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
Crews install turbine foundations for the Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind pilot project. Image source: Energy News Network
by David Wojick
Dominion Energy is planning to begin construction on 2,600 MW of offshore wind generating capacity within the next few years. The wind farm planned off the cost of Virginia Beach would be the largest offshore project in the United States. We are talking about something like 220 giant windmills, embedded in the ocean floor and sticking hundreds of feet into the air above the water. They will be on the order of one and a half times taller than the Washington Monument, which is really tall.
Two features make this offshore wind plan a folly — too little wind and too much wind. Let’s look at too little wind first.
The proposed site is around 30 miles offshore of the giant Norfolk naval complex. Sites are usually much closer in than this, but maybe the Navy told them to keep their distance. Or perhaps they are out beyond the very busy shipping lanes. Every ship from Central and South America, or the southeast U.S., headed for ports from Baltimore north to Canada, passes through this area. This in itself is a concern but not one we are looking at now.
The problem is that this area frequently gets periods of a week or more when the wind is too low to generate any power. These are winds of 10 mph or less. Normal wind turbines require sustained wind of 33 mph or more to generate full power. Some new models with giant blades can do full power at just 23 mph. But neither generates much of anything at 10 mph. It is not a matter of no wind; low wind is enough. Continue reading
Photo credit: Associated Press
Well, well, Virginia finally has an offshore wind turbine industry. The last 253-foot blade was attached Friday to a turbine and pylon off Virginia Beach. At a cost of $300 million, the two turbines owned by Dominion Energy will provide some of the world’s most expensive electricity, but they do pave the way for a $8 billion, 180-turbine wind farm that Dominion plans to build next. The wind farm, endorsed by Virginia’s major environmental groups, will be free of CO2 emissions. It will also generate the highest-cost electricity in Dominion’s energy portfolio. Governor Ralph Northam hopes the wind farm will stimulate development of a cluster of major wind-power fabricators and service companies in Hampton Roads. We’ll see how that works out. Early indicators could be better: The two towers were assembled in Nova Scotia and transported to Virginia on a special ship.
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
Click image to enlarge. Source: Governor’s Office
by James A. Bacon
Everybody talks about the weather, as the old saying goes, but nobody does anything about it. Well, here in Virginia, people are getting serious about one aspect of the weather — flooding.
Last week Governor Ralph Northam issued an executive order, the Virginia Flood Risk Management Standard, to encourage the “smart and resilient construction of state buildings.” Based on sea-level rise projections developed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the new standard requires state-owned buildings constructed after 2021 to be built at elevations that will protect them from flooding.
“Flooding remains the most common and costliest natural disaster in Virginia and in the United States, and our state government is getting prepared. These standards will protect taxpayers by establishing critical protections for new state-owned property,” Northam said in a press release.
Meanwhile, the City of Virginia Beach is grappling with the reality that it needs an extra $20 million a year to improve its stormwater infrastructure. 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
by James A. Bacon
Dominion Energy estimates that the cost of developing a proposed off-shore wind farm in Virginia waters will cost up to $8 billion, The Virginia Mercury reports today, although utility officials do say they “will work hard to bring that number down” as the offshore-wind supply chain develops over time. Dominion’s previous cost estimate for Virginia offshore wind (current only two months ago) was “up to $1.1 billion.”
The Dominion website says that the offshore wind farm will be built in three phases of about 880 megawatts each, for a total of about 2,640 megawatts. That comes out to about $3 million per megawatt. For purposes of comparison, the utility’s newest combined-cycle natural gas-generating facility in Greensville County cost $1.3 billion for a capacity of 1.588 megawatts, or about $820,000 per megawat — roughly a quarter the cost. 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
According to what the nation’s ruling elites tell us is the climate-change consensus, a warming climate increases the frequency and intensity of hurricanes. “Because global warming is intensifying, scientists expect the number of extreme storms to continue rising,” writes David Leonhardt, a New York Times opinion columnist.
One would think, then, that this insight would inform the remedies proposed for climate change, such as re-engineering the nation’s electric grid to rely almost exclusively upon wind and solar power. If the frequency and intensity of hurricanes is increasing, it would be appropriate to ask here in Virginia, what standards do we have in place for the construction of wind turbines and solar panels to ensure that they can withstand hurricane-force winds?
North Carolina had a recent opportunity to observe the interaction of hurricanes and solar panels. Hurricane Dorian pummeled the Tarheel state last month, striking solar a solar farm in Currituck County with wind speeds near 60 miles per hour. The solar arrays are supposed to withstand wind speeds of up to 120 miles per hour. How did they hold up? Continue reading
Two big energy news updates today:
Dominion files for large-scale offshore wind project. Dominion Energy has filed an application with PJM, the regional transmission organization of which Virginia is part, to interconnect 220 wind turbines off the Virginia Coast with the electric grid, the company announced this morning. Dominion has begun work already on the installation of a two-turbine demonstration project. The PJM filing for the $7.8 billion project represents “a vital first step to move forward in developing Virginia’s full offshore wind potential,” the company stated.
Apco to offer time-of-day pricing for EVs. Appalachian Power will offer residential owners of plug-in electric vehicles a discount for charging their cars when power demand is lower, the company announced today. A residential customer with a a typical car consumption will save about $86.50 annually for home-charging the vehicle during off-peak hours, generally during the night. Recent data indicate that nearly 700 plug-in EVs are registered to owners in Apco’s Virginia service territory.
