Has Dominion Gone Full Climate-Change Warrior?

Pacific-islander climate change warriors

by James A. Bacon

As the Democratic-dominated General Assembly considers legislation to transform Virginia’s electric grid, Dominion Energy has issued a statement setting a formal goal of achieving “net zero emissions” of carbon dioxide and methane by 2050.

That’s not an easy thing to do for a company that hopes to expand its 14,000-mile natural gas pipeline network by building the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. Under Dominion’s long-range plan, CO2 and methane emissions will be offset through the capture of methane from hog and dairy producers and investments in electric school buses and electric-vehicle infrastructure, among other strategies.

“Our mandate is to provide reliable and affordable energy – safely,” said Chairman Thomas F. Farrell. “But we recognize that we must also continue to be a leader in combating climate change. … I am confident we can … help solve this challenge and leave the world a better place for future generations.”

A topic not mentioned in the press release was how much this 30-year transformation will cost electric ratepayers in Virginia. As Steve Haner has reported, State Corporation Commission staff has estimated that Governor Northam’s proposed zero-carbon legislation will boost retail electric bills by 20%.

A reasonable interpretation of Dominion’s new policy is that it has thrown ratepayers to the wolves in order to appease the environmentalist wing of the Democratic party that now controls Virginia state government. The company is forging ahead with an $8 billion offshore wind farm at an elevated cost per kilowatt, and has signed on to Northam’s zero-carbon legislation for Virginia’s electric grid by 2050. Indeed, its corporate statement parallels that goal.

The electric grid can accommodate up to 30% renewable energy sources (wind and solar), but boosting renewables past that level creates grid stability issues. To compensate for the intermittent generation of wind and solar, Dominion originally proposed building new fast-reaction gas turbines that could ramp up and down with fluctuating supply. But if new natural gas capacity is off the table, Dominion will have to invest instead in new pumped-storage hydroelectric capacity or, if the price comes down, battery storage. In effect, ratepayers will have to pay for an multibillion-dollar back-up infrastructure. But for Dominion that’s a good thing. It provides an opportunity to invest more capital and generate a return on that investment.

In the meantime, the company has a delicate balancing act. It has vast holdings in natural gas distribution facilities, a Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) plant, and numerous gas-fired generating plants, all of which contribute greenhouse gas emissions. The press release gives no indication that the company plans to divest or shutter any of these assets. Thus, the company remains vulnerable to attacks by environmentalists whose definition of “zero emissions” is zero emissions, not net zero emissions.

Under its “net zero emissions” commitment, Dominion has set the goal of reducing carbon emissions from its power generating facilities by 80% between 2005 and 2050. As the statement noted, the company has already cut carbon emissions 50% since 2005, mainly by closing down its coal-fired power plants and substituting natural gas.  Those goals still leave Dominion 20% short of 100%, however. Clearly the company’s vision for the future of Virginia’s electric grid encompasses continued use of natural gas.

To offset emissions for ongoing gas combustion, Dominion would cut methane and CO2 emissions elsewhere. Under the net zero framework, the company would tighten up on methane leaks from its natural gas pipelines– 80% by 2040 compared to 2010 levels. The company also plans the following:

  • A $700 million shared investment (previously announced) in projects to capture methane from hog and dairy farms.
  • Developing the largest electric school bus program in the country.
  • Promote the use of electric vehicles by investing in electric-vehicle charging infrastructure.
  • Use liquefied and compressed natural gas to fuel long-haul trucks and maritime vessels. (Natural gas has a lower carbon footprint than petroleum-based fuels.)
  • Convert oil- and coal-powered manufacturing facilities to lower-carbon natural gas.

Also critical to achieving Dominion’s net-zero goals is re-licensing of its nuclear power plants. Zero-carbon nuclear units would provide a stable base of power generation not subject to fluctuations like wind and solar. However, many environmentalists oppose nuclear power as well.

Dominion’s net-zero commitment is likely less than hard-core environmentalists would like to see. They want to shut down all fossil fuels, and some want to shut down nuclear as well. But the net-zero approach could play well with pragmatic environmentalists like Governor Northam. Either way, the wholesale restructuring of Virginia’s electric grid will cost billions of dollars and electricity consumers will pay for it.

