Tag Archives: Bill O’Keefe

Repeal the Clean Economy Act

by Bill O’Keefe

The Virginia Clean Economy Act (VCEA) mandates a plan for the Commonwealth electric grid to become carbon free. It is one of the most ambitious climate policies adopted by any state. Dominion Energy is the primary vehicle for achieving the carbon free goal.

There is only one reason for such an ambitious, costly, and risky policy. The General Assembly and the Governor accept the narrative that climate change is caused by fossil energy use and is a foreseeable existential threat. Is it, and is VCEA the best strategy for responding?

There are strong reasons to doubt that the “Climate Crisis” is in fact an existential crisis or that the Commonwealth has adopted the most efficient and cost-effective strategy for dealing with whatever  climate problem actually exists.

Almost all that policy makers and legislators know about climate change comes from interpretations of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change  (IPCC) and its periodic reports.  For the most part, decision makers are provided papers and briefings on what the IPCC has concluded, primarily from its Summary for Policy Makers (SPM). It will come as a surprise to learn that the Summary for Policy Makers does not necessarily reflect what is contained in the underlying scientific assessment. Continue reading

A Cautionary Tale

Dominion’s experimental wind turbines off the Virginia coast.

by Bill O’Keefe

The General Assembly, Governor Ralph Northam, and Dominion Energy are proud of their commitment to achieve zero carbon emissions by 2050.  Dominion routinely showcases its planned wind farm 27 miles off of the Virginia coast. Before Dominion and the Commonwealth get beyond the point of no return — governments don’t acknowledge sunk costs, opportunity costs or terminate failed programs — they would do well to closely examine the experience with wind power in Germany.

Germany is a leader in the green energy movement and has installed over 30,000 windmills. The German renewable energy program started in 2000. After 20 years, there is a problem. The German wind power industry is suffering setbacks. Hardly any new turbines are being built, and more and more old wind turbines are being phased out. Some of the problems don’t apply to Virginia since they concern on-shore wind mills but there are lessons to be learned.

Many German wind farms are threatened with shutdown. The German Renewable Energy Act, which has been in force since 2000, guarantees wind turbine operators secure subsidies for twenty years. Without subsidies they are no longer profitable. By 2025, there is a risk of 15,000 MW of wind projects will be lost corresponding to over a quarter of Germany’s onshore wind power. Continue reading

Legislative Bamboozle and Blind Faith

Globe on fire

by Bill O’Keefe

The Virginia Clean Economy Act (VCEA) establishes a mandatory renewable portfolio standard (RPS) program that requires Dominion Energy to deliver electricity from 100% renewable sources by 2045. Let this sink in. Legislation passed and signed into law in 2020 imposes a mandated outcome for 25 years hence even though the legislators who voted for VCEA had no idea how it was to be achieved. They either believed that the private sector would invent the technology, independent of cost, or that the threat of extinction from climate change was so serious that a way would be found to head it off. More than likely, they didn’t give the “how” question or the question of cost much thought. Theirs was a crusade.

Hair on fire

It is probably true that if cost and cost-effectiveness are ignored Dominion Energy can find a way to satisfy the legislative mandate. Its plan to build the nation’s largest wind farm shows that it knows how to think big and will get its customers to pay the price in terms of higher rates to buy the needed technology. If Dominion can find a way to avoid shuttering it nuclear and natural gas power generation it will at least have a fall back strategy. Pleasing legislators obviously has a higher priority than cost-effect and reliable electric power.

Before it is too late, legislators and Dominion customers might benefit from a dose of reality. Germany which has been a leader in the move from fossil energy to wind and solar may well be the canary in the mine. Continue reading

Floating Nukes: a Better Alternative?

Schematic of a floating nuclear power plant. Credit: JVE Journals

by Bill O’Keefe

Dominion Energy, with the blessing of the Legislature is in the process of building a monstrous wind farm off the coast of Virginia. It will be 27 miles offshore and occupy an area of over 176 square miles — 92% as large as Richmond. When fully built, there will be 220 windmills, each standing 200 feet above water level. The cost is currently estimated to be $7.8 billion but cost overruns are inevitable. Think about this long enough to form a mental picture of what this will look like.

