Tag Archives: Solar energy

Will Environmental Regs Throttle the Solar Industry?

by James A. Bacon

Virginia environmentalists are coming to grips with the fact that while solar farms may help fight global warming, they’re not always good for the local environment. In the wealthy northern Piedmont, known for its wineries, horse farms and scenic vistas, some residents have complained about the clear-cutting of forest to make way to acres upon acres of solar panels.

“The number-one thing I hear from communities in which we serve is concern about the loss of farms and forests with regard to these projects,” said Dan Holmes, director of state policy for the Piedmont Environmental Council, tells the Virginia Mercury.

A recent Virginia Commonwealth University study found that roughly 8,000 of the 14,000 acres disturbed in Virginia for solar installations were previously forested. The loss of wooded land and the compaction of cropland contribute to run-off and erosion that sets back the effort to improve water quality in the Chesapeake Bay.

Legislation hammered out in the General Assembly this year, reports the Mercury, attempts to achieve a balance between protecting the local environment while allowing development of utility-scale solar farms to proceed. Projects affecting more than 50 acres of forested land or 10 acres of prime farmland will have to provide mitigation for those impacts, with the criteria to be worked out in a convening of stakeholders by the Department of Environmental Quality.

Chip Dicks, a lobbyist representing solar developers and renewable energy buyers, worries that the mitigation could be defined so narrowly as to preclude development on prime agricultural and forested lands entirely. That “would basically stop in its tracks most major solar projects in Virginia,” he has said. Continue reading

The Latest Obstacle to Solar Power in Virginia: the PJM Project Queue

New connection requests in the PJM system. (Click for more legible image.)

by James A. Bacon

Solar energy is the cheapest source of energy available to the world today. The more solar energy we can generate, the better… up to a certain point. Once solar and other intermittent energy sources comprise 30% or so of the juice supplied to the electric grid, they create problems with reliability during extreme weather events, which can be surmounted only through investment in backup generation and energy storage. Until we reach that point, however, here in Virginia we should be doing everything possible to promote solar.

The Virginia Clean Energy Act (VCEA) has set the goal of achieving a 100% zero-carbon electric grid by 2050 (most of it supplied by solar and wind), but we’re nowhere near 30% renewables. Bacon’s Rebellion has highlighted one of the big obstacles facing solar developers in Virginia — getting large, utility-scale solar farms local permits in counties where residents want to conserve pristine viewsheds and traditional agricultural lifestyles.

It turns out that there’s another obstacle — getting projects approved by PJM Interconnection, LLC, which oversees the electric grid in the 13-state region of which Virginia is a part. There is no lack of proposed solar projects — whether they are economically viable is a different question — and PJM is overwhelmed. 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

Bacon Bits: People’s Republic Update

How’s this for irony? The only thing saving the City Council of the People’s Republic of Charlottesville from increasing dysfunction in the future is dysfunctional governance today. City Council wants to draft an ordinance that would outline collective bargaining rights for employees, enabling them to negotiate for higher salaries and changes to working conditions — creating new spending pressures, new labor tensions and new areas for conflict. In August Council directed the city manager to research how much money would be needed to support the human resources department in such an endeavor. Trouble is, Charlottesville can’t hire a city manager. The announced interim city manager just resigned. And it turns out that City Hall has no human resources director either. So reports the Daily Progress.

The cultural cleansing shall continue. City Council has approved the sale of Charlottesville’s Robert E. Lee statue to a group that will melt it down and turn it into new artwork. After the city took down the statue of the Confederate hero over the summer, it received six proposals from arts groups, historical societies and individuals” with offers up to $50,000 for the bronze sculpture, reports The Washington Post. City Council chose instead to give the statue to the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center to advance a project to “allow Charlottesville to contend with its racist past.” I’ve only got one question: If the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center is so distraught about the racism embodied in statues and memorials, why is it still named the Jefferson School?