Ørsted’s Hayes Framme. Photo credit: Philip Shucet
by James A. Bacon
In its original incarnation a few years back, the two-turbine wind project Dominion Energy proposed to build off the Virginia Beach coast was billed as a “research” project. In the hope of winning a $40 million federal research grant, Dominion wanted to see how well the two wind turbines held up in hurricane conditions of the mid-Atlantic before committing to a large-scale wind farm.
That grant never materialized, but the project lives on. According to the latest project time-line, if all goes according to schedule, the two turbines will be complete by August 2020. Now Dominion and its contractor, Ørsted Energy, are calling the $300 million investment in Virginia’s renewable energy future a “demonstration” project.
The Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind (CVOW) project will have no new technology and little new engineering. The turbines will collect data that might be useful when planning the final configuration of far bigger wind farm proposed by Dominion. But there is no assurance that the turbines will encounter hurricane conditions before Dominion builds the wind farm. Subject to regulatory approvals, the utility says it ” plans to invest up to $1.1 billion in offshore wind” by 2023.
What, then, is the purpose of the two turbines, which will produce the most expensive electricity on a cost-per-kilowatt basis in the entire Dominion system? I posed that question to Dominion a month ago and got this response, which contained the answer but, for lack of context, I did not appreciate. Accordingly, when invited to chat with Hayes Framme, an aide to former Governor Terry McAuliffe who now handles government relations and communications for Ørsted, I jumped at the opportunity to ask the question anew. Continue reading
Feel-good story of the day. Northern Virginia boy scouts have cleaned up the neglected Alexandria cemetery named for abolitionist Frederick Douglass. They raked leaves, trimmed trees, and installed a new sign, according to the Washington Post. The black cemetery fell into disrepair over the years because no Alexandria church or other nonprofit cares for it; the city of Alexandria allocates only a nominal sum for upkeep, mostly mowing.
Boomerang watch. The Mountain Valley Pipeline has suspended all construction activities that could negatively impact four endangered or threatened species: the Indiana bat, the northern long-eared bat, the Roanoke logperch, and the candy darter, reports Virginia Mercury. For the time being, the pipeline company will refrain from tree-clearing, non-maintenance-related road building, grading and trenching, and stream-disturbing activities. Inquiring minds want to know: If such activities are permanently banned in and around habitat of threatened species, will it be possible to build wind turbines anywhere in the Blue Ridge or Allegheny Mountains?
The real structural racism. John Butcher delves into the latest SOL scores for Richmond’s Carver Elementary school, where cheating by teachers and administrators had artificially elevated SOL test scores last year. Now that the testing issues have been resolved, the tragic dimensions of students’ educational under-performance have been laid bare. Students rated as “economically disadvantaged” passed reading, writing, math, history and science at rates in the 20% to 32% range — far lower than the rate for economically disadvantaged children in most other schools. Richmond school officials blame racial bias and under-funding. But the real racism is that poor kids are trapped in a failing because Virginia’s educational establishment does everything in its power to block escape hatches in the form of charter schools or tax-favored scholarships. Continue reading
Last December the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond found that the 2,200-mile Appalachian Trail is part of the National Park System, which blocks federal agencies from authorizing a pipeline crossing. Depending upon U.S. Supreme Court action, the ruling in the Cowpasture River Preservation Association v. U.S. Forest Service case could well doom the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, which crosses the trail in order to connect Midwest shale gas with Southeastern markets.
Noah Sachs, an environmental law professor at the University of Richmond, asks a provocative question: “Did the Fourth Circuit really turn the Appalachian Trail into a ‘Great Wall’ that blocks all energy transport from the Midwest to the East Coast, as many energy industry analysts have suggested?”
In an essay in The American Prospect, Sachs argues that Cowpasture doesn’t preclude all crossings of the Appalachian Trail, so the “great wall” analogy may not be apt. But here’s a passage that I found profoundly disturbing:
The real significance of the Cowpasture case is that it uses the Appalachian Trail crossing as a legal hook to delay and block the pipeline and raise its costs. There’s nothing wrong with delay-and-block tactics. It’s a strategy that environmentalists have been using since the 1960s. And as the climate crisis heats up, it’s a virtuous one.
Earlier this month, Dominion Energy announced that it had commenced construction of the $300 million Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind (CVOW) project, which entails building two experimental wind turbines and a half-mile electrical conduit to connect them to the electric grid. Construction of the two turbines at such a cost cannot be justified by the paltry amount of electricity they will generate by themselves. Rather, according to Dominion, the demonstration project paves the way for a large-scale exploitation of wind power off Virginia Beach. If Dominion proceeds with commercial-scale development, the $1.1 billion project will generate 2,000 megawatts of zero-carbon energy, enough to power 500,000 homes.
“As the first deployment of commercial-scale offshore wind turbines in federal waters,” said Governor Ralph Northam in a press release at the time, “I am thrilled that Virginia’s project will help determine best practices for future offshore wind construction along the East Coast.”
The question has arisen in this blog: Why the need for the two experimental turbines? Europeans have been extracting wind power from turbines in the North Sea, which is known for its powerful storms. Haven’t they already demonstrated the ability of wind turbines to hold up under extreme weather conditions? What can we learn, and can we learn it in time to inform the construction of the larger project? Continue reading