by James A. Bacon
Offshore wind turbines are works of engineering beauty. Soaring as high as the Washington Monument, they are a magnificent sight to behold, as I saw for myself on an excursion Wednesday to view Dominion Energy’s two experimental wind turbines up close. The towers are also very expensive — not just the two pilot turbines, which no one pretended at $300 million for the pair would produce economical electricity, but the fully built-out wind farm with 180 turbines at a cost currently estimated at $7.8 billion.
If the only cost you consider is the expense of erecting a turbine itself, offshore wind can look competitive with solar and combined-cycle natural gas. Dominion officials estimate their wind turbines will generate electricity at a cost of 8 cents to 9 cents per kilowatt hour. That’s less than the average rate of $10.83 cents per kilowatt hour Dominion charges its customers.
But the turbines don’t generate electricity in a vacuum. They are part of an electrical-generating system. And you can’t build a system around turbines that generate electricity only when the wind blows. Dominion must build a major transmission line to plug into the grid and maintain backup power sources to kick in when the winds fall still. Continue reading
The Luxembourg-flagged Vole Au Vent is seen here installing one of Dominion Energy’s two experimental wind turbines 27 miles off the Virginia coast last year. Photo credit: Dominion. An American-made vessel will install the next 180 or so turbines.
by James A. Bacon
The primary justification for spending $7.8 billion to build a wind farm off the Virginia coast at a significantly higher cost per kilowatt than other energy sources is to advance Virginia’s goal of achieving a zero-carbon electric grid by 2050. But an important secondary consideration is the hope that the project will jump-start the creation of a new industry in Hampton Roads serving the emerging East Coast offshore wind industry.
Virginia has deep channels, no bridge obstructions, an active maritime community, and perhaps the nation’s largest shipbuilding industry. Dominion Energy’s Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind Project, it is hoped, will catalyze development of a multibillion-dollar offshore wind-energy industry in Virginia.
That case is a little harder to make these days. When Dominion decided to invest $500 million in building an offshore wind-turbine installation vessel, none of Virginia’s shipbuilding companies was interested. All were booked up with Navy contracts. The vessel, named after the mythical Greek sea monster Charybdis, is being constructed in Brownsville, Texas. Continue reading
by James A. Bacon
Dominion Energy spent $300 million to erect the two wind turbines now standing about 27 miles off the Virginia coast, a sum that could never be justified by the 12 megawatts of generating capacity they add to the grid— enough to power only 3,000 homes. The real benefit will come later, when Dominion builds a proposed 180-turbine wind farm expected to generate 2,640 megawatts of capacity, enough to power up to 600,000 homes, at a projected cost of $7.8 billion.
Thanks to the data gathered from the two experimental turbines, Dominion officials say it will need 40 fewer of the multimillion-dollar turbines than it had originally anticipated, a savings of hundreds of millions of dollars. Also, from the experience of leasing an expensive, hard-to-book installation vessel, Dominion is investing $500 million, risking shareholders’ money not ratepayers’ money, which will serve other East Coast windfarm projects as well as Dominion’s at a lower cost than chartering a European vessel.
Company officials say they have learned other odds and ends from the experimental turbines that will inform their safety and environmental efforts going forward. Continue reading
Out of Order
I’m just back from a trip to Virginia Beach on a media tour of Dominion Energy’s two experimental offshore wind turbines. I’ll have more to say about them shortly. As for the subject of this post… Driving home, I stopped at the Interstate 64 rest stop between West Point and Richmond. Very conveniently for drivers of electric vehicles, the rest stop sports two EV fast-charging stations. Recharge your car while you’re taking a leak!
Dominion Energy installed the fast-charging station in partnership with the Virginia Department of Transportation in 2009, according to this article in the Richmond Times-Dispatch. It was to be the first of many.
Correction: The original version of this post made the inaccurate assumption that these charging stations were part of a recent Northam administration initiative with Los Angeles-base EVgo funded from a Volkswagen settlement. Bacon’s Rebellion regrets the error. But Bacon’s Rebellion still wonders who paid for the charging stations — Dominion rate payers or shareholders — and how long they have been out of order.
by James A. Bacon
Like 450 other higher-ed institutions across the United States, the University of Virginia will require all students to be fully vaccinated for the COVID-19 vaccine if they want to return to classes this fall. The mandate extends to the 2,800 students who got the virus and now enjoy acquired immunities. Oddly, the mandate does not include university employees, even though they are older on average and more likely to catch and spread the virus.
Virginia may be reaching herd immunity as the number of confirmed cases rapidly approaches zero, but UVa can be fairly said to have reached herd insanity — the phenomenon of following other colleges and universities issuing vaccine mandates because everyone is issuing them.
