RGGI Carbon Tax Hits Dominion Bills Next Summer

By Steve Haner

Beginning August 1 of next year, Dominion Energy Virginia proposes to begin to collect the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative carbon tax from its customers, collecting $168 million during the first year through yet another of those proliferating rate adjustment clauses (or “RACs”).

It will get it by charging a flat $.002388 per kilowatt hour, or $2.39 on every 1,000 kWh. The same charge will be imposed on residential, business, industrial and even non-profit customers. The full case file is here.

Is the universal flat rate a break for residential customers or a break for the largest users? Usually, there are complicated differences in their tariffs. Look for example at the RAC charge for other environmental projects at the utility, Rider E. Residential customers pay $1.68 per 1,000 kWh for that, while large industrial accounts pay from $1.25 (GS-1) down to around 70 cents (Schedule 10). 

Or is the flat amount a boon to those large customers? The RGGI tax is imposed on fossil fuel used by Dominion and other electricity generators. They need to buy an allowance from a regional auction for every ton of CO2 they propose to emit through burning coal or natural gas. The allowance charge could very easily have been deemed a fuel cost and collected instead through the separate fuel charge on every bill.

As a rule of thumb, the largest users see a larger portion of their bills driven by those fuel costs. It was one of the things I paid attention to when representing a major industrial customer in these matters, but I was never the smart person doing the hard math on these calculations. I just knew that industrials preferred to avoid allocating costs through the fuel factor.

Dominion likes to base residential cost projections on some mythical 1,000 kWh per month customer average, but many homes use far more, of course. Assuming the 12,000 kWh per year, however, the initial annual RGGI cost will be $28.68.  Many residential customers will pay substantially more.

No big deal? Remember, this is but one minor element of last year’s Virginia Clean Economy Act, which the SCC staff has estimated will contribute to about 50% higher electricity costs over the next decade – perhaps $700 to $800 per year. We frogs are just now starting to notice the pot getting warm. It will soon be bubbling.

In its filed testimony a Dominion witness merely states without back-up that such a flat charge based on energy used is “reasonable.”

The State Corporation Commission case to set this proposed rate adjustment clause is just getting underway. Perhaps the SCC staff or the Office of Attorney General will address the question of a universal fee versus a different allocation method. There is no entity solely charged with or standing up to look out directly for the residential customers in these cases.

Of course, keeping the RGGI tax separate and out of the fuel charge mélange means we can track it easily, and there will be a review every year or so to exactly balance the revenue with the actual cost. Another new charge on your bills mandated by the 2020 VCEA involves payment subsidies for low income customers, and in that case the legislature insisted it be passed on as a flat rate to all customer classes.

Another carbon tax will be considered by the 2021 General Assembly, this one a similar regional cap and tax scheme for gasoline and diesel fuel. It won’t be so easy to go on a website and see how much cost the Transportation and Climate Initiative is adding to your tank of gas in a few years. TCI is also expected to start with much higher allowance costs (tax) per ton of CO2 emitted.

The RGGI system sets a limit for carbon emissions from power plants by state, and Virginia’s limit for 2021 is 27.1 million short tons. The limit shrinks approximately 3% per year, or 30% over ten years, to 19.6 million short tons.  The allowances are created each year and owned by the states, which then offer them for sale to any bidder in quarterly auctions.

Dominion reports in its application that it will need 19 million allowances per year for the next three years.  The RGGI auctions are supplemented with a secondary market in unused allowances, a platform for active futures and forward contracts. The most recent auction price was $6.84 per ton. Dominion reports it has already bought 1 million allowances in 2020, for future use.

Dominion also reports it will need 27 million allowances after 2022, basically Virginia’s entire supply. With few power plants in Virginia, this is not a big issue for Appalachian Power Company, but merchant generators burning fossil fuel for electricity or industrial uses will also be competing in the markets.

Sorry, did you think that imposing RGGI meant the CO2 would go away? No.  And perhaps we begin to see why Dominion was all in on this approach, with the smaller, independent generators who also feed power into the grid far more worried this might squeeze them out.

