VCEA Fans and Foes Both See Failure Looming

By Steve Haner

There is a growing recognition that the Virginia Clean Economy Act (VCEA) as written is going to fail. Both those who strongly believe in its goal of ending the use of hydrocarbon fuels, and those who consider that idea nothing but fool’s gold, see major problems on the horizon. 

There is also a large middle group that would like to see less reliance on hydrocarbons, and greater reliance on wind and solar for generating needed electricity but see danger in totally abandoning reliable natural gas. Sadly, most Virginians are not paying any attention at all. They should.  

The growing concerns of both VCEA’s fans and its detractors are the reason an effort is underway to review this law and to consider possible amendments, potentially in time for a vote by the 2025 General Assembly. The first step in this review was a series of meetings in the spring where a broad list of known problems was discussed. In reviewing those discussions, it is possible to discern what changes are most likely being considered. 

The legislator chairing this effort, Senator David Marsden, D-Fairfax, had staff produce a 38-page summary of what was said in those meetings, with no attribution to individuals or companies. It was probably meant to stay with the participants, but it is too important not to share.   

Land use issues dominate the discussion. Advocates for rapid expansion of solar power in Virginia are finding growing resistance to the needed permits from neighbors and local regulators as new and more extensive projects are proposed. They want to break down those barriers, and legislation to do that has already been proposed, but there is recognition that these steps would be unpopular and could spark backlash. Someone in the industry told Marsden: 

Local opposition to solar and energy storage is a singular threat to our business plan and the achievement of VCEA goals. This threat stands out even in comparison with other “high visibility” threats, including interconnection costs and delays, federal tariffs on solar panels, and elevated interest rates… 

 A local government representative mentioned that by their count, about 181 square miles of Virginia is already covered by solar panels, an area larger than several counties and almost all cities. Elsewhere in the discussions the prediction was that VCEA would require solar fields covering 3% of the entire state, about 1,200 square miles (think Virginia Beach, Chesapeake, Suffolk, Norfolk and Portsmouth combined).   

The advocates can be dismissive of those who stand opposed. Somebody said: It goes beyond NIMBY – it’s also cultural (older white rural communities are against the VCEA; in other areas people are younger and diverse probably from somewhere else and religiously and ethnically they are very different) … 

Marsden has designated one of these environmental groups as the official defender of the Virginia average consumer in his negotiations. In a recent conversation, he was unapologetic about that decision. Asked about the Office of the Attorney General, designated by state law to represent consumers, he replied they were not invited and “would get their chance later in the process.”

The advocates for the VCEA also see that the rapid growth in electricity demand coming from all the new data centers is creating pressure to maintain existing generation resources. The catch phrase was that data center growth can and should be “managed” to protect VCEA. Whether and how to do that will be a big debate, especially considering that in some areas, like Loudoun County, over half of the county revenue is from their data centers. 

The state and local rules, as they now exist, can also impede construction of the needed power lines to connect all these new projects, plus a growing number of small community-based projects. Zoning, project siting, and local authority will be front and center in this debate.  

Utilities were frank in their concern that strict compliance with VCEA is going to lead to both supply and reliability issues. Compliance with the law has already shut down most of Virginia’s coal generation, but under the law, natural gas also must disappear within a few decades. Many in the industry want a clearer path to keeping natural gas in service, and that will be a huge debate in the process. From the utility summary: 

Forced retirement (of hydrocarbons) is a challenge in the VCEA. The needs of our customers are growing, but the VCEA requirements are permanent. It’s one thing to not use those resources but to have them on demand to use them when needed; but this is very different from retiring them forever. It makes it very difficult to hold onto the plan.  

The business representatives at the meeting and the utilities were aligned in seeing VCEA as it exists as a threat to energy affordability and reliability down the road. Plenty of warnings have come from national groups charged with maintaining reliability, and from our own regional transmission organization. From the business community summary:  

As private businesses we have our own goals, and some are related to environmental impact. But business wasn’t given a seat at the table to make sure the VCEA met their needs. In a larger macro sense, the bottom line is the bottom line. There is not a lot of upside here for us. The math is the math. We have to pass these extra costs on to our customers. However, incentives will help us absorb a lot of the costs. 

