Tag Archives: Bill O’Keefe

Misleading Certitude on Climate Change

by Bill O’Keefe

The Richmond Times-Dispatch meteorologist, Sean Sublett, recently wrote an article, “What to make of the National Climate Assessment.” He makes little of it in terms of analysis, and he reposts as if the assessment is primarily fact and not scientific speculation.

He provides almost nothing on the uncertainties that drive the National Assessment. The report treats uncertainties as scientific facts, and substantive information about the climate system is limited because uncertainties are not explicit. The long-range projections about temperature, sea-level rise, and extreme weather events are all the result of assumed emission scenarios and climate models that have proven to be too pessimistic. Since the climate is accepted as a chaotic system, it is virtually impossible to make accurate predictions absent actual knowledge of “initial conditions” which are unknown. Continue reading

Is a Séance with Yogi Berra Dominion’s Source of Insight?

by Bill O’Keefe

According to lore, Yogi Berra is supposed to have said, “In theory there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice there is.”

Dominion must have had a séance with Yogi and just learned that piece of wisdom because until its latest filing with the SCC it maintained that it would build its giant offshore windfarm for $9.8 billion while also getting to zero emissions by 2045. Now it is fessing up to that being a pipe dream. Until the recent switch, Dominion gave every indication of supporting the Virginia Clean Economy Act’s  goal of zero emissions by 2045.  Its latest submission to the SCC reverses course.

In its recent submission, Dominion stated, “Due to an increasing load forecast, and the need for dispatchable generation, the Alternative Plans show additional natural-gas-fired resources and preserve existing carbon-emitting units beyond statutory retirement deadlines established in the VCEA.” Its new demand estimate comes from PJM, the regional grid operator that Dominion is required to use. Its earlier rosy scenario proves that analyses can be constructed to produce whatever answer you want. In this case, Dominion saw a way to increase its profits by gaming the VCEA, at least until it began to look like Democrats might lose this year’s election and with it the VCEA mandates.

Similar projects on the East Coast have been confronted by demands for larger subsidies by offshore developers like Orsted or outright contract cancellation. On Monday, Avangrid, a subsidiary of the Spanish utility Iberdrola, announced that it was abandoning the 804-megawatt Park City Wind project offshore Connecticut because it has become unfinanceable. Continue reading

Virginia’s Forced Technology Hits a Speed Bump

by Bill O’Keefe

The Virginia General Assembly, as a result of past Democrat control, has mandated through the Clean Economy Act and a 2021 law a low-emission and zero-emission motor vehicle program for model year 2025 and beyond.  In the process it has demonstrated the folly of using technology to force through large subsidies, as well as  the arrogance of legislators who believe they know more than consumers and providers.

It is becoming ever clearer that these mandates are based on wishful thinking and a failure to understand innovation technology, the importance of cost, and the sources of global emissions. Back in 1980, President Carter and Congress established the Synfuels Corporation to develop alternatives to oil. Its initial funding was $20 billion, but fortunately it wasted only $960 million while making OPEC stronger. The history of government attempting to pick winners because it is smarter than the private sector is littered with failed efforts. But politicians never learn. Continue reading

The Folly of Electrification

by Bill O’Keefe

Although Dominion Energy seems to be hedging on its 2040 goal, Virginia is still stuck with the Virginia Clean Economy Act net zero mandate and its participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, which seeks to achieve an 80 percent reduction in emissions by 2050. However, neither the General Assembly nor Dominion appear to have done the comprehensive and realistic life-cycle analysis needed to determine the realism of those commitments and their consequences.

Noted e historian and analyst Daniel Yergin has written about the challenges of meeting the demand for the essential materials needed for electrification — lithium, copper, and other minerals. As time moves on, it is becoming more clear how difficult it will be to obtain these minerals and also constrain the emissions  associated with their production. The IMF has concluded that pursuing net zero will “spur an unprecedented demand for some of the most crucial metals, leading to price spikes that could derail or delay the energy transition.”

Electrification of vehicles, charging stations, wind power, solar panels, and battery storage could lead to a doubling of demand for copper within a decade. This conclusion comes from a study of copper by S&P Global. Since copper is the “metal of electrification,” the implications are staggering.  

For decades, the world worried about the concentration of oil in the Middle East. Are any of the electrification proponents worried about the greater concentration of copper supplies — 40% from Peru and Chile? And, what about the concentration of other essential minerals like cobalt and lithium for electric car batteries — 70% in the Congo and 60% in China? Diversifying the sources of these minerals is not an easy task. Negotiating with host governments and developing a new mine can take 15 to 20 years and cost several billions of dollars. How many new mines will be needed and how accommodating will host governments be? Continue reading

Breaking Virginia’s Energy Impasse

by Bill O’Keefe

With the two chambers of the General Assembly politically divided, there is no hope for a bipartisan compromise on changing the Virginia Clean Economy Act. Without change, we are stuck with a radical energy policy that will enrich Dominion and leave consumers holding the bag. VCEA will stand as a monument to hubris.

There is one course of action that the Democrat-controlled Senate might be willing to accept, and that is subjecting Dominion’s approach to a “Red Team” review. If the GA can’t agree to do that type of review, the SCC could undertake it on its own.

