Tag Archives: Wind power

A Cautionary Tale

Dominion’s experimental wind turbines off the Virginia coast.

by Bill O’Keefe

The General Assembly, Governor Ralph Northam, and Dominion Energy are proud of their commitment to achieve zero carbon emissions by 2050.  Dominion routinely showcases its planned wind farm 27 miles off of the Virginia coast. Before Dominion and the Commonwealth get beyond the point of no return — governments don’t acknowledge sunk costs, opportunity costs or terminate failed programs — they would do well to closely examine the experience with wind power in Germany.

Germany is a leader in the green energy movement and has installed over 30,000 windmills. The German renewable energy program started in 2000. After 20 years, there is a problem. The German wind power industry is suffering setbacks. Hardly any new turbines are being built, and more and more old wind turbines are being phased out. Some of the problems don’t apply to Virginia since they concern on-shore wind mills but there are lessons to be learned.

Many German wind farms are threatened with shutdown. The German Renewable Energy Act, which has been in force since 2000, guarantees wind turbine operators secure subsidies for twenty years. Without subsidies they are no longer profitable. By 2025, there is a risk of 15,000 MW of wind projects will be lost corresponding to over a quarter of Germany’s onshore wind power. Continue reading

Wind Power Is Beautiful But Expensive

by James A. Bacon

Offshore wind turbines are works of engineering beauty. Soaring as high as the Washington Monument, they are a magnificent sight to behold, as I saw for myself on an excursion Wednesday to view Dominion Energy’s two experimental wind turbines up close. The towers are also very expensive — not just the two pilot turbines, which no one pretended at $300 million for the pair would produce economical electricity, but the fully built-out wind farm with 180 turbines at a cost currently estimated at $7.8 billion.

If the only cost you consider is the expense of erecting a turbine itself, offshore wind can look competitive with solar and combined-cycle natural gas. Dominion officials estimate their wind turbines will generate electricity at a cost of 8 cents to 9 cents per kilowatt hour. That’s less than the average rate of $10.83 cents per kilowatt hour Dominion charges its customers.

But the turbines don’t generate electricity in a vacuum. They are part of an electrical-generating system. And you can’t build a system around turbines that generate electricity only when the wind blows. Dominion must build a major transmission line to plug into the grid and maintain backup power sources to kick in when the winds fall still. Continue reading

Still an Open Question: Will Virginia Become Supply Chain Hub for East-Coast Wind Farms?

The Luxembourg-flagged Vole Au Vent is seen here installing one of Dominion Energy’s two experimental wind turbines 27 miles off the Virginia coast last year. Photo credit: Dominion. An American-made vessel will install the next 180 or so turbines.

by James A. Bacon

The primary justification for spending $7.8 billion to build a wind farm off the Virginia coast at a significantly higher cost per kilowatt than other energy sources is to advance Virginia’s goal of achieving a zero-carbon electric grid by 2050. But an important secondary consideration is the hope that the project will jump-start the creation of a new industry in Hampton Roads serving the emerging East Coast offshore wind industry.

Virginia has deep channels, no bridge obstructions, an active  maritime community, and perhaps the nation’s largest shipbuilding industry. Dominion Energy’s Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind Project, it is hoped, will catalyze development of a multibillion-dollar offshore wind-energy industry in Virginia.

That case is a little harder to make these days. When Dominion decided to invest $500 million in building an offshore wind-turbine installation vessel, none of Virginia’s shipbuilding companies was interested. All were booked up with Navy contracts. The vessel, named after the mythical Greek sea monster Charybdis, is being constructed in Brownsville, Texas. Continue reading

What Dominion Has Learned From Its Experimental Wind Turbines


by James A. Bacon

Dominion Energy spent $300 million to erect the two wind turbines now standing about 27 miles off the Virginia coast, a sum that could never be justified by the 12 megawatts of generating capacity they add to the grid— enough to power only 3,000 homes. The real benefit will come later, when Dominion builds a proposed 180-turbine wind farm expected to generate 2,640 megawatts of capacity, enough to power up to 600,000 homes, at a projected cost of $7.8 billion.

Thanks to the data gathered from the two experimental turbines, Dominion officials say it will need 40 fewer of the multimillion-dollar turbines than it had originally anticipated, a savings of hundreds of millions of dollars. Also, from the experience of leasing an expensive, hard-to-book installation vessel, Dominion is investing $500 million, risking shareholders’ money not ratepayers’ money, which will serve other East Coast windfarm projects as well as Dominion’s at a lower cost than chartering a European vessel.

Company officials say they have learned other odds and ends from the experimental turbines that will inform their safety and environmental efforts going forward. 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

Chilling Innovation

by Bill O’Keefe

Dominion Energy’s decision to build a gigantic windfarm and have net zero emissions by 2045 is a political ploy rather than a well-developed business decision. Why do I say that? First, Dominion buys bi-partisan political support in the General Assembly, as if it was needed. Second, it now gets broad support from the environmental community. And, if it flops, as it is likely to do, rate payers will be left holding the bail-out bag.

Dominion plans to site over 200 windmills 27 miles off of the coast of Virginia. The area occupied will be about 176 square miles, which is three times larger than Richmond and about the size of Clarke County. The current cost estimate for this project is $7.8 billion, but that will certainly increase.

