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Here is One Forward-Looking and Very Ambitious Clean Energy Plan for Virginia

virginia energy planning and clean energy

Cleaner energy policies and markets are flourishing globally and throughout much of the U.S. but not in the Commonwealth of Virginia. So stakeholders there have mapped a plan to catch up.

More than 60 advocates for jump-starting clean energy policies and markets, under the banner of the Virginia Advanced Energy Industries Association (VAEIC), worked this past spring and summer to forge more than 70 recommendations for recently-elected Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe and the Republican dominated General Assembly to consider.

The recommendations are very ambitious. They range from a 50% renewable electricity requirement and a solar “carve-out” of 100 megawatts (you read both right), establishing state-of-the-art building codes and requiring state agencies switch to electric and alternative-fuel vehicles, to building a clean energy workforce, creating an energy efficiency utility and decoupling utility distribution rates.

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Solar canopies similar to this one could sprout throughout the Commonwealth of Virginia if some recommendations by the Virginia Advanced Energy Industries Coalition become policy. CREDIT: Virginia Advanced Energy Industries Coalition

Virginia has steered clear of clean energy policies that are creating jobs and businesses in dozens of states. Perhaps the biggest reason is that the state’s energy policy – and the only market for electricity – is run by investor-owned Dominion Virginia Power which serves 70% of the state’s electricity load. Curiously, that’s not the case for natural gas, where households and businesses can shop prices and supply contracts offered by several for suppliers.

Some of VAEIC’s recommendations would begin to undo the monopoly that Dominion long ago secured and has defended for more than 75 years. The General Assembly several years back briefly considered enabling markets for electricity supply but, according to many political observers, punted on the idea at the behest of Dominion’s top brass.

Many of those political observers do point out that the electricity rates charged by Dominion are very competitive, if not lower, than those paid by residences and businesses up and down the East Coast. Some clean energy advocates seem to ignore that reality. But this is 2014 and the most forward-looking state energy policies that are creating markets not only don’t require significantly higher rates, they enable users to significantly reduce their monthly bills.

So do the VAEIC recommendations stand a change of being adopted, or even seriously considered? See my blog at TheEnergyFix.com for a series of posts about clean energy challenges and opportunities in Virginia.  I’m spotlighting what I consider the most far-reaching recommendations and related developments here on TheEnergyCollective.com.

This post delves into the first of the four main components of the VAEIC’s recommendations: solar and other sources of renewable electricity. Future posts will report on energy efficiency, conservation and demand management; alternative fuels and advanced vehicles; and lastly workforce development and R&D.

The Future of Renewable Energy in Virginia

The Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) in Virginia aims to generate 10% of electricity sales statewide from renewable sources such as solar, wind, certain forms of biomass by 2020. Note: this is only voluntary. If the state’s utilities come up short: there is no penalty under current law. Curiously, while calling for a 50% RPS by 2030, VAEIC stopped short of calling for a mandatory quota. Instead, it recommended a “program with stronger pressure or incentives to meet RPS goals.” To help achieve that goal, VAEIC wants to add renewable combined heat and power systems.

A 50% by 2030 RPS would catapult Virginia into the top tier of states striving to clean up their energy supply chain. For that reason alone, some clean energy advocates are curious whether this particular recommendation may not only dead-on-arrival, but it may undermine VAEIC’s credibility in Richmond, the state capital.

“The renewable team developed this recommendation as an aggressive but achievable recommendation,” Francis Hodsoll, Founder and Chairman of VAEIC, said in an email.  “I believe we would all like to see a mandatory RPS which defines state goals and allows the market to determine how to achieve this goal most cost effectively.”

Hodsoll could play an integral role in persuading Gov. McAuliffe and the General Assembly to adopt at least some of VAEIC’s recommendations. He serves on both the Governor’s Energy Council and his Climate Change and Resiliency Update Commission.

