Tag Archives: Dominion

The Energy Free Market that Isn’t

by Jane Twitmyer

The South, including Virginia, has been slow to build clean, transformed utility systems. Last year,  major corporations including Costco, Cox, Kroger, Sam’s Club, Target and Walmart petitioned Virginia regulators to allow them to meet their renewable energy goals by purchasing their electricity from third parties. Dominion Energy’s response was to commission a poll, according to PV magazine, asking which of two arguments was the most compelling: (1) the claim that ratepayer bills will go up $100 per month if corporations are allowed to procure their own renewables, or (2) that in the states where deregulation was introduced, that customer rates rose 39%.

The arguments are deeply questionable now that renewable technologies are cost competitive, but the “high cost” argument ignores the ongoing federal support for fossil fuel industries. A Forbes article in January warned all investors that “power sector decarbonization” is now an “imperative.” In almost all jurisdictions, utility-scale wind and solar are now the cheapest source of new electricity without subsidies. … New unsubsidized wind costs $28-54/megawatt-hour (MWh), and solar costs $32-44/MWh, while new combined cycle natural gas costs $44-68/MWh.

Comparing the real costs of generation resources is complicated.  Subsidies, both direct and indirect, as well as “offloaded” costs, need to be included. Forbes said their cost comparisons were “without subsidies,” meaning without “direct subsidies” — or specific government funding meant to reduce the retail price of building or fueling a generation resource. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) describes these subsidies as “pre-tax subsidies”, which in 2017,  globally amounted to roughly $500 billion a year. Continue reading

Is It the Death Knell For Dominion’s Pipeline?

By Peter Galuszka

For more than a decade, hydraulic fracturing drilling for natural gas and oil has transformed the American energy picture, leading to big revivals in such energy fields such as Marcellus in West Virginia and Pennsylvania and the Bakken field in the Dakotas.

It has prompted Dominion Energy and its utility partners to push forward with an $8 billion or so Atlantic Coast Pipeline that will take Marcellus gas through Virginia all the way to South Carolina. The project, tied up in court fights, has been enormously divisive as property owners have protested the utilities’ strong arm methods of securing rights of way.

But now there’s clear evidence that the fracking boom is over, and that has huge implications for the ACL project. The reason? Oil and gas prices have dropped thanks to a perfect storm of issues. There’s the coronavirus pandemic tanking the U.S. economy, bitter energy wars between Russia and Saudi Arabia, and the fact that fracking gas and oil rigs are enormously expensive and wells can produce for only a short period.

The Hill reported last week: “Oil sank to $23 (a barrel) from a high of $53 in mid-February, far below the break even point that producers need to drill new wells to maintain supply, and with volumes rapidly diminishing at existing wells.”

The newspaper points out that a fracking well can cost more than $10 million while a traditional well is only $2 million. As price pressure mounts, the number of wells nationally has plummeted from 790 to 772 in one week.  At the Bakken field, reports The Washington Post, producers are cutting costs.

The situation has clear implications for the ACL project which was conceived at the height of the Marcellus boom. Dominion claimed that the gas would be badly needed in coming years while others claimed there isn’t enough demand. Continue reading

Dems Win Big on Renewable Energy, But Issues Remain

by Jane Twitmyer

In the 2019 election, Virginia voters finally figured out the one weird trick that allows any jurisdiction to pass good climate and clean-energy legislation, according to Dave Roberts at VOX. “They put Democrats in charge.”

Virginia is the first southern state in the U.S. to set a goal of sourcing 100% of its electricity from renewables by 2050. The recently passed “Clean Economy Act” mandates major change. All coal, oil burning and wood pellet plants must be retired, and all in-state power plant carbon emissions eliminated by 2050. Going forward, renewable resources such as energy efficiency, battery storage and expanded solar are now required. Net-metered solar will expand from 1% to 6%. The state’s commitment for offshore wind is the third largest in the country.