There are currently no comments highlighted.

47 responses to “RGGI Carbon Tax Hits Dominion Bills Next Summer

  1. Maybe an observation or two:

    If someone asked what your November electric bill was 2 years ago compared to this November would you know? And if it is higher now, what would you attribute it to and would you then blame Dominion or the govt or try to find ways to reduce wasteful use?

    And second, What is the level of SUPPORT of RGGI among the general pubilc – as opposed to Conservatives and climate science deniers?

    A recent Poll in Pennsylvania – where fracking is highly values also showed more than 70% support for RGGI.

    I strongly suspect such a poll in Virginia would also show support – just as people supported paying extra to clean up coal disposal sites.

    No one likes taxes much less higher taxes but at the same time they realize that we’re not going to clean up the Chesapeake Bay for “free” – there is a cost just like we have to pay to build storm water retention ponds and upgrades to sewage treatment plants.

    • There Larry goes with the polls again. The majority of the public at large are idiots. This is the same group of which 53% think Joe Biden is of sound mind and fit for the presidency. Some 15% aren’t sure which continent they live on. A large number can’t tell the difference between men and women. Large numbers can’t handle simple tasks like paying their bills on time and showing up for work. People are sheep, they don’t fight the status quo. This is why unions fight opting in to fees, because they know a majority won’t pay. That is how you truly determine support for this, make it optional to opt in to pay this carbon tax. I’d bet 20% don’t choose to pay that extra amount.

    • If people like paying more to feel virtuous, by 2030 they are going to be ecstatic. And I betcha not one bit of difference in atmospheric temps will be noticed, zip, zilch, zero.

      • Silly Steve! This has nothing to do with results. The goal is to signal virtue with other people’s money. You’re absolutely right. This will produce no change but it’s doing something. If we didn’t, what could we say to Greta? And what about the new class of rent seekers who will make money off the higher power bills?

        And at the same time, Fairfax County is proposing to give landowners a break on storm water retention standards in downtown McLean to encourage redevelopment. This is in the face of clear evidence that the existing amount of impervious surfaces causes flooding in both the downtown and surrounding residential neighborhoods.

    • “If someone asked what your November electric bill was 2 years ago compared to this November would you know? ”

      I won’t know it off the top of my head, but it would take me less than five minutes to find out.

      What’s your point?

    • The Pennsylvania poll you referenced was conducted by Climate Nexus, the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication. These groups are not known for their neutrality on climate issues. How motivated do you think they were to pursue truly unbiased data?

      There are many ways poll questions can be manipulated to get the answers one wants from a given poll. Carefully worded loaded questions, leading questions and absolute questions can greatly influence the answers received from poll participants. These types of questions can, and do, lead to poll results being flawed by conformity bias, acquiescence bias, etc. And, of course, there is always the partisan’s best friend, sampling bias.

      Do you have a list of the questions asked, the choices of answers offered and the demographics of the poll’s participants? If not, you should probably be very wary of touting its results to bolster your argument.

  2. I am a “climate science denier.”
    Please show me your model for the “science,” including the embedded assumptions.
    I can make the apocalypse occur in a year or never with a few tweaks to the assumpti9ns (assuming the model even returns the same results with the same inputs, which the London COVID model could not). I also have some oceanfront property in Arizona which is a screaming buy – let me show my numbers.

    • This and TCI don’t really do anything USING THEIR MODELS!

    • Here is the report of the U.S. govt: https://nca2018.globalchange.gov/

      Here is the international report: https://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar5/syr/

      • And I am supposed to just believe the report without questioning it?
        At least they had this near the beginning…
        But while acknowledging the inherent uncertainty, they are nonetheless certain because…SCIENCE!
        Sorry – show me the assumptions in the models…
        Many of the decisions we make every day are based on less-than-perfect knowledge. For example, while GPS-based applications on smartphones can provide a travel-time estimate for our daily drive to work, an unexpected factor like a sudden downpour or fender bender might mean a ride originally estimated to be 20 minutes could actually take longer. Fortunately, even with this uncertainty we are confident that our trip is unlikely to take less than 20 minutes or more than half an hour—and we know where we are headed. We have enough information to plan our commute.

