The well-shaded weeds and untilled earth under a Dominion solar facility. Dominion photo.

by Steve Haner

Perhaps issuing its ruling on the Ides of March by design, Virginia’s State Corporation Commission last week approved another major wave of requests from Dominion Energy Virginia for solar plants it will own, solar plants it will contract with, and a smattering of battery storage facilities added to provide some public relations cover.

In reviewing the massive case file that built up between July and February, without even diving into the long December hearing transcript, some key takeaways appear quickly.

  • The utility proposal received strong pushback from the SCC staff in its analysis, from the Office of the Attorney General on questions of cost, accounting and necessity, and even from the environmental advocates who helped write the controlling Virginia Clean Economy Act. Each might rate an individual report.
  • All the legal brilliance and accounting work were largely in vain, as the Commission has been reduced by law to merely checking boxes on the VCEA approval criteria list Dominion wrote for itself.
  • Secrecy continues to rule, especially on the key issue of the levelized cost of energy (LCOE) used to compare and choose generation sources and related storage. The Cone of Silence was not broken in this case and the utility will fight like a banshee to keep it in place in the pending debate over its offshore wind proposal.
  • While the overall LCOE numbers are secret, the utility is putting two huge thumbs on the scale by including 1) a high social cost of carbon as a financial benefit to offset the consumer cost of the projects and 2) a claimed “avoided cost” because it is meeting its clean energy goals and thus avoiding a VCEA financial penalty for failure. Dominion invents the fine, $45 per megawatt, then counts it as a boon to consumers that it doesn’t have to pay.
  • The opponents did extract a possibly useful stipulation from the utility for future cases, and a careful read opens up the possibility that the VCEA’s rigid dictates may bend after all. I was not imagining things months ago when I sensed pending flexibility, just looking in the wrong place.

If enforced, the stipulation could be the real headline here.  It calls for the next RPS development plan to model capacity, energy or renewable energy certificates (RECs) needed to comply with VCEA “without regard for the development targets set forth” in the VCEA section setting hard mandates.  That will be a very interesting model run.  While agreeing to that, Dominion killed bills in the General Assembly with the same effect.

Again, one big thumb was put on the scale:

However, resources currently pending before the Commission will be included in this model run consisting of the first tranche of offshore wind and the nuclear license extensions. All remaining renewable and storage resources will be selected by the model on a least cost optimization basis. For solar resources, the Company will use the three-year historical average capacity factors.

So, we are still stuck with the first mandated batch of offshore wind, now priced at $10 billion but everybody knows better.  It would never survive a true examination on the basis of necessity or prudence. It is a truly dumb use for the next 30 years of your money. And I doubt Dominion will give up on the second tranche of turbines that easily.

There is nothing in the stipulation that prohibits the ongoing secrecy over key financial issues, which should infuriate every Virginian with any utility bill from any company.

Somebody really should be paid to pay more attention to this stuff on behalf of real Virginians. The dominant media, the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Washington Post, and Virginia Mercury, are captive to and subsidized by the renewable energy industry, and in the case of the RTD, of course, Dominion is also a huge advertiser. Even the SCC failed to put out a news release.

It is criminal that an aging, cranky former reporter and lobbyist is going to now tell you about this, having finally lifted his head from the 2022 General Assembly. This case played out behind the 2022 election and its aftermath and then the legislature. This ongoing “renewable portfolio development plan” has become more important than the “integrated resource plan” of past focus.

You may have heard a couple of broadcast reports that the initial bill impact for a residential customer using that mythical 1,000-Kilowatt hours per month is $1.13, starting in May. That’s the beginning cost. The whole portfolio cost is approaching $1.5 billion, not including profits or interest over decades, so call that the teaser rate for later adjustment. It will come through a standalone Rider CE on bills.

Dozens of individual solar projects of all sizes scattered in perhaps 20 to 30 different localities are now approved, some to be owned by Dominion and some owned by others but selling power to Dominion. They total a nameplate capacity value of 661 megawatts for the utility-owned plants and 196 more megawatts through power purchase agreements.

Fewer than 40 megawatts of storage are planned, most of it also utility-owned. Attentive readers who have seen reports here in Bacon’s Rebellion of how unrealistically tiny that is as reliable backup for 857 megawatts of balky solar generation, please do not scare the cat with your laughter. They are doing it, of course, to back-load the bad news on ultimate consumer cost.  It will come.