By committing to a project of this size, Dominion is freezing innovation and putting its transmission grid at risk. The cold spell that is gripping the U.S. reveals a major vulnerability of wind and solar as well as the vulnerability of the grid. Continue reading

Severe Cold Is Messing with Texas

Frozen Texas wind turbine. Credit: Watts Up With That?

As I repeatedly remind people, you don’t build an electric power grid to handle routine weather conditions, you build them to survive rare but extreme weather events. Texas, which became enamored with wind power — wind accounted for between 22% of the state’s electricity in the first half of 2019 — has learned this lesson the hard way. In the midst of a bitter cold snap expected to last several days, ice storms knocked out nearly half the state’s wind-power generating supply. The spot price of electricity has surged to $9,000 per megawatt hour, compared to $100 per megawatt hour during periods of high summer demand. The Electric Reliability Council of Texas called on consumers and businesses to reduce electricity use as much as possible Feb. 14, through Feb. 16. Just imagine how bad the situation would be if Texas derived 100% of its electricity from renewable energy.

Meanwhile, the question Virginians need to be asking in anticipation of the commonwealth deriving much of its electricity from offshore wind power within a few years is this: What’s the freezing temperature for salt water?

Answer: 28.4° Fahrenheit. Continue reading

Floating Nukes: a Better Alternative?

Schematic of a floating nuclear power plant. Credit: JVE Journals

by Bill O’Keefe

Dominion Energy, with the blessing of the Legislature is in the process of building a monstrous wind farm off the coast of Virginia. It will be 27 miles offshore and occupy an area of over 176 square miles — 92% as large as Richmond. When fully built, there will be 220 windmills, each standing 200 feet above water level. The cost is currently estimated to be $7.8 billion but cost overruns are inevitable. Think about this long enough to form a mental picture of what this will look like.

Since the Legislature has mandated a net zero emission future in the coming decades, Dominion is more than willing to take up the challenge and accommodate the Legislature’s dream. Not only is Dominion guaranteed a rate of return on the power generated but it also profits from capital construction expenditures. Non-regulated corporations should be so lucky. And, if it turns out that the windfarm doesn’t produce as promised or is made obsolete by technology or more accurate climate science, it won’t be Dominion that takes the loss, it will be Dominion’s customers.

When all is said and done, our electricity rates will be much higher than they are today — 12 cents per Kwh, well below states like California committed to the zero-carbon path. California’s residential rates are almost 20 cents per Kwh and rising. One estimate says they will rise to 40 cents when the natural gas ban is fully implemented. Continue reading

The Big Gamble

Image source: www.piqsels.com

by Bill O’Keefe

Virginia’s Clean Economy act requires Dominion to provide a 100% carbon-free grid by 2045. This law represents a big gamble that Dominion embraced with a “balls to the wall” enthusiasm because the $9 billion cost, which will most likely be higher, will be provided by rate payers, not share owners. To quote a truism, nobody spends someone else’s money like their own. This legislation proves it.

Dominion’s confidence in achieving the General Assembly’s mandate is unrealistic. Given technological uncertainties, it is the height of folly to accept a mandate that establishes a goal and the date by which it is must be achieved. The history of technology-forcing mandates is a sorry one.

Dominion has touted the recent tests of two offshore turbines as reason for optimism for the planned project of 180 to 220 turbines located 27 miles offshore will cover 112,800 acres. That represents 176 square miles, roughly the size of King George County and more than three times as large as Norfolk. And the turbines will stand 600 feet about the surface. Continue reading

What’s Worse for the Environment: Natural Gas or Rare-Earth Metals?

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

Only in Virginia…

Source: National Renewable Energy Laboratory

Who came up with this idea? Now that Dominion Energy has completed reliability testing for its first two offshore wind turbines, the Northam administration is announcing the formation of the Mid-Atlantic Wind Training Alliance to provide industry certifications for wind-project operations and maintenance. What better place to base such a program than…. 200 miles away from the wind industry in a place with virtually no wind. Yes, friends, the new program will be hosted by the New College in Martinsville where average wind speeds (see map) are among the lowest in the state. To be fair, according to Virginia Business, alliance partners Centura College and the Mid-Atlantic Maritime Academy are located in Hampton Roads where the wind industry will be located.

JMU’s enrollment meltdown. James Madison University is getting hammered by the COVID-19 epidemic — and the administration’s handling of it. First, 250 students, mostly freshmen, chose to defer their enrollment. That’s out of an undergraduate student body of roughly 22,000. Then, after a spike in positive cases early in the semester, students were sent home in mid-September for about a month. Now they’re returning. But not all are returning. As of the latest report, according to the Daily News-Record, 1,798 had discontinued at JMU. That far exceeds the normal attribution rate; last year only 1,063 students dropped out during the fall semester.

Loudoun Schools briefly recover sanity. The Loudoun County School Board has voted to revise its “Professional Conduct” policy governing speech off school property, which would have forbidden employees from making public utterances opposing a controversial school policy to dismantle “white supremacy” and “systemic racism.” After an outcry from teachers unions and community members against this blatant violation of free speech, the board voted 9 to 0 to refer the draft policy back to the human resources department, reports The Virginia Star.

Keep California on the West Coast

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

California, Here We Come!

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

What Cost to Make a 100% Carbon-Free Grid Resilient?

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

Virginia’s Latest Folly – Offshore Wind Power

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