        Uncertainty is also a part of science. A key goal of scientific research is to increase our confidence and reduce the uncertainty in our understanding of the world around us. Even so, there is no expectation that uncertainty can be fully eliminated, just as we do not expect a perfectly accurate estimate for our drive time each day. Studying Earth’s climate system is particularly challenging because it integrates many aspects of a complex natural system as well as many human-made systems. Climate scientists find varying ranges of uncertainty in many areas, including observations of climate variables, the analysis and interpretation of those measurements, the development of new observational instruments, and the use of computer-based models of the processes governing Earth’s climate system. While there is inherent uncertainty in climate science, there is high confidence in our understanding of the greenhouse effect and the knowledge that human activities are changing the climate in unprecedented ways. There is enough information to make decisions based on that understanding.
        Where important uncertainties do exist, efforts to quantify and report those uncertainties can help decision-makers plan for a range of possible future outcomes. These efforts also help scientists advance understanding and ultimately increase confidence in and the usefulness of model projections. Assessments like this one explicitly address scientific uncertainty associated with findings and use specific language to express it to improve relevance to risk analysis and decision-making (see Front Matter and Box 1.2).

        • You are free to question the reports all you want. The assumptions are set out in the various sub-reports and appendices. If you have any evidence that is contrary to the assumptions or you believe for some other reasons that the assumptions are not realistic or credible, present your arguments.

          The authors of these reports admit there is uncertainty.

          • I don’t need to go into the science as I have a life and do not have a science degree. I will go with history and experience – global cooling, global warming, climate change, Y2K, Covid, ozone hole, baby seals, Exxon Valdez. As to the science, the assumptions are buried in footnotes. An assumption is an estimate. Is it in good faith? When government grants or money of any kind are involved, I would ask “cui bono?” So color me a skeptic of all apocalyptic and super rosy predictions. Color me a skeptic of analyst presentations – the people are selling something. Will the market really grow as they predict? If profitability is ever achieved, won’t there be competitors? Where will the electricity for Tesla vehicles come from? And the “experts” don’t help with the urgency of their findings when they don’t follow their own rules. I think the Dominion stuff is all virtue signaling by our wonderful politicians and Dominion will do what it needs to to keep the gravy train going. As a shareholder, I like the dividends (my goal when I first had to pay electric bills was to one day have enough dividends from VEPCO to pay the VEPCO bill). As a customer, what I care about is keeping the power on, and Dominion has done a very good job of that. To me, that really should be the only thing – reliably producing power everywhere in the Commonwealth. I’d think our illustrious leaders would do better to find a way to get Dominion’s power lines buried so people don’t go a week or two without power after a storm – harden the infrastructure as it were. But I am sure there are costs and benefits I do not know there as well.

          • Dick Hall-Sizemore

            You start out saying you are a “climate science denier” and want to see the reports, models, and the assumptions. I point you to two major reports, complete with assumptions. Then, you ask if you are supposed to believe the reports without questioning them. I invite you to question them. Then, you say, “I don’t need to go into the science as I have a life and do not have a science degree.” So, you are going to deny the science, although you have not read the reports and do not have a science degree. That, of course, is your perfect right, and now we know that your only basis for doing so is that you do not like the conclusions. (By the way, I have a life, too, and I do not have a science degree, either. That is why I am willing to believe what seems to be the consensus of most of the leading climatologists in the world. When there are credible contrary positions offered, such as those that Steve Haner recently referenced, I try to look at those.)

          • For some reason the “Reply” option is not on your latest response that you will listen to the experts. Does your implicit trust of experts hold true for Donald Trump’s “experts?” I am suspicious of the motives of everyone who wants to tell me what to do or take money or liberty in some way from me. Both sides!
            Here is an article on some of the great “science” that could be coming our way…

            https://www.manhattancontrarian.com/blog/2020-11-17-good-news-science-is-back

        • The consensus of scientific opinion – agreement among “experts” if you will – not individuals who differ with most other experts.