Kevin DeGroat, an energy efficiency and renewable energy consultant to the U.S. Department of Energy at Antares Group Inc., led a VAEIC working group on the renewable energy recommendations. He said jump-starting renewable energy in Virginia is “not something you can do half-way.

“Low-cost, high performance renewable energy comes from reliable markets that result in economies of scale and innovation.  With these policies we would be creating a stable enough market so clean energy technologies can keep on progressing,” DeGroat said.

As part of the RPS, VAEIC recommends establishing “carve-outs” for solar energy and wind energy. Those carve outs would require a certain percentage of the overall renewable resource requirement be met by those technologies.  VAEIC calls for a five-year goal of 100 megawatts of solar and a 10-year goal of 1 gigawatt (1,000 megawatts). THAT, is a lot of power from the sun.

“Technically, 100 MWs is very achievable,” Hodsoll said. “If you look at other states, 100 MWs is a very conservative goal.”

A carve out for wind energy could start with the huge potential for this resource off the coast of Virginia Beach.  Conveniently, Dominion has a $51 million demonstration grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to build a pair test wind turbines there.

DeGroat asserted that clean energy stakeholders can “turn” Dominion’s relatively low rates “on its head: that gives us a great base for preparing the next generation of technologies. Current rates and our robust energy system have room to allow prudent investment in new options. We aren’t acting out of desperation, so we can act strategically.”

Some analysts, DeGroat included, say they see electricity rates rising in Virginia and elsewhere under the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s newly proposed amendments to Section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act “unless we maximize innovation in renewable energy and efficiency.”

The VAEIC is mindful of cleaner energy sources located within Virginia. It recommends developing incentives for resources that could bring with them multiple state economic development benefits.

“Virginia needs to look to more of its own resources,” DeGroat said. “Natural gas isn’t always the best answer to every issue. Let’s think intellegently about the challenges we’re facing and respond strategically.”

Among Virginia’s cleaner energy resources spotlighted by the VAEIC’s recommendations are:

  • biomass repowering and co-firing at coal plants that can create stable rural jobs. These could offset any impact of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s newly proposed carbon limits on existing power plants;
  • woody, herbaceous and aquatic energy crops from Virginia farms and industry;
  • equipment or fuels from areas designated as high priorities for economic development assistance;
  • equipment or fuels from companies involved in Virginia clean technology incubators, including a smart grid incubator by Virginia Tech for its hometown of Blacksburg.
  • projects that bring environmentally compromised lands such as reclaimed mine lands, brownfields and closed landfills into higher value uses by hosting renewable energy systems; and
  • renewable energy from companies that have offices or operations in Virginia.

Content Discussion

Joris van Dorp's picture
Joris van Dorp on July 16, 2014

Many of those political observers do point out that the electricity rates charged by Dominion are very competitive, if not lower, than those paid by residences and businesses up and down the East Coast. Some clean energy advocates seem to ignore that reality. But this is 2014 and the most forward-looking state energy policies that are creating markets not only don’t require significantly higher rates, they enable users to significantly reduce their monthly bills.”

I wonder what those state energy policies would be?

Efficiency improvements on and around the home can lead to a net-cost savings, but wind or solar power cannot do that. They are not cost-effective, although this fact is readily obscured by (hidden) subsidies in the form of mandates and tax-credits. Hidden subsidies are very good at staying off the radar (they are designed to do that), but they always surface eventually in the form of higher bills or – more likely – higher taxes.

If Virginia wants to makes sure that electricity prices *stay* low, it should make sure that it is not bamboozled into shady tax-credit deals or clean energy schemes which depend on freeloading off of the stability of the grid while the conventional power provider is stuck with the costs of maintaining that stability.

Virginia should take a hard look at just how ‘flourishing’ the ‘markets’ for renewable energy really are in other states, and whether all that is actually  ‘flourishing’ there is a steady flow of permanent subsidy for technologies which are very far from standing on their own feet.

Virginia should remember that the purpose of decarbonisation is – well – decarbonisation. Building solar panels and windturbines is a means to a end, not an end in itself. There are other clean technologies which reduce far more co2 for each unit of power installed, and at far lower cost, such as nuclear power.

Jim Pierobon's picture
Jim Pierobon on July 16, 2014

M. van Dorp:

Thank you for your thoughts. If you’ve seen an objective, fact-based, study on markets for clean energy in the states, please do share.

About nuclear: also do share how you think the entrenched approach to nuclear in the U.S., vis a vis other approaches globally, can possibly be justified without huge taxpayer subsidies?

 

 

 

Robert Bernal's picture
Robert Bernal on July 17, 2014

I would think that for the amount of energy, nuclear would be FAR cheaper. And yes, advanced nuclear needs to be subsidized in order to standardize global deployment, maintenance, reprocessing and fission products isolation (for safety and ultimate cost reductions).

It’s not like we don’t have the technology to go 80 or 90% CO2 free, especially if reactors are mass produced . Why subsidize wind and solar when they can only do like 25% CO2 free??? Why?, So the FF can continue to provide the other 75% (and lead us into destruction).

Jim Pierobon's picture
Jim Pierobon on July 17, 2014

Robert, 

You nailed it about the absence of standardized nuclear, which I have written about previously (e.g. using thorium). BUT, the nuclear establishment in this country doesn’t buy it. And thus it’s not going to happen. Who can break through this mental logjam?

 

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on July 17, 2014

Jim, any restrictions or costs applied to carbon emissions will have the effect of boosting nuclear deployments, with no need for special carve-outs that put it ahead of other non-fossil options.  

The root of the problem is that the fossil fuel industry has lobbied our government to effect policies of harassment of the nuclear industry.  This harassment (which effectively holds nuclear to safety standards that no fossil fuel could meet) guides our utilities to take the path of least resistance, and continue burning fossil fuels.  

The concept that nuclear costs are high due to lack of standardization was really only a 1970s problem.  China is currenly building several types of reactors, including copies of the “standard” American AP1000 and the “standard” European EPR, and are beating western costs by a factor of 3.  Nuclear power is today where solar was a couple of years ago; we have the right technology, we just need to scale up the volumes and make the regulatory environment more user friendly; the prices have nowhere to go but down.

The present renewable technology (with the exceptions of the extremely resource-limited hydro and geothermal) are, due to their variability, merely tools to keep us locked into fossil fuel use, while creating the illusion of progress (i.e. they will allow us to replace a third of our fossil fuel use with renewable energy, but no community is investing the huge sums in energy storage which would be required for high penetration renewables, hence the lock-in).

When we in the environment community fail to demand more nuclear power, we are effectively supporting fossil fuel use.

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on July 20, 2014

Virginia is one of the states whose grid (and air) could actually become much dirtier with substantial deployment of more renewable energy.  The EIA reports that Virginia currently gets 38% of its electricity from nuclear power.  

Given its poor wind and solar resource quality, a 20% wind and/or 10% solar scenarios would degrade the apparent economics of its nuclear plants, and reduce the likelihood of investors funding plant upgrades and lifetime extensions, and especially nuclear new builds.  Thus, fossil fuel would grow to an even larger percentage of their grid.

The suggestion of co-firing of biomass with coal could help reduce public pressure to replace coal with much cleaner-burning natural gas.

Sometimes dirty energy plans are marketed as “clean”.

Robert Bernal's picture
Robert Bernal on July 20, 2014

We simply need a new (advanced and high temp) nuclear “infrastructure” backed by the realization (by “everybody”) that nuclear receives 15x less subsidy than the renewables per unit of energy.

And that renewables alone can not build infrastructures, provide already existing infrastructure maintenance, grow food, mine and manufacture, desalinate water, power 10 billion at high standards AND clean up the excess CO2 mess.

I beleive we have no other choice but to erradicate the laws that get in the way of the re-development of advanced nuclear.