Apologies to Mr. Dickens
Apologies to Mr. Dickens

By Peter Galuszka

Call it a tale of two Virginias – at least when it comes to renewable energy.

One is the state’s traditional political and business elite, including Dominion Resources and large manufacturers, the State Corporation Commission and others.

They insist that the state must stick with big, base-loaded electricity generating plants like nuclear and natural gas – not so much solar and wind –to ensure that prices for business are kept low. Without this, recruiting firms may be difficult.

The other is a collection of huge, Web-based firms that state recruiters would give an eyetooth to snag. They include Amazon, Google, Facebook and others that tend to have roots on the West Coast where thinking about energy is a bit different.

Besides the Internet, what they have in common is that they all vow to use 100 per cent of their electricity from renewable sources. What’s more, to achieve this goal, all are investing millions in their own renewable power plants. They are bypassing traditional utilities like Dominion which have been sluggish in moving to wind and solar.

So, you have a strange dichotomy. Older business groups are saying that the proposed federal Clean Power Plan should be throttled because it would rely on expensive renewables that would drive away new business. Meanwhile, the most successful and younger Web-based firms obviously aren’t buying that argument.

I have a story about this in this week’s Style Weekly.

In Virginia, the trend is evidenced by Amazon Web Services, which sells time on its cloud-computing network to other firms. It is joining a Spanish company, Iberdola Renewables LLC, in building a 208-megawatt wind farm on 22,000 acres in northeastern North Carolina, just as few miles from the Virginia border. Three weeks earlier, on June 18, Amazon announced it plans a 170-megawatt solar farm in Accomack County on the Eastern Shore.

Dominion, which has renewable projects in California, Utah and Indiana and the beginnings of some small ones in Virginia, says it is not part of the projects. It could possibly get electricity indirectly from them. Amazon’s power will be sold on regional power grids to business and utilities.

When they complete such sales, the Net-focused firms will get renewable energy certificates that can be used to show that they have put as much renewable energy into the electricity grid as they have used, says Glen Besa, director of the Virginia chapter of the Sierra Club.

This will be especially important in Northern Virginia where there are masses of computer server farms used by Amazon and others. These centers used 500 megawatts of power in 2012 and demand is expected to double by 2017. Also, for years, the region has hosted such a large Internet infrastructure that at least half, perhaps 70 percent, of the Net’s traffic goes through there.

Part of the back story of this remarkable and utility-free push for renewables is that environmental groups are shaming modern, forward-looking firms like Amazon to do it.

Amazon Web Services was the target of criticism last year when Greenpeace surveyed how firms were embracing renewable energy. The report stated that the firm “provides the infrastructure for much of the Internet” but “remains among the dirtiest and least transparent companies” that is “far behind its major competitors.”

Dominion also got bashed in the report. Greenpeace says, “Unfortunately, Dominion’s generation mix is composed of almost entirely dirty energy sources.” Coal, nuclear and natural gas make up the vast majority of its power sources.

Its efforts to move to renewable sources have been modest at best. In regulatory filings, Dominion officials have complained that renewable energy, especially wind, is costly and unreliable although they include it in their long-term planning.

Dominion has plans for 20-megawatt solar farm near Remington in Fauquier County and is working on a wind farm on 2,600 acres the utility owns in southwestern Virginia. It has renewable projects out-of-state in California, Utah and Indiana. The output is a fraction of what Amazon plans in the region.

In a pilot offshore wind project, Dominion had planned on building two wind turbines capable of producing 12 megawatts of power in the waters of Virginia Beach. It later shut down the project, saying new studies revealed it would cost too much. It says it might continue with a scaled down project if it got extra funding, such as federal subsidies.

The utility says it must build more natural gas plants and perhaps build a third nuclear unit at its North Anna power plant to make sure that affordable electricity is always available for its customers.

As Amazon announced its new renewal projects, Greenpeace has changed its attitude about the company. Now it praises Amazon for its initiatives in Virginia and North Carolina. “I would like to think we have pushed Amazon in the right direction,” says David Pomerantz, a Greenpeace spokesman and analyst. He adds that Amazon has some work to do in making its energy policies “more transparent.”

