Tag Archives: Wind power

Getting Serious about Flooding

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

How to Eliminate Regulatory Barriers to Battery Storage

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

Whoah! Virginia Offshore Wind Now to Cost $8 Billion!

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

Bacon Bits: Of DNA and Electrons….

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.

— JAB

Hurricanes, Solar Panels and Grid Resilience

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

Virginia’s Energy Future Is Fast Approaching

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.

“De-Risking” Offshore Wind

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

Bacon Bits: Whistling Past the Graveyard

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

Delay-and-Block for Pipelines… and Solar?

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.

Continue reading

What, Exactly, Will We Learn from Those Experimental Wind Turbines?

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

Reliability, Clean Energy, and an Aging Grid

Concerns about the reliability of the U.S. electricity supply has popped into the news headlines recently. The problem isn’t terrorists or cyber-attacks, it’s the inability of electric grid to handle routine challenges. Earlier this month, a transformer fire in Manhattan knocked out electric power to about 73,000 customers. On the West Coast, PG&E is spending $2.3 billion to fix a backlog of deficiencies in its transmission and distribution system that contributed to the record outbreak of wild fires in California last year. Meanwhile, the company has announced its intention to preemptively turn off power on vulnerable circuits to limit wildfire risk.

The American Society of Civil Engineers gave U.S. energy infrastructure a D+ grade in its 2017 infrastructure report card. States the 2017 Infrastructure Report Card:

Most electric transmission and distribution lines were constructed in the 1950s and 1960s with a 50-year life expectancy, and the more than 640,000 miles of high-voltage transmission lines in the lower 48 states’ power grids are at full capacity. … Without greater attention to aging equipment, capacity bottlenecks, and increased demand, as well as increasing storm and climate impacts, Americans will likely experience longer and more frequent power interruptions.

Continue reading

At Last, a Green Tariff for APCo Customers

Western Virginians paying APCo’s renewable energy tariff will receive electricity from, among other sources, the Beech Ridge wind farm in West Virginia.

The State Corporation Commission has approved a proposal allowing Appalachian Power Company (APCo) customers to purchase electricity generated 100% from renewable energy. An average residential customer using 1,000 kilowatt hours of electricity would pay a premium of $4.25 a month.

The Commission had rejected two previous APCo proposals for a 100% renewable energy tariff. In an order issued Monday, however, the Commission found that under the latest iteration of the plan (1) the participating customer is receiving 100% renewable energy, (2) the tariff includes safeguards that do not offload costs to customers who do not participate, and (3) the rate is reasonable for the purposes of the renewable energy product being supplied. Continue reading

Virginia Should Take Regional Approach to Building Offshore Wind Supply Chain

Where the action is in East Coast offshore wind. Source: BVG Associates. (Click for more legible image.)

To build an offshore wind supply chain with thousands of construction, manufacturing and maintenance jobs, Virginia should collaborate with Maryland, North Carolina, and South Carolina, concludes a report issued last week by BVG Associates for the state’s Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy.

Offshore wind development is advancing rapidly in the Northeastern states, and if Virginia wants to maximize the benefits of the emerging offshore wind industry, it needs to move quickly. “Virginia has great potential and many unique advantages to attract this investment, but it must act now if it is to be a leader in OSW,” states the study, The Virginia Advantage: The Roadmap for the Offshore Wind Supply Chain in Virginia. Continue reading

The Uncertain Economics of Offshore Wind

Source: “Lazard’s Levelized Cost of Energy Analysis.” Click graphic for more legible image.

As Virginia hurtles towards a renewable energy future with lots of solar and wind power, ratepayers and taxpayers should acquaint themselves with the complexities of Levelized Cost of Energy (LCOE) analysis. LCOE incorporates the costs associated with electricity generation — up-front capital costs, fuel costs, ongoing operations and maintenance costs — to compare the economic viability of conventional and renewable energy sources with very different characteristics.

In almost anybody’s analysis, the cost of utility-scale solar power in Virginia is highly favorable. The up-front capital costs are modest, fuel costs are zero, and ongoing operations and maintenance costs low. A heavy reliance on solar, an intermittent energy source that varies with the level of sunlight, does raise issues of system reliability. But as an energy source, it’s the cheapest around. However, the same cannot be said of smaller-scale solar projects or wind power.

The Lazard Levelized Cost of Energy Analysis is widely regarded as one of the most authoritative comparisons of LCOE. The chart above shows Lazard’s calculation of LCOE for the major categories of conventional and renewable energy. Utility-scale solar is the least expensive. Community solar and commercial & industrial rooftop solar are considerably more expensive but potentially competitive, and residential rooftop are not remotely competitive on cost. Nearly all of Virginia’s solar is utility-scale. Although environmentalist and activist groups are fighting for more community and residential solar, those categories are likely to remain marginal contributors to Virginia’s energy mix — options for those whose environmental consciences weigh heavier than their pocketbooks.

Wind power is a trickier issue. Lazard shows the LCOE ranging from $30 to $60 per megawatt/hour (or 3 to 6 cents per kilowatt/hour). Even the higher-cost wind is cheaper than all conventional sources excepting combined-cycle natural gas (large gas plants that burn gas with jet-like turbines and recycle the waste heat to run steam generators).