Incentives? Those would be cash payments or tax advantages that also have a financial impact on people, but hit them as taxpayers, not as customers. Unfortunately, subsidies of some sort are more likely to emerge from these negotiations than any agreement to relent, and to allow the utilities and electric cooperatives to keep natural gas generation in the mix for decades to come. 

There are other issues. The conflicting interests are strong enough that a compromise, consensus proposal for the 2025 General Assembly may not emerge. The process may only feed into the 2025 Virginia election cycle, punted to a new governor and House of Delegates. The fate of VCEA, the Regional Greenhouse Gas carbon tax and the California electric vehicle mandate may all three be decided then.   

First published by the Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy. 


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47 responses to “VCEA Fans and Foes Both See Failure Looming”

  1. And in related news, we hear this today: "Friends of Chesterfield filed an appeal on Monday to the Chesterfield County Board of Zoning Appeals challenging the county’s actions in response to Dominion Energy’s plans to build a 1000-megawatt methane gas plant near Dutch Gap."

    Speaking for the "Friends" of Chesterfield is none other than Glen Besa, former head of Virginia's Sierra Club.

    1. Stephen Haner Avatar
      Stephen Haner

      But, but, but, hottest summer evahhh. Don't you know gas is making us all die?

      Sharing that document has pretty much guaranteed I am off the mailing list for future communications, but perhaps I can find a source or two. He wasn't going to listen to anybody who actually wants to repeal VCEA or at least its key provisions.

  2. Randy Huffman Avatar
    Randy Huffman

    Meanwhile our friends in India and China continue to expand coal generation. Example in India:

    https://www.deccanherald.com/business/economy/coal-based-power-generation-grows-1013-during-april-dec-2023-govt-2859676

    But to one key point of the article, paragraph 2, most people I know (and not all R's) would like to see continued growth of renewables, but just not see shutting down all our coal plants and of course gas.

    1. Stephen Haner Avatar
      Stephen Haner

      Frankly that is what China is doing, full bore on several sources, and thus it eats our lunch….

    2. LarrytheG Avatar
      LarrytheG

      Hey Randy – China is where we were at 40-50 years ago where coal was their primary fuel.

      They use less and less coal now and now the biggest builder of new dams, wind and solar, and nukes.

      They have 3 times as many people as us and they use 1/2 electricity per capita than we do:

      https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/b863c72245d00514ee4776c7d9ff84d36027c01378158d2626683f4e80e32959.png

      1. Randy Huffman Avatar
        Randy Huffman

        They may be expanding renewables, but they are still extremely reliant on coal and their promises are empty and very long term. Per this article, 70% of their power comes from coal

        https://www.reuters.com/sustainability/chinas-coal-country-full-steam-ahead-with-new-power-plants-despite-climate-2023-11-30/

        And they burn 6 times more than the US

        https://worldpopulationreview.com/country-rankings/coal-consumption-by-country

        1. LarrytheG Avatar
          LarrytheG

          They do but it's reducing as they ramp up solar/wind/nukes/hydro.

          I don't dispute the use of coal nor their "promises", just point out that in terms of their development they're about 40 years behind us and they actually are reducing coal and moving to other sources as they can,

          https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/48553b0b9a4b4aedd7f81be0e8b2a564295f531603343f5aff725a73d0289160.png https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/a22412174d74bf9261a0e67c43794bcc0e41421dd223ad9b0f098a78f2819038.png

          1. Randy Huffman Avatar
            Randy Huffman

            So my comments are:

            1) I doubt anyone in the know (I am not) trusts China to do anything outside of what’s in their own interest.