Let’s add some context for comparison. Virginia has driven off and said good riddance to a privately financed merchant generation plant that would cover less than 200 acres in one spot, near other existing power infrastructure. It would have produced 1,650 megawatts of reliable power on demand with no investment required of and no risk to ratepayers. It would have been ready to use hydrogen rather than natural gas when available and cost effective.

Instead, thousands of acres of farm and forest land and viewsheds will be torn up for fields of solar panels and a few huge batteries, linked by miles of new transmission lines across perhaps 30 localities. The hodgepodge will produce under 900 megawatts of power (about half as much), an assumed 25% of the time and never on demand. Working or not, 100% of consumer cost of the $1.5 billion investment plus profit and interest will show in your future bills. The failure risk rests largely on ratepayers.

That’s the deal, Virginia. You have really been had.

Share this article


(comments below)


(comments below)


24 responses to “Secrecy Also Hides Key Solar Energy Data”

  1. David Wojick Avatar
    David Wojick

    Subtracting the so-called social cost of carbon (SCC) is hilarious. That figure is the purported benefits for the entire world, of which Virginia is a teeny tiny part. At most they should just allow the fraction equal to Virginia’s population as a fraction of the world population.

    More deeply, SCC does nothing to reduce the cost of these solar generators, so none of it should be subtracted. LCOE is not a cost benefit analysis, just a cost analysis. Stopping a flood in China has nothing to do with that cost.

    Even more deeply, SCC is ridiculous. They have to go out 300 years to get the benefits, because most are due to incredibly slow sea level rise. Like we can predict what the world will look like technologically and economically 300 years from now. Consider that 300 years ago Jefferson was not born yet. We are no better able to predict the future than they were. In fact if the pace of change is now faster then we are that much less able than they were.

    1. Stephen Haner Avatar
      Stephen Haner

      In this case, by SCC you mean social cost of carbon, not the Commission. 😉

      1. David Wojick Avatar
        David Wojick

        Yes, or the silly cost of carbon if you like. Of all the climate nonsense SCC is the second most nonsensical. The “existential threat” gets first place.

        Interestingly, one of the three “integrated assessment models” that are averaged to get SCC says warming up to 2 degrees is net beneficial. Richard Tol’s model. The greens do not like him because they are riding the 1.5 degree disaster threshold scare.

  2. LarrytheG Avatar

    I think it was pretty well proven that more gas for electricity is not needed – that was admitted by Dominion for the ACP.

    ” In its most recent long-term Integrated Resource Plan (IRP), four out of five of Dominion’s modelled scenarios show no increase in natural gas
    consumption from 2019 through 2033.

     Dominion’s 2018 IRP was rejected by Virginia state regulators, in part for
    overstating projections of future electricity demand. This implies that future
    natural gas consumption will likely be even less than forecasted in the IRP.”

    And with each new solar farm or offshore wind turbine, even less gas will be needed.

    Most solar farms are built very near existing transmission lines so little more such lines are needed.

    and many solar farms are built on land not being used for farming or other uses and often shielded from view with tree barriers and earth berms.

    Anyone who has even a casual awareness when driving the interestates and back-roads of RoVa can see just how much vacant land there really is.

    And here’s the thing about LCOE that we do know – and that is right now solar/wind are competitive with gas – and 10-20 years from now, the likelihood that gas increases in price is a lot more likely that wind/solar.

    That will make wind/solar an easy decision for utilities to buy when gas costs more.

    so forget the “green-weenies” or the SCC – pay attention to the “market” like PJM does.

    We’re still gonna need gas for a long time. It’s an indispensable fuel for when wind/solar are not available and storage has not attained prime time yet.

    Did I say that Dominion has sold it’s gas assets? you gotta wonder why, no?

