Tag Archives: Wind power

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

Virginia Joins the Wind Power Club

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.

— JAB

The Energy Free Market that Isn’t

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

Dems Win Big on Renewable Energy, But Issues Remain

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

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