coal plant burnsBy Peter Galuszka

It seems like two steps forward and one step back. That’s about the best I can come up with for Governor Terry McAuliffe’s new energy plan for Virginia.

On the two steps forward side, McAuliffe is pushing for more wind power and relaxing regulations to make it easier to back solar, such as allowing towns to create their own solar panel farms near their city limits.

The one step back is the usual commitment to energy sources of days before, such as a nuclear, offshore drilling for oil, coal and natural gas. That’s what former Governo Bob McDonnell wanted with his pipe dream of making Virginia “The Energy Capital of the East Coast.”

The biggest problem with the McAuliffe plan is that it dodges the issue of making Virginia’s Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) mandatory. I asked Brian Coy, his press spokesman about this, and he said that the governor sees that as something for the future.

Maybe better late than never, but the fact that Virginia has always bowed to the power of Big Energy and declined to make mandatory the conversion of a certain amount of electricity generation to renewable sources such as wind, solar, geothermal and hydroelectric.

Plain and simple, that is why Virginia gets an embarrassingly low six percent of its power from renewables and is far behind states like Maryland and North Carolina that have mandatory standards. One wonders why Virginia seems so exceptional. The only answer that I can come up with is that Old Energy firms such as utility Dominion and coal baron Alpha Natural Resources are huge contributors to political candidates of both stripes.

Dominion praised the governor’s efforts and the Sierra Club had lukewarm approval.

The problem with shifting to renewables is that not making it mandatory by law gives Big Fossil and Nuclear an immediate price advantage. Coal is deadly, messy and is a major contributor to climate change. A few years ago, there might have been a greater push towards wind and solar to replace it. But hydraulic fracking came along, bringing a big boost to natural gas from hard-to-reach geologic formations.

Thus, gas pushed out coal (although conservative Big Fossil types claim it is Barack Obama’s over-regulation but that just ain’t so) on economic terms. It has probably delayed advanced nuclear technology and most certainly has delayed solar and wind. They are expensive now but won’t be in the future, so fracked gas’s great advantages won’t last forever.

Don’t believe me? Check out historical data on gas prices.

McAuliffe, meanwhile, is pushing such dubious projects as a 550-mile-long gas pipeline running over the tops of pristine and sensitive mountaintops and through lots of small towns that don’t have big corporate clout to change pipeline routes.

One more step back.

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7 responses to “McAuliffe Dodges Mandatory Renewable Energy”

  1. Is this really a step back? I have designed many solar electric systems. The cost of the electricity produced is about three times that of fossil/nuclear systems. Do you care? I have also designed over 100 solar heating systems. Solar heating is extremely expensive, except for supplying hot water, where it is still more expensive. Do you care? Wind power is similarly expensive, even in the best of circumstances. Waiting until solar or wind is more cost competitive seems to be a good idea. (Solar electric is cost effective for remote applications such as railroad crossings and road signs.)

  2. I think if you could/would put a price on blasting off mountaintops and polluting streams with acid and raining mercury down on the landscape so that people cannot safely eat fish – you might find solar and wind so much more expensive.

    we essentially subsidize coal with damage to the environment – damage to, elderly and those with vulnerabilities to bad air quality.

    if you put coal plants closer to where the electricity is needed you’d see a lot more people damaged and probably cries for cleaner energy.. because “expensive” becomes more of an issue of the cost of electricity vs the cost to people’s health..

    however, I do support fracking – an nat gas electricity generation in concert with solar/wind … as the lesser of the evils with coal. I support nukes and the development of pebble-bed nukes that shut down when things go wrong rather than melt-down.

    and solar, by the way, has some big advantages that we take for granted and that is it DOES power our satellite systems .. despite it’s “expense” which does tell you that looking at the cost of the energy alone is not necessarily the right answer. where would we be without solar-powered GPS and weather satellites?

    next – are islands that don’t have native fossil fuels. How do you power them?

    finally – how do you get cell phone coverage in areas where there is no electric grid?

  3. TooManyTaxes Avatar

    Let’s not forget one of the “reasons” Japan attacked many nations and murdered many civilians in the last century was its need for gasoline. Many think the attack on Pearl Harbor was in reaction to FDR’s embargo on gasoline.

  4. My respect for McAuliffe increases. The Renewable Portfolio Standard is a horrible idea. All it does it lock not-ready-for-prime-time technologies into the rate base for 30 to 40 years at great expense to electricity consumers and cost to the economy. Just look at what’s happening in Germany! The cost of renewables is slowly coming down. We should use them when it makes economic sense to use them. At some point in the 5- to 15-year time horizon, it will make economic sense.

    1. I thought you were ardently opposed to hidden subsidies. Don’t you think that burning coal creates problems that are not paid for by the consumer of the coal-fired electricity?

      If the full costs of coal fired electricity were dded back into the cost per KWh I wonder whether alternate energy sources would look so expensive.

  5. I liked one element of McAuliffe’s plan to give Plug-In cars a $2500 tax credit. Our car taxes in NoVa are so high, that this modest amount mainly off-sets the excess car taxes that a more expensive green car has to pay. I’d rather fix the car tax system, but OK this is one work-around. I feel VA has been lagging on improved car sales due to failure to make new car purchases more attractive. But once again McAuliffe has addressed an issue that I also feel is important re: economy.

    So right now, the Governor is doing well by me.

    As far as the mandated Renewables for electric power, I am already on record on the Blue Virginia/Bacons Rebellion joint article on this topic: right now I am satisfied with Virginia’s voluntary plans. Some states (MD) have made commitments that frankly seem impossible to me. I am always confused when VA gets slammed vs. MD on clean power, because I think MD burns way more coal than we do here. I know we import power, but if you look at coal burned in VA its only 20% of our in-state mix…last time I looked MD was over 40%.

  6. TooManyTaxes Avatar

    How much lobbying by those who have an economic interest in renewables has taken place? Is there any difference between lobbying to protect the value of existing capital investment and lobbying to make new capital investment more valuable? I think not. It shouldn’t make any difference which side you are on; lobbying is lobbying. One set of rules.

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