by James A. Bacon

A recurring debate in Virginia’s push toward a net-zero electric grid has been whether demand for electricity in the Old Dominion will grow or shrink. Citing expansion of demand from data centers and electric vehicles, Dominion Energy has contended for years that demand for electricity would continue increasing at a steady rate. Environmentalists scoffed, saying that conservation measures would enable Virginians to meet aggressive goals to phase out fossil fuel plants and rely heavily upon solar and wind.

I highlighted this debate back in 2018 in this article. Dominion forecast a 1.4% annual increase in peak demand over the next 15 years.

“Actual electricity demand growth over the next several years will not come close to Dominion’s inflated 1.3% growth” as forecast in its 2017 IRP, wrote William Shobe, director of the Center for Economic Policy Studies at the University of Virginia. “Something like 0.5% to 0.7% is much more likely. And this is with data center demand.”

“It’s time for Dominion to change its model and assumptions to reflect reality—there is less load growth than predicted, and what load is coming to the Commonwealth comes from companies demanding renewable energy options,” said Will Cleveland with the Southern Environmental Law Center.

So, what’s the story nearly six years later? Here’s the headline from today’s Washington Post: “AI and the boom in clean-tech manufacturing are pushing America’s power grid to the brink. Utilities can’t keep up.”

Northern Virginia, says the Post, needs the equivalent of several large nuclear power plants to serve all the new data centers planned and under construction.

Far from overestimating energy demand, Dominion under-estimated it. Virginia’s major electric power company foresaw increased demand from data centers and electric vehicles, but it did not anticipate the crypto-mining revolution or the explosion of artificial intelligence, both of which require massive amounts of energy-intensive computer power. As far as Dominion’s environmentalist critics go, they totally screwed the pooch.

Writes the Post: “Utility projections for the amount of power [electric utilities] will need over the next five years have nearly doubled and are expected to grow, according to a review of regulatory filings by the research firm Grid Strategies.”

The Post published this graph taken from Dominion’s Integrated Resource Plan:

Meanwhile, Virginia environmentalists are still fighting fossil fuels at every turn. This is literally insane (if by insane we mean disconnected from reality). As the U.S. digitizes and electrifies its economy, we need any kind of power source we can get our hands on. That includes fossil-fuel-generated power. Even coal. Given the long lead times to build new generating capacity, we must at the very least maintain existing fossil-fuel power sources.

Shutting down coal and natural-gas facilities to achieve net zero is risking economic suicide. If we persist in our maniacal course, Virginia will be facing years of blackouts and brownouts.