One unresolved issue is that two neighboring states, North Carolina and Maryland, have “renewable portfolio standards” that require that set percentages of power produced there come from renewables. West Virginia had such a standard but has dropped it. In Virginia, the standard is voluntary, meaning that Dominion is under no legal obligation to move to solar or wind. It also gives the SCC, the power rate regulator, authority to nix new power proposals because they might cost consumers too much, providing Dominion with a handy excuse to move slowly on renewables.

Another matter, says Pomerantz, is whether Virginia’s legislators will enact “renewable energy friendly policies” or watch hundreds of millions of dollars in renewable project investments go to other states, such as North Carolina.

So, you have a separate reality. Traditionalists are saying that expensive renewables are driving away new business, while the most attractive new businesses are so unimpressed with traditionalist thinking that they are making big investments to promote renewable energy independently.

It isn’t the first like this has happened.

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  1. LarrytheG Avatar

    I think Peter has a relevant point and more than that – this is yet another illustration of the balance that Peter brings to BR – which is sorely needed when Bacon has veered so far right of late! 😉

    Peter – instead of fiddling incompetently with statistics, instead chooses to ask a very relevant question – Is Virginia truly “business-friendly” to younger companies like Amazon , GOOGLE, Facebook when they allow Dominion to chase them into other states?

    Is Va chained to older thinking business folks who are actually actively involved in making Virginia less friendly to newer disruptive technology companies?

    Good questions Peter!

  2. virginiagal2 Avatar

    There’s also the “disruptive change” wild card.

    I’d been thinking about a whole house generator, because we have occasional outages. Hadn’t gotten around to it, but kept thinking about it, because it seems like the power only goes out when it’s either miserably cold, oppressively hot, or I have an urgent deadline. So when I saw an article on the Tesla wall-based battery, I wasn’t thinking of it as something for a solar system, I was thinking of it as a generator substitute, for outages. Price sounds like it’s going to be competitive with generators, it would be quiet (as opposed to a generator), and the design is unobtrusive.

    BUT – and I haven’t bought this yet, it’s still at the idea phase – I started thinking, if I’m going to put in a big battery for outages, why not add a solar unit, either then or down the road?

    Now, I wasn’t thinking about solar til the good battery idea – I was looking for outage coverage and thinking generator – but if the design is good enough to cover outages, and it’s designed to work with solar or wind, all the sudden personal solar sounds like a better idea. If technology develops a really good battery system that stores power during off times, isn’t individual solar or wind then more of an option?

    Improved battery technology could make distributed power generation more practical. Not just for Dominion – but actually at the individual house level. It’s not just going to be Tesla, batteries are a hot research topic.

    Also, and off topic, has anyone else seen those little Ecocapsules? Teeny tiny prefab homes with built in solar and wind power generation. If they had AC, I’d be seriously tempted to put one on land as a weekend home.

  3. TooManyTaxes Avatar

    I agree with Larry that Peter (and Les) bring valuable perspective to BR. I also admire companies like Amazon that put their money where their mouth is.

    But most of us don’t have the economic power as Amazon or Facebook. We need inexpensive and reliable power. Just ask the local body shop or lower middle class family. Why doesn’t Bezos or Zuckerberg offer to provide their power to everyone at the same price as Dominion? (We’ll deal with the legal aspects after we see the offer.)

  4. I don’t hear Dominion saying nuclear is needed keep electric prices low. Rather nuclear is highly attractive to utilities and especially elected officials due to the billions of money it would get flowing into election campaigns, stock holders, host communities, management pockets, jobs, and banks. Rate payers would be on the hook to guarantee these money flows were maintained. On the other hand, I tend to feel natural gas and renewables are a bit less money flowing around than coal plant and nuclear plant construction.

    We should not kid ourselves into thinking the decision makers have the individual rate payers top in their minds. If anyone does have the rate payers in mind, what they are thinking is the rate payers will have to pay more money (but we won’t tell them that).