A couple of days ago I wrote a post asking the university to reveal UVa President Jim Ryan’s justification for asking the Board of Visitors to approve the mandate. No explanation is forthcoming. The university says that the president’s “working papers” are exempt from the Freedom of Information Act. Judging by the comments on that post (150 at this point), readers were more fixated on the scientific and moral dimensions of the policy than UVa’s lack of transparency, so I turn to that issue today.
While pro- and anti-mandate advocates were contending on Bacon’s Rebellion, Aaron Kheriaty and Gerard F. Bradley published a column in the Wall Street Journal that clarified several aspects of the debate. Continue reading
by James A. Bacon
Virginia has its very own Lake Wobegon, Garrison Keiller’s fictional Minnesota community where “all the children are above average.” According to a presentation made to the Charlottesville School Board last week, students in the City of Charlottesville aren’t just “above average” — they’re way above average. Indeed, the city’s public school system has identified 86% of the city’s students as “gifted,” according to the Daily Progress.
The 86%-gifted finding is all the more remarkable when you consider the fact that only half (50%) of Charlottesville public school students passed their English Standards of Learnings (SOL) exams in the 2018-19 school year, and only 20% qualified as “advanced.”
The state requires school systems to screen, refer and identify students for gifted education. The gifted label allows students to to attend summer residential governor’s schools. Gifted students also are given enrichment lessons and activities. Continue reading
Setting the bar for low expectations. Yup, that’s Virginia in the red circle. Virginia’s passing grade for 4th grade Standards of Learning exams is below what the NAEP considers “basic,” which is lower than proficient.
by James A. Bacon
Virginia’s standardized tests used to measure reading and math proficiency for 4th graders set the lowest passing score in the country in 2019 — literally the lowest among the 50 states — according to a National Assessment of Educational Progress report. Virginia’s reading standards were so low that they fell below what NAEP considered “basic.”
NAEP conducts what it calls a “mapping study” that compares the proficiency standards set by the states for their students. Because standards vary across states, they cannot be compared directly. So, NAEP compares state standards to its standard, which it uses for national tests every two years.
The mapping study, released June 1, 2021, examined the reading and math standards for tests administered in 2019. Virginia’s reading standards that year reflected decisions made by the Virginia Board of Education (SBOE) in 2013. In 2020 the SBOE watered down Virginia’s English reading test standards even more, requiring students to answer even fewer questions correctly to be considered “proficient.” Unless other states lower their standards, Virginia could fall even further behind its peers. Continue reading
by James A. Bacon
Walter Smith, a University of Virginia alumnus, was miffed when UVa leadership mandated that all students must be vaccinated if they are to return to the university in the fall. His daughter, a UVa student, had caught the COVID-19 virus, lived through 10 days of quarantine, acquired natural immunities, and was at near-zero risk of spreading the virus. He saw no purpose in exposing her to whatever dangers might be associated with taking the vaccine. Moreover, he had concerns about health-privacy violations as well as philosophical objections of a civil-liberties nature.
You may disagree with Smith’s characterization of the vaccination mandate — which has been adopted at most other Virginia public universities, incidentally — as “un-American, un-scientific, [and] totalitarian.” But if you believe in transparency, then you should be concerned about what happened when Smith tried to ascertain UVa’s reasoning for the requirement.
News reports were worthless. In May Smith wrote UVa President Jim Ryan and Rector James Murray to ask the justification for the mandate. Ryan did not respond, but Murray did. He wrote: Continue reading
A Fairfax County police car vandalized with spray paint in a 2016 incident.
by James A. Bacon
Steve Descano was elected Commonwealth Attorney of Fairfax County in 2019 on the promise that he would end mass incarceration by winding down the prosecution of marijuana possession and raising the threshold to $1,500 for larceny prosecutions. As he stated in his reform platform, “I will not ruin someone’s life because of an impulsive decision to steal an iPhone.”
It did not take long for his policies to spark a backlash. Charging Descano with pleading felonies to misdemeanors, a failure to punish reckless drivers, and abandoning victims of violent crimes, a Fairfax citizens group has launched a recall initiative.
With the publication of the Crime in Virginia 2020 report, we have the data to get a better feeling for what Descano was up to last year. The statistics for Virginia’s most populous county indicate that he was as good as his word — he significantly reduced prosecutions for shoplifting and drug-related crimes. The big question is whether Descano’s brand of social justice will make Fairfax County less livable for law-abiding, middle-class families. Continue reading
An article in the today’s Wall Street Journal, “Innovationville, USA,” writes approvingly of universal incomes, citing no-strings-attached pilot programs in Stockton, Calif., Peterson, N.J., and… (drum roll)… Richmond, Va. The Richmond Resilience Initiative provides $500 per month to 18 working families who don’t qualify for other aid but who, in Mayor Levar Stoney’s estimation, don’t make a living wage.