            2) While what I am about to say is based on information I read over 15 -20 years ago, China coal reserves were alot less than US, and US coal reserves, which had higher and higher costs associated with mining them as time went on. My assumption, based on no current facts, is that if they transition, it may be because production costs are going up, and perhaps low cost reserves are being mined out.

            3) While solar and wind outputs are going up, what about total energy use? I assume that is going up too.

            Anyway, the bottom line is why push our costs higher and higher and over the edge of our consumers pockets, when what we do will not affect temperature changes by anything other than possibly a trivial amount? That is not to say we shouldn’t pursue alternatives, but we shouldn’t be arbitrarily closing coal and gas plants, plus of course, nuclear.

          2. LarrytheG Avatar
            LarrytheG

            I don't trust China either but I think the stats are correct… they're expanding their energy resources in a big way and in the process, they've also become the biggest supplier of solar panels,

            At one point, in the past I believe China actually bought coal from us and of course we buy solar panels from them!

            But I have a question for you. Would you support Nukes in the US if their electricity costs more than coal or gas?

            I'm sure you have seen this, right:

            https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/785e0129d98cdc83c3894bd8d50e57553966c40e90b0221bad2cc0ad6bb211a9.png

          3. Randy Huffman Avatar
            Randy Huffman

            I believe nuclear power is essential, and should be developed.

            So I have not studied these issues in depth, though spent alot of time reading on this on it in my prior life/career.

            Baseload power generation is critical. Coal and nuclear are the best for baseload. Yes battery technology is improving, but can't see it for more than a portion of power. Cost per KW is only a data point, without baseload you cannot run the grid.

            For the life of me I do not understand the push to develop more and more gas plants. I would like to see gas use expanded for heat, and industrial uses.

            As to coal, I would like to see continued use of coal plants in the future, they can be more efficient in retrofits (of course there will be no more built). People say battery technology will get better year after year, I have faith in science to come up with ways to make them more efficient, and even ways to capture carbon.

          4. LarrytheG Avatar
            LarrytheG

            Well, they're using gas for baseload now, right?

            so a yes to nuclear even if it costs more ?

          5. Randy Huffman Avatar
            Randy Huffman

            How do you define costs more? The first new plant will cost more than the tenth. My view based on what we have today is nuclear is essential. But you should be asking these questions to Stephen, he has spent considerable time following these issues, I just read articles in between my work.

          6. LarrytheG Avatar
            LarrytheG

            https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/28f75ad344e66bafa0772687a9bbb7ff548c34028f58639650f728ca17a4a949.png Everything I read says that nuclear will likely cost more.

            Here is another – they do vary a bit:

            https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/61037b6e30e1d44d066aefcee96f673f38f77a63fc8f5f4a735f1e125e84f472.png
            They're pretty sure it's going to cost more unless some kind of breakthrough happens. Even the smaller SMR plants are said to cost more.

            The Lazard's Levelized Cost of Energy – both charts is considered reasonably authoritative.

            It incorporates all the costs – design, build and operation.

            So not predicting here but just asking IF it actually does end up costing more than even coal and gas, would you still support it?

          7. Randy Huffman Avatar
            Randy Huffman

            I’m not going to spend time looking through assumptions, time periods in the study, replacement of equipment when they break, maintenance, staffing, etc. To be blunt, I have zero faith in a simple chart like this being accurate. It probably was assembled with an agenda in mind. It takes massive amounts of hours and criteria build an accurate cost projection. I don’t buy that wind and solar are cheaper, under any circumstance.

      2. f/k/a_tmtfairfax Avatar
        f/k/a_tmtfairfax

        And what is the per capita standard of living around China? Cheap and reliable energy is what enables economic growth and higher standards of living.

        The effort to reduce the use of fossil fuels is good policy but the economic aspects of it are criminal. Government programs enable rent seekers to fleece the middle class. There is an insatiable desire to have access to other people's money.