          It does not mean the consensus can’t be wrong – but over the long run – consensus is more reliable and true than individuals.

          If an individual has it right -then he/she will provide other scientists his/her work to peer review and replicate. If they replicate, then they will support that research and consensus will result as others also confirm.

          • Ah… the scientific method. I agree with that.
            But we all need to be aware how money and prestige can corrupt the process – oh, yeah, and politics!

  3. Baconator with extra cheese

    This is a very small price pay for virtue signaling! Heck it’s much cheaper than a Tesla and you don’t even have to put up an “In this house…” sign!

  4. Steve, again thanks for keeping us up to date on these complex issues.

    I think I understand, but help me. I gather that the revenue collected by Dominion will be used to buy at auction the additional allowances it needs to meet the state’s cap. Is that correct? If so, does that mean that some state whose CO2 emissions are below its cap will be getting revenue from selling some of its allowance?

    • Dominion is already buying allowances in advance to stockpile. Basically the RAC revenue will be a segregated sinking fund that reimburses past costs and be held for future, keeps the books balanced, but in theory we only get charged as a “pass thru.” There will be an annual “true up” that could raise or lower the RAC.

      I think Dom has to buy allowances from somebody for 100% of the emissions, not just in excess of Virginia’s total. But once all the Virginia allowances are taken, yes, it could be buying allowances from other states or speculators and sending our dollars to those other states or speculators. You and I could buy an allowance and hold it to see if the value rises…

      The Virginia revenue is dedicated largely to those flooding mitigation activities previously discussed. The 1 million allowances Dom already bought will be money sent from us that does not go to the treasury.

      • You identified a key beneficiary of this program – speculators. This is just another thing upon which Wall Street can place bets and, realistically, put its thumb on the scale. What is the correlation between campaign contributions and Wall Street?

        And the second is a giveaway to seacoast landowners. How much did they make in campaign contributions? And to whom? If our [email protected]@[email protected] GA wanted to be fair to everyone, they’d have enacted a law grandfathering existing structures likely to be flooded by a rise in the sea levels, but prohibit any new construction or major reconstruction. But then they wouldn’t get campaign contributions from the real estate industry.

        Everything is virtue signaling and paying off a new class of rent seekers.

  5. Everybody is kind of ignoring the question of the allocation formula. It is obscure, I understand. The public if asked would be very supportive of putting as much burden as possible on the business and industrial customers, to lower their own. But A) just like taxing business, it is cost they merely send back to us in their prices and B) eventually they go looking for lower operating costs in less expensive energy markets.

    Then again, the big energy intensive customers are among the most annoying of the virtue signalers….

  6. May I assume that this tax is not deductible on your federal income tax return (assuming you itemize deductions)?

  7. If people are not up in arms about Dominion keeping their excess profits and tax refunds, then why would someone expect them to be upset about other issues also?

    My point is that there are two levels here. One is ordinary people and how they deal with their electric bills and the other level is political and often ideological where “evil” RGGI should cause a rebellion but not the kept profits and tax refunds.

    Also, if you asked people if they’re willing to pay more to clean up pollutions – what would they say? Serious question.

    We know that some would flat refuse or argue that the amount charged or the government can’t be trusted, etc, etc… but others would, for instance, see the need to pay for more storm ponds that go towards a cleaner Chesapeake Bay – even if they can’t see a quid pro quo ROI.

    I’m not arguing pro or con on the merit of RGGI – only that there are ordinary folks dealing with their electric bill and the political screaming meamies… and soothsayers of fiscal doom!

    Are people clueless? Sometimes. Do a bunch of them also believe in conspiracy theories? hmmm …

    • “Also, if you asked people if they’re willing to pay more to clean up pollutions – what would they say? Serious question.”

      This person would ask: How much more? And, how much are others going to be asked [required] to pay?

