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 →
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 →
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 →
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 →
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 →
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 →
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 →
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 →
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 →
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 →
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 →
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 →
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 →
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 →
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 →