There are currently no comments highlighted.

35 responses to “Has Dominion Gone Full Climate-Change Warrior?

  1. And the sea shall still rise, as it has for thousands of years….

  2. Sounds like lots of new “green” jobs, no? 😉

    I don’t know where some of the “facts” are coming from and I am a bit skeptical. Like the 30% renewables. Where did that come from?

    I don’t think Dominion has jumped on the true believers Climate change wagon but they see opportunity to go where things seem to be trending and I think part of that involved when/if Virginia decides to give a better deal to people who want to set up their own solar – along with their own storage and backup generators.

    Each one of those homes with those systems adds to grid stability.

    Solar during the day can recharge those “storage” systems.

    Is it cost- effective compared to fossil fuels? That’s the $64 question.

    And one breakthrough changes all of this overnight and that is nuclear plants that CAN ramp up and down quickly. Once that happens, huge
    changes will happen almost overnight and gas will no longer be needed.

  3. Keep in mind there is a lobby organization known as the Electrification Coalition that has probably been around 10 year so more now been supported by Utilities, Electric Vehicle makers, etc. So Dominon is obviously working hard to try to suggest using more electricity and recently, less fossil fuels, is the popular way to go. Enlightened self interest.

  4. re: ” Enlightened self interest”. Exactly! Dominion will be anything you want them to be as long as you pay them handsomely!

    You got to give them credit. They don’t let all this partisan climate back and forth dissuade them from them natural capitalistic mission!

    And if it “fails” as some say it will.. Dominion makes even more money!!

    • …and most of the states I’ve seen (NJ and Va) generally elected officials want to get some big projects going. We don’t really have to worry too much about elec shortages as there is a lot of proactive “build” sentiment.

  5. It is really hard to understand how the captured the methane from hog and cow waste will amount to all those gas plant emissions … and I keep reading ‘stuff’ here that is not fact regarding gas. So ….

    Natural gas has been the dominant driver of global emission since 2012. While it releases ½ the CO2 when it is burned for electricity compared with coal, the gathering and distribution of natural gas, and it’s escape from oil wells, creates an even more powerful means of trapping heat in the atmosphere because of methane, the primary component of natural gas. “In the first two decades after its release, methane is 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide. We must address both types of emissions if we want to effectively reduce the impact of climate change.” (EDF and the work of Cornell professor)

    On the question of the expense of continuing natural gas builds … vs. clean energy …
    By 2035, it will be more expensive to run 90% of gas plants being proposed in the U.S. than it will be to build new wind and solar farms equipped with storage systems, according to a report from the Rocky Mountain Institute. It will happen so quickly that gas plants now on the drawing boards will become uneconomical before their owners finish paying for them, the study said.

    • “America-is-awash-with-natural-gas”. There is oversupply in Europe and Asia, oversupply everywhere.
    • Demand is flat. Utilities are over-purchasing gas. They will soon be left with stranded assets like those now plaguing the coal industry.
    • Appalachian frackers have never seen positive cash flows. Shares in Appalachia companies have plummeted.
    • Chevron is writing-off $5-6 billion, after-tax, in shale assets in Appalachia and has begun sales effort for its Appalachian holdings.

    The biggest savings can be found is building retrofits …
    In the US, utility efficiency programs delivered 30M MW/hrs of energy savings in 2017 at the cost of 2 cents/KWhr, and 12,000MWs of peak demand.

    Deutsche Bank and The Rockefeller Institute released a report demonstrating the massive energy savings potential of green retrofits available from U.S. buildings. The study estimates the buildings could save $1 trillion in energy over 10 year period. The study estimates that a $279 billion investment is required to achieve these savings.
    NB … that $279 “cost” is not really a cost. It is an investment that saves money in the future.

    RETROFIT Chicago Property management is targeting at least 20% reduction in energy consumption within the next five years

    The decline in utilization of pipelines too and will lead to rising unit cost, paid for by captive utility customers.

    • What Jane is saying about the potency of gas with regard to GHG, I have heard also.