        Did you see the criminal prosecution of principals of a nonprofit in Minnesota that made personal use of federal funds that were intended to feed poor children during COVID? How many Mid-Atlantic nonprofits will try to get their hands on clean energy money?

        1. LarrytheG Avatar
          LarrytheG

          It's improving like ours did after improved access to electricity for all including farmers. To China's credit they are taking the proverbial "all options" path and they are now number 1 in wind and solar and have more nukes planned than anyone. They are reducing their dependence on coal.

          With regard to criminals of any type including white collar, I just don't see any association with energy policy per se.

          Do you think if POTUS/Congress provides subsidies for nuclear power, it is "rent seeking"? Billions of dollars over years has
          been provided by the govt in support of nuclear energy. Is that "rent seeking"?

          Are you opposed to the energy credits offered in taxes for things like HVACs and related since the 1980's? Where would we draw the line?

          There IS a scam going around with solar and it's based on folks lack of understanding as to what a non-refundable credit is. Up until very recently, you could not get a solar credit unless you actually had a tax liability. So they've been selling them to lower income people who don't have a tax liability by claiming they are essentially free because they are tax deductible and the refund can be used to pay off the loan.
          These folks ARE "rent-seekers" for sure!

          1. f/k/a_tmtfairfax Avatar
            f/k/a_tmtfairfax

            The scam is when ratepayer or taxpayer money goes to nonprofits and their principals. Or if and when investors are permitted to trade in carbon credits. Do gooders generally only do good for themselves.

          2. LarrytheG Avatar
            LarrytheG

            what non-profits and principals?

          3. f/k/a_tmtfairfax Avatar
            f/k/a_tmtfairfax
          4. LarrytheG Avatar
            LarrytheG

            Totally true as it is with some credits that are not refundable, i.e. you only get the credit to reduce your tax liability. If you don't have any, then you won't get the credit.

            The mistake that working people make is that if they did have to buy an HVAC or similar, they ought to go to their employer and have their Fed tax withheld reduced so that at tax time, they WILL have a tax liability and then can get that credit.

            A good number of credits work this way – you cannot get them unless you owe taxes!

            https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/1f5bdf721a56f07763a00a6e7d043462acc226144ec048f18ebc94f0ff29f209.png

  3. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
    Dick Hall-Sizemore

    It is not unusual for new programs to need revisiting to adjust them to new realities and unforeseen problems. That is especially the case with VCEA because it was adopted in the heat of a legislative session without the benefit of careful, measured consideration of its details beforehand.

    I was surprised at the comment that opposition to solar farms is coming from “older white rural communities.” My home county of Halifax has approved numerous applications for solar farms. As I reported a couple of years ago on this blog, Charlotte County, next door to Halifax, has approved the largest solar farm east of the Mississippi River. Finally, driving west from Richmond on Rt. 60, one will pass a large solar farm in Buckingham County. That operation is even larger than it looks from the highway. If one turns off on the secondary road that goes past the solar panels, it will quickly become apparent that solar panels stretch over the hills almost as far as one can see. From what I can learn, Buckingham has additional solar operations. These are certainly “older white rural communities” and they seem to have embraced solar farms. Perhaps the opposition is more recent or has cropped up in more densely populated areas.

    1. James Wyatt Whitehead Avatar
      James Wyatt Whitehead

      Waverly, Virginia down 460 towards Suffolk has a strong grassroots movement to stop industrial solar farms. The town is plastered with anti-solar signs.

      1. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
        Dick Hall-Sizemore

        I haven't been down that way lately.

  4. Nancy Naive Avatar
    Nancy Naive

    Better Living Through Chemistry.

    No need to support or deny the predictions of dire results of burning fossil fuel. It’s just chemistry, and history is replete with towns, villages, cities, even entire civilizations disappearing by their own hands.

    If past is indicative of the future then it could be anthropomorphic climate change, or something more sinister…

    https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/pfas/health-effects/us-population.html

    “So in the Libyan fable it is told
    That once an eagle, stricken with a dart,
    Said, when he saw the fashion of the shaft,
    ‘With our own feathers, not by others’ hands,
    Are we now smitten.'”

    1. Stephen Haner Avatar
      Stephen Haner

      Compared to booze, drugs and cigarettes, those lingering compounds are a blip on the health radar. But distracting the plebs while picking their pockets has always been the game…

      1. Nancy Naive Avatar
        Nancy Naive

        Once made aware of the danger of nicotine products, usage went from 43% to less than 12%. Will you be the in 12% of fossil fuel smokers in 20 years?

      2. Nancy Naive Avatar
        Nancy Naive

        Once made aware of the danger of nicotine products, usage went from 43% to less than 12%. Will you be the in 12% of fossil fuel smokers in 20 years?

      3. Nancy Naive Avatar
        Nancy Naive

        So says the self described lobbyist. Lobbyist? Is that a pickpocket who plies his trade in the lobby?

        Glad you’re so confident. Of course, confidence comes with experience, and more often than not, experience comes with age. Well… Lead and Rome, cinnabar and the Myans, will it be CO2 and mankind?

      4. Nancy Naive Avatar
        Nancy Naive

        Once made aware of the danger of nicotine products, usage went from 43% to less than 12%. Will you be the in 12% of fossil fuel smokers in 20 years?

        1. Stephen Haner Avatar
          Stephen Haner

          Lordy I hope so. Approaching 90 I'll need some fuel to keep the respirator going when the sun goes down at night. The pacemaker is a lithium battery, so I hope the car manufactures leave a bit behind.

          You cannot be that naive that you think a few more CO2 parts PER MILLION in the atmosphere will move the temp a noticeable amount. But if it does, well, the 2023 global energy report is out and it ain't going in the direction you want.

          1. Nancy Naive Avatar
            Nancy Naive

            I dunno, the exec summary says fossil is peaking at 2030 under current alternative sources. That’s a something.

          2. Stephen Haner Avatar
            Stephen Haner

            hahahahahaha. New data out and oil use, gas use, coal use all set new records last year and large parts of the world are making zero efforts to change course. Might peak in US and Europe.
            https://www.energyinst.org/statistical-review

          3. Nancy Naive Avatar
            Nancy Naive

            Well hell man! If you wanted me to read that you should have referenced that and not this…. https://www.iea.org/reports

            Of course, both can be true. Take oil. We’re at 96 mb/d according to both. That’s a max, but the peak is 100 mb/d in 2030. Moving that curve 4% took a few years.

          4. Experts say we'll be entering an ice age, the world will end b 2023, the world's population will outpace it's ability to support them…. etc, etc, etc
            In NYC in 1900 the number one concern was how to deal with the horse manure as more transport was needed to bring food into the city and move goods and people around…. .

    1. Nancy Naive Avatar
      Nancy Naive

      Nancy Naive: EVs as an integral part of the grid.

      Some day, your EV will exist as a capacitor in your home electric usage, supplying when you demand, storing when not.

      1. except when it's hot, or cold

    2. LarrytheG Avatar
      LarrytheG

      I think Bill Gates might be on the right track and in general, I think we WILL see some breakthroughs for nukes.

      But here's the big question.

      Would you support nukes if their electricity cost more than gas?

      If those breakthroughs happen, we're all going to have to answer
      that question and I'm thinking for the folks worried about climate,
      it will be a no-brainer but what about the folks who believe climate change is a hoax or even if true, not a crisis? Will they oppose nukes because they will be too expensive?

  5. DJRippert Avatar
    DJRippert

    Typical modern politicians. They know there's a calamity coming but they won't face the facts or take any action to avoid the calamity. From Social Security to Medicare to the national debt to VECA … the people we elect will kick the can down the road until the predictable fiasco unfolds. When the fiasco happens, the politicians and the useful idiots who support them will stand around claiming that nobody could have seen the disaster coming.

