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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Photo courtesy Secure Futures LLC
by Aaron Sutch
In another life, I was a middle school teacher. I taught for four years at a public school. It’s a hard age group. But I found the antics of my 7th and 8th grade students more amusing than frustrating. Perhaps I was well-prepared, having worked at a zoo before entering the classroom.
As a teacher, I enjoyed working with students, but was constantly frustrated as we faced shrinking budgets. Administrators were forced to decide between paying for rising energy costs or investing in resources for my students.
It broke my heart to see tight funds diverted from students to cover rising electricity bills. It happened all the time.
So it’s exciting that Virginia schools are installing solar power to generate electricity and save on energy costs. The Commonwealth now ranks among the top 10 states for solar on K-12 schools with more than 34,000 KW of installed solar capacity. This is enough to power 3,700 Virginia homes. Continue reading
by James A. Bacon
I have consistently supported the expansion of solar energy in Virginia, at least up to a point where it doesn’t compromise the reliability of the electric grid. When up-front capital costs and fuel costs are taken into account, solar is the lowest cost source of electricity in Virginia. Furthermore, as a supporter of property rights, I believe that rural landowners should be free to contract with developers to build solar farms on parcels that might otherwise lie fallow or go underutilized. Building solar farms potentially could put hundreds of millions of dollars in the pockets of rural landowners.
But I understand why people in rural Virginia get up in arms when big solar developers want to blanket thousands of acres with solar panels. I don’t necessarily agree with their proposed remedies, but I do understand.
Virginia’s urban/rural divide is becoming more pronounced than ever. That divide is most visible in voting results and electoral maps that show a vast geographic expanse of “red” Virginia compared to concentrated, highly populated clusters in “blue” Virginia. Views differ on a wide range of issues from gun rights and abortion to taxes and climate change. Continue reading
by James A. Bacon
Two weeks ago Del. Nick Freitas submitted HB 2265 to repeal the Virginia Clean Economy Act on the grounds that it could jack up the electric bill of the average Virginia household by $800. “It is critical that the Commonwealth not add to the financial burdens of people trying to heat their homes by raising their rates as the VCEA clearly does,” he said in a press release at the time.
I totally agree. The issue seems a bit academic today, as the bill did not make it out of committee. But the Virginia Clean Economy Act will take three decades to unfold, so the issue Freitas raised isn’t going away. I bring it up now because I think that Virginians who have problems with the Act need to get their story straight and work in unison. And there’s one important point where I differ with Freitas.
With the enactment of the VCEA, Freitas wrote in the press release, Virginia is experiencing extensive land leasing and acquisition by solar developers. More than 180 solar projects accounting for 140 million solar panels are in various stages of approval or construction. Full implementation of the ACT would consume 490 square miles of Virginia’s forests and farmland, an area twenty times the size of Manhattan. Continue reading
by Emilio Jaksetic
Virginia law (Virginia Code, Section 67-701 ) makes it easier for owners to consider installing solar panels on their property by limiting the ability of community associations to prohibit or restrict the installation of solar panels on the owner’s property. While the statute is likely to encourage the use of solar panels by property owners, there are some things that should be considered by property owners, community associations, and local government officials.
First, community associations in Virginia should get legal advice about the scope and applicability of Section 67-701 before trying to prohibit or restrict an owner from installing a solar panel on the owner’s property. (The relevant definition of “community association” is provided by Section 67-700.)
Second, owners should not rush to install solar panels on their property, and community associations should not rush to install solar panels on the common areas of their community, without considering the following: Continue reading
New sparkplug for Colonial Williamsburg. Carly Fiorina, former CEO of Hewlett-Packard, unsuccessful candidate for president and Virginia resident since 2011, has joined the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation Board of Trustees as chairwoman. It is gratifying to see Fiorina, a truly dynamic individual, apply her talents to a Virginia enterprise. Colonial Williamsburg has suffered a long-term decline as American interest in visiting historical sites has ebbed. Like all tourism attractions, the preserved colonial town also has been hobbled by mandated and self-imposed travel restrictions during the COVID-19 epidemic.
Speaking of conserving history… The American Battlefield Trust has issued a report describing how developing massive solar farms can be made compatible with the preservation of rural historical resources. “Conflict tends to arise when developers disregard the historic and cultural landscapes on or near potential solar sites,” states the report, “Siting Solar in Virginia: Protecting Virginia’s Historic Landscape While Meeting the State’s Clean Energy Goals.” The report advises: (1) early planning and consultation can help avoid harm to historic resources; (2) localities should establish clear rules and guidelines; (3) developers should consider locating solar facilities on greyfield or brownfield land, or co-locating with existing uses such as rooftops and parking lots; (4) developers should proactively engage with the State Historic Preservation Office.
Speaking of solar production… Dominion Energy has scrapped its plans to build a $200 million gas-fired peaking plant at the Southern Virginia Megasite in Pittsylvania County. Reports the Chatham Star-Tribune: The company said it no longer believes it is possible to build the units planned in Pittsvylania County “despite the economic and reliability benefits for our customers.” Peaker plants offset fluctuations in supply and demand to maintain a stable electric grid, a concern that will become all the more pressing as Virginia moves to increased solar production. “We plan to conduct a further reliability study to determine how best to move forward to maintain the around-the-clock service our customers need.” Continue reading