Dominion’s Move Against Green Competitors Fails

by Steve Haner

The verdict is in and green energy virtue in Virginia’s electricity market remains available in monthly increments. You do not need to be green twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, tracking every change of demand.

That was the requirement demanded by Dominion Energy Virginia in its recent effort to block competitive service providers who are taking away customers who want 100% renewable power. In a 22-page opinion issued today (here), the State Corporation Commission rejected every Dominion assertion across the board. It said the two companies, Calpine Energy Solutions and Direct Energy Business, are operating within Virginia law. 

That result was predictable, but not guaranteed, after the SCC ordered Dominion to stop blocking those customers from leaving. Dominion had asserted its “24-7-365” standard for matching renewable energy to demand months ago, and then began to enforce it on its own, cutting off transfers to the two firms. The SCC stopped that first, and now has ruled on the underlying issue.

The short case ran up a massive record of paper and hearing transcripts, accomplishing little but aggravation and big lawyer bills. The competitive service providers (CSPs) can continue to recruit Dominion customers until the utility has its own 100% renewable option, and that application is pending. Virginia’s wild and crazy utility law says competition is only allowed if the utility doesn’t have its own approved tariff.

The monthly matching standard basically means on a month-to-month basis, the CSP is generating renewable power from its own plants or (more likely) buying it under contract from other generators in amounts equal to the demand from its customers. The case heard discussion of matching standards from daily or hourly up to annually, apparently considered valid in some locations.

The other major investor-owned utility, Appalachian Power Company in the western part of Virginia, now offers a 100% renewable product with a monthly matching standard. That was approved earlier this year, ending CSP recruitment in its territory. Dominion didn’t like the monthly standard in that case, arguing against it and offering another version of its “24-7-365” requirement.  The SCC shot that down, too.

As previously discussed, both APCO and Dominion in their renewable tariffs are mainly packaging and reselling their existing generation, much of it aging hydro power. As the 100% renewable customers get to seem more green, the rest of us are stuck losing our green virtue in a zero-sum game.

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7 responses to “Dominion’s Move Against Green Competitors Fails

  1. Dominion’s premise is laughable. They seem to be saying that if you can use renewable energy 24/7 then you can’t use it.

    That’s sorta like saying if you can’t “save” electricity with demand-side technology – it’s not valid.

    It’s like you can’t save it when you can – you must do it 24/7 or it’s not “legal”.

    If Dominion were in charge of conservation – anything other than 100% 24/7 all the time – would not be kosher.

    How long are we going to put up with this arrogant behavior?

    Dominon’s monopoly apparently guarantees them as much electricity as everyone would use if they did not conserve – and if they do conserve – they still owe Dominion the difference!

    I think the GA “owns” this behavior… every one of them that has supported Dominion legislation, should have to answer for this.

  2. re: ” Virginia’s wild and crazy utility law says competition is only allowed if the utility doesn’t have its own approved tariff.”

    Nope. That’s the way Dominion wanted the law written and the GA did it to suit them.

    We need to stop pretending that “somehow” Dominion just accidently ended up with these “crazy” laws and regulations. They were explicitly designed by the GA per Dominion’s preferences.. and it’s still going on and it’s coming from folks who blather on and on about free markets and competition and how bad “socialism”is. Gawd Forbid Northam advocates for renewable energy – danger danger will robinson… RGGI is the devil incarnate and Dominion? well they’re just an apple pie corporate citizen just trying to eke out a profit… 😉

  3. Sounds to me like we are allowing APCO or CSP’s to create paper baskets of renewable energy, to sell users who demand 100% renewable. But somebody still has got to supply a boatload of fossil-energy electricity to Virginia homeowners with elec heat pumps and water heaters. Whomever that sucker is cannot practically use renewable for that humongous baseload.

    I do not agree with this crazy shell-game approach….what really matters is Virginia carbon foot print. And the carbon footprint we are able to accomplish has to do with our average daily temps and other factors such as energy efficiency. This is ridiculous requiring utilities to create buckets…so some company can ask for a free bucket of renewable.

    The only reason I agree with SCS is that Dominion is charging us so much profit margin I just feel like we have to let competition come in. But Virginia is not well-suited to promising 100% renewable to everyone, unless we shut down all the elec heat pumps and elec water heaters in Virginia and make those residents divert natural gas to their houses for winter heat and hot water, so we can say the utiltiies are carbon-free now. That’s what the other Northeast (RGGI) states do.

  4. In this case, it is customers asking for this option – 100% renewable. Big and small customers. Whether they are getting it is a fair debate. Whether this approach actually accelerates the move to more renewable generation is another fair debate. I’m with you, TBill, what matters is the aggregate impact (world wide, really), which is why all the focus on electricity generation is also debatable. In this country we’re getting more power for less CO2. The rest of the world, not so much.

    Much of this is being driven by the renewable developers, who have the same profit motive as the coal and natural gas industry.

    • Correct, tunnel-vision focus on electric utility carbon use is more of a divide and conquer strategy than a carbon-reduction strategy. When I work up the numbers I tentatively find Virginia is quite energy effiicent, but I am sure there is room for improvement. We should be touting Virginia as a state with an eye for energy efficiency, but do not hold us to 100% renewable. Rather we will use as much renewable as it makes economic sense given the resources available to our state our state.

      Calfiornia has much solar, wind, geothermal, megatons of hydro …fine…but we Virginia do not have those oppotunities and mild climate. Adjusting the state carbon targets for those inherent differences we can possibly be better than Califorinia on relative energy efficiency. But do not hold us to Califorina’s lower carbon target because we are not the same climate, not the same available mix of resources.

  5. Superb post and discussion going on here!

  6. An interesting point made earlier is that APCO’s renewable tariff option, which the SCC did approve, reflects not the cost of renewable energy in the wholesale marketplace but the cost of renewable energy from APCO’s handful of renewable resources generators. That’s a precedent that, if applied to Dominion, could really hurt ‘green’ consumers. Why wouldn’t Dominion simply pass through the market price? Could it be because their own price is much higher? I really can’t think of a good reason why the SCC would ignore the available regional market price for the power and associated RECs (renewable energy credits) since that market is, in fact, where the renewables are going to come from.

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