The AES Corporation (AES) was presented with the Edison Electric Institute’s (EEI) 2019 Edison Award. This award is reserved for electric power producers who innovate in their field. AES was selected for this honor after having completed its large-scale solar and energy storage project in Hawaii. The project consists of 28 MW of solar photovoltaic (PV) and a 100 MWh five-hour duration energy storage system. This system will provide about 11% of Kaua’i’s electricity needs. This is an enormous step forward as it demonstrates the viability of large-scale renewable energy projects, especially when paired with energy storage. Read the full story here.
$2B solar farm-data center hybrid pitched for Chesterfield ‘megasite’
A site in Chesterfield County, which has been in dispute for over a year, is now being considered for a solar farm-data center hybrid facility. The site, deemed the Matoaca Mega Site, was initially slated for economic development into an industrial site, with no specific plan for who or what would inhabit it. The original goal was for some type of major assembly facility to be built. There was significant community opposition to rezoning the site in this way, which led to the withdrawal of the zoning application. The unanimous withdrawal of the zoning application by the Chesterfield Economic Development Authority has left the property unchanged and unused until recently. A Colorado-based renewable energy company, Torch Clean Energy, has submitted a bid for 1,500 of the 1,700 acres. The plan would be to build a data center in conjunction with a solar farm in order to supply its significant energy needs. Read the full story here.
SCC chides Dominion for lack of transparency in long-term plan, effect on ratepayers
The Virginia State Corporation Commission, the entity in charge of regulating Dominion, has been assessing Dominion’s long-term plan with more scrutiny. Last month, the SCC had a day-long hearing to assess transparency and impact of Dominion’s plan. They pointed out that there seems to be a discrepancy in the amount that Dominion has told its investors it plans to spend on new projects and the amount it has disclosed to regulatory entities. Dominion’s expenditures have a direct impact on a ratepayer’s bills. Read the full story here.
Costco, Walmart and other big retailers try to break Dominion Energy’s grip in Virginia
Costco is the latest of a number of large companies in Virginia to request the ability to purchase energy from a source other than Dominion. Other companies to do the same include Walmart, Kroger, Harris Teeter, and Cox Communications. The SCC makes these determinations and has consistently denied applications for more energy choices. Read the full story here.
Solar. Co-op. Here’s the deal
A solar co-op has formed in an area stretching from Virginia Beach to Williamsburg. The hope is to save money and encourage the development of more solar in the community. One of the co-op’s major projects will be the installation of EV chargers to help with the ease of owning an electric vehicle. Joining the co-op is free and will reduce the cost of installing solar panels or chargers based on a group rate. Anyone in the area interested in the co-op can learn more or join here. Read the full story here.
Last week, an unexpected coalition formed with the aim of significantly changing Virginia’s energy landscape. With the slogan, “It’s Time to Take Back Our Dominion,” the group’s aim is very clear. Dominion Energy is often accused of overstepping in the legislative process in Virginia in order to secure more favorable positions for itself. The coalition seeks to end this practice.
The most significant of the coalition’s objectives is to deregulate Virginia’s electric utilities, which means the only permissible monopolies would be for transmission and distribution lines. Dominion Energy, and Appalachian Power in certain territories, currently have a monopoly on energy production and distribution in the state of Virginia.
Monopolies were originally formed around public utilities when there were high costs associated with building and maintaining a complex infrastructure (e.g., railroads, telephone lines, transmission and distribution lines). In exchange for these hefty upfront costs, governments grant monopolies as an incentive. Monopolies also serve to deter duplicative construction; we would not want multiple electric companies building their own power lines.
Now some states have moved away from this structure in favor of a deregulated energy market, in which various electricity producers compete to sell their product. These structures have had varying levels of success. Dominion’s spokespeople have warned that deregulation would lead to higher prices for consumers.
A monopoly has worked in Virginia for many years, however, there have been major concerns in the last decade that Dominion Energy is slowly chipping away at the government oversight designed to keep it in check. In 1999 Virginia attempted deregulation of the energy markets but abandoned the efforts for fear there would not be enough energy producers to sustain the desired level of competition. This failed effort strengthened Dominion’s presence in the General Assembly. In 2015, Dominion successfully negotiated a rate freeze in the General Assembly, which essentially stripped the State Corporation Commission’s power to regulate the rates that Dominion charges its customers.
The Virginia Energy Reform Coalition was formed in response to what they view as a significant overstep by a state-regulated monopoly. The most remarkable aspect of this coalition is its bipartisan membership. One of the most outspoken members of the coalition has been Ken Cuccinelli, Virginia’s former Republican state Attorney General. On this topic, Cuccinelli stated, “I’m proud to stand here today with a politically eclectic group that is committed to modernizing Virginia’s electricity markets.”