The no-solar solar capital. No part of Virginia outdoes the People’s Republic when it comes to enthusiasm for renewable energy, at least in the abstract. Charlottesville and Albemarle County are home to numerous renewable energy companies — Sun Tribe, Hexagon Energy and Apex Energy among them, not to mention the Clean Virginia pro-renewables advocacy group. Charlottesville/ Albemarle is an ideal location for solar projects in at least one way: proximity to high-capacity electric transmission lines. But the Department of Environmental Quality’s “environmental data mapper” shows only two utility-scale solar projects in Albemarle — and neither are producing. Continue reading

More Bacon Bits

Mia Love to Speak at UVa. Mia Love, the first Black Republican woman elected to Congress, will deliver a speech at the University of Virginia tomorrow, addressing the topic, “Preserving the American Tradition.” Love’s address is the second in a series of events bringing outside conservative voices to UVa sponsored by The Jefferson Council. For details, click here.

Police shortages not just for big cities. The City of Lynchburg Police Department has 28 open positions, and recruiting new officers is difficult. In 2010, the department saw between 1,500 and 2,000 applicants. Last year, it had only 342 applicants. “Officers are just getting into a profession that they don’t feel like they’re valued in a lot of times, unfortunately,” Police Chief Ryan Zuidema told WSET News. As a consequence, response times to 911 calls are slower, he said. Part of the problem is that Lynchburg police tend to be younger and have less experience. Another is that mental health calls are taking officers off the streets. “On any given night or any given day, we have multiple police officers sitting at the hospital with mental health patients, and those officers are not available to respond to calls for service.”

Another one bites the dust. The Henry County Board of Zoning Appeals has turned down requests from two solar energy companies to convert hundreds of acres near the community of Axton into solar farms, according to The Martinsville Bulletin. Henry County’s solar ordinance calls for no more than 2.5% of the land area within a five-mile radius to be devoted to solar, and one solar farm already operates in the Axton area. “Solar energy is here, and it’s the future, but Axton doesn’t need to be the epicenter of it,” said zoning director Lee Clark. Solar projects are being approved in Virginia, but arguably not enough to meet the requirements of the Virginia Clean Economy Act to decarbonize Virginia’s electric grid by 2050.

Dominion Dips Toe into Battery Storage

by James A. Bacon

Last week Dominion Energy announced a slew of new solar and energy-storage projects, which it describes as a “significant step” toward achieving the net-zero carbon goals for Virginia’s electric grid under the Virginia Clean Energy Act.

The proposed investments include 11 utility-scale projects, two small-scale distributed solar projects, one combined solar and energy-storage project, and one stand-alone energy storage project. Aside from receiving State Corporation Commission approval, the projects will require state environmental permits and local zoning approval.

Once in operation, the projects will be able to provide 1,000 megawatts of electricity, or roughly enough to power 250,000 homes at peak output. Dominion said the package of projects would add $1.13 to the typical residential customer’s monthly bill.

Dominion’s announcement raises questions. If utility-scale solar is the most economical form of electricity generation, how come rates will be going up? Continue reading

Bacon Bits: Wind, Rain and Sun Edition

What happens when the wind doesn’t blow? The North Sea, locale of the world’s largest cluster of wind farms, normally delivers strong, consistent wind flows that keeps the turbines spinning. But every once in a while, weather happens and the winds diminish. That’s what’s occurring now. Blame it on global warming, if you will — that seems to be the explanation for every inconvenient fluctuation in rainfall, temperature and extreme weather.

Whatever the cause, according to the Wall Street Journal, the falloff in wind is wreaking havoc in the United Kingdom, where wind supplies 25% of the nation’s electric power. Due to the wind “shortage,” marginal electricity prices have shot up to the equivalent of $395 per megawatt/hour (or $0.395 per kilowatt hour). That compares to the statewide average of $0.11 per kilowatt hour in Virginia. To make up the deficit, UK utilities have been burning more… coal. Coal will provide a backstop until 2024, when all coal-fired plants will be shuttered. Is anyone in Virginia paying attention?