      • And does it really reduce pollution? Some of these morons think burning biomass is carbon neutral. RGGI and TCI don’t move the needle enough to notice.

        • so how many ask how much it SHOULD cost to treat sewage or dispose of your worn out tires?

          Or do we just ask “how much” do we pay?

          • It SHOULD cost a whole lot less to treat sewage than it actually does. The state’s nutrient reduction standards for WWTPs are a prime example of getting very little bang for our bucks. Incredibly expensive upgrades were required at WWTPs knowing that they would result in small reductions in nitrogen and phosphorus levels in the bay.

            The hundreds of millions of dollars spent statewide (or more accurately, Chesapeake Bay Basin-wide) to construct enhanced nutrient removal facilities at wastewater treatment plants, and the millions of dollars in additional annual operating costs would have achieved a far greater reduction of nitrogen and phosphorous levels in the Chesapeake Bay if it had been spent helping farmers and ranchers construct and maintain BMPs for their livestock operations and croplands.

            There’s your government for you. Wasteful and inefficient.

          • Nutrient levels based on the science ?

            Everything I read says the nutrient levels in the WWTP is based on what science says it should be.

            The idea is to reduce it BOTH urban AND farm and so far it’s still not “enough”.

            Farmers, BTW, take a dim view of that same govt you say is “wasteful” for specifying WWTP nutrient levels – dictating to them what they should do… that whole property rights thing.

            And no, the free market won’t do it.

            And point is – we pay to reduce pollution – both urban and rural and without the govt dictating it – well, we already know how it worked before without government dictates.

            We pay to reduce pollution – right now – today – and in fact, if you put out more sewage than normal, you pay more… they charge by the poop.

            😉

          • Larry,

            No, it has largely to do with politics.

            WWTPs have only ever contributed about 5% of the total nutrients going into the Chesapeake Bay. So even if they were eliminated completely, the nitrogen and phosphorous levels in the bay would only be reduced by 5%. The new nutrient limits which were enacted a number of years ago will result in a maximum of about a 60% reduction in the amount of nitrogen and phosphorous discharged from WWTPs. Thus, it will ultimately cost several hundred million dollars statewide, and many millions of dollars per year in O&M costs, to reduce nitrogen and phosphorus levels in the Bay by about 3%.

            Farmland is responsible for about 58% of the phosphorous and 42% of the nitrogen which reaches the bay. Relatively inexpensive BMP measures constructed on the largest farms which front on streams and rivers can reduce nitrogen and phosphorous discharges by as much as 30-40%. If construction of BMP measures on farms was mandated, then on the low end it would result in +/-17% reduction of phosphorous and +/-13% reduction of nitrogen which reaches the bay. These BMP facilities would not anywhere near as much as wastewater treatment plant upgrades, and maintenance costs for them would be a fraction of those for the enhanced nutrient removal facilities at WWTPs. By setting aside politics and actually pursuing the best, most efficient, options, we could have achieved a much greater reduction in nutrient levels in the bay AND spent less money -and I’m sure the state could have found away to assist farmers with the expenses involved in building and maintaining the BMPs on their properties.

            And, oh by the way, I’m not sure you’re aware of this but somewhere in the neighborhood of 1.0-1.5 mg/L of the nitrogen in treated wastewater is elemental and actually cannot be removed without distilling or deionizing the water. The cost of doing this would be too much even for the DEQ to mandate. This means that when the state places the seemingly innocuous 3 mg/L discharge requirement for nitrogen in treated wastewater, what they are effectively doing is requiring a limit of +/-2mg/L. Limits like that can be hard to consistently achieve, even with expensive plant upgrades, and especially in cold weather. So, what the state has effectively done is set up WWTP owners/operators to fail. Violations of discharge requirements must be reported. These are latched onto by eco-warriors as reasons to further vilify WWTPs, which gives the state “license” to further regulate them.