Since the Legislature has mandated a net zero emission future in the coming decades, Dominion is more than willing to take up the challenge and accommodate the Legislature’s dream. Not only is Dominion guaranteed a rate of return on the power generated but it also profits from capital construction expenditures. Non-regulated corporations should be so lucky. And, if it turns out that the windfarm doesn’t produce as promised or is made obsolete by technology or more accurate climate science, it won’t be Dominion that takes the loss, it will be Dominion’s customers.

When all is said and done, our electricity rates will be much higher than they are today — 12 cents per Kwh, well below states like California committed to the zero-carbon path. California’s residential rates are almost 20 cents per Kwh and rising. One estimate says they will rise to 40 cents when the natural gas ban is fully implemented. Continue reading

The Big Gamble

Image source: www.piqsels.com

by Bill O’Keefe

Virginia’s Clean Economy act requires Dominion to provide a 100% carbon-free grid by 2045. This law represents a big gamble that Dominion embraced with a “balls to the wall” enthusiasm because the $9 billion cost, which will most likely be higher, will be provided by rate payers, not share owners. To quote a truism, nobody spends someone else’s money like their own. This legislation proves it.

Dominion’s confidence in achieving the General Assembly’s mandate is unrealistic. Given technological uncertainties, it is the height of folly to accept a mandate that establishes a goal and the date by which it is must be achieved. The history of technology-forcing mandates is a sorry one.

Dominion has touted the recent tests of two offshore turbines as reason for optimism for the planned project of 180 to 220 turbines located 27 miles offshore will cover 112,800 acres. That represents 176 square miles, roughly the size of King George County and more than three times as large as Norfolk. And the turbines will stand 600 feet about the surface. Continue reading

The Long and Winding Road to Net Zero

by Bill O’Keefe

State law, embodied in SB 851, requires Dominion Energy to supply 30% percent of its power from renewable energy sources by 2030 and to close all carbon-emitting power plants by 2045. In other words, Dominion must develop a plan to be emission free by 2045, less than 25 years from now.

The preeminent energy historian and author, Daniel Yergin, has just published The New Map: Energy, Climate, and the Clash of Nations. Not only does he address the geopolitics of energy but he addresses the challenges of transitioning from an energy budget that is 80% oil, gas, and coal to one that has net zero emissions.

The history of energy transitions shows that they do not happen quickly,  according to Yergin. The movement from wood to the dominance of coal took 200 years and it took another 100 years for oil to replace coal as our dominant energy source. Of course, those transitions did not involve the incentives created by government policies and funding, political activism, and the push for new energy technologies. The use of industrial policy to bring about this transition sooner may succeed but right now it is a triumph of hope over experience. During the time when the first oil embargo created economic havoc, the administrations of Richard Nixon and Jimmy Carter invested heavily to bring about alternatives to oil. All they achieved was a waste of billions of dollars. Continue reading

Keep California on the West Coast

Rolling blackout in Pasadena, CA.

by Bill O’Keefe

Virginia has passed a law — SB 851 — requiring Dominion Energy to supply 30% percent of its power from renewable energy sources by 2030 and to close all carbon-emitting power plants by 2045. According to the Energy Information Administration, natural gas fueled 53% of Virginia’s electricity net generation in 2018, nuclear power provided almost 31%, coal fueled about 10% and renewable resources, primarily biomass, supplied nearly 7%. Over the next decade, Virginia must replace its coal fired power and reduce its gas-generated electricity by over 40%. From its public statements, Dominion plans to go all out in wind and solar, emulating California.

California’s electricity rates are 61% higher than Virginia’s — 19.79 cents per Kwh versus 12.28 cents. Over the past month, there have been numerous news stories about rolling blackouts in California caused by renewable energy mandates and inability to substitute enough from other sources when solar and wind aren’t able to meet demand. Continue reading

Revisionist History Is a Fool’s Errand

by Bill O’Keefe

One of the actions growing from the Black Life Matters movement is an effort to eradicate the memory of anyone associated with the Confederacy. Here in Richmond, Virginia Commonwealth University has a process in place that could lead to removing commemoration even of individuals who served as a doctor or nurse. The City of Richmond is removing all statues of Confederate generals from Monument Avenue. Only the statue of Robert E. Lee remains because of legal action taken by residents of the historical district.