Speaking of coal… Southwest Virginians are still casting around for ideas of what to do when the coal plants close. There is no lack of creative thinking. I just don’t know how practical it is. Here is the latest: growing artisanal grains. Once upon a time, Virginia’s coal counties grew grain to supply alcohol feedstock for a booming coal-town bars and saloons. The economics shifted in favor of massive Midwest farms, which enjoyed economies of scale, and local grain farming nearly ceased. But, according to The Virginia Mercury, local economic-development groups want to play on the local-food movement to make Southwest Virginia a primary source of specialty grains for Virginia’s growing craft beverage industry. Virginia imports 400,000 bushels of grain into the state. Snagging  a piece of that action could support a lot of farms.

With climate change, who knows how that will work out. Let’s hope the rain keeps falling. Continue reading

Could Solar “Sink Under the Weight of Its Own Trash”?

by James A. Bacon

Solar energy is widely regarded as the most cost-effective source of electricity available today. According to financial advisory firm Lazard, the Levelized Cost of Energy (LCOE) for solar, about $30 per MWh, is nearly half that of the most cost-effective fossil fuel, combined-cycle natural gas. The great economic advantage of solar, of course, is that is has no fuel cost. The sun is free.

Now an article in the Harvard Business Review, “The Dark Side of Solar Power,” suggests that the LCOE for solar could be four times greater when the full life-cycle cost, including recycling, is taken into account.

The problem is that solar panels contain small quantities of potentially toxic chemicals, primarily cadmium and lead. These are the very same heavy metals that caused massive freak-outs when they were found in the coal-ash waste of power plant ponds. Worried that leachate from coal ash could contaminate the water supply, environmentalists insisted that the material had to be buried in double-lined landfills at the cost of billions of dollars. Continue reading

What Is a Farming Landowner to Do?

by Jim Kindig

My 3rd great grandfather came to Augusta County in the 1820s, cleared land and established crops on land that is still in our family. Several of my neighbors could tell similar stories. We love farming, but it’s a hard life. Incredible increases in productivity have kept agricultural commodity prices depressed for 80 years. To keep up with the latest and greatest agricultural machinery and technology, farmers have borrowed heavily, using their ancestral lands as collateral. One or two bad years, and they go broke. Many see no way out of their cycle of indebtedness.

Today there is light at the end of the tunnel, so to speak, and that light comes from the sun. Large-scale solar farms offer landowners a low-risk means to keep their farm land. They can lease acreage to a solar developer for a guaranteed income over 25 years. At the end of the lease, they can easily convert the land back to agricultural production with no degradation of soil quality or health. Continue reading

From Farming Corn to Electrons

Dominion solar farm. Photo credit: Dominion.

By Dick Hall-Sizemore

In light of recent denials by local governing bodies, there has been some skepticism expressed on this blog as to whether the Commonwealth could meet its goals on solar energy. Going against recent trends, however, has been the city of Chesapeake.

According to the Virginian-Pilot, the city council recently approved an application to build a 900-acre solar farm. This most recent approval about doubles the size of three previously-approved projects. It is estimated the project will cost $100 million. The company anticipates generating 118 megawatts, enough to power about 20,000 homes.

The land involved is now prime farmland. An interesting aspect of this project is that is an amalgamation of acreage from multiple owners. Continue reading

The Electrification of Everything

by James A. Bacon

The world economy is rapidly electrifying. Driven by new technologies and the environmentalist push to decarbonize the economy, an increasing share of the energy Americans consume will come out of the electric socket, reports the Wall Street Journal in a special report. “Instead of having fuels like natural gas or oil or gasoline flow directly into our homes, offices, manufacturing facilities and cars, those fuels — and other sources of energy — will increasingly be converted to electricity first.”

A Princeton University study finds that electrifying buildings and transportation could double the amount of electricity used in the United States by 2050, lifting electricity’s share of total energy from about 20% today to close to 50%.