            I have stories of things DEQ officials have said during various meetings I have attended that might shock you. These people KNOW that wastewater treatment plants are not, and never have been, the primary contributors of nutrients to the bay. But they simply cannot resist the urge to over-regulate them. It provides great optics for them to be able to claim to have “tackled the wastewater problem”, and because the cities, towns and counties which own these plants are a “captive audience” there is nothing they can do about it. The alternative optics for the state is being accused of “picking on farmers” – and our GA and the DEQ would do almost anything to avoid that.

            Smoke and mirrors, my friend. It’s all about smoke and mirrors.

          • Larry _

            PS – Have you ever operated a large wastewater treatment plant, or had anything to do with the design, construction and/or operations of a large wastewater treatment plant?

            If not, you should probably not comment further on the science of nutrient removal from sewage.

          • Wayne – you don’t need to operate a WWTP to understand the science behind the processes and sorry – the science is documented with facts and not just someone throwing numbers from their own opinions.

            Sorry guy.

            I read and believe the documented science on nutrients. There is wide and deep science on the issue.

            https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2015-04/documents/nutrient-economics-report-2015.pdf

            But I’d look at authorotative sources you are using for your opinions.

          • Dick Hall-Sizemore

            Wayne, you are correct that agricultural operations are a big contributor to the nitrogen and phosphorus levels in the Chesapeake Bay. However, I need to disagree that the money spent on nutrient reduction in WWTPs resulted in only small reductions in the levels of those nutrients in the Bay.

            In 1985, WWTPs accounted for significantly more nitrogen and phosphorus discharged by Virginia WWTPs than agricultural sources: nitrogen: 37.6 million pounds (WWTPs) vs. 24.9 million pounds (Agric.) and phosphorus: 7.7 million pounds (WWTPs) vs. 2.4 million pounds (agric.) By 2019, the discharge of nitrogen had been reduced to 12.4 million pounds (WWTPs) and 20.2 million pounds (agric.) and for phosphorus, to 1.0 million pounds (WWTPs) vs. 1.6 million pounds (agric.) https://www.chesapeakeprogress.com/clean-water/watershed-implementation-plans

            The WWTPs were the biggest source when this all began and they were relatively easier to address. Agricultural was a much tougher nut to crack. Now that agricultural uses account for a large share of the nutrients, more attention has to be paid to that sector

          • Mr. Hall-Sizemore,

            You are absolutely correct about 1985 (and earlier). I should have referenced my time frame, which is from when I entered the industry in the late 1980s. Much improvement in wastewater treatment had already been achieved by that time, WWTP contribution of N and P had already been greatly improved, and I took it for granted – a serious error on my part.

            As you probably know, in 1985 the majority of WWTPs in Virginia used secondary treatment, (with those “good-old” 30 mg/L BOD5, 30 mg/L TSS limits). The treatment processes needed to achieve these limits offered very limited reductions in other contaminants, particularly Nitrogen, and most plants were not even required to monitor nitrogen and phosphorous levels in their discharges.

            A significant number of plants (the old Dahlgren lagoons, for instance) provided only primary treatment. This consisted of pretty much running the sewage through a settling pond or basin, sometimes with a little aeration sometimes without, then adding some chlorination and sending down the pipe to the river. Chlorination as a means of disinfection became its own issue, of course, but I will not discuss that here. These primary level treatment plants usually had BOD5 and TSS limits of 60 mg/L, although some had the “more restrictive” 45 mg/l limits.

            NPDES (later VPDES) permits for these plants usually had no specified limits for other components/contaminants in their discharged flows. There were exceptions, of course. The Upper Occoquan Sanitation Authority had (and still has) a state-of-the-art WWTP with [beyond] tertiary treatment and one of the first UV disinfection systems in the state. The limits placed on this plant were very restrictive, although not as restrictive as the current nutrient limits. The plant was also insanely expensive to construct and operate. Nevertheless, it was a good model/prototype for testing improving advanced wastewater treatment methods.