States like Texas and Ohio have successfully deregulated their energy markets and their consumers have seen the benefits. Whether or not the coalition accomplishes its mission, it has been successful in starting important conversations about the future of energy in Virginia
In a last-ditch effort to stop climate regulations, Virginia Republicans try legislating by budget amendment
The Northam Administration has created a plan that intends to decrease carbon emissions from Virginia power plants by 30% over the next decade. As a way to combat this effort, some Virginia lawmakers are attempting to halt these regulations in a number of ways. One of the most notable is a budget amendment that would prevent Virginia from joining the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). RGGI is a cooperative of states that have an agreed-upon cap on carbon emissions. This initiative currently includes Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont. Republicans in the General Assembly unanimously approved a bill that would have the same effect, but it was vetoed by the Governor. It is imperative that we encourage Governor Northam to reject this budget amendment! He has until May 3, 2019, to do so. Read the story here.
State air board recommends joining regional carbon reduction group; new members appointed by Northam take seats
The State Air Pollution Control Board is a citizen group in charge of regulating air pollution in Virginia. Last week, the group voted to approve the regulations that would allow Virginia to join RGGI, mentioned above. The approval came in a resounding 5-2 vote. Opponents suggest that joining the cap-and-trade system will only hurt Virginia’s ability to attract businesses. Representatives from Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality have countered that there is no evidence to suggest electricity rates would increase as a result of this change, and instead there would be health benefits in the state valuing between $6 million and $13.5 million. Read the full story here.
House Introduces Energy Storage Tax Credit Bill
Last week, some Democratic members of the United States House of Representatives reintroduced legislation for a tax credit on energy storage. Federal investment tax credits (ITC) currently extend to a list of technologies, including solar PV systems. Introduced by Rep. Mike Doyle (D-PA), the Energy Storage Tax Incentive and Deployment Act would extend the ITC to standalone energy storage systems. This is an important step in investing in and developing storage technologies. These technologies, paired with renewable energy systems, can have a tremendous impact on our energy usage. Call your federal legislators to support this bill! Read the story here.
The news of Amazon’s new Headquarters was almost unavoidable to those of us here in the Commonwealth. Some are welcoming their plans for Northern Virginia, while others are expressing significant concerns. Some are rejoicing over the potential for new jobs, and others are lamenting about traffic and infrastructure pressures. No one knows for sure the impact that Amazon will have on Virginia, but one this is certain: it will consume a lot of energy.
In addition to the needs of its new offices, there are currently many Amazon data centers sited throughout Virginia, including Ashburn, Sterling, Haymarket, Manassas, Chantilly. Data centers are notorious for being incredibly energy hungry. Data centers across the US use more than 90 billion kW/h of electricity per year. This is the equivalent of 34 fully operational coal-fired power plants committing their full capacity.
This massive demand will either further entrench Virginia in its reliance on traditional fuel sources or be a catalyst for a renewable energy future. This will depend largely on Amazon’s priorities. The internet giant has heavily publicized its goal of 100% renewable energy to power its data centers. However, according to a report publicized by Greenpeace, the Virginia data centers are currently being powered by only 12% renewable energy, compared to its country average of 50%.
Numerous accusations have been made based on comments from high-profile Amazon employees that the company does not intend to keep its promise of 100% renewables. To those who would argue that 100% renewable, especially for data centers, is unattainable, take Google as an example. Google boasts 100% renewable energy for both its offices and data centers as of 2017. Google has achieved this through heavy investment in Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs), which commits it to purchase the energy produced by the project while simultaneously investing money renewable projects. It has the added benefit of keeping the company’s rate consistent throughout the term of the contract. Google is now the biggest corporate consumer of renewable energy in the world.
Whether these accusations of Amazon’s waning interest in renewables have any merit remains to be seen. But, as Amazon continues to make itself at home in our state, we must be vigilant as to its intentions and advocate for responsible energy usage and investments. We should encourage Amazon to align its priorities with the needs of a secure, diverse energy future.
An initiative that was at first widely viewed as a success is now disappointing many Virginia stakeholders. Last year, Dominion Energy agreed to spend $870 million on energy efficiency programs. These programs were intended to reduce the need for additional energy supplies and to help low-income consumers spend less on their energy bills. However, Dominion is now contending that the spending plan should include the revenue it would lose because of the decreased energy usage. The result, if approved by regulators, would be a reduