Tag Archives: Wind power

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.

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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.

Safety Training for Offshore Wind Workers?

Turbine construction off coast of England. Photo credit: Energy News Network

Who knows if and when Virginia will ever build a dynamic wind-power industry, but at least one aspiring entrepreneur wants to make Virginia Beach the location of the East Coast’s first safety training facility for wind industry workers.

Scott Chierepko, a retired Navy Seal, wants to break ground on a 25-acres facility complete with a massive indoor pool, the size of two Olympic pools, equipped with model wind towers equipped with blades and generating components, boats, cranes and catwalks, reports Energy News Network. The equipment will allow workers to gain expertise “moving from a small boat to a tower, escaping from a flipped supply vessel, practicing high-angle rescues and tool transfers, and rehearsing how to lower injured workers from high above.”

Trainees will also be able to learn how to evacuate from a submerged helicopter. A separate outside facility will be designed to teach them firefighting skills.

“It’s Hollywood in a box,” he says about the pool’s waves, water currents, rain, wind, light, fog, sound and other simulated atmospheric effects. “It’s a systems engineering challenge, but we’ll have the whole nine yards. We’ll be able to provide everything from a sunny day with flat seas to a night with four-foot waves.”

Meanwhile, Old Dominion University plans to offer students a certificate in offshore wind site assessment planning. Graduates would be eligible for jobs with the private companies that design site assessment plans and the state and federal agencies that review them.

“Eventually we will need welders and other shipyard trades, but right now the jobs are in planning,” says George Hagerman, senior project scientist with ODU’s Center for Coastal Physical Oceanography. “We have a real-world, locally relevant example to use throughout our certificate coursework.”

The Energy News Network article did not say where Chierepko’s BEI Maritime  hopes to raise the money for his training facility, so there is no way to evaluate, based on information in the article, what the odds are that he might succeed with his venture. An obvious question: What investor would want to plunk millions into a venture whose success would be contingent upon the emergence of a wind-power sector that, at this point, does not yet exist?

But the story does illustrate the kinds of service enterprises that might be spun off from an East Coast wind power industry should it come to fruition.

New Virginia Energy Plan Ramps Up Commitment to Carbon-Free Future

The Northam administration’s 2018 Virginia Energy Plan is the environmental movement’s dream come true. The administration is going “all in” for solar power, offshore wind energy, distributed energy resources, energy efficiency, and electric vehicles. Under the plan, Virginia won’t be as aggressive as California, which has set a goal of a 100% carbon-free electric grid by 2045, but it would follow the same trajectory.

The Virginia Energy Plan embraces the same carbon-reduction goals incorporated into the 2018 Grid Transformation and Security Act (SB 966) but treats them as a starting point. The plan calls for an overhaul of the regulatory process and state priorities to advance goals in five broad areas:

  • Solar and onshore wind. Of the 5,000 MW of solar and wind resources deemed in the public interest under Senate Bill 966, 3,000 MW should come from solar and onshore wind. Specific proposals include expanding corporate clean energy offerings; enhancing collaboration on the siting of large solar and wind facilities; and expanding the net metering program, the power purchase agreement program, and the community solar program. The Energy Plan recommends increasing the Commonwealth’s renewable energy procurement target to 16% by 2022.
  • Offshore wind. The Energy Plan calls for building the 12 MW offshore wind demonstration project — two test turbines to show how well novel designs can withstand hurricane conditions — and then to develop 2,000 MW of offshore wind potential by 2028.
  • Energy efficiency. The plan calls for increasing utility-funded energy-efficiency programs to $100 million per year for Dominion Energy and $15 million per hear for Appalachian Power Co., as well as expanding state-sponsored energy-efficiency programs. The Commonwealth should set a goal of reducing retail electricity consumption by 10% by 2022 (using 2006 as a baseline) and consumption in state buildings by 20%.
  • Energy storage. Recognizing that intermittent wind and solar energy sources pose threats to the stability and reliability of the electric grid, the Energy Plan discusses pumped hydroelectric storage, lithium-ion batteries, and solid-state batteries. However, the plan makes no specific recommendations on which technologies or approaches should be adopted.
  • Electric vehicles. The Energy Plan calls for promoting the deployment of electric vehicles and using their battery storage capabilities to shift electric load to times that better align with solar and wind output. The state should adopt the Advanced Clean Cars program, develop a comprehensive electric-vehicle transportation plan, and set targets for building an electric-vehicle charging infrastructure.