            By the late 1980s/early 90s, the DEQ was placing nutrient limits on most WWTPs rated for 1 MGD or higher. A Limits on Ammonia or TKN (Total Kjeldahl Nitrogen) were the most common and tended to be in the 6 mg/L to 8 mg/L range. These levels of removal were relatively easy to meet by tweaking secondary treatment to assure total nitrification, and they greatly reduced the levels of nitrogen going to the bay.

            These initial quasi-tertiary levels of treatment were my “starting point” for my comments regarding nutrients in the bay, and I did a poor to non-existent job of explaining that.

            My overall intended point was as follows, and it is essentially a classic case of diminishing returns: The initial, and even second-level efforts to reduce nitrogen discharge from WWTPs in the bay watershed was very successful and not very expensive to attain. The nutrient reduction requirements brought about during the early 2000s, culminating in setting TMDLs, have been VERY expensive and brought about little additional reduction in nitrogen levels being sent to the bay by WWTPs. It is “easy” and relatively inexpensive to treat wastewater to a level of 5 mg/L Total Nitrogen. It is immensely expense to construct and operate WWTPs which can consistently provide a level of 3 mg/L, and the money spent to remove that final 2 mg/L would have been better spent on other “low-hanging-fruit” nutrient removal from other sources of pollution.

            RE: Total Maximum Daily Loading (TMDL). Expressing WWTP discharge limits based on TMDLs is good for accounting purposes with the DEQ, but it is not all that useful to a plant operator on a day-to-day basis. TMDLs are measurements of contaminants based on [units of mass]/[units of time]. Concentrations are measurements of contaminants based on [units of mass]/[units of volume]. Concentration is what is measured in the laboratory, and this is what is used by WWTP operators to monitor d adjust the treatment processes. If one knows the flow rate from the plant in [units of volume]/[units of time] it is a simple matter to convert concentrations to loadings. Since the DEQ requires that flow be continuously measured and monitored at all large WWTPs, this conversion is easy to compute, once one has normalized the units involved: [mass]/[time] = [mass]/[volume] x [volume]/[time]

            The initial TMDLs imposed on WWTPs in the mid to late 2000s, were back-calculated based on the permitted/design flow at the plant and a 3 mg/L or 4 mg/l limit. The 3 or 4 was based on where in the watershed the plant was located. Most TMDLs were computed based on a limit of 3. The nutrient concentration limts which were used to back-calculate TMDLs were not based any science related to the health of the bay. Essentially, they were based on the DEQ’s calculations as to what the absolute maximum restriction they could enact without being overturned by lawsuits or the GA.

            You can say that is my opinion, and it obviously is, but it is an opinion based on having been there for many of the hearings regarding this issue and having been a part of a lawsuit which was filed against the DEQ challenging their methodology. The phrase “Limits of Technology” was (and still is) bandied about quite a bit. But basing WWTP requirements on Limits of Technology is literally demanding perfection from plant operators and from WWTP processes and equipment. It makes no sense, it is unrealistic, and it sets WWTP owners up for failure. It also leads to exorbitant amounts of money being spent.

            Finally, and completely off the topic of sewage (although maybe not completely) it astonishes me that Virginia is not concentrating more (many more) resources on planting and nurturing oyster beds throughout the bay. A large, healthy and widespread oyster population would do more to improve the health of the bay than all the agricultural BMPs, urban BMPs and WWTP restrictions we can muster.

          • Dick Hall-Sizemore

            Wayne, thanks for the tutorial. WWTPs are way outside my zone of knowledge, much less expertise. However, one of my fondest memories of being the DPB budget analyst for DOC was a day spent touring a WWTP with the DOC capital projects engineer with the chief responsibility for WWTPs as he gave me a quick lesson on WWTPs and their basic operation. It was fascinating. The ensuing upgrade of that plant was one of the first in the agency to use UV treatment.

            You have a good point about the diminishing returns of additional investment in nutrient removal in WWTPs. You could very well be right; I have no grounds to contest your arguments. The problem that you and others likely face in making the argument that it is not cost effective to shoot for a limit of 3 mg/l of nitrogen is that, to legislators and others not versed in the field, the argument may seem self-serving.