    For consumers, the EPA CPP should be a big RED ALERT because it’s going to give utilities and elected officials an “out” to say they were forced into some highly expensive mega projects.

    1. You have to draw a distinction between existing nuclear, the capital costs of which have been largely if not totally amortized, and new nuclear. If Dominion can safely (key word) extend the life of its existing plants, it’s hard to imagine that any form of electricity could compete with it. Nuclear’s operating costs are very low. Building a new plant is a very different story. New plants are exceedingly expensive, in the multiple billions of dollars. Two very different stories. Two very different implications for rate payers.

      1. Agreed. I am talking about forward future what we build.

  5. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    Somehow you do not address the most important point of this post — traditional versus new attitudes about renewables. Are you just going to avoid this inconvenient truth?

  6. LarrytheG Avatar

    re: what’s good for ratepayers vs what’s good for Dominion..

    a question –

    is it possible that what’s good for Dominion is not so good for other companies wanting to do business in Virginia?

    Is the preference towards what is good for Dominion – a disadvantage for Amazon , Google, as well as other disruptive technology companies?

    Not allowing other companies to build solar and wind and sell it at a fair price to the grid – ostensibly to “help” ratepayers .. is it really helping ratepayers if it allows Dominion to inhibit the development of newer technologies that ultimately will save ratepayers money?

    Think of taxi companies who don’t like Uber and who say that Uber will cost customers big bucks at peak demand while Taxi’s won’t (if you could get one)!

    Isn’t that what Dominion is doing right now – discouraging the development of other technologies that while more expensive now – need the ability to start and develop?

    @Vgal – I dunno about storage batteries but a whole-house genset running on propane will be providing you electricity at MORE than 50 cents a killowatt hour – so if you ran it the whole month – you’d likely have a bill well over $500 .. I’m skeptical about the battery technology at this point … but if it does come to be – Dominion is in big trouble and in turn – it’s ratepayers who don’t adopt battery/solar… the one’s that don’t are going to be picking up a bigger and bigger share of Dominion’s capital facilities “investment” .

    which leads me to this – who should be responsible for the capital facilities that Dominion builds? It’s investors or Va ratepayers?

    In the real world – investors would be hitched to the strategic plan of the company – not just it’s revenues.

    Ask the folks who invested in Kodak and Blockbuster Video that question.

    1. Cville Resident Avatar
      Cville Resident

      If the battery tech actually materializes, you’re right….Dominion would be in a heap of trouble.

      Very similar to the telcoms with all that infrastructure supporting a shrinking base of landline consumers.

    2. virginiagal2 Avatar

      Hi Larry –

      Whole house generators are used for power outages, either at homes or businesses. They don’t run continuously – only during outages, and typically they are tested periodically to make sure they run. Cost is several thousand installed. I have several friends who have bought them and more that want them but flinch at the cost – they are a luxury item.

      The battery packs are basically Tesla battery technology for electric cars, repurposed. Think of them as a really big UPS. They can be used with solar to provide power during the evening; they can be used to capture grid power off-peak, at lower rates, and use it during higher rate times; and they could be used for outages like a generator.

      This is current technology and deliveries are starting this summer. I’ll post links in a separate note as I’m not sure how BR handles notes with links.

      1. virginiagal2 Avatar

        Specs from Tesla

        Critique from Scientific American

        Summarizing relevant points – interesting move, long term implications more than immediate game changer – but storing your excess power, rather than selling it back, has long term implications for the grid and how utilities operate

      2. virginiagal2 Avatar

        I’m going to try one link at a time and see if that passes without moderation.

        Specs from Tesla

      3. virginiagal2 Avatar

        Critique from Scientific American

        Summarizing relevant points – interesting move, long term implications more than immediate game changer – but storing your excess power, rather than selling it back, has long term implications for the grid and how utilities operate

  7. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
    Reed Fawell 3rd

    If you are interested in facts rather than ideologies, then consider that:

    1/ Recently BILL GATES in the Financial Times opined that current renewable are “dead end Technologies. The cost of de-carbonization using today’s technologies is ‘beyond astronomical, Gates concluded.

