The Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI), an organization advocating market-based solutions to environmental issues, has taken a close look at Dominion Energy’s pledge to become a “net-zero” company by 2050. The Institute sees the company’s commitment as a positive step forward, but concludes there is less than meets the eye.
Dominion’s net-zero pledge is to significantly curtail CO2 and methane emissions from its gas-pipeline and electricity-generating operations, and to offset what remains through outside initiatives, such as capturing methane from hog and dairy farms. (For background see, “Has Dominion Gone Full Climate Change Warrior?”)
On the positive side, RMI describes Dominion’s plan as “a novel development” that extends beyond CO2, which gets most of the attention as a greenhouse gas, by addressing leaks of methane, a more powerful greenhouse gas, from its roughly 100,000 miles of gas pipelines. Also worthy is the promise to invest hundreds of millions of dollars capturing methane from farm production, a source that has received little attention to date.
However, concludes the think tank, “It is important to not let Dominion’s work on methane leaks cloud larger issues. The utility’s plan to reach net zero is not the same as the zero-carbon pledges of electric utilities. … Even if Dominion plugs all the leaks in its transmission and distribution networks, its operations will still result in emissions at the point of combustion.”
Moreover, says RMI, Dominion’s commitment does not take into account methane emissions associated gas production, which account for 50% of the methane problem in the oil and gas value chain. Plugging leaks from pipelines will do nothing to plug leaks from gas wells served by those pipelines.
Bacon’s bottom line: Dominion is trying to thread the needle between appeasing environmentalists and preserving its huge investment in natural gas collection, transportation, distribution, and combustion. The company is pivoting decisively away from coal to renewables such as wind and solar, while trying to hang onto its investment in nuclear and natural gas.
Environmentalists who see climate change as an existential threat to mankind are not likely to back off their assault on natural gas. But Dominion has seen the same polls that the rest of us have: While the public is concerned about climate change and global warming in the abstract, the issue ranks relatively low in their list of priorities. Issues relating to jobs, prosperity, immigration, healthcare, and government rank higher.
And even public-priority polls tell us only so much. While the polls do document a generalized, free-floating anxiety about climate change, they reveal nothing about the trade-offs people are willing to make in order to combat it. If polls asked the public how they would rank “safeguarding the electric grid from collapse” or, in a less leading manner, “protecting the reliability and integrity of the electric grid,” I’m betting they’d give it a high priority.
There’s also the question of how much more people are willing to pay for their electricity. Asking the question, “Would you be willing to pay 20% bigger electricity bills to help fight climate change” (the percentage increase Virginians can expect from the latest iteration of the state’s clean power plan) would put a price tag on the issue that Gallup polls do not.
The cost of electric power is not a matter of tremendous concern to Dominion. If rates go up in order to reach the utopian goal of a zero-carbon electric grid by 2050, that’s not the company’s problem. On the other hand, Dominion is very much committed to maintaining the reliability of the electric grid. The mission of “keeping the lights on” is a deeply ingrained part of the corporate culture. Until someone develops battery storage technology that can provide backup for fitful solar and wind production, the company has no choice but to stick with natural gas. Dominion can compromise with environmentalists, but only so much without jeopardizing that mission. In the meantime, it’s good P.R. to look as green as it possibly can, even if groups like RMI see through the spin.There are currently no comments highlighted.