More Gas in Dominion's Electric Power Future

The combined cycle process
The combined cycle process. Image credit: Mitsubishi Hitachi Power Systems

by James A. Bacon

Dominion Virginia Power asked the State Corporate Commission yesterday for regulatory approval to build a $1.3 billion natural gas-fired power station in Greensville County. The station will generate about 1,600 megawatts, a substantial addition to the power company’s existing 17,600 megawatt fleet.

Combined-cycle technology represents an advance over older gas-fired facilities by running waste heat through a second generator to create additional electricity. The process extracts more heat from a cubic foot of gas and emits less carbon dioxide per unit of energy generated. The station also will have lower water usage and wastewater discharge, Dominion says.

“Our analysis shows that over the life of this station our customers should save more than $2 billion versus the projected cost for purchasing the same amount of power for customers off the regional power grid,” said David Christian, CEO of Dominion Generation in a press statement. “It will be highly efficient, low cost and very reliable. It will also have excellent environmental attributes and an extremely favorable location for fuel and transmission service.”

In a statement released yesterday, a coalition of four environmental groups addressed Dominion’s 2015 Integrated Resource Plan (IRP), a 15-year outlook of the company’s fuel and facility mix. The statement did not mention the Brunswick facility directly but listed three principles for achieving the objectives of the Environmental Protection Agency’s draft Clean Power Plan, which sets a preliminary target of 38% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2030. The statement called for full disclosure of the company’s carbon emissions, greater attention to Governor Terry McAuliffe’s goal of reducing energy consumption 10% by 2020, and greater emphasis on renewable energy.

At least one of the environmental groups, the Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club, is on record opposing an earlier gas-fired plant proposed by Dominion in Brunswick County. “Relying more heavily on natural gas is not how we want to power our state. Energy efficiency is cheaper, cleaner, and more reliable than gas-fired power plants and provides 21st century jobs.”

Both the Brunswick and Greensville plants are included in all scenarios of Dominion’s 2015 IRP. That plan laid out a low-cost scenario, which would not meet EPA goals, as the basis for cost comparison, and proposed four alternate scenarios emphasizing different fuels, including solar, wind, nuclear and natural gas co-fire to supplement existing coal-fired plants. The following elements are common to all four scenarios:

  • The natural gas-fired, combined-cycle Brunswick Power Station, with a generating capacity of nearly 1.7 MW, to be completed in 2016.
  • A second combined-cycle plant in Greensville County, with a generating capacity of nearly 1.6 MW, to be completed in 2019.
  • Retrofit of the 790 MW oil-fired unit 5 at Possum Point Power Station with pollution controls to reduce nitrogen oxide emissions.
  • Retirement of Yorktown Power Station’s two coal-fired units with a combined generating capacity of 320 MW by 2016.

Dominion also envisions integrating more solar, wind and energy efficiency into its long-range plans. These initiatives include:

  • 400 MW (nominal capacity) of company-owned solar capacity, including the announced 20 MW Remington Solar facility by 2020.
  • 400 MW (nominal capacity) of solar capacity owned by non-utility generators (NUGs) by 2017.
  • 16 MW (nominal capacity) installed on customers’ property through the Solar Partnership Program.
  • 12 MW (nominal capacity) Virginia Offshore Wind Technology Advancement Project by 2019.
  • 611 MW reduction in peak demand through implementation of demand-side management programs by 2030.

The most cost-effective green energy alternative on a risk-adjusted basis is solar power, Dominion concluded in its IRP. (See “Here Comes the Sun.”) However, the report emphasized that assessment does not take into account the expense associated with upgrading the power grid to handle rapid fluctuations in supply caused by clouds. The IRP also concluded that wind power was the most expensive of the four alternatives.

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  1. LarrytheG Avatar

    I don’t get the wind . it seems far more expensive than what you see in other literature…

    I also think the Sierra Club does not represent all greenies… for instance, the Environmental Defense Fund – supports gas.

    Still not clear where baseload for Southern Va comes from if the two gas fired plants are “peaker” plants.

    and also not clear if Surry is going to power the north side of the James over powerlines near Jamestown – that that side of the James is going to use for peak load… are there gas-fired peaker plants proposed for Hampton ?

    Finally – this plan from Dominion and it’s thoughtful tone makes the SCC utterings on the CPP sound down right histrionic Screaming meemie-ish.

    Dominion actually has a plan – a strategy that does not shout that Obama is a human-hating socialist conducting a shameful job-killing war on coal.


    1. TBill Avatar

      There are 2 kinds of wind: on-shore and off-shore. The on-shore version is cost-effective and sometimes competitive with natural gas in favorable wind situations. Unfortunately we do not seem to have too many favorable wind situations in Va., but nothing stops us from building on-shore wind out-of-state, as far as I know. The off-shore wind in the ocean is a whole different animal, much more costly to build.

      I am a natural gas advocate for many years. So the news from Dominion sounds good to me on the surface. There are natural gas plants (not so efficient and clean) and then there are the highly efficient and cleanest technology natural gas plants. Believe we need to be heading in the latter direction.

      I would have to study Dominion’s plans in more detail to see if I thought the design was state-of-the-art top notch. Also utilities tend to like huge plants too big.

      1. LarrytheG Avatar

        @Tbill – it would seem to be more “logical” to build smaller but more geographically distributed plants – to not only increase reliability and reduce single-point failures but load-balance if you have solar/wind inputs.

        is it money that’s the issue.. capital or operational or both?

  2. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
    Reed Fawell 3rd

    Gas fired energy plants have long been far cleaner (must less carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and sulfur oxides) than coal or oil ones.

    So gas fired plants has long been considered an important bridge to getting to what all hope to be totally clean air energy solutions. Hence the growing abundance of gas production the the US and Canada should be deemed a great blessing. It’s an unexpected opportunity to reduce baseline coal and oil fired plants faster at less cost and dislocation than had been expected.

    The very recent technology advances in these new gas fired plants that will “save customers over the life of the plants $2 billion versus the projected cost for purchasing the same amount of power for customers off the regional power grid) and further reduce carbon dioxide (according to Dominion per Jim’s article) sounds like pretty good and unexpected news.

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