Left.

Dominion has three broad public objectives to balance: sustainability, electric rates, and reliability. There is a large but mostly silent majority of the population that places a high value on rates and reliability.

Other than mentioning $200 million it is spending to reduce methane emissions from gas pipelines, Dominion’s sustainability report does not tell us how much its commitment to green energy will cost or, more specifically, what it will cost Virginia rate payers. What are the trade-offs between green energy and electric bills? What are the trade-offs between green energy and reliability?

Dominion needs to consider how Virginians less vocal than the heavily funded environmental lobby will react if they see their rates go up or reliability threatened. I’d like to see Dominion publish a Reliability report telling Virginians what it is doing to ensure a reliable electricity supply, and what potential threats it sees on the horizon. I’d also like to see Dominion publish a Electric Rates report detailing what its policies will have on electric rates.

Not all electric customers believe the world is going to end in 50 years. If Dominion loses the silent majority, it could become another PG&E.

(Note: I have excised a lengthy passage from the original post, which I am re-purposing as a new blog post.)

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13 responses to “Dominion Vies to Become Sustainability Leader — at What Cost?

  1. I think it is probably unrealistic, and expensive, but The Demcorats insist this is the only acceptable direction for the survival of mankind. We are blue state now, and probably destined to go this direction for a while.

    For me, it is deja vu all over again, I recall in the 1990’s blue NJ and the utilities teamed up to say NJ needed to go full-out on coal-fired power plants — in part to create jobs to help economy, and also they were very angry at all the independent natural gas CoGen plants that industry was building (to escape the state’s high elec costs). State policy was passed to allow only utility-based coal power and we started building coal plants. Proposed natural gas plants were discouraged and still alowed, but they had to be tiny plants with no net netering, just the size of what a company needed internally with no excess. OK but NJ’s coal approach did not stand the test of time, due to various reasons.

    Above, substitute “offshore-wind” instead of “coal-fired” for the latest Democrat politically-correct power choice in the Northeast, and you have today’s politics.

    I am not as opposed to offshore-wind as I was for the NJ coal-fired approach. Still I will go to my grave with state-wide Democrats and Repubs (let’s face it) and Utilities teaming-up to tell the public that electric needs to be very expensive to pay for state-wide Democrat-preferred mega-expensive power choices based on lots of money getting passed around, and also we need to have gov’t mandated job creation. If we have high taxes and high electric rates, we have to kiss industry migration to Virgirnia good-bye, and we have to proactively make our own in-state economy mandates to create jobs.

  2. Jim,

    Dominion may be “aggressively positioning itself” as a leader in green energy movement but its record so far is pretty dismal, despite what Tom Farrell says. North Carolina, for instance, is far ahead of Virginia when it comes to solar. Neither Dominion nor Ralph Northam has actually addressed the future of natural gas and nukes in the state. It’s sort of how the GOP in the state deals with Donald Trump. They pretend he doesn’t exist. Dominion has yet to prove just about everything as far as meeting standards. They would look ridiculous these days trying to project their world view of a few years ago. In this regard, your continued climate change denialism is also annoying given the ever-increasing evidence that it is happening and in a hurry. I also find it amusing that Dominion projects itself as being so keen on renewables and is a national leader and all that baloney when it persists with the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.
    I find it ironic that you are serving up this regurgitated press release on the same day that Ivy Main, a Sierra club leader and former EPA lawyer, has a lot to say on the same general topic in the Virginia Mercury. (see: https://www.virginiamercury.com/category/energyenvironment/)

    She notes that recent data shows that energy demand has increased at a rate of 2 percent per year. She notes that home demand is down and that the increase seems to be from commercial sectors, such as new data centers that demand lots of power. What it also shows is that Virginians pay more for their electricity while conservation seems to be not working.
    She says: “Lobbyists for our utilities argue it’s the weather here. They say hot summers drive up the use of air conditioning, while cold winters keep electric heat pumps running. We’d like to see their data. The fact is, Virginia residents use more electricity (averaging 1165 kWh per month) and have higher bills (averaging $136.59) than residents of Maryland (1005 kWh, $133.68) and Delaware (977 kWh, $122.43), even though both of those states don’t just have colder winters, they have slightly warmer summers as well.
    So if it isn’t weather, what is it? Policy. Both Maryland and Delaware have laws requiring reductions in energy consumption and have programs to make it happen.
    It’s worth mentioning that Maryland and Delaware are members of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, the carbon-cutting compact of northeastern states that Virginia plans to join. Critics of the plan claim it will harm Virginia consumers. That makes it especially telling that of all the RGGI states, only Connecticut has higher residential electricity bills than Virginia.
    Most RGGI states appear in the top ranks of the ACEEE scorecard. That’s not a coincidence; those states use money from the auctioning of carbon emission allowances to fund energy efficiency programs. Consumers benefit from the resulting trade-off: their electricity rates go up, but their bills go down.”
    I like the RGGI idea and have so stated in commentary pieces in several outlets. To me, that’s a real way to ensure sustainable energy and conservation – not some trumped up report by Dominion trying to get ahead of a parade that passed it by some time ago.

    • North Carolina had a utiliy policy for probably 50-years that gave favor to diversification of elec supplies ( because NC was vulnerable with ~100% oil powered back in the day when oil was embargoed). That NC policy indirectly encouraged solar with subsidies when solar was new. So it’s not like VA is just the same as NC, and NC said, oh gee, let’s get religion and do solar now.