      But I don’t think we have a viable approach without gas.

      Nukes are not compatabile with wind/solar because Nukes cannot vary their generation in concert with solar/wind.

      If the sun gets clouded over during the day – what can make up for the shortfall? The nukes can’t do it.

      I think it’s vitally important than the folks that are advocating green have a viable approach and if they do not – it’s going to discredit renewables.

      • I am not sure when we can do away with natural gas but from my reading I do not believe that here in VA we are looking past central generation toward how much fossil fuel can be replaced by building retrofits, microgrids that have the ability to combine a variety of non-fossil resources including demand response, and what TMT is saying, and what Tom has repeatedly said, about separating the grid from generation in the rules.

        That 30% grid number was what the grid could handle as is … not what a reconfigured grid can handle.

        And do check out rmi.org for their report on Repowering Paradise .. about what Hawaii is up too

        • I think demand response is real but doubt it can handle all of the demand shortfalls.

          Hawaii has the same problems other islands have which is how do you power the grid when wind/solar are not enough? Most all of them use diesel fuel.

          here’s what Hawaii’s electricity generation looks like:

          Hawaii will likely never have nukes it’s going to require a LOT more wind/solar to displace fossil fuels and even then – there will be times when they will still have to burn diesel.

          • That is where they are now … but Hawaii has a plan they call the 100% ‘moonshot’ that RMI has been involved in developing. The moonshot includes pieces already talked about that VA has done yet like ….
            • Accommodate record levels of rooftop solar
            • Reinventing the grid
            • A re-imagined utility business model

          • That does apply to all of the islands. Kaua’i provides 65% of their electricity from two solar/battery facilities which allow them to serve the peak late-evening load with solar. It is only the overnight load that must be served by the naphtha combined cycle unit and diesels.

            The chart above is just for the islands served by the investor-owned utility.

  6. Green jobs or featherbedding. No one works unless there are taxpayers or purchasers to pay taxes or prices that cover the costs of the employees. If energy is competitive, consumers can chose from which supplier to purchase power. If all we get is green energy from Dominion at inflated prices, all these green jobs are featherbedding.

    Generation needs to be split from distribution and be provided entirely outside the rate base and revenue requirement calculation.

  7. Dominion is savvy. They recognize the shift in public sentiment and intend to profit from it.

    They want to own or control nearly all of the wind and solar facilities in Virginia. They would put the projects in the ratebase and make billions in added profits. It doesn’t have to be done this way. The utility produces no added value by doing this, just added profits. Clean energy projects owned and operated by independent developers could sell their output to the utility or others at a much lower price that what ratepayers will have to pay with the RACs included.

    Dominion intends to profit from the school bus program by giving away ratepayers money for free, but at a guaranteed profit for the utility.

    The hog waste program takes a bad problem and makes it less bad. When the methane is burned it will still release CO2.

    The Atlantic Coast Pipeline would have 28 years to pay all of its costs and make a profit before the 2050 cutoff arrives. Its rates are currently set assuming a 40 year amortization period. A bad idea just got worse. Maybe this is Dominion’s way of making a graceful exit. They can say they are willing to forego a valuable project in order serve the greater good.

    All of this hoopla is still a top-down, expensive way of dealing with an issue that can be handled more easily and less expensively in other ways. The old guard still wants to control and profit from whatever is happening.

  8. Perhaps I’ve got it muddled (again), but it seems like I’ve heard here that anything that Dominion builds – including solar – is essentially controlled by PJM which decides when and where it gets dispatched.

    True?

    • Renewables are non-dispatchable and have a separate auction at PJM. Since they have no fuel cost, there is a zero marginal cost of generation. This means they are utilized whenever they are available. If more sunshine or wind causes a rise in renewable contributions that exceed demand, PJM would shutdown the most expensive conventional unit to balance supply with demand.

      In California, with so much sunshine and so many renewable sources there are times of the day when renewable output can exceed demand, especially in spring and fall. California is not well connected to other states like we are east of the Mississippi. So on these occasions some renewable facilities have to shed their supply.