The Energy Plan provides no estimate of what the sum total of these initiatives would cost nor who would pay for them. While the plan does address the challenge of matching solar and wind output with daily electric load, it does not explore how the system would hold up under rare-but-recurring extreme weather events such as hurricanes or the Polar Vortex.  The document can best be seen as a roadmap for where the Northam administration and its allies in the environmental movement would like to take the state.

BVG Makes Case for Virginia as Offshore Wind Supply-Chain Hub

Manufacturing job-creation potential for the offshore wind industry. Source: BVG.

Virginia is very well positioned to establish a supply-chain hub for an East Coast wind-power industry, says a report written by offshore-wind consulting firm BVG Associates and underwritten by the Virginia chapter of the Sierra Club.

Although Virginia will not participate in the “first wave” of  East Coast offshore wind projects, which is ramping up now in northern coastal states, Virginia-based businesses could supply key components to those pioneering efforts if the Commonwealth acts quickly, concludes the newly published report, “Offshore Wind in Virginia: a Vision.”

The report lays out the following scenario for wind farm-driven economic development:

Virginia will derive immediate economic benefits while maturing its offshore wind supply chain, ensure development of its own 2 GW [gigawatt] offshore wind by 2028, and provide the tipping point for a second wave of lower-cost projects off Dominion Energy’s service territories, notably the Kitty Hawk lease area in North Carolina.

The study should be read with the understanding that Sierra Club-Virginia is promoting Virginia offshore wind generation to advance its long-term goal of eliminating fossil fuels and nuclear power from Virginia’s energy mix. Even with that caveat in mind, the study provides the most detailed analysis yet published of how Virginia can leverage offshore wind into a major economic-development boon for the Hampton Roads maritime sector. The Northam administration has hired a BVG associate to help the state fashion a strategy to build an offshore wind supply chain.

According to the report, Virginia has five big competitive advantages:

  • An industrial coastal infrastructure, with large areas for laydown and storage, quayside length for load-out, and direct access to the open ocean with unlimited vertical clearance.
  • A large workforce with competitive pay scales and experience in shipbuilding, ship repair, ports, logistics, and vessel operation.
  • Highway, rail, and inland waterway connections linking Virginia’s ports to industrial centers throughout the Southeast, Mid-Atlantic, and Midwest.
  • Eastern population centers with high and growing electricity demand, particularly for the Internet economy. Northern Virginia has a large and growing data-center corridor, and two new data centers are being built in Virginia Beach.
  • High-voltage interconnection capability in Virginia Beach sufficient to handle the anticipated commercial wind-lease area after “moderate investment.”

The first two advantages make Hampton Roads an attractive location for the fabrication and assembly of jacket foundations and offshore substation platforms. Two sites in the region could be made ready for a steel fabricator within 20 to 29 months at a cost of $5 million to $15 million. Jacket and substation production could create more than 2,000 new direct and indirect jobs.

The first phase of offshore wind production will be expensive. Wind supply chains in Europe like to see an annual market of at least 1 gigawatt, the equivalent of 80 to 125 turbine nacelles, turbine towers, blades, or foundations. A factory owner would look to produce 200 kilometers of cable per year, a volume needed to apply lean manufacturing strategies. Lacking U.S.-based investment, first movers in offshore wind would have to pay premium prices. Another complication is the Jones Act, which prohibits European-built and based vessels from transporting components between U.S. harbors. Offshore wind-service companies cannot yet justify building state-of-the-art jack-up vessels in the U.S. in compliance with the Jones Act.

First-mover states — Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, and Maryland — have committed to build more than 3 gigawatts of offshore capacity. Virginia has committed to build 5 gigawatts of renewable energy, including a substantial component from wind, by 2028. Dominion Energy has proposed to build two turbines with experimental designs to ensure that a larger wind farm could stand up to hurricane conditions frequently experienced in the Mid-Atlantic.

Writes BVG:

By the middle of the next decade, Virginia could be a leading U.S. market for offshore wind, driven by the ability to benefit from the lessons learned from northeast coast states and the maturing U.S. supply chain, complemented by Virginia’s strong infrastructure, location benefits, and deployment of offshore wind at scale.

Suppliers to the wind industry, such as turbine, foundation and cable manufacturers, like to see a regular run-rate for installed capacity. This allows easier investment planning and more efficient facilities. Manufacturers also need projects of a certain size to achieve economies of scale. … The Virginia market in our scenario is … not big enough by itself to attract investment, so the Atlantic Coast market as a whole is crucial. In our scenario, Virginia provides the tipping point, creating the demand needed to support an investment decision.

Some infrastructure investment in Hampton Roads may be necessary. Given the inevitable time lags in gaining regulatory approvals, BVG says, Virginia needs to act quickly. Portsmouth Marine Terminal would need between $11 million and $25 million to upgrade the port for major offshore use, with “additional costs in the facilities themselves.”

The report provides no estimate of how much it would cost to upgrade Virginia’s electric grid to accommodate a massive supply of offshore wind, nor, beyond general statements that wind power is complementary with solar power, does it discuss the impact of intermittent wind power on reliability. Fossil fuel advocates argue that wind and solar provide no surge capacity in extreme, polar vortex-like weather events.

The BVG study make no policy recommendations. It cedes that task to the Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy, which is developing a strategic plant to identify supply-chain businesses and how to market Virginia as a hub for the industry.

What Virginia’s Electric Grid Could Look Like

A Next-Era Energy Resources battery storage facility.

by Jane Twitmyer

Virginia has all the tools it needs to build an inexpensive, reliable, clean energy future. We’re not talking about exotic technologies that might become available some day in the future. Solar power, wind power, battery storage, microgrids, energy-efficient buildings and other clean-power technologies are available right now at a cost competitive with fossil fuels and nuclear. The Old Dominion just needs a regulatory structure to match.

Virginia’s energy landscape has changed faster than many thought possible. Electricity-hungry data centers are demanding electricity generated from 100% renewable sources. As projected demand has shifted, Dominion Energy has canceled two planned large, base-load natural gas plants. In their place the company now plans to build 3,600 megawatts of gas-fired “peakers’” designed to back up the promised 5,000 megawatts of solar and solar power when clouds block the sun or there is a lull in the wind.

But the experience of other utilities is showing that even the peaker plants aren’t necessary. Consider the Moss Landing gas-powered plant in California. In 1998 PG&E sold Moss Landing to Duke Energy, which spent $500 million upgrading the plant before selling it to Dynergy. Last year Dynergy retired two super-critical steam units because they were no longer economically competitive. Now, a newly reinvented Moss Landing anticipates becoming an energy storage facility filled with 300 megawatt/1,200 megawatt-hour batteries.

In Vermont, Green Mountain Power has built a system of distributed stored energy. Solar customers pay $15 a month to host a utility-owned and-operated Tesla Powerwall in exchange for backup power. During peak energy days the utility pulls from 500 Tesla Powerwalls as well as energy storage facilities in Rutland and Panton. Vice President Josh Castonguay says these alternatives to gas work as planned this summer when the batteries took the equivalent of 5,000 homes off the grid.

In New Hampshire, Liberty Utilities wants to own and install 1,000 Tesla Powerwalls in the homes of its customers. The five megawatts of aggregated battery capacity would allow Liberty to reduce its load peak, saving an estimated $693,000 a year in transmission costs and potentially offsetting traditional wires upgrades.

Another approach to meeting peak demand is to combine offshore wind with solar. Rooftop solar combined with our extraordinary offshore wind resource can meet all of Virginia’s summer peak demand. Solar’s peak production ends as the wind picks up, and thanks to the sea breeze effect, an offshore wind farm is very productive when electric demand in the region is at its highest.

Virginia’s offshore wind has the potential to generate three times as much net energy as Dominion’s 2017 net energy load with no fuel required. Just the offshore leases acquired by Dominion in 2013 can provide the electricity equivalent of 2.5 nuclear plants. More leases will be available in the future, yet the utility’s 2018 Integrated Resource Plan anticipates building only two “demonstration” windmills on Dominion’s leased waters during the next 15 years. Offshore wind looks like a missed opportunity.

The Virginia coast is located on the Mid Atlantic Bight, the geological formation that runs from Cape Cod to Cape Hatteras. The Bight is the shallow, wide edge of the continental shelf 30 miles, more or less, from shore. Wind speeds on the Bight are higher, blades can be larger, and the “sea breeze effect” generates power during times of high demand onshore.

The Mid-Atlantic Bight has been called the potential “Saudi Arabia of Wind.” Bight wind installations are underway in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and Maryland. The Governor of New Jersey Governor’s has signed an executive order setting a goal of generating 3,500 megawatts of offshore wind energy by 2030. New York Governor Cuomo has called for developing 2,400 megawatts of offshore wind by 2030, targeting 800 megawatts for this year and next.

The U.S. offshore wind industry will be built. A pipeline of wind projects totals 25.46 gigawatts, including 1.3 gigawatts added last year. Building Offshore Wind means building a whole new industry. Costs will drop rapidly as supply chains and construction capabilities develop. Gov. Ralph Northam’s recent hiring of the international energy consultants BVG Associates to analyze how the state can become a coastal leader for the offshore wind industry is important. The Hampton Roads area is well suited to becoming an offshore wind hub. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), it will bring 4,377 jobs and $641 million economic benefits to the state.

Price has been an issue but onshore support for the new industry changes the pricing picture. Block Island’s wind farm, built only last year without onshore support facilities, cost $244 per megawatt-hour. Recent bids for Vineyard Wind have come in at $74/megawatt hour, demonstrating the financial value of onshore support facilities. In Massachusetts the old whaling port of New Bedford is undergoing a commercial makeover of more than $200 million, including the construction of a marine commerce terminal financed by the state, to prepare for the offshore wind industry.

The clean energy economy is being created around the world. Virginia needs to diversify away from gas as its primary, centrally distributed resource. We all want Virginia’s privately owned utilities to remain profitable, but it will take writing basic new rules to avoid the “death spiral” of declining monopoly utility sales and rising electricity rates. A utility-owned multi-directional grid that can accommodate a multiplicity of solar and wind is proving to be the most reliable and affordable choice for other states, and can be for Virginia, too.

Jane Twitmyer is a member of Renewable Loudoun. She has been a renewable energy consultant and advocate since 2011.

Dominion Seeks Approval for Experimental Wind Turbines

Dominion Energy rendering of the experimental wind turbines.

Dominion Energy Virginia has submitted to the State Corporation Commission a proposal to build two wind-generating turbines 27 miles off the coast of Virginia Beach — arguably the most expensive research project ever funded by the Commonwealth. The experimental turbines will not produce 12 megawatts of electricity at a remotely economic cost. But they will provide data that could pave the way for a vast wind farm that would produce electricity far more economically.

The project will test new designs to anchor the turbines in seabed conditions found off the Virginia coast and to withstand hurricane-force winds. The feedback is necessary before anyone undertakes utilizes the technology in a wind farm with dozens of turbines potentially costing billions of dollars.

The power company has been trying to advance the two-turbine project for several years but refrained from filing with the SCC for fear that the Commission would reject it as too risky and expensive. What’s different this time? First, it has lined up an experienced partner, Ørsted, a Danish company that has installed more than 1,000 turbines in European waters, to manage the project. Second, it has brought down the cost to about $300 million, significantly lower than previous iterations. Third, with the enactment of the Grid Modernization and Security Act, the state has declared wind power to be in the public interest.

And fourth, Dominion says that it can build the turbines without increasing rates. The project, said CEO Thomas F. Farrell II at the announcement in Norfolk yesterday, “will not increase customer rates even a penny.”

Here’s how I understand how that works. Before enactment of the Grid Transformation Act, Dominion would have paid for a large capital project like this one through a Rate Adjustment Clause, in which capital costs would be passed along to customers. The selling point of the Grid Transformation Act is that rates remain frozen but Dominion will apply excess earnings, which normally would be returned to customers, to renewable energy, energy-efficiency and grid-upgrade projects instead. It’s a convoluted way to go about things, but it has the virtue of stability.

I’ll be interested to see how Steve Haner, Bacon’s Rebellion’s electric consumer advocate, responds to this development. 

One last point: Just because the General Assembly has declared wind energy to be in the public interest, that’s no guarantee the SCC will go along. The SCC still has to balance cost, reliability and environmental sustainability — along with risk. Three hundred millions dollars is a lot of money to spend on what amounts to a research project. In analyzing the pros and cons of the experimental wind turbines, the SCC presumably will look also at the pros and cons of the wind farm that the experimental turbines would make possible. Given the lack of an established wind-power infrastructure on the East Coast, how much would a full-fledged wind farm cost to build? How would the cost of electricity compare to other energy sources? And would such an intermittent energy source improve or diminish the reliability of Virginia’s electric power supplies?

Virginia Has Hired Its Own Offshore Wind Guru

Andy Geissbuehler

Getting serious about making a Virginia a major player in the offshore wind energy, the Northam administration has engaged international energy consulting firm BVG Associates. BVG Advisory Director Andy Geissbuehler made his first public appearance in a public listening session in Newport News yesterday on the topic of wind development.

“Everyone knows the U.S. will be a massive offshore wind market, and the U.S. will be very fast in picking up and catching up with some of the current market leaders, and will probably develop to one of the No. 1 markets globally,” said Giessbuehler, as reported by the Daily Press.

The idea of making Virginia an East Coast leader in offshore wind and a center of the supply chain supporting an offshore wind sector, has been a prominent goal of Virginia governors since at least the time of Bob McDonnell. But what was once a lofty aspiration for the distant future is becoming an urgent priority. Other East Coast states are promoting offshore wind, and they, too, want to exploit a first-mover advantage to become the operations center for the offshore wind industry. As the Wall Street Journal reported earlier this week:

In Fall River, a former textile hub on the Massachusetts coast, Bristol County economic development director Kenneth Fiola touts waterfront land and a workforce rooted in manufacturing as reasons the city would make a perfect base for the American offshore wind industry.

In Providence, R.I., officials are promoting their port’s experience helping build the country’s first offshore wind farm off Block Island. In Virginia, representatives are selling the advantages of a waterway with no bridges that would ease the transportation of enormous pieces of the building-size wind turbines.

All along the East Coast, politicians and economic development officials are beginning to pitch their communities as potential hubs for the burgeoning U.S. offshore wind industry. Offshore wind developers, which have largely focused on coastal Europe thus far, have plans to build a dozen utility-scale farms off the U.S. side of the Atlantic in coming years, spurring billions in investment and thousands of jobs.

The competition has ratcheted up this year, with leaders in some states, including New York and New Jersey, pushing aggressive wind-energy procurement goals and pledging financial support to develop the necessary infrastructure and workforce.

In Virginia, the big hold-up has been a need to design wind turbines suited to the geological conditions of the seabed off the Virginia coast and capable of withstanding hurricane-force winds. Dominion Energy has proposed building two test turbines offshore as a demonstration project that, hopefully, would prove the viability of a coastal Virginia location. That project has been stalled due to the astronomically high cost per turbine, which the State Corporation Commission could never justify on a cost-per-kilowatt basis alone. But political winds have shifted with the enactment of the Grid Modernization and Security Act of 2018, which declared offshore wind to be in the public interest.

Dominion says that offshore wind could generate as much as 2,000 megawatts of electricity, roughly equivalent in capacity to one-and-a-half modern combined-cycle natural gas plants. Virginia touts its mid-Atlantic location and the presence of an existing ship repair industry as reasons for the wind construction and repair industry to locate in Hampton Roads.