            I also agree with you on the need and environmental benefit for investment in oyster bed restoration. (I am biased on this; I love fried oysters and oysters on the half-shell.) You will be pleased to know that the 2020 General Assembly authorized the issuance of $10 million in bonds for oyster bed restoration. It is not as much as it authorized for additional nutrient removal projects, but it is a start and, hopefully, additional authorizations will be made in the future.

        • I gave Larry’s question the benefit of the doubt and assumed pollution actually would be reduced, but you raise a valid question for any proposed real-world “pollution reduction” measures.

        • PS – About 95% of the phosphorous discharges from WWTPs was eliminated when we stopped using phosphate detergents. But the DEQ demands a 99% reduction, and that last 4% is quite expensive to achieve.

          • Meh, demanding unattainable goals is fine. Keeps us on our toes.

            Remember, most thought the notion of walking on the Moon in a decade was sheer lunacy, BUT to do it for less than women spent on makeup in one year was almost clownish.

        • TMDL is a fairly comprehensive concept and subject. It’s not only about the “bay” , it’s about a given receiving stream also.

          If a given receiving stream can handle only a certain level of pollution/nutrients, then restrictions are based on that and that means that there are differing restrictions on different plants depending on local conditions.

          A smaller stream with low volumes, especially in the summer is not going to get the same permit that a plant on a large river would get.

          At the end of the day, for myself, I put my faith in the science – in the EPA, DEQ, VMS, USGS, NOAA for determing consensus on what the limits should be. And if we let cost alone determine what to do and we left that in the hands of those discharging the sewage, we’d be back to 1950’s style treatment.

          The Feds and State have to set the standards, otherwise, we get a bunch of wise asses who claim the know better.

  8. Another example: We all pay to clean up polluting storage tanks – even though most of us are not personally responsibility for the leaking tanks.

    https://law.lis.virginia.gov/vacode/62.1-44.34:13/

    62.1-44.34:13. Levy of fee for Fund maintenance.
    A. In order to generate revenue for the Fund and to make the Fund available to owners and operators of underground storage tanks and to owners and operators of aboveground storage tanks, there shall be imposed a fee of one-fifth of one cent on each gallon of the following fuels sold and delivered or used in the Commonwealth: gasoline, aviation gasoline, diesel fuel (including dyed diesel fuel), blended fuel, and heating oil,”

    we all pay this fee and I’m betting almost no one realizes it much less how much they actually pay or whether it is well spent or cost effective.

  9. Carbon? What carbon?

    1983 5 acre tire fire in Virginia… 9 months of smoke.

    • Speaking of CO2, although denitrification is used at wastewater treatment plants to removes some of the nitrogen that the nitrification process alone cannot remove, denitrification also releases CO2 into the atmosphere.

      Don’t tell the DEQ, though, or they’ll require that hyper-expensive removal methods be implemented to achieve the functional equivalent of pissing into a hurricane.

  10. I have seen the promised land.
    Pennsylvania is pretty good…my mother has about 136 choices of power supplier. They can buy wind power, or whatever they want. Apparently these choices are available in many of the Northeast states, except Virginia of course. Up there, West Penn Power has the job of transmission, and they are now part of First Energy. Gimme something like that.

  11. Here’s a pretty good explanation of the science behind determining safe nutrient loads in a waterbody – note we’re not talking about zero pollution – but how much pollution is acceptable and tolerable?

    The Concept is TMDL – total maximum daily loads:

    https://www.epa.gov/tmdl/overview-total-maximum-daily-loads-tmdls#:~:text=TMDL%20%3D%20%CE%A3WLA%20%2B%20%CE%A3LA%20%2B%20MOS,is%20the%20margin%20of%20safety.

  12. Pingback: TCI: Taxing the Poor to Benefit the Rich | Bacon's Rebellion

  13. Pingback: GOP Group Seeks Repeal of 2020 Energy Omnibus | Bacon's Rebellion

Leave a Reply