Projected demand for rare metals production required to meet Paris climate accord CO2 emission goals. Source: “Metal Demand for Renewable Electricity and generation in the Netherlands.”
by James A. Bacon
Tom Hadwin is one of the smartest, most well-informed commentators in Virginia on the subject of the electric grid, utility regulation and Dominion Virginia Energy. He sets a high standard for the discussion about energy policy in Virginia. He is calm, rational and fact-based, he refrains from ad hominem attacks and does not engage in partisan hysterics. It is a pleasure exchanging views with him, even when we disagree, and I would recommend readers with an interest in the future of the electric grid to read his thorough and thoughtful comments on Dominion’s 2020 Integrated Research Plan, which you can find below.
That said, Hadwin advances several propositions that are at best debatable. In this post, I wish to focus on one in particular: the way he frames his analysis to include the system-wide costs of drilling and distribution when calculating the environmental costs of natural gas and ignoring the system-wide costs of mining and processing rare-earth metals when calculating the environmental costs of solar panels and wind turbines.
Hadwin observes that many energy executives and financiers promoted natural gas as the “bridge fuel” to a clean energy future on the grounds that CO2 emissions from power-plant combustion are half that of coal. But he goes on to argue that it is not adequate to consider natural-gas combustion alone. One must take a holistic approach of natural gas drilling, fracking, and distribution as well as combustion. Writes Hadwin: Continue reading
Rolling blackout in Pasadena, CA.
by Bill O’Keefe
Virginia has passed a law — SB 851 — requiring 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. According to the Energy Information Administration, natural gas fueled 53% of Virginia’s electricity net generation in 2018, nuclear power provided almost 31%, coal fueled about 10% and renewable resources, primarily biomass, supplied nearly 7%. Over the next decade, Virginia must replace its coal fired power and reduce its gas-generated electricity by over 40%. From its public statements, Dominion plans to go all out in wind and solar, emulating California.
California’s electricity rates are 61% higher than Virginia’s — 19.79 cents per Kwh versus 12.28 cents. Over the past month, there have been numerous news stories about rolling blackouts in California caused by renewable energy mandates and inability to substitute enough from other sources when solar and wind aren’t able to meet demand. Continue reading
A battery storage facility: not nearly as photogenic as solar panels and wind turbines
by James A. Bacon
Rappahannock Electric Cooperative (REC) is partnering with Charlottesville-based East Point Energy to install the first grid-scale battery-storage project by a Virginia electric cooperative.
The project has a peak capacity of two megawatts and a duration of eight megawatt hours, enough to power about 1,000 homes for eight hours, the coop stated in a press release two days ago. REC provides electricity to 170,000 connections in portions of 22 Virginia counties.
There has been much discussion about large-scale battery storage as a supplement to solar and wind power as Virginia moves to a carbon-free grid by 2050. In theory, batteries will be able to store excess electricity generated by the intermittent power sources and release it when the weather isn’t cooperating. But the aim of the REC energy-storage project, to be located in Spotsylvania County, is more modest. Anticipated benefits include: Continue reading
by James A. Bacon
For a look at Virginia’s energy future, just take a look at California. It’s not a pretty picture. The state’s grid operator imposed short rolling blackouts twice over the weekend due to an inability to meet peak demand caused by a heat wave. More blackouts are possible later this week.
Both Virginia and California aspire to have 100% carb0n-free electric grids, but the Golden State is farther along in adopting wind and solar power. The California Energy Commission estimates that “34% of California’s electricity came from renewable sources in 2018.”
The Northam administration has signed legislation requiring Dominion Energy to generate 100% of its electricity from renewable sources (primarily solar and wind) by 2045, and Appalachian Power to meet that goal by 2050. All coal-fired plants must close by the end of 2024. California’s present is Virginia’s future just a few years out. Continue reading
Source: “Cost Projections for Utility-Scale Battery Storage,” National Renewable Energy Laboratory
by James A. Bacon
The Northam administration has set the goal of achieving a zero-carbon energy grid by 2045, that is, an energy grid that uses zero fossil fuels. Natural gas and coal would be replaced in the Clean Energy Virginia plan Governor Ralph Northam announced yesterday, with “new investments in solar, onshore wind, offshore wind, energy efficiency, and battery storage.”
The key to making a 100% renewable electric grid work is battery storage. Solar and wind power are inherently intermittent, dependent upon weather conditions that cannot be controlled. Renewables advocates say the way to even out the fluctuations in power output is to store excess power in batteries when the sun is shining and the wind blowing, and to release the power when conditions are cloudy and calm. While the cost of battery storage is extremely high now — batteries are used at present mainly to regulate minute fluctuations in voltage and frequency — costs per kilowatt hour (kWh) are expected to decline dramatically, as seen in the chart above.
