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.)There are currently no comments highlighted.