    2/ GOOGLE engineers, after seven years of study, came to the same conclusion last year, wind and solar will not solve the carbon problem, and are not suitable for Google’s investment goals to find practical solutions.

    3/ Major industries are now leaving Europe for America and other places given the outrageous price of energy in Europe, BASF for example is shifting production to Louisiana and Malaysia to escape energy costs in Germany.

    Indeed Europes witless renewable mandates are now overburdening the grid system to the point they are now threatening to Shut Off the Lights in Bavaria.

    Indeed, trends based on reality instead of ideology are pushing gas to the forefront. A 2014 Brooking institute study estimated that replacing coal with modern combined-cycle gas turbines will cut 2.6 times more carbon-dioxide emissions that wind techology, and that such modern gas plants will reduce carbon emissions four time more than solar. Why? Because wind and solar are so inefficient. They require far more land and equipment that solar or wind to obtain the same amount of carbon reducing energy.

    These opinions are based on the current state of technologies.

    So if you are interested in facts rather than fiction read the following:






  8. LarrytheG Avatar

    re: ideology vs facts and reality.

    fair enough:

    Google invests $145 million in Kern County solar project

    Apple to build $848 million solar plant – USA Today

    Google & SolarCity Create $750 Million Solar Fund

    Walmart’s Renewable Energy Commitment
    Renewables and energy efficiency have long been part of Walmart’s strategy to operate at an everyday low cost, while also allowing Walmart to be a good steward of the environment.

    Working toward 100% renewable energy
    We’ve come a long way since our first on-site solar project in the U.S. in 2005 and our first large-scale wind power agreement in Mexico in 2006. At the end of 2013, we had more than 335 renewable energy projects in operation or under development across our global portfolio. These projects provide our facilities with more than 2.2 billion kilowatt hours (kWh) of renewable electricity annually. Together with renewable electricity from the grid, 24.2% of our electricity needs globally are supplied by renewable sources.

    We recently committed to driving the production or procurement of 7 billion kWh of renewable energy globally by Dec. 31, 2020. We’re already 32% of the way there. You can read about our approach to sourcing renewable energy here.

    The Roscoe Wind Farm in Roscoe, Texas, owned and operated by E.ON Climate & Renewables is one of the world’s largest capacity wind farms with 634 wind turbines and a total installed capacity of 781.5 MW. At the time of its completion in 2009, it was the largest wind farm in the world, surpassing the nearby 735.5 MW Horse Hollow Wind Energy Center.[1] In 2012, it was overtaken by California’s 1,020 MW Alta Wind Energy Center.
    Roscoe was constructed in four phases. The first phase, Roscoe, was constructed in 2008 and consists of 209 Mitsubishi 1 MW turbines. Phase two is called Champion was also completed in 2008 and includes 55 Siemens 2.3 MW machines. The third phase is called Pyron. Its 166 GE 1.5 MW turbines were commissioned in mid-2009 shortly before the fourth phase, Inadale, was completed. Inadale adds 197 more Mitsubishi 1MW turbines to the existing project.
    The project cost more than $1 billion and provides enough power for more than 250,000 average Texan homes. It is located about 200 miles (320 kilometers) west of Fort Worth, spanning parts of four Texas counties and covering nearly 100,000 acres (400 km2), several times the size of Manhattan

    that’s just a few –

    so WalMart is being “ideological” ??? GADZOOKS

    WSJ is going to blow a gasket!

  9. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
    Reed Fawell 3rd

    Read the articles referenced. Then you will know what the subject is.

  10. Dear Governor McAuliffe:

    First, I think you are doing a pretty good job – something I don’t say about many Democrats. Your energy around corporate recruitment and job creation is admirable. However, it’s time to start “working smart” instead of just “working hard” as they say.

    There are a lot of data centers in Northern Virginia. As you know they generate a lot of jobs while they are being built but very few jobs once they are operational. However, the people who own those data centers employ hundreds of thousands of people – just not in Virginia.