Presumably, Geissbuehler has been hired as an advocate for Virginia’s offshore wind ambitions, although it is not clear from the Daily Press article whether he will be spending most of his time as an economic developer seeking to entice offshore-wind companies to Virginia, as a wind champion to build political and regulatory support within Virginia, or something else entirely.

Dominion Long-Range Plan: More Solar, More Gas

Dominion’s 15-year plan affirms more solar in Virginia’s energy future.

Dominion Virginia Energy filed this afternoon its 2018 Integrated Resource Plan (IRP), an updated 15-year strategic plan. The IRP reiterates the utility’s commitment to more natural gas and more solar power as a path to a lower carbon future. There’s a lot to cover here, so I will just hit the highlights today, and I’ll dig deeper into the report tomorrow.

The key assumption behind the plan is that “carbon emissions regulation is virtually assured in the future, either through new federal initiatives or through measures adopted at the state level.”

A proposed regulation from the Department of Environmental Quality, if adopted by the State Air Pollution Control Board, would make Virginia a participant in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, which would ratchet down carbon dioxide emissions by 30% over 10 years. “Compliance with carbon regulation could, unless mitigated by other public policies, lead to an increase of between $2.23 and $5.81 in 2018 dollars in the typical residential customer’s monthly electric bills by 2030,” stated the company in a press release.

The IRP also incorporates legislation enacted by the General Assembly this year, the Grid Transformation and Security Act of 2018,” under which earnings above the allowed return on investment would be plowed back into investments in renewable energy, energy efficiency, and smart grid upgrades. The plan contemplates construction of the 12-megawatt Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind project to demonstrate the viability of wind turbines off the Virginia coast, license renewal for the Surry and North Anna nuclear units, the roll-out of new energy-efficiency programs, and the possible retirement of older, less-efficient coal, oil and gas power plants.

Dominion’s press release highlighted the growing role for solar energy. Depending on Virginia’s regulatory path, the company could add 4,720 megawatts of solar capacity over the next 15 years — enough to power 1.18 million homes at peak sunlight, and a nearly 50% increase over last year’s 3,200 forecast.

To back up the solar farms when the sun isn’t shining, Dominion forecasts the need to build eight new gas-fired combustion-turbine (CT) units capable of producing up to 3,664 megawatts of electricity, enough to supply the needs of more than 900,000 homes. Unlike combined-cycle gas plants, which ramp output up and down slowly, the CT units provide surge capacity that can nimbly adjust to fluctuating solar and wind output.

The exact details vary with five scenarios reflecting different federal and state regulatory approaches. The scenarios include:

  • No CO2 tax — no new regulations, the least-cost baseline.
  • RGGI participation — compliance achieved by importing “more carbon intensive out-of-state energy and generating capacity;” $1.5 billion more expensive than the baseline plan.
  • RGGI (unlimited imports) — Virginia becomes a full RGGI member, CO2 allowances cost more; costs $3.71 billion more than the base-line plan.
  • RGGI (limited imports) — Virginia becomes full RGGI member, but builds low-carbon capacity rather than imports it; costs $4.04 billion more than the base-line plan.
  • Federal CO2 program — assumes federal CO2 legislation beginning in 2026; costs $3.09 billion more than the base-line plan.

Predictable flashpoints. Inevitably, there will be pushback in the environmental community to Dominion’s plan. First, skeptics likely will dispute the utility’s forecast for increases in peak electricity demand and the need for more generating capacity; Virginia, they will say, needs to deploy energy-efficiency measures more aggressively. Second, they will argue that the re-licensing of the four nuclear units is unneeded. Third, they might contend that battery storage will be more cost effective than gas-fired CT units in offsetting fluctuations in solar production. Fourth, they will say that Dominion is exaggerating the cost of CO2 regulation; indeed, they will argue that the RGGI carbon trading regime will have little impact on costs to rate-payers, and might even reduce their monthly bills.

I’ll dig into each of these issues in the days and weeks ahead.