  3. Thank god for “aging, cranky former reporters.” If it weren’t for you, Steve, the public would know none of this.

  4. walter smith Avatar
    walter smith

    Thanks to Haner and Wojcik for explaining scientific stupidity and a less than great regulatory oversight. Was the SCC (the agency, not the stupid accounting trick) limited in power by the VCEA? Given the unreliability of wind and solar and the subsidies to make it “work” (and it still won’t!), are the execs in Dominion doing this for political favor, or for building the rate base and increasing their pay, or all of the above?
    Are there no honest engineers left who can tell the truth, or has Dominion become just another virtue signaling Dem activist captured public company (all companies swearing allegiance to ESG are doing a disservice to shareholders, but think they are buying off the mob by virtue-signaling)? I think the fake Pac shenanigans and Blue’s ties to Mark Warner answer the question…

    1. David Wojick Avatar
      David Wojick

      Dominion is building the rate base, as are most US utilities. The Dominion engineers know VCEA does not work and they touch on the reasons in discussions deep in the IRP’s, but they never actually say so. I am sure they are muzzled.

    1. Lefty665 Avatar

      and the times they are…

  5. LarrytheG Avatar

    re: aging cranky reporter “revelations” .

    so here is the crux of the anti-renewable crowd:

    once this is recognized, then what we’re really seeing is not really ‘concern” of Dominion’s corporate practices – which are really little different over the past 20-30 years – but climate skeptics warring against renewables and really more efficient energy use – like LEDs (remember the right wing hostility to LEDs?

    this is the current version of it ……

    1. Stephen Haner Avatar
      Stephen Haner

      So for that reason is okay to build a totally unreliable electric grid, at excessive cost, the outlines of which are mandated by legislation written by totally bought politicians, and regulated in a process riddled by secrecy. To protect us from “climate change” just as to protect us from “Covid,” you are willing to surrender your brain, your rights and all your money.

      Quite a bit of “renewable” is possible, but 100% is not.

      1. LarrytheG Avatar

        If that were actually true, perhaps. But like the Conservative “war”‘ on LEDs, it’s not that simple.

        The “riddled with secrecy” is standard Dominion behavior whether it’s for wind/solar, coal-ash cleanup or earthquake faults at North Anna.

        But “concerns” about such behaviors that then morp into opposition to the actual project by opponents of that technology? You know, sorta like the green weenies opposing Domiion’s ‘secrecy” on North Anna and oh by the way, the nukes… ?

        The claim that renewables are not reliable is a false narrative from the get go – and you know it!

        Remember coal getting frozen in piles in the winter? ‘unreliable” or that disaster in Texas that froze up the gas pipelines? – “unreliable”?

        Yes, I know the phrase “useful idiot”, it’s ya’ls standard response when a nerve is hit and ya’ll get all emotional about it.

        Just wretchedly dishonest narratives Haner… it’s what you guys/conservatives can’t seem to not do these days….

        You’re gonna LOSE on the renewables, already have, just like those light bulbs and more fuel efficient cars, etc….

        the worst combination of conservatism and Ludditism!

        1. Stephen Haner Avatar
          Stephen Haner

          Do you even know what the words “25% capacity factor” mean? It’s off 75% of the time. Reliably not there! Today is a perfect rainy example when a nice gas plant has great value. And my house is full of LEDs to keep my bill down. My choice.

          1. LarrytheG Avatar

            No energy is 100% reliable, that’s why you have a diverse grid AND when you can, you use fuels that are lowest in cost then go to more expensive backup when you must.

            what capacity factor did gas have in Texas or coal during a polar vortex in Va? 😉

            A big part of this is energy efficiency and conservation. For instance a ground-based heat pump uses far less electricity that a conventional one. They are more expensive up-front but like LEDs they are less costly on a life-cycle.


            I have zero problems with the use of gas or nukes as part of that mix.’ Let’s just not be partisan fools about it.

            ya’ll are the counterparts to the green-weenies… there are no folks to your right on this – ya’ll are the hard right – the opposite of the green weenies!

            the middle is where we are headed – and wind/solar will play a role – as will gas and nukes – as will some other technologies that are evolving but not yet ready for prime time.