However, LCOE analysis depends upon various assumptions that may or may not pan out. Lazard’s “wind” numbers are based primarily upon the cost of generating wind on land, not establishing an offshore wind sector on the Atlantic Coast from scratch. The only thing we know for certain is that early adopters of offshore wind, who build before a supporting infrastructure is fully established, will pay more.

Another critical question is how many years wind turbines last before they must be retired. Coal, gas, and nuclear power sources are assumed to last 30 to 40 years, although some have lasted longer. The National Energy Energy Laboratory, accused by some of having a fossil fuel bias, says solar has a 25-year to 40-year economic life, but wind turbines only a 20-year life. I don’t know what life span Lazard assumes for wind, but I did find a LCOE analysis for wind power in Iceland that assumes a 25-year life.

Writing in the Center of the American Experiment, Isaac Orr notes, however, that 14 turbines in an industrial wind facility in Kewaunee County, Wisconsin, “has been decommissioned after just 20 years of service because the turbines are no longer cost effective to maintain and operate” — confirming the NREL assessment.

If the NREL numbers are accurate, the implications for Virginia’s energy future are significant. The Grid Modernization and Security Act of 2018 enshrined the goal of increased wind power as in the “public interest.” The State Corporation Commission has protested the cost of electricity generated from two proposed experimental wind turbines would be astonishingly high but approved the project anyway because the General Assembly, without conducting any of its own analysis, had declared it to be necessary.

The two experimental turbines are mere prelude to development of a much larger, 2-gigawatt offshore wind farm at cost of billions of dollars. Thanks to economies of scale in erecting offshore turbines, the levelized cost of the larger wind project will be a fraction of that of the experimental project. But if the 20-year life span of the Wisconsin turbines is any guide, wind turbines may not last as long as assumed, and may cost more. Moreover, we still don’t have any data on how well wind turbines will hold up in East Coast conditions — especially when buffeted by hurricane winds and waves.

Complicating the analysis, a kilowatt of electricity generated by a conventional fuel source upon command is worth more for maintaining grid reliability than a kilowatt generated by a renewable energy source delivered only when the sun is shining and the wind is blowing.

Not that it matters. In its wisdom, the General Assembly has mandated wind generation with no clear idea of what it will cost.

Experimental Turbines, Risk and the Looming Offshore Wind Boom

Despite major reservations, the State Corporation Commission has approved the two-turbine Commonwealth of Virginia Offshore Wind (CVOW) project at a cost of $300 million. The idea is to test a novel design of turbine blades and deep-water mooring before proceeding with a full-scale $1.8-billion wind farm off Virginia Beach. The logic, as I have understood it, is that it will be much easier to justify and finance the construction of dozens of turbines if we are secure in the knowledge that they will hold up in hurricane conditions, not disintegrate or topple over.

But now, based on his reading of SCC testimony, Steve Haner wrote recently on this blog, “The demonstration project will not be using the same turbine technology planned for that larger project and will not have time to demonstrate much of anything before a decision is made on the larger project.”

What?

Let me repeat that. WHAT?

Rhode Island has completed a small wind farm off Block Island, and other states along the Atlantic Coast have committed to billions of dollars of wind farm projects. More than 8,000 megawatts of offshore wind development are supported by state policy in five Atlantic states, according to “Wind Power to Spare: The Enormous Energy Potential of Atlantic Offshore Wind,” a report of the Frontier Group. As of February 2018, 13 Atlantic offshore wind projects had leases and were “moving forward.”

None of the other states have expressed reservations about the ability of their turbines to withstand harsh weather conditions. None of them are building their own experimental turbines. They seem ready to charge right ahead. Indeed, Danish energy giant Ørsted is so confident that a U.S. offshore market is developing that it has created a new entity, Ørsted US Offshore Wind, and has spent $510 million to acquire Deepwater Wind, which built the Block Island project.

Said Thomas Brostrøm, CEO of Ørsted US Offshore Wind and president of Ørsted North America, as reported by the Virginia Mercury: “We are moving quickly to integrate the two U.S. organizations so we can deliver large-scale clean energy projects as soon as possible. We look forward to continuing Deepwater Wind’s first-class work along the Eastern Seaboard and taking the U.S. market to the next level.”

Dominion’s own wind farm project won’t be using the same design and technology as the experimental turbines. Will Ørsted, which is partnering with Dominion Energy to build the experimental turbines, use the knowledge in other projects? Will anybody be using it? What happens if Virginia doesn’t have a hurricane in the next five or ten years? Will people wait to see the results before deploying conventional wind turbines? Do the experimental turbines serve any useful purpose at all?

Conversely, are Virginia and other states proceeding recklessly with their wind farm designs without benefit of the knowledge to be gained from Virginia’s experimental turbines? Aren’t seabed conditions on the continental shelf different than the seabed conditions in the North Sea? Aren’t hurricanes more ferocious and more frequent than North Sea storms? Perhaps the experimental wind turbines are a good idea and should be built, but everyone is in such a rush to build offshore wind that they’re taking on huge risks that could put the projects and much of the electric grid in jeopardy.

None of this makes sense to me.