The “Red Team” concept was developed by the Department of Defense to provide a means to realistically validate the strength and quality of strategies or policies by employing an outside perspective. A Red Team’s review evaluates whether a proposal is robust and complete. The use of red teaming has expanded broadly within government and the private sector.

Dominion and the Democrat Senate are by now so deeply committed to the offshore wind farm and to the VCEA mandates that it is impossible for either to take a fresh, objective look at either.

There are a number of reasons why a “Red Team” analysis is needed. Continue reading

The Big Christmas Chill Was a Wakeup Call

by Bill O’Keefe

As temperatures dropped dramatically over the Christmas weekend, Dominion Energy’s advice to its customers — those who still had power — was to turn down their thermostats. Virginia was not alone. PJM, the regional grid management organization covering 13 states and the District of Columbia, made the same request because its gas plants couldn’t get enough fuel to meet the demand for home heating.

According to The Wall Street Journal, rolling blackouts were averted because PJM ordered some businesses to curtail power while switching some generators to oil. The large regions served by both the Tennessee Valley Authority and Duke Energy experienced rolling blackouts. And for the second year in a row, Texas faced a grid problem as wind power plunged and demand doubled.

The Wall Street Journal also noted that, “While there wasn’t a single cause for the power shortages, government policies to boost renewable energy snowballed and created problems that cascaded through the grid. There have been warnings about grid vulnerability for years but this Christmas proves that these warnings have not been taken seriously. The climate lobby blames climate change and greedy energy companies for this year’s problems but there have been colder Christmases — 1980 and 1983 for example. And, there have been colder Decembers that were survived without a grid breakdown or near breakdown.

The problems faced by utilities should be a warning and a reason for reassessment. Will Dominion heed that warning or will it continue on its present course? How will it prevent more serious problems as the demand for electrical power continues to increase and electric heat pumps are promoted and subsidized as responsible replacements for gas- and oil-fired furnaces?

That Dominion had to urge its customers to turn down their thermostats indicates that it did not have sufficient surge capacity to meet the demand caused by low temperatures. We need to know why. It could be the result of the 2019 decision to shutter all of its coal-fired capacity as part of its Net-Zero 2050 commitment and the General Assembly mandate to do so by 2024.
Continue reading

Account for All of the Costs

by Bill O’Keefe

Opposition to Dominion’s offshore windfarm has come mainly from critics who cite technology, economic, and energy-system concerns and problems. Unfortunately, these have only been persuasive enough to slow down the reckless rush by Dominion and its allies in the General Assembly to obtain SCC approval. What about the impact on human health?

Where is the public health consideration? Windmills are notorious for killing birds and bats, but the significance of this is not explored. After all, what are a few birds and bats worth when it comes to saving the planet? Well, the answer is more than advocates will admit. Killing bats has a human health effect.

Mosquitoes are at the top of bats’ menus. Mosquitoes are the bane of outdoor enjoyment and a boon for the insect spray industry. As a result, most of us give little thought to the dangers of mosquitoes; but they are not trivial.

According to the World Atlas, “These swarming yet stealthy insects have proven to be more than just an annoyance to the human race. In some parts of the world, female mosquitoes (the ones that do the biting) do not just leave behind an itchy red lump, but sometimes also diseases such as dengue, West Nile, yellow fever, Zika, chikungunya, lymphatic filariasis, and the big one: malaria. Each year, somewhere around 725,000 to 1,000,000 people die from mosquito-borne diseases.” Continue reading

Thinking About Gun Control

by Bill O’Keefe

After each mass shooting there is an outcry for Congress to do something. In 2021, there were almost 21,000 murders involving guns and almost 700 mass shootings (those involving four or more victims).

There has been no responsible action at the Federal level because Congress seems more interested in political food fights then in taking action that can make a difference. Henry Clay once observed that politics is not about ideology; it’s about governing, and if you can’t compromise you can’t govern. Congress in the existing political environment can only compromise by accident.

The fact that Congress is paralyzed is no reason for states to avoid taking action.  In the last few years, the Virginia General Assembly has passed several gun laws.  These laws, which created a backlash in a number of counties, imposed universal background checks on gun sales, created extreme risk protective orders that allow authorities to temporarily seize guns from people deemed dangerous, required gun owners to report lost or stolen firearms, restored the former one-handgun-a-month law and boosted penalties for leaving guns accessible to children. Continue reading

Democrats Against Due Diligence

by Bill O’Keefe

In 2020, as we all know, the Democrat-controlled General Assembly passed the Virginia Clean Economy Act (VCEA) to eliminate fossil energy for electric power generation while simultaneously restricting the regulatory oversight of the State Corporation Commission (SCC). The effect of the legislation was, in effect, a license to pick the pockets of Dominion ratepayers.

Dominion likes to portray itself as a standup corporate citizen that provides low-cost energy to its customers while also excelling at environmental stewardship. If that were true, Dominion and its lobbyists would not have worked so hard to restrict the State Corporation Commission or defeat a proposed amendment to VCEA by Delegate Lee Ware, R-Powhatan, to remove the restrictions on the SCC and allow it to exercise due diligence over Dominion’s almost $10 billion offshore wind farm.