These new CEA requirements are being celebrated by the newly elected Democratic majority and the climate activists who all worked vigorously to pass them. During the Session, 53 House bills and 29 Senate bills were introduced relating to creating clean energy. So, although Virginia’s utilities and the South’s two other major utilities have lagged the rest of the country in developing their energy efficiency and renewable strategies, Virginia is now on the way to building a system resourced with clean energy. Continue reading

Electric Yellow School Buses? Pure Green Grease

By Steve Haner

Having voted to give Dominion Energy Virginia a blank check to spend billions of your money on offshore wind turbines, the Virginia House of Delegates will vote today to provide hundreds of millions more from your pockets for electric school buses.

Last week the House defeated a similar bill, twice. It received only 35 votes the first time and 44 votes the second. The response from the utility and the Senate patron was to introduce a new bill “Thursday,” after she received unanimous consent from her fellow senators.  Continue reading

Energy Updates: Signs of Resistance After All

The Main Clean Energy Bill. Both General Assembly chambers have now approved a single substitute version of the omnibus clean energy bill, on largely (but not totally) party line votes. In a further compromise on their plan to save the world, proponents decided not to force closure of a Southwest Virginia coal-burning plant and were rewarded with the votes of one Southwest Virginia Republican: Del. Terry Kilgore. (Correction: The initial post incorrectly reported Sen. Ben Chafin as having voted aye. It was Republican Sen. Jill Vogel.)

Kilgore’s vote mattered as the House had only 51 aye’s. The House roll calls are not posted yet, just the vote totals.  Senate Bill 851  is now on its way to Governor Ralph Northam. Odds are further changes will be coming and another vote will be taken at the Reconvened Session on April 22. The House version was heading for a conference committee which is now not needed.  Continue reading

Dominion’s Base Rates Like Cable You Can’t Cancel

By Steve Haner

The 2020 effort to bring Dominion Energy Virginia back under full State Corporation Commission regulation failed because too many of the loudest advocates are two-faced hypocrites. If they truly cared about ratepayers and the proper balance in utility regulation, they wouldn’t be pushing that other bill, the one that further guts the SCC and adds substantial customer costs in the name of green virtue.

During the hearing Monday night State Sen. Steve Newman, R-Bedford, was quite open in chastising the various environmental advocates for talking out of both sides of their mouths, worrying about the ratepayer in one discussion but not the other. He was right. If you want Virginia energy regulation done correctly, it needs to be done correctly in all instances.  Continue reading

The Ohio Energy Bill Subsidy Virginia Would Copy

Three of the six electric utilities charging customers to provide others with Ohio PIPP subsidies. Per 1,000 kWh the surcharge to customers is $3.19 for Toledo Edison, $3.34 for Ohio Edison and $2.37 for The Illuminating Company.

by Steve Haner

Both the Virginia House of Delegates and Senate have voted to increase the price of electricity to most Virginians in order to subsidize the bills of low-income utility customers. How much? They have no idea. But the program in Ohio being copied adds from $1 to $3.66 to the price of 1,000 kilowatt hours for those not subsidized.

The Virginia version is even borrowing the name and acronym from Ohio, the Percentage of Income Payment Program (PIPP). The charge in both is called a “universal service fee.” In 2020, the Ohio program will cost ratepayers $301 million to subsidize the power bills of about 275,000 low-income households. The Public Utility Commission of Ohio (PUCO) sets the amount charged in each utility’s service territory and the Ohio Development Services Area transfers the necessary funds to the various electricity providers.

The largest electricity provider in that state of 11.7 million people, Ohio Power, has the highest “adder” on its rates, $3.66 per 1,000 kilowatt hours used. That works out to $44 per year for a residential customer using exactly that amount monthly. A large industrial or commercial user would pay the same rate until monthly consumption hit 833,000 kilowatt hours, when a reduced rate kicks in on additional consumption. The first 833,000 kilowatt hours of usage in Ohio Power’s territory is hit with a $3,050 monthly surcharge.  Continue reading

SCC Raises Estimate of Clean Energy Bill Costs

By Steve Haner

The State Corporation Commission staff popped up in a House of Delegates Committee Tuesday to provide another unwelcome lecture, with revised estimates on the likely cost to Dominion Energy Virginia customers of the pending omnibus clean energy legislation.