Advocates are being carried away by emotion without thinking through the long run consequences or whether they have any historic, objective or logical justification. No one argues in favor of slavery or denies that it was morally reprehensible. But that comes from today’s knowledge and understanding. Applying today’s standards to  past actions not only distorts history but is misleading and robs future generations of the opportunity to learn accurately.

What does history tell us about slavery, secession, and Robert E. Lee? Slavery far predates the Civil War. It goes back to biblical times and was accepted in Europe up through much of the 18th century. Should our condemnation go as far back as the days of the pharaohs? The Emancipation Proclamation began a process that has taken far too long to achieve but much of human progress is slow and painful. Continue reading

In Defense of Kelly’s Defense of Robert E. Lee

by Bill O’Keefe

When General John F. Kelly recently said that Robert E. Lee was an honorable man and that the Civil War resulted from a failure to compromise, critics denounced him as a “Lost Cause” apologist who was ignorant of history and insensitive to racism and bigotry. His background, education, and accomplishments in the Marine Corps suggest, however, that such character assassination is a classic case of identity politics.

Anyone who has studied the Civil War objectively sees it as one of our greatest tragedies. In 1861 the United States was a fragile union only weakly held together by a Constitution that had only been ratified 73 years earlier. Today we hold that slavery was evil. But, outside of abolitionists here and in Europe, that was not the prevailing view then. It should not be surprising that a system that had existed since 1800 B.C., and still does in some places in the world, would be slow to change, and that the process of change would create deep and difficult tensions.

Critics who point to compromises affecting black slaves — starting with the Constitution — make a legitimate point that patience and slow progress benefited slave owners at the expense of blacks. We cannot know for sure what would have happened if South Carolina, Mississippi and other intransigent slave states had found common ground with the Union through further compromise. We do know that 620,000 deaths would have been avoided. And, we can be fairly confident that evolving economics and culture would have made slavery less viable. Whether those changes would have shortened the bigotry and racism that continued during the post-war period — and which exists to a lesser degree today — is unknowable.

In the attacks on General Kelly, the word “compromise” has been used pejoratively. Writers ignore the fact that our system of government is built on compromise to avoid the tyranny of the minority by the majority. Henry Clay once observed that politics is about governing and that if you can’t compromise, you can’t govern. That fact is very much in evidence today.

 In an attempt to show General Kelly as a “Lost Cause” apologist, critics have created a false narrative about Robert E. Lee. One writer in The New Yorker went so far as to say that Lee attempted to overthrow the United States government. Others have claimed that he was defending slavery.

As the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan once observed, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.”

Historical facts more than demonstrate that Robert E. Lee was more than honorable; he was a man of conviction, integrity, deep spirituality, and humility. He did not support secession and believed that slavery was evil.  He was also spiritually naïve in believing that God would emancipate blacks on His schedule. He was respected by Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses Grant.

And Dwight Eisenhower (who had his portrait in the Oval Office) said that Lee was, “in my estimation, one of the supremely gifted men produced by our Nation. . . . selfless almost to a fault . . . noble as a leader and as a man, and unsullied as I read the pages of our history. From deep conviction I simply say this:  a nation of men of Lee’s caliber would be unconquerable in spirit and soul. Indeed, to the degree that present-day American youth will strive to emulate his rare qualities.” Americans, he said, could continue to learn something from the Confederate general because a nation of men of Lee’s caliber would be “unconquerable in spirit and soul.”

General Lee’s reputation will withstand the current attempts at revisionist history because, in the end, facts do matter.  And, General Kelly is learning that as Winston Churchill said, “Politics is almost as exciting as war, and quite as dangerous. In war you can only be killed once, but in politics many times.”

Bill O’Keefe, a resident of New Kent County, is president of Solutions Consulting.