      We are far from that here. By the time we have an amount of renewable generation that could cause that sort of issue, advances in storage, demand response and other technologies will be available to deal with it.

  9. The paradox here is that, as the reality of the limitations of renewables become plainer to more and more people, including climate change proponents, the politics of the subject become fiercer to the ideologue leftist politicians in Virginia, hence most special interests of all stripes, now scramble to make money and gain power from the disconnect between reality and Virginia politics.

    Jim’s post highlights this point as it applies to Dominion. Wattssupwiththat below highlights other side of the same coin:

    https://wattsupwiththat.com/2020/02/11/climate-science-does-an-about-face-dials-back-the-worst-case-scenario/

    Since this paradox now applies to most political issues in the state, the great losers in the state will be its citizens, whether individuals, groups, or corporate, while the winners will be those special interests that shrew enough to see and grab the advantage that arises from the disconnect.

    • Tom, as to your comment below, and as we have discussed so many times here over the years, I keep waiting for “the promise of renewables” that never seems to arrive as promised.

      So, to stay grounded in reality, instead of trying to stand on wishful thinking, hopes and dreams, I have always had to go back to the charts such as Chart #2 found at:

      https://wattsupwiththat.com/2020/02/11/climate-science-does-an-about-face-dials-back-the-worst-case-scenario/

      Hopefully some day reality will change for the better. But if past be prologue, I doubt that reality will change in any meaningful way as concerns energy’s impact on climate change, though, if past be prologue, surely the price of energy will go thought to roof, crushing poor and middle class who work, as we push too hard our fool’s errand that grossly enriches a few.

      • Reed, I’m not even addressing the climate change issue. I am talking about the opportunity to relieve the pressure of high energy prices on the poor and middle class, as well as to provide affordable energy to families and businesses throughout the state. The big build-out of conventional generation over the past decade has raised energy prices for people in Virginia. Luckily, the surplus of gas supply has softened the higher prices that the new RACs have caused.

        Once gas supply comes in balance with demand, gas prices will rise and so will utility bills.

        That is the promise I see in the new energy technologies. The lower prices are real. Even Dominion has admitted to the SCC that they are the lowest cost method of generating electricity in Virginia today.

        Their business model is threatened by that, which is why they want to own and control it all. But that will only drive up the price of energy, although it will add to utility profits. That its why I am campaigning so hard to keep new technologies, that do not require a a utility to build them to achieve the lowest cost, to be kept out of the ratebase.

        I think we share a common goal – to achieve a long-term, reliable supply of electricity at the lowest cost. You don’t yet have the confidence that renewables can contribute to that here in Virginia. I have been trying to point out that utilities and state regulators throughout the US have a different opinion and have supported the use of renewables in many other states.

    • Reed,
      Moving off fossil fuel is not just about climate change, although that is very important. If we stop using natural gas, as well as coal, we can have a faster impact on the accumulated GHG in the atmosphere, and therefore on climate change. Methane dissipates within 10-15 years compared to the 100-year atmospheric life of CO2.

      Addition benefits … the clean energy economy will save monies because the air and water will not be in constant danger. That teaspoon of mercury that can pollute a lake will be gone and the health effects, particularly of particulants, will save money as well as health. No more coal ash ponds to be further built up and no more lawsuits from the states to our North for being a bad neighbor because of the pollution we send them in the air.

      In addition, there is a problem with model comparisons as the rationale for ‘not to worry’. That problem is: we are talking about a complex system, and therefore there is a lot of uncertainty in any model prediction. However, the “popular belief that uncertainty undermines the case for taking seriously the case for the ‘climate crisis’ scientists tell us we face is the opposite of the truth.

      Properly understood, … uncertainty radically underscores the case and may even constitute it.” So all that complex model uncertainty should make us more cautious, not less so regarding the potential impacts of climate change.

  10. Reed, you must not be reading the utility industry information. It is the promise of renewables, rather than the limitations, that is becoming plainer. But you are right, there are a number of factors that must be considered when renewables provide a greater portion of our energy.