The questions then become, how much battery storage capacity will we need? How will reliance upon batteries change the need for redundant renewable power facilities? And how much will the package cost? Continue reading
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
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
by James A. Bacon
Solar energy is the cheapest source of electricity now available, solar advocates tell us, and that’s a big reason we should build more of it in Virginia. At the same time, says the solar lobby, the industry needs local-government tax breaks, in particular a state-mandated 80% exemption from local machine-and-tool taxes.
“If that tax incentive was not in place, you could not have the had the kind of development that was necessary,” David Murray, executive director of the Maryland-DC-Delaware-Virginia Energy Industry Association, tells the Register & Bee website at GoDanRiver.com.
So, which is it? Is solar the cheapest electricity source available, or the cheapest just when poor rural local governments are compelled by the state to grant massive tax breaks?
Pittsylvania County, the county adjacent to the City of Danville, has one solar farm in operation and has granted permitting for eight others. The county expects to benefit from two revenue streams: property taxes and machine & tool taxes. Under legislation in effect since 2016, small solar projects (less than 20 megawatts capacity) are entirely exempt from the M&T tax, while larger projects are 80% exempt. Moreover, under the State Corporation Commission depreciation schedule, utility-scale solar is taxed at 90% of value in the first five years but only 10% of value by year 25. Continue reading
by James A. Bacon
It may be a while before the solar industry matches the clout of Dominion Energy and Appalachian Power, but it has come into its own as a lobbying and political player. The new reality hit me forcefully when the Virginia Solar for All Campaign issued a statement applauding the advance of the Virginia Clean Economy Act out of committee yesterday.
“The House of Delegates is taking bold action on energy, advancing legislation that will create a clean energy economy, put Virginia on a path to 100% clean energy, and eliminate harmful carbon emissions to turn back the tide against climate change,” said Rachel Smucker, Virginia Policy and Development Manager for the Maryland Delaware Virginia Solar Energy Industries Association (MDV-SEIA).
Distributed solar generation — small-scale rooftop and community projects — is a key component of the bill, which would mandate a 100% renewable electric grid by 2050. At present, distributed solar is capped at 1% of Dominion’s peak load forecast. Lifting that cap, expanding opportunities for Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs), and mandating 100% renewable energy sources would open up multibillion-dollar market opportunities for solar companies.
The collection of logos seen above, representing members of the Virginia Solar for All Campaign, does not even account for all the solar players in the state. Continue reading
NIMBYs against hemp. Farmers across Southside Virginia have turned to growing hemp (the THC-free version used in industrial applications) as a replacement crop for tobacco. But at least one Dinwiddie County neighborhood has risen in revolt. A hemp farm near the Lake Jordan neighborhood emits an offensive odor. The smell is so bad that it’s getting into peoples’ houses and permeating their clothing, reports the Progress-Index. “We’re worried that they’re going to continue planting around, which would basically mean [that] people will have to leave or just tolerate unbelievable skunk-like odors,” said Jarrod Reisweber, a director of the homeowners association. Daniel Lee, vice chairman of the Board of Supervisors held out the hope that, if solutions could be found to control the odor of hog farms, a remedy could be found for hemp as well.
Amazon offers $20 million toward affordable housing. Amazon is offering $20 million to the Arlington County Affordable Housing Investment Fund in exchange for permission to build a bigger headquarters complex than county zoning allows. The sum would amount to the greatest single infusion of money into the fund, reports the Washington Post. Amazon wants to increase the size of its proposed 22-story office towers from 1.56 million square feet to about 2.15 million square feet, reduce the number of parking spaces, and increase penthouse height. If we assume an average of $50 per square foot for office space in Arlington, Amazon’s concessions are worth about $30 million. That’s gross value. Once construction costs are excluded, Amazon would net significantly less. By that comparison, the $20 million offer seems pretty generous.
Virginia Schools turn to solar. An increasing number of public and private schools in Virginia are utilizing solar power. The number of schools with solar has nearly tripled since 2014 — from 20 to 86, reports the Richmond Times-Dispatch. A niche industry has evolved in which entrepreneurs package solar Public Purchase Agreements (PPAs) in which schools put no cash down and start generating positive cash flow from the first year. Pete Gretz with the Middlesex County school system says that ground-mounted solar saved just under $50,000 at its elementary school site. “There’s no drawback to this,” he said. “It’s completely a win-win.” Continue reading
by James A. Bacon
Virginia’s move to an energy future dominated by solar and wind power will necessarily be accompanied by battery storage. Vast arrays of batteries will be needed to store and release electricity to offset the intermittent generation of solar and wind farms. Battery storage is exceedingly expensive now, but the price is expected to decline significantly in the decade ahead. While the speed with which batteries become economical to deploy on a large scale is highly uncertain, there can be little doubt that batteries eventually will become an integral part of Virginia’s electric grid.