Dominion will use its PR machine to demonstrate that it is honorable and had no hand in defeating Delegate Ware’s amendment. That might be potentially believable were it not for Dominion’s lobbying history and its scandalous political contributions to a PAC — Accountability Virginia — to suppress Republican turnout in our recent election. When the donation became public knowledge, Dominion first attempted to defend its action and then apologize claiming that the contribution was an innocent mistake. While it was demanding a return of its $200,000, Dominion’s CEO and other top executives were making personal contributions to the vote suppressing PAC. Continue reading

Virginia, Heed the EU’s Failed Climate Policy

by Bill O’Keefe

U.S. climate policy has been heavily influenced by actions taken by European nations, even when it was obvious that many of those actions were fraught with problems.

Now the European Union (EU) may be on the verge of taking steps to reverse course and allowing economic and political realities to exert a greater influence on policy. The EU, which led the movement away from fossil fuels to green energy, mainly wind and solar, is seeing its dream become a nightmare — wind and solar don’t work the way they were supposed to, and energy costs are skyrocketing.

On New Year’s Day, Reuter’s reported that the EU may be on the verge of reversing course. It has developed a proposal that would allow some natural gas and nuclear facilities to qualify as “green.”

Since CO2 is the alleged threat to our future, nuclear power, which doesn’t emit CO2, is by definition “green.” Disposal of nuclear waste is an issue, but not a major one if you believe that the alternative is destruction of the planet. Similarly, natural gas emits far less CO2 than coal, and companies are investing in carbon capture technology. EU green advocates continue to build natural gas plants because gas is what they burn when wind and solar can’t meet the demand for electricity. Continue reading

The World Doesn’t Work that Way

Image credit: Roanoke Times

by Bill O’Keefe

The political elites who promoted the passage of the Virginia Clean Economy Act would have us believe that planning an energy transition is no more difficult than planning a long vacation. You know where you want to go, how long you will be gone, and how you plan to travel. The Clean Energy Act was demonstrated extreme hubris. Uncertainties and unintended consequences were viewed as minor matters, if considered at all.

Advocates seemed to think that what looks doable in theory will be doable in practice. That was certainly the case where members of the Virginia General Assembly and environmentalists who pushed passage of the Virginia Clean Economy Act. The world doesn’t work that way. The announcement by Dominion’s CEO that the cost estimate has risen from $8 to 10 billion was an early sign about future cost increases.

These advocates forget the truism that in theory, theory and practice are the same but in practice they are not. We are slowly beginning to see nationally as well as here in the Commonwealth that long-term energy planning involves a lot of uncertainties, unintended consequences. and consumer sensitivity to price increases. Continue reading

The Imperative for Reflection

Virginia’s “Lewis and Clark” energy future calls for an adaptable energy policy responsive to new information as it is gathered.

by Bill O’Keefe

Politicians are not known for engaging in reflection or looking back on legislation, but they should. The experience that Europe is having with its version of the Virginia Clean Economy Act is the reason why. Presently, Europe is experiencing energy shortages and surging prices. Some of this turmoil is due to global forces but some is due to energy decisions that European nations have made, in particular the decision to move rapidly to renewables and eliminate coal, nuclear and natural gas as major sources of electricity.

Green ideology blinded Germany and other European countries to the fact that wind and solar don’t provide around-the-clock reliable sources of energy. This summer there have been extended periods of low or no wind. Last winter, European nations experienced colder-than-normal temperatures which had the effect of reducing both solar and wind power and leading to steep price increases. Without reliable and commercially viable electric storage systems, renewables are vulnerable to cloud and snow cover and periods of low wind.

The General Assembly and Dominion Energy would do well to take a close look at Europe’s experience and determine how Virginia can avoid a similar fate. One important lesson is that major transitions are complex and beset with many uncertainties. Another is that government has at best a mixed record when it comes to industrial policy. Continue reading

Lee, a Study in Contradictions

By Bill O’Keefe

Yesterday’s edition of The New York Times contains an opinion piece — “How Do I Tell the Story of Robert E. Lee,” by Allen Guelzo a professor at Princeton University. It came to me from a colleague of his whom I casually know but respect. Guezlo is about to publish “Robert E. Lee: A Life,” and the opinion piece is about his struggle to do so fairly. His book represents seven years of effort and, as he himself states, “Lee is a study in contradictions.” Dealing with those contradictions fairly would explain a seven-year undertaking.

Guelzo makes his challenge clear with this statement: “There are some biographies that are almost impossible to write, but write them we must. Biography demands a close encounter with a subject, an entrance into motive, perception and explanation. The intimacy of that encounter carries with it the danger of dulling the edge of the historian’s moral judgment — and that kind of judgment is what makes historical inquiry worthwhile, something more than a mere jumble of events and dates.”

Guezlo brings out the point, often overlooked, that Lee believed that slavery was “a moral and political evil in any country,” but that he also believed, as did others, that blacks were better off as slaves than living in Africa. Perhaps that is how many slave owners soothed their consciences. Continue reading

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