    This also occurred in the 1970s and 80s when the great surge in building nuclear units brought a new set of problems. The first large pumped storage projects were developed and power pooling agreements, now overseen by organizations such as PJM, had to be developed to make sure that the excess generation of the nukes at night could be utilized somehow without over-stressing the grid or harming plant operation.

    Each era brings its own challenges. Our task is to optimize the use of clean, low-cost energy technologies in ways that not only maintain, but enhance reliability.

  11. renewables if they don’t do anything else – will allow us to burn less expensive fuel for electricity – when those renewables are available.

    This is really the same economics that led to gas replacing coal.

    Now, solar/wind can replace gas – when it is available. The fact that it’s not available 100% therefore not of value misses the point even at 30%, it is a valuable fuel that negates the needs to burn more expensive fuel.

    I will say this – if Dominion can produce electricity at a granted profit from other fuels then why is it wrong for them to expect to be able to make a profit producing electricity from wind/solar fuel?

    That part I’m not understanding.

    Tom has said before that however we go forward, we need to keep Dominion whole – to continue their role as maintainer of the grid – for a fair profit.

    How about someone try to educate me on that aspect?

  12. This is all so complex. It involves massive sums of money. The one number that jumps out is the 20% hike in utility bills. So many interacting moving parts. Why do I feel less free the more green Virginia becomes? Is it worth the cost?

  13. The only thing green that Dominion or the General Assembly understands is little pieces of paper with pictures of dead presidents. As TomH says, Dominion is savvy. They’ll happily toe the line desired by the wild eyed environmentalists recently elected to our General Assembly so long as Slick Dick Saslaw and Tricky Tommy Norment make sure that all risks go to the ratepayers while all profits accrue to Dominion’s executives and shareholders.

  14. “Why do I feel less free the more green Virginia becomes?”

    Franz Kafka gives us the answer.

    To understand what is going on in Virginia today, read Kafka’s novels – The Trial and The Metamorphosis – wherein he describes our world today where up is down, and down is up.

    For here in Virginia today, unless you cut through the fog of lies, falsehoods, spin and propaganda, nothing is ever as it seems. It has been on steroids since 2012, a place full of hoaxes and deceptions. Take UVA of 2014 and Charlottesville of 2017, first Jackie then the riots, and now the great green energy hoax, where up is down and down up.

    Why Green Energy? Its complexity is perfect hiding place for ideologies, spin and propaganda of a Kafkaesque World.

    We’d been dealing here with the complexity for a decade, and finally broke through the fog some four years ago, though the lies and obfuscations have been going on since the 1970s, given the illicit success of the Love Canal hoax whose success put the leftists here on hoax steroids, one great hoax after another. It’s the only way the leftist have left to cling to power, given the abysmal failure of their policies and philosophies as solutions to anything, as shown so vividly by Kafka, who died in 1924.

    But the sickness he so brilliantly and vividly describes never dies. Again and again it blinds people into running mindless herds, that tumble over cliffs to their deaths again, and again. It’s been going on like since 19th Century. Millions upon Millions have died.

    • Good Heavens … do tell us what facts you have to prove that those pictures of the river burning I saw in the news way back when were a hoax.

      • True believers are victimized too. Read the most cited liberal intellectual of all time Cass Sunstein to be liberated by truth some forty years after the hoax.

        See: https://chicagounbound.uchicago.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1069&context=law_and_economics

        • I have evidently mixed up Love Canal and the Cleveland River that burned and “started a revolution”. Sorry.

          The paper’s primary conclusion concerning his description of Love Canal was that the federal government put too much money into the Superfund, a law that was passed with the help of the notoriety surrounding Love Canal.

          It is not at all clear exactly what the facts were, but the here is what the EPA Administrator of EPA Region 2, 1977-1979 found on a visit there …

          “The explosion was triggered by a record amount of rainfall. Shortly thereafter, the leaching began. I visited the canal area at that time. Corroding waste-disposal drums could be seen breaking up through the grounds of backyards. Trees and gardens were turning black and dying. One entire swimming pool had been had been popped up from its foundation, afloat now on a small sea of chemicals. Puddles of noxious substances were pointed out to me by the residents. Some of these puddles were in their yards, some were in their basements, others yet were on the school grounds. Everywhere the air had a faint, choking smell. Children returned from play with burns on their hands and faces.”