A recent state-commissioned report, “Commonwealth of Virginia Energy Storage Study,” suggests that the near-term potential for energy storage in Virginia (over and above the Bath and Smith Mountain Lake pumped-storage facilities) could reach 24 to 113 megawatts of capacity, while the potential grows to between 239 and 1,123 megawatts over the next decade. The study, written by the Strategen consulting firm, recommends establishing a goal of 1,000 megawatts by 2030. (That would be two-thirds as much capacity of the state-of-the-art, natural gas-powered Greensville County Power Station.)
A number of things must happen to achieve this potential. The Commonwealth of Virginia has no control over the pace of technology advance, the global supply of critical raw materials (particularly cobalt and manganese), or the evolution of wholesale electric markets. But it can do a few things. Foremost is to address safety, permitting and environmental issues before they create bottlenecks to large-scale battery deployment. Continue reading
Solar panels at Haynesville Correctional Center Photo courtesy of Virginia Department of Corrections
The Virginia Department of Corrections is getting further into solar energy.
The department has recently completed the construction of a five-acre solar farm at Haynesville Correctional Center. The correctional facility is a medium- security prison in Richmond County, near the town of Warsaw, in the Northern Neck region of the state.
According to a DOC press release, the solar farm is a 852.72 kW photovoltaic system consisting of 2,508 photovoltaic modules. DOC estimates that it will produce 16% of the prison’s electrical needs, resulting in an annual savings of $120,000. Continue reading
by Felix Garcia
There is a simple and common-sense approach to energy policy in Virginia. Go to the energy source which provides abundant, safe electricity at the least cost — solar.
Our company is called AgriSunPower (ASP). Along with our co-developer Hecate Energy, our thought process begins with a simple premise. Solar power is the cheapest and most reliable potential energy source which exists today. Why not look for ways to collaborate with a multitude of stakeholders to expand Virginia’s solar energy capacity to feed the growing appetite for green energy?
Chicago-based Hecate Energy is no stranger to Virginia’s burgeoning green energy scene. The company’s successful development of solar farms in Clarke County and Virginia’s Eastern Shore, later acquired by Dominion Energy, illustrate our approach to utility-scaled solar power generation. We base our pitch on economics and economic development. We seek projects in locations where local government believes that solar power is a big win for everybody, and we flip our facility to the local utility that has provided electricity to the community for generations. Continue reading
Getting 39,999 right out of 40,000 not too shabby. After 18 years the Virginia Forensic Science Board has wound up its review of 530,000 cases in which DNA evidence was available. The effort identified 13 men who were wrongfully convicted, including the highly publicized cases of Earl Washington Jr., and Thomas Haynesworth, reports the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
One wrongful conviction is too many, those who were deprived of their liberty should be recompensed, and mechanisms need to be put into place to ensure that such tragedies are not re-enacted. But 13 instances of wrongful convictions is a far cry from predictions that the wrongful conviction rate in sex cases could be as high as 15%. Indeed, compared to the perception of prevalent injustice, the numbers are reassuring: The review of DNA evidence ended up reversing only one in 40,000 convictions. If your standard is perfection, then Virginia’s legal system is a failure. Clearly it did fail in at least 13 instances, and it could be argued that there were miscarriages of justice that the DNA review did not uncover. But by any other standard, the fact that 39,999 cases out of 40,000 withstood the review is very encouraging. I wonder how many the court systems of other states and countries would have fared as well.
Does this contract actually do anything? Last week Governor Ralph Northam announced an agreement for state government to purchase from Dominion Energy 420 megawatts from multiple solar farms and the state’s first onshore wind farm. The contract ensures that 30% of the electricity consumed by state agencies and institutions in Virginia comes from renewable sources. “This is an historic announcement for renewable energy growth in Virginia,” pronounced Secretary of Commerce and trade Brian Ball. First question: What difference does it make? If Dominion had committed to building these projects anyway, Virginia electricity customers would have been consuming clean energy regardless. The fact that the state is paying directly for these projects, rather than as a general ratepayer, does not increase the supply of green power by one electron. Another question: What will the state pay for the bragging rights? Will it pay more or less than general ratepayers? The governor’s press release doesn’t say… which is not a good sign. If this were a good deal for taxpayers, I’m sure the governor would have mentioned it.
by James A. Bacon
The Van Kesteren family, owner of Van Kesteren Farms in Accomack County, wants to build solar panels on 180 acres as a way to supplement the income from its farming operations. But the price tag for connecting to the regional grid is posing a major barrier.
The estimate for connecting to the Eastern Shore electric grid has increased from $3-4 million in March 2017 to $26.5 million today, according to an article in Energy News Network. The article focuses mainly on the Van Kesteren family’s thwarted ambitions, as made clear by the sub-head: “An Eastern Shore farming family is frustrated that its solar project is at the mercy of the local utility and grid operator.”
But the story illustrates a broader story regarding a critical and often overlooked aspect of solar-power economics: how some proposed locations for solar farms can be rendered uncompetitive by high interconnection costs. Continue reading