Electrification offers the ability to harness renewable power sources, primarily wind and solar, to displace carbon fuels that contribute to global warming. But it does present the challenge of maintaining the integrity of the electric grid in the face of natural disasters, cyber attacks, and other challenges. While many environmentalists consider global warming to be an existential threat to humanity, a collapse of the electric grid accounting for 50% of all energy consumption would pose an equally existential threat to human well being — within the next two or three decades, not by the end of the century. Continue reading

Another One Bites the Dust

Utility-scale solar projects are getting shot down like Hamas rockets.

by James A. Bacon

From today’s news dump courtesy of VA News:

The Fauquier County Board of Supervisors unanimously rejected an application by Dynamic Energy LLC to build a five-megawatt solar facility on 40 acres of farmland near Bealeton, reports Fauquier Now. “When I looked at this,” said Supervisor Rick Gerhardt, “I didn’t want to take solid farmland out of production. Those are good soils on that property. For me, I do not want to see that removed from farming.” The county planning commission had rejected it previously by a 3 to 2 vote.

Meanwhile, Round Hill Solar LLC has withdrawn a plan to develop 560 acres of solar panels from the Augusta County Board of Supervisor. The planning commission had already determined that the plan conflicted with the county’s comprehensive plan that took location, character, and extent of the project into consideration, reports the News Leader. Continue reading

Bacon Bits Does Electric Grid

Source: “Electricity Sales Forecast for Virginia: 2020-2050”

Boom times ahead for electricity. Electricity demand in Virginia will grow 30%, give or take, over the next 15 years as more energy-consuming data centers are built and more Virginians drive electric vehicles, writes Bill Shobe, a University of Virginia professor who supports the transition to a net-zero-carbon electric grid, in a new report. Electricity use could grow by more than 78% by 2050, the state’s deadline for achieving net zero. The increase will occur despite gains in energy efficiency that have flattened electricity demand growth in recent years.

Where will all that power come from?

Relicensing the nukes. Dominion Energy’s four nuclear units at the Surry and North Anna power stations produce about one-third of the utility’s electricity. The units, originally designed to last 40 years, are licensed to operate another 20 years. Dominion is seeking regulatory approval to extend the licenses yet another 20 years. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission staff has recommended granting that approval for the two Surry units. But some environmentalists are opposed. Continue reading

The Transmission Bottleneck for Renewable Energy

by James A. Bacon

You want more renewable energy? You’re going to need more high-voltage transmission lines to move intermittent wind and solar power around the country to balance fluctuating supply and demand. And you’d better get started. Transmission planning and construction involves long lead times, typically between seven and ten years.

“The window may be closing to develop the needed transmission expansion to enable the optimization of clean energy, meet state clean energy objectives, and other ‘voluntary’ demand for low-cost renewable energy,” summarizes a new study, “How Transmission Planning & Cost Allocation Processes Are Inhibiting Wind & Solar Development in SPP, MISO, & PJM.” Continue reading

In the Face of Local Resistance, Can Virginia Meet Its Solar Goals?

by James A. Bacon

Virginia needs to build dozens of square miles of solar panels if there is any hope of reaching the goal of a zero-carbon electric grid by 2045 in Dominion Energy territory and 2050 across the state. The General Assembly can compel the state’s electric utilities to purchase the solar power but it can’t compel anyone to develop the solar farms, especially if local governments are opposed.

Numerous solar projects have been approved — including, most recently, $400 million in a 280-megawatt in Pulaski County, so there’s no question that solar will be a big part of Virginia’s energy future. But are enough projects getting approved?

The odds are looking slim for a $200 million, 149-megawatt proposal by North Carolina-based Strata Solar in Culpeper County. County staff had expressed concerns about the proposed 1,700-acre Maroon Solar power plant, and yesterday the planning commission unanimously recommended denial of the plan, reports the Culpeper Star-Exponent. Continue reading