          “Of the chemicals which comprise the brew seeping through the ground and into homes at Love Canal, one of the most prevalent is benzene — a known human carcinogen, and one detected in high concentrations. ”

          So, I don’t see the issue as one of “cascades”, but as one of the lack of regulation required for disposal of toxic waste from industry, a problem we still have. Look at those coal ash dumps.
          I also think that the ‘cascades’ occurred when there was not an immediate response to what had happened. It took a lot of political notoriety to force a solution. That search for a solution … to the bubbling up of the toxic waste and it rotting containers in back yards … required placing blame on both the company that left and only covered up the dump, and the state that allowed the dump to be simply covered over and housing built on the site.

          I hope you might be ‘liberated’ by my alternative view.

          • Reed Fawell 3rd

            Jane – The EPA TOOK THE BATE HOOK, LINE AND SINKER!!!

            All of which is very typical. The whole government got taken to cleaner which is the point of Cass’s study. And most knew it at the time, at least most all the lawyers I knew in the field, a gigantic boondoggle. All of which is not to say some good was not done, but that the waste was on a vast scale and the enviros went hog wild, milking the boondoggle for all it was worth. And have been doing it ever since.

          • Maybe … but that was not the point. The point you made and I contradicted was that Love Canal was all a lie. There was a factual basis to what happened as a result of allowing toxic waste to just be dumped and covered up. Whether or not Superfund was right was not the question. I agreed that ‘cascades’ occurred after the fact because no action was taken right away to fix the problem. I did not agree, and neither did Sunstein, that there shouldn’t be regulation of the disposal of toxic waste.
            Nor is anyone saying that anyone went hog wild. It took the major political fuss to get toxic waste regulated at all.

          • Reed Fawell 3rd

            You are grossly representing his article. This is very reason the leftist enviros have been trying to deep six his article ever since it was published. So what else is new in leftist world? Like I said above, in leftist world up is down, and down is up. Hence we got the Green New Deal that will bankrupt the nation and destroy the Environment if enacted.

            For example see:
            https://www.heartland.org/_template-assets/documents/publications/EnviHarmsPB.pdf

          • First …that article was published in 1999! That’s 20 years ago!

            Second, there you go again. Making negative generalized statements without any facts or explanation. Did you actually read the article?

  15. The superfund sites are a LOSE_LOSE. No matter what is done the critics emerge to castigate the efforts as … too late, too expensive, too wrong.. you name it… it’s the Conservatives favorite whipping boy.

  16. Reed … Now you have changed the subject … YIKES!

    That Heartland author has a resume … He ain’t no scientist!
    Paul Augustin Driessen (born 1940) is a Dutch film director, animator and writer. His short films have won more than fifty prizes all over the world, including the Life Achievement Awards at both Ottawa and Zagreb animation festivals, and a 1999 and 1980 Oscar nomination for 3 Misses and Elbowing .
    Now he is the senior policy adviser for the Committee for A Constructive Tomorrow (CFACT), which is sponsoring the All Pain No Gain petition against global-warming hype, at Heartland. WHOA! And you are complaining about bias?

    This policy brief says the NGD ignores the environmental damage that would result from expanded use of renewable energy mandated … another WOW!

    The main argument is excessive land use, bats and birds, high voltage transmission lines, use of toxic materials and disposal of panels …
    He is missing the basics of just what this clean energy economy is all about. He actually complains about the loss of energy as it travels on transmission lines and so evidently doesn’t get the primary premise that electricity will no longer only be centralized generated now that technology allows us to generate energy close to end use.

    We have already talked about birds and windows … He ends with the cost of retrofitting buildings but doesn’t acknowledge that the retrofits cut energy use enough for a rapid payback.
    Try reading IEEFA.org or BNEF… bloomberg.net. They both chronicle the green energy economy, but they use real numbers.

  17. Please, Jane, what other choices in life you make, please don’t stop giving us your views on Bacon’s Rebellion. They are a great source of enlightenment.

Leave a Reply