      • Re: ” I think we’re on the low end — temperatures rising but at a modest rate. That makes me a denier? ”

        so you’re admitting that there IS climate change and it IS caused by mankind AND we need to take action now to reduce CO2?

        This is why Conservatives and Libertarians are the WRONG folks to be involved in this issue. They’re like smokers willing to gamble their lives on the science and they all feel that it’s not near as bad as science predicts.

    • Your continued climate change denialism…”

      Let’s set aside for the moment that labeling me a “denier” is just a mild form of ad hominem attack and adds nothing to your argument…

      What constitutes denialism? I have repeated acknowledged that the planet is warming. Am I a denier because I don’t believe that the pace of warming is cataclysmic? This chart comes from the U.N. IPCC, the ultimate arbiter of climate change orthodoxy.

      This chart shows the wide range in climate change forecasts. I think we’re on the low end — temperatures rising but at a modest rate. That makes me a denier? My denial makes you annoyed? I share the goal of building a clean grid but I don’t think it’s the end of the world if it takes us maybe a decade longer than you’d like to get there. Give me a break.

    • Oh, and thanks for the revelation that Dominion electricity demand has increased 2% a year (for what period, I’m not sure). That’s higher than what Dominion has been predicting and a lot higher than what Dominion’s environmentalist critics have been predicting!

      Hahahaha!

  3. https://cei.org/blog/wrong-again-50-years-failed-eco-pocalyptic-predictions

    If the NBA can get the memo on China, no surprise that Dominion can read political tea leaves. The profit earned on solar panels and batteries and feeding electric school buses parked 90 percent of the time will keep the stockholder happy. The frogs haven’t noticed the rising temperature (uh, price) yet, and won’t notice another 20-30 bucks a month if implemented slowly.

  4. lots of words.. lots of PR – but their behavior hasn’t really changed.

  5. The atmosphere is warming. It has done so before. The current rate will not match the predictions needed to see a “catastrophe.” There is no evidence of acceleration. An additional hundred or so parts per million, per million, of a gas vital for all life on Earth may or may not be contributing to the warming. Human development patterns, the destruction of forests, etc and construction of heat-sink cities have clearly raised surface temps, especially the nightly lows.

    Likewise, the sea level has been rising since the last ice age ended. Steadily. Even on Warming Alarmism Central NBC, Lester Holt stands in front of a glacier and talks about the retreat in the past century. Was it retreating before that, too? You betcha….Feel free to call me a denier because I think the other choice is delusion.

    This is a battle over money and political control, what I used to call a “greedy bastard bill,” with greedy bastards on all sides. The enviros feeding money to that movement have a profit motive too, they want to sell solar, wind, etc and various paid “efficiency” programs, some more effective than others. The longer I live the wiser is the following: Always follow the money.

    • Steve – can I ask you how you know the extent of the changes to the climate? Do you just “believe” your version and not believe what science says?

      In terms of money and political control – do you think other pollution issues like the CFC ozone holes were about power and money? How about cleaning up car pollution? Do you think that 97% of the worlds scientists are connected in some way to “green” solutions?

      Do you think the scientists who predict hurricanes and sea level rise are also in it for power and money?

      How do you differentiate between the scientists who are after power and money from the scientists who are not and just labor away on issues like cancer, volcanoes, plate tectonics, etc.

      Let me agree that SOME individuals scientists and studies have proven to be bogus, but we’re talking about thousands of scientists around the world who tend to agree on the basics and you’re essentially saying that ALL of them are acting in concert for “power and money”, i.e. a conspiracy.

  6. wattsupwiththat.com/

    Just give it a few hours, Larry. Be as random as you want on the website. Plenty of these folks have very strong scientific credentials. There isn’t that much argument about the data, but all the dire crisis predictions are based on the models. There is immense disagreement about the validity of the models. The CFC issue was identified and fixed, and I think the ozone hole de-bunked. It is not so much that individual researchers are after power, as after grant money, and the vast majority of that is geared to proving a single proposition. Once conventional wisdom is dug in it is hard to eliminate. But the funders of the grants have a profit motive often. Certainly NASA and NOAA have a high desire to defend the position they’ve taken. Just like the church in the day of Galileo.

    Thousands of scientists? The real research community might be a few hundred, world wide. “Settled Science” may be the greatest oxymoron in the language, because new data and theories flip “settled science” daily. If the NWS tells me there is a storm brewing, that is based on observations, and if they show me a path, I take it seriously. But even those models are not perfect until about 24-48 hours out. If predicting a single weather event is that uncertain, how can you possibly trust a 50 year projection of climate over the entire Earth? We have at best 40 years of reliable (debated) atmospheric temp data from satellites, now the gold standard. Go back a century and we have spotty records at ground level only.

  7. California illustrates how the debate over a ‘green’ electric grid can go off the deep end — and even California hasn’t committee to “100% Green.” Dominion is out to build its image for righteousness while it takes its consumers and their GA reps to the cleaners. Moderation! Ratemaking by experts not amateurs! That’s why we have the SCC — use them; trust them!

    As we rapidly approach a day of greater solar generation, here is a short article in Wikipedia everyone should read and understand: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Duck_curve . Yes, the Duck Curve! It’s about the inevitable daily mismatch between solar generation and retail consumption — and what can be done to compensate for it.

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