I’ll concede that $500 a month isn’t a lot of money. And I’ll credit backers of the Richmond program for acknowledging that handing out too much moolah would dampen the incentive to work. However, many people back a more expansive program. For instance, Andrew Yang, an unsuccessful candidate for president and now a contender for mayor of New York, proposed a “freedom dividend” consisting of $1,000 monthly for each American adult.
I suppose it’s OK to conduct social experiments to see what families do with the extra money. We might learn something useful. But the famous admonition of Karl Marx comes to mind: “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.” Continue reading
by James A. Bacon
Kieran Bhattacharya, a University of Virginia School of Medicine student who claims he was expelled for challenging left-wing political orthodoxy at the school, has filed new papers expanding upon his allegations. Among the more explosive charges, he asserts that he was twice committed against his will to psychiatric facilities, given antipsychotic medication, and once woke up from his tranquilized state to find himself in a car bound for a private psychiatric hospital in Petersburg.
UVa’s response to Bhattacharya’s “dissident speech” is “reminiscent of the infamous ‘treatment’ of dissidents in psychiatric hospitals in the former Soviet Union,” says the pleading, which was filed yesterday in the U.S. District Court in Charlottesville in support of a request for a jury trial.
Adding another new dimension to the lawsuit, Bhattacharya contended that his ex-girlfriend collaborated with med school officials to drum him out of school after he had broken up with her. He describes her as a controlling, manipulative and vindictive woman who boasted how she had gained revenge against two former boyfriends at Emory University by charging them with rape.
After reading the filing, one is inclined to believe that one of two things must be true. Either the UVa med school is sitting on the biggest scandal in its history or Kieran Bhattacharya is a young man in serious need of help. Continue reading
Sources: “Crime in Virginia 2020” and The Washington Post.
by James A. Bacon
As protesters marched in many Virginia cities last year in protest of the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minn., many Virginia politicians suggested that the kind of police abuses occurring in other states were endemic here in Virginia. The General Assembly enacted numerous laws to reduce mass incarceration and curtail perceived police abuses. All the protests and lawmaking occurred in a factual vacuum, however. Was there any truth to the proposition that Blacks were more likely than Whites to be killed by police here in Virginia? Is law enforcement in Virginia “systemically racist”? No one provided any data to confirm or falsify the proposition.
Data does exist. The Virginia State Police published Monday its “Crime in Virginia 2020” report. The report devotes a section to officer-involved shootings, of which there were 13 resulting in fatalities and 19 in injuries. The report does not identify the race of the police shooting victims, but by cross-referencing the published information with the Washington Post police shootings database, I was able to identify the race/ethnicity of 12 of the 13 men (they were all men) killed by police. Six were White, four Black, one Hispanic, and one Asian.
Do those numbers support the conclusion that police are more likely to resort to deadly violence against Blacks than Whites? It depends on what you use as your yardstick for comparison. Continue reading
by James A. Bacon
My fellow members of The Jefferson Council and I are united in our determination to protect the Jeffersonian legacy at the University of Virginia, in particular to champion free speech and expression on the grounds. An internal debate we have is whether we should work with President James Ryan in advancing this goal or rather, seeing him as part of the problem, work to remove him. We have reached no formal conclusion.
Ryan has not been entirely unresponsive to our concerns. Most notably, he appointed a committee to draft a statement on free speech and expression, which it did and which the Board of Visitors formally adopted. But, as Ryan himself conceded, the challenge now is to actually apply those abstract principles to real world circumstances.
I have argued that it is meaningless to champion free speech if all UVa administrators and faculty members hew to the same narrow range of moderate-left-to-far-left worldviews and other voices are systematically weeded out through the hiring and firing process. Creating an institution where a “marketplace of ideas” leads to a vibrant exchange of views presupposes that participants actually have… different ideas. Continue reading
Full-Time Law Enforcement Employees, Virginia, Oct. 31, 2020. Source: Crime in Virginia 2020
In conservative media, we often hear how law-enforcement morale plummeted last year in the face of withering criticism from politicians, media and even the public. We read of rising retirements and resignations and of shrinking recruitment, especially in big cities where anti-police rhetoric is strongest. So, what’s the story in Virginia?
If the data from the Crime in Virginia 2020 report is to be believed, local governments in the Old Dominion dramatically boosted the number of law enforcement personnel last year. Full-time law-enforcement employment as of Oct. 31 rose to more than 27,400 — up from 24,400 the previous year.
Employment by the Virginia State Police and college police forces was fairly stable, but the number of county law enforcement officers surged 24%, city officers by 26%, and “other agency” officers by 40%. Continue reading