Giant Utility Rejects Net Zero Power; Big Fight Follows

by David Wojick

Dominion Energy, Virginia’s big electric utility, is telling the state it does not foresee complying with the 2045 net zero power target in the Virginia Clean Economy Act (VCEA). The preferred option in Dominion’s latest Integrated Resources Plan (IRP) retires no fossil-fueled power generators, other than the few old ones that are already in the process of retirement. In fact, it adds a lot more fossil juice.

Up front in the IRP, Dominion puts it this way: “Due to an increasing load forecast, and the need for dispatchable generation, the Alternative Plans show additional natural-gas-fired resources and preserve existing carbon-emitting units beyond statutory retirement deadlines established in the VCEA. The law explicitly authorizes the Company to petition the SCC for relief from these requirements on the basis that the unit retirements would threaten the reliability or security of electric service to customers.”

So, in effect, this is a notice to Virginia’s utility regulator, the State Corporation Commission (SCC), that Dominion is prepared to petition for permission to not comply with the net zero power generation mandate in the VCEA.

In fact, this IRP may constitute such a petition. The anti-fossil forces apparently think so because they have petitioned the SCC to reject the IRP because it includes more gas-fired generation. In response, the SCC has initiated a formal legal proceeding to consider this request. A number of green groups have joined the proceeding; there has been a hearing, public comments have been taken, etc. The whole rulemaking deal.

The impetus for this unexpected bout of rationality from Dominion is, as the quote says, an increased load forecast. Specifically, the SCC requires Dominion to use the load forecast from the regional grid operator, which is PJM. They issued a whopping new forecast that is roughly double their earlier ones going back years.

So Dominion is saying they don’t think we can service this enormous new load and comply with the VCEA net zero mandate. They specifically propose not to retire most of their fossil fleet, plus adding almost 3,000 MW of gas-fired generation over the next 15 years. No wonder the anti-fossils are apoplectic.

Unfortunately, they also add a ridiculous amount of renewables. It amounts to about 11,000 Megawatts (MW) of solar and 3,000 MW of mostly offshore wind, on top of the 2,600 MW of offshore already in process. With their usual smoke and mirrors, there is virtually no storage to make this intermittent junk reliable despite costing tens of billions of dollars. If the gas-fired power does that, why not just use it instead of the renewables? Plus, offshore wind is hell on whales. But I digress.

Dominion has 7 million customers in 16 states, so its Virginia no net zero action has much wider implications. Beyond that, it could be a national precedent, so other utilities, states, and interest groups should be watching closely.

What the SCC decides could be very important. Ironically, in a ridiculous sense, the SCC does not exist at this time. Due to a political stalemate, there is only one Commissioner, out of the called-for three, and it takes a quorum of two to issue a formal order. It looks like the most that can happen is that an administrative law judge can render an opinion on the anti-fossil petition.

The SCC legal mess is beyond my knowledge or understanding. Rejecting an IRP seems odd to begin with. Then, too, the VCEA seems to allow what Dominion is describing specifically. Nor is it at all clear that an IRP is a petition when the matter is just presented as an option. Perhaps it is a petition to be allowed to suggest it. The whole fight strikes me as an absurd confusion, but alarmism is like that. Maybe that is the message. Anti-fossil alarmism is an absurd confusion.

This confused action should be fun to watch. Stay tuned to CFACT as the no net zero drama unfolds.

(Click here to read CFACT’s comment to the Virginia State Corporation Commission.)

David Wojick, Ph.D. is an independent analyst working at the intersection of science, technology and policy.

Republished with permission from CFACT.