    The data center owners serve a group of people – software developers – who are environmentally aware. These people will switch data center providers if they believe one provider is using clean energy while another provider is not. Therefore, it is in their business interest to find a way to use clean energy – even if they have to generate it themselves.

    Why not propose a deal to the data center operators? Virginia will build renewable energy generation facilities in proportion to the energy used by the data center operators if (and only if) the data center operators hire the same proportion of their total workforce in Virginia as the percentage of their total data center capacity is in Virginia. In other words, if data center operator X has 30% of its data center capacity in Virginia and has 50,000 employees then it must hire 15,000 Virginians in order for Virginia to build out as much clean energy as their data centers consume.

    My bet is that Virginia’s tax base increases by more than the cost of the clean energy generation, Virginia gets a lot of high quality jobs, Virginia becomes a center for clean energy (which also generates jobs) and the data center companies can stop worrying about being electrical generators and get back to their core business of computer technology.

    Our recent tax hike is generating more money than the government needs – especially given Virginia’s economic downturn. The money was earmarked for transportation but the decline in business volume makes the need for more transportation (at the moment anyway) suspect. Why not use the surplus to “seed” the clean energy for jobs program?

    Thank you.


  11. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    I think the Musk idea of house-sized batteries is fascinating, but I do hope he has better luck with it than he has recently had with missiles at SpaceX.

    Reed Fawell,
    Your “cites” dissing renewable are laughably crazy. Re: Bill Gates, suggest you check out the June 26 2015 story in Fortune :” Bill Gates is doubling his billion-dollar bet on renewables.”

    I don’t have time to fact-check the rest of your alleged information. I kindly suggest that you stop wasting our time with this nonsense. The danger is that someone in your little conservative echo chamber will believe this bullshit.

    1. virginiagal2 Avatar

      Hi Peter –

      When I was looking for links to post, there was a note on one of the tech blogs that the PowerWalls are sold out through mid-year 2016 – and they haven’t started delivering yet.

      The idea of being able to be “off the grid” in terms of power sourcing, while technically still “on the grid” if something doesn’t work, has a lot of appeal. That appeal depends on things working as promised. I agree, that last is a big caveat.

      Re Space-X, that’s a high risk technology that is going to have losses – all providers, even NASA, have lost ships (and with two NASA shuttles, loss of life as well.) Pretty much zero margin for error.

      Re the Gates quote, IIRC, he was saying that current renewable technology is not adequate, and investing two billion to develop new and better renewables. I personally think that renewables are going to be practical for average individuals before I retire – and if individual homeowners and businesses can generate and store most of their own electricity, then it changes the entire business model of companies like Dominion.

      Doesn’t eliminate the power companies, but it does actually raise questions about what kind of investments will pay off. Their future business model may morph into more distribution, backup, and load balancing rather than large scale generation.

  12. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
    Reed Fawell 3rd

    Note to Peter –

    If you have no arguement or if you do not know what you are talking about, both of which are often the case, you simple insult people who disagree with you or you blow off the subject entirely with a rude and flippant remark or you complaint and whine about the forum or your pay – in summary you manifest the behavior of a spoiled child.

  13. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    Rude and flippant remarks? Give me a break. Spoiled child? I am 62 years old and have been working on this stuff since 1974. I have been working for years on this blog. So piss off!

    Part of your problem, Reed, is a certain lack of articulation. Half the time, I can’t figure out what point you are trying to make, you don’t include links, and then when someone questions you, you say read the stories.I also find you badly misrepresent the sources you cite.

    It is also a Bacon problem. He makes his point well, usually, but he distorts by omission or writes headlines or cutlines that way overstate what he is saying.

  14. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
    Reed Fawell 3rd

    There you go again, acting like a spoiled child.

  15. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    Reed. I have nothing to prove and don’t need your advice. Too bad you have to go after the person rather than the idea. From now on i just won’t respond to your comments.

  16. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
    Reed Fawell 3rd


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