  6. Paul Sweet Avatar
    Paul Sweet

    I wonder how much of the opposition is coming from people who recently moved to a new McMansion development on former farmland.

    1. LarrytheG Avatar
      LarrytheG

      It was a combination of folks who live in a gated community near the northern part and rural people who in Spotsy will oppose just about anything proposed by "outsiders".

      The richer folk hired a passel of "experts" who claimed just
      about everything from toxic waste to bad breath!

      The rural folks – some of who were driving ATVs on the power line right of way and clearcut land, were concerned about it being too close to their property and not a proper use of AG land.

      It was finally approved in 2019 and I think, judging from the aerial photos finished and operating. It may have been sold but again if you went driving looking to see it , you'd not have any easy time of actually seeing it unless you got past a guard gate.

      Spotsylvania is 40,000 square miles… A square mile has 640 acres. This is 5000 and is about 3 miles x 3 miles give or take. You'll find expanses of land this size all over Virginia, and much of it in abandoned/unused farm land, some of it, old plantations. Miles and miles and miles of it on 29 south to the NC border or east to Southside Va.

    2. LarrytheG Avatar
      LarrytheG

      It was a combination of folks who live in a gated community near the northern part and rural people who in Spotsy will oppose just about anything proposed by "outsiders".

      The richer folk hired a passel of "experts" who claimed just
      about everything from toxic waste to bad breath!

      The rural folks – some of who were driving ATVs on the power line right of way and clearcut land, were concerned about it being too close to their property and not a proper use of AG land.

      It was finally approved in 2019 and I think, judging from the aerial photos finished and operating. It may have been sold but again if you went driving looking to see it , you'd not have any easy time of actually seeing it unless you got past a guard gate.

      Spotsylvania is 40,000 square miles… A square mile has 640 acres. This is 5000 and is about 3 miles x 3 miles give or take. You'll find expanses of land this size all over Virginia, and much of it in abandoned/unused farm land, some of it, old plantations. Miles and miles and miles of it on 29 south to the NC border or east to Southside Va.

  7. LarrytheG Avatar
    LarrytheG

    A few years back, we had a proposal for a 5000 acre solar site. It was really controversial, with all kinds of warnings about it's impacts especially as an eyesore (not withstanding that the property had just been largely clearcut by the owners).

    It was ultimately approved, not without threats about elections and such.

    But I thought I'd show an aerial photo of it now that it is completed:

    And if you drive out that way to see them, you'll be out of luck because they're not really visible.

    I suspect there are dozens, if not hundreds, of sites like this throughout Virginia and while some counties are going to turn up their noses, I predict other counties will approve them.

    When someone owns land, they have to pay taxes on it. In rural areas, even with a low tax rate, unless that land is being used productively to generate an income, the owners has to come up with money from other
    sources. If there is a vegetative buffer/berm, and other standards are met like stormwater, the property owner should be entitled to use their land to pay the taxes on it.
    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/50b9e6800796a0c58b63f5cb74c682ddb0b03b606a10c8c18760490436d14158.png
    That Spotsylvania solar farm is about 600 megawatts, and is estimated to serve maybe 5000 households. There are 33,000 households in Spotsylvania.

    And oh by the way – that solar farm is about 13 miles from the North Anna Nuke location:

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/6b28c0c165cbd06ea4c782cae861a9df91a027a4f75a9302d45b60e02f028b1b.png
    1800 megawatts…

  8. VT is researching the effect of solar farms and 'run off' and other issues: should they be considered porous or non-porous, among other things…..

    1. LarrytheG Avatar
      LarrytheG

      I sorta wonder for solar why it would be viewed much different than a rooftop or parking lot, etc… In some respects, it's not actually 100% impervious surface as there are gaps that allow rain
      to hit the ground under… in fact, to the point where grass and other vegetation is a maintenance issue.

      If you take a single solar panel on a stick in the ground and the panel is sloped… so that rain runs right off to the porous surface below.. how much actual "runoff" from that spot is there?

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