Rare SCC Deadlock Sinks Dominion’s Energy Plan

By Steve Haner

The year long debate over Dominion Energy Virginia’s proposed integrated resource plan, which threw climate catastrophe activists into a frenzy because it added a new natural gas plant, is ending with no decision.  Two State Corporation Commission judges split on whether to approve it, basically a win for the anti-fossil fuel forces.

In December, a hearing officer assigned to study the case had ruled that Dominion’s plan should be rejected because it included the expansion of gas generation, when the anti-natural gas forces in the General Assembly had passed laws against that 2020 and 2021.  Those laws did include provisions for maintaining or adding fossil fuel generation on the basis of a threat to reliability, but only under limited circumstances.

The hearing officer’s report was just a recommendation to the actual commissioners, and noted the final opinion could go the other way.  It didn’t.

On February 1, two brief notifications appeared on the case file.  One was from retired SCC member James C. Dimitri, who was sitting in to create a quorum on the case.  He wrote: “In this proceeding I would have found that the 2023 Integrated Resource Plan is reasonable and in the public interest for the purpose of a general planning document…”

The other notice was unsigned and reported: “The State Corporation Commission, having not reached a majority decision in this matter, will not “make a determination within nine months after the date of filing” as set forth in Code § 56-599.”

Unstated but implied is that Commissioner Jehmal Hudson, who is the only active member of the panel until two new members just elected are sworn in, disagreed with Dimitri and agreed with the hearing examiner.  That resulted in a 1-1 tie, and no final order.  But if and when these issues rise again, and if Dominion files an actual application to build the proposed combustion turbine gas plant, Hudson will be on the case and Dimitri will not.

The unusual (but not unprecedented) warmth this winter should not let Virginians forget the bitter cold snap of December 2022.  In a final filing responding to the hearing officer’s opinion, Dominion put it front and center as its justification for planning additional use of natural gas:

Dual-fuel CTs (combustion turbines), like those included in Alternative Plans B and D, are currently the most cost-effective and reliable resource to meet a future long-duration winter event or storage shortage. The significant increase in the load forecast, coupled with events like Winter Storm Elliott, have highlighted the need for always available, dispatchable generation to serve the Company’s customers and ensure grid reliability.

The Company’s fleet performed well during the peak demand of Winter Storm Elliott, with the Company’s thermal resources and market purchases contributing almost all of the Company’s generation while existing renewable resources contributed very little. In fact, out of an existing 2,300 MW of renewable resources on the Company’s system, only 12 MW of wind contributed to the Company’s needs during Winter Storm Elliott’s peak, which occurred between 7:00 and 8:00 am on December 24, 2022.

Obviously, the 12 megawatts of wind mentioned are the two “demonstration” turbines already in the water off Virginia Beach.  And True Believers in the Cult of Net Zero will point out many more such turbines are coming.  But the fickle weather gods are in control, they delight in frustrating the Net Zero cult, and 5,200 MW of wind is worthless on a windless day.  In the Virginia economy the Net Zeros are rapidly building, no wind, no sun = no juice.  (Or at least not enough.)

Since it was first announced by two senior Democrats in the Virginia Senate that they planned a summit on the clean energy laws later this year, there have been subsequent signs they are serious. They keep bringing it up.  But whether they have sufficiently awakened to the very real danger now facing Virginia is not clear.  Even a symbolic finding from the SCC that Dominion is pointing to a real risk would have helped immensely.

When the summit comes, expect huge pressure to make those clean energy laws tighter, to remove even the hint of a loophole for natural gas that allowed Dominion to think it might build such a new plant.  As bad as things are, never underestimate the power of government to make it much worse.