The numbers it provided to the House Labor and Commerce Committee Tuesday afternoon were higher than the estimate it provided in a Senate Committee two weeks before. That first document provided a range of from $23 to $31 per month more on 1,000 kilowatt hours of residential use. Now the SCC is saying the range is $28 to $36 per month, or $334 to $432 per year. Here’s the sheet, which looks much like the prior one. The big addition is an estimate of $4-6 per month for future energy storage.  Continue reading

With Friends Like These, Ratepayers in Big Trouble

By Steve Haner

If your main concern is that people pay a fair price for electricity, the best outcome of Monday’s Senate Commerce and Labor Committee meeting would be approval of the bill changing the rules on Dominion Energy Virginia’s 2021 rate review, followed by defeat or delay of the highly touted Virginia Clean Energy Act. That is also the outcome which preserves the independent authority of the State Corporation Commission.

Looks like it will be the other way around.  Continue reading

Net-Zero vs. Zero Carbon

by James A. Bacon

The Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI), an organization advocating market-based solutions to environmental issues, has taken a close look at Dominion Energy’s pledge to become a “net-zero” company by 2050. The Institute sees the company’s commitment as a positive step forward, but concludes there is less than meets the eye.

Dominion’s net-zero pledge is to significantly curtail CO2 and methane emissions from its gas-pipeline and electricity-generating operations, and to offset what remains through outside initiatives, such as capturing methane from hog and dairy farms. (For background see, “Has Dominion Gone Full Climate Change Warrior?”)

On the positive side, RMI describes Dominion’s plan as “a novel development” that extends beyond CO2, which gets most of the attention as a greenhouse gas, by addressing leaks of methane, a more powerful greenhouse gas, from its roughly 100,000 miles of gas pipelines. Also worthy is the promise to invest hundreds of millions of dollars capturing methane from farm production, a source that has received little attention to date.

However, concludes the think tank, “It is important to not let Dominion’s work on methane leaks cloud larger issues. The utility’s plan to reach net zero is not the same as the zero-carbon pledges of electric utilities. … Even if Dominion plugs all the leaks in its transmission and distribution networks, its operations will still result in emissions at the point of combustion.” Continue reading

Is Carbon Capture Technology Scalable?

by Jane Twitmyer

When talking about the future of Dominion Energy in a recent TV interview, Dominion Energy CEO Tom Farrell mentioned carbon sequestration as an approach for reducing greenhouse gas emissions as the company moves toward a “zero net” carbon energy mix.  In the past, carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) seemed to be going nowhere. But Farrell’s comments prompted me to wonder what the current status of CCS technology was. 

Today, according to the Global CCS Institute, there are 19 large-scale commercial carbon capture and sequestration facilities operating around the world, ten of which are in the United States. All of them are pulling carbon dioxide from the emissions of an associated factory or power plant. Trouble is … the carbon has nowhere to go, so both removing and sequestering the carbon adds major costs to electricity generation.

Once you’ve captured the large amounts of carbon dioxide emitted from the electricity plants, there’s the small matter of where you store it. Under everyday conditions carbon dioxide is a gas, so it takes up a huge amount of space, and we’re producing it in vast quantities. An option with its own set of complications is to turn the carbon dioxide into a liquid (so it takes up a tiny fraction as much volume) and then pump it deep underground where it hopefully will remain. The thought of storing it deep in the ocean has been discarded because the ocean has already acted as a CO2 sink and appears to be reaching its limit absorbing CO2 without creating great damage.

Continue reading

Energy Omnibus II: It Doesn’t Shut Gas Plants

Virginia City Hybrid Energy Center, St. Paul, VA. It survives until at least 2030 and perhaps 2045 in the clean energy legislation. Dominion Photo.