          2. walter smith Avatar
            walter smith

            Larry in LaLa Land. The problem Larry is reality. The energy is unreliable. We can’t control the wind. We can’t control the sun. So when the pile of coal is frozen in Texas because Unicorners got in charge of the grid, there isn’t the sun or wind either. And on the days when there is sun and wind, the energy produced has to be consumed right then and there. If you build it, the solution will come. The Green Field of Dreams. Meanwhile, why aren’t we doing nuclear? And you know the problems with production and disposal of solar panels (and electric car batteries), right? You like killing birds?
            The “science” Larry is not real. It is based on groupthink models. If you change one of the many assumptions, you get a vastly different result. And anyone who questions it is a science denier. Very persuasive. Sort of like questioning anything in the Covid response… Have to take away the license of people asking questions cuz we’re right and Tony Fauci is SCIENCE! Personified! In the future, humans will just read hagiographic biographies of Dr. St. Fauci and then They will know CHEMISTRY! BIOLOGY! ECOLOGY! VIROLOGY! and all other sciences combined. “Hail Tony, father of SCIENCE!, dispenser of all knowledge and PPE…”
            So, we already have the Unicorns of Lia Thomas is the NCAA champ, and (trigger warning) Hunter’s laptop is Russian disinfo (but not now anymore, p 20 of NYT), OrangeMan was a Putin stooge, elections have no hanky panky whatsoever and you hate America if you think there might be chicanery and even if there is chicanery , it is minor, and even if it is minor, it is not enough to switch an election, and even if it is, it is too late (see NYT on Larry’s Laptop)… so Larry, given the record of lies, this time you’re 100% correct? Sorry, ain’t buying, and the “consensus” is all about power and graft, and you better believe it is gushing with graft..
            Say, how did Terry McAwful get rich?
            Remember Solyndra?
            I think one way to improve the offshore wind power would be to transport you out to the Dominion wind facility and have you read all your posts. You know, the butterfly effect of one more flapping of hot air from your gums. You’ll save the world! (But wear your CDC mask)

    2. walter smith Avatar
      walter smith

      And algorithms, made by humans, are always right, so shut up, skeptic…
      I know that is Covid, but…is it possible… that maybe…maybe…the “climate change” crowd could be not entirely right? All those assumptions are…perfect…and shut up!

    3. walter smith Avatar
      walter smith

      And here is another viewpoint, which I am sure Larry has never read…
      but people have reasons for skepticism…

  6. David Wojick Avatar
    David Wojick

    Looking at the Order I agree that the annual RPS plan may eclipse the IRP, except the IRP is the only thing that addresses total storage and total intermittent renewables, the former not near enough to make the latter reliable. So we are now fighting expensive green nonsense on two fronts.

    The price of Virginia juice is clearly going up, fast and a lot.

    1. David Wojick Avatar
      David Wojick

      Super high gas prices definately add a bit of support for EVs, but you need a few other numbers for each vehicle:
      Purchase price
      How long it takes to fill or charge
      Range on a fill or charge (in cold weather)

      Also, while gas prices should go back down in a while, juice prices are definately going up to stay. That is what this piece of Bacon is about.

      1. Nancy Naive Avatar
        Nancy Naive

        That’s all available. The local WTKR reported that at current national aveages, the cost per mile was $.16/mile for a car getting 26 miles to the gallon and $.15 per mile for the average EV. They then qualified it with the fact that the EV uses only fast charge, which is more than 3x as expensive as normal charge. So, around town, charging in yor garage, it’s $.05/mile.

        1. David Wojick Avatar
          David Wojick

          Available is not here. Also insurance companies are now advising not to charge unattended (and preferably not inside), due to the now obvious fire hazard. So the charge time versus the tank filling time is the person’s time.

          Note that switching to EVs also requires something like doubling the present juice generating capacity, which has to be paid for, preferably by EV owners. We are talking trillions of dollars.

  7. Lefty665 Avatar

    Thank you for your pursuit of Dominion and this issue. You are doing us all a service.

    However, your citing of Ali’s proposed power plant as “context” for Dominion is wrong. It detracts from your otherwise substantial reporting.

    The power from Ali’s proposed plant was not for sale in Virginia. It was going elsewhere. That was part of Ali’s argument that the SCC did not have jurisdiction.

    While it is fair to describe it as “reliable power on demand” it was not Virginia that could demand it.

    I would advocate that you receive the Henry Howell award for “keeping the big boys honest”, but I encourage you to let Ali’s ill conceived scheme lie. It does the case you are making no favors.

  8. […] On behalf of Dominion Energy Virginia’s customers, Attorney General Jason Miyares (R) asked the State Corporation Commission to reject five of the solar projects included in the statewide renewable energy development package the Commission approved last week. […]

Leave a Reply