By Steve Haner

Will all of Virginia’s existing fossil fuel electric power plants be closed under Governor Ralph Northam’s new clean energy transition legislation? As we continue our detailed examination of House Bill 1526 (with line references), the answers may surprise some. Not many of them. Not the natural gas plants.

Dominion Energy Virginia has been on a building spree for more than a decade, financing new coal, natural gas and woody biomass generators around the state with “rate adjustment clauses,” specific charged for specific projects. All of them emit carbon dioxide. Monthly bills now include six separate RACs or “riders,” costing residential consumers $12.43 cents for every one thousand kilowatt hours of juice they consume.  Continue reading

Energy Omnibus: What it Does, How it Costs You

What will Virginians see due to the Virginia Clean Economy Act? “Lots and lots of solar,” said the patron, Del. Richard Sullivan, D-Arlington. Higher bills, added the State Corporation Commission.

By Steve Haner

The General Assembly adopted Governor Ralph Northam’s clean energy package Tuesday, with party-line votes in both the House of Delegates and Virginia Senate. Two House Democrats joined the Republicans in opposing the House version.

House Bill 1526 and Senate Bill 851 appear identical but amendments were being adopted at the last minute. Now that they have crossed over to the other chamber, they likely will become identical.  And expect furious efforts to recruit some Republican votes in favor, as this new vision for Virginia’s energy economy will be disruptive, expensive and politically explosive.

Using the House version as it passed, here is a tour of some (not all) highlights, with line references so you can follow on this PDF version of the engrossed bill. If you want to see it without line numbers, but with highlighting of the new language instead, look here. For that I’ve used the Senate bill.

The bill overrides State Corporation Commission authority to look out for consumers in too many places to count, but you’ll find the clearest and most important example of that on line 1399 of the House bill.  Continue reading

Huge Dominion Pipeline Project Loses Partner

By Peter Galuszka

The delayed Atlantic Coast Pipeline is undergoing a major change due to rising costs and legal delays – The Southern Company, based in Atlanta, is backing out of the project as an equity partner.

According to an announcement late Tuesday, Dominion Energy will acquire The Southern Company’s 5% stake in the natural gas project whose cost has risen from $5.1 billion to $8 billion thanks largely to legal challenges by environmentalists and regulatory agencies. The new ownership structure will be 53% Dominion and 47% Duke Energy, based in Charlotte.

The Southern Company will be still related to the project as an “anchor shipper,” the announcement said.

Another surprise in the announcement is that the pipeline project will buy a small Liquefied Natural Gas plant in Jacksonville, Fla. Dominion will assume ownership of it from Southern. That raises questions because for years Dominion has vigorously denied that the 600-mile-long pipeline has any link to plans to export LNG. Dominion does own an LNG export facility at Lugsby, Md. on the Chesapeake Bay that exports LNG mostly to Asian utilities. Continue reading

Has Dominion Gone Full Climate-Change Warrior?

Pacific-islander climate change warriors

by James A. Bacon

As the Democratic-dominated General Assembly considers legislation to transform Virginia’s electric grid, Dominion Energy has issued a statement setting a formal goal of achieving “net zero emissions” of carbon dioxide and methane by 2050.

That’s not an easy thing to do for a company that hopes to expand its 14,000-mile natural gas pipeline network by building the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. Under Dominion’s long-range plan, CO2 and methane emissions will be offset through the capture of methane from hog and dairy producers and investments in electric school buses and electric-vehicle infrastructure, among other strategies.

“Our mandate is to provide reliable and affordable energy – safely,” said Chairman Thomas F. Farrell. “But we recognize that we must also continue to be a leader in combating climate change. … I am confident we can … help solve this challenge and leave the world a better place for future generations.”

A topic not mentioned in the press release was how much this 30-year transformation will cost electric ratepayers in Virginia. As Steve Haner has reported, State Corporation Commission staff has estimated that Governor Northam’s proposed zero-carbon legislation will boost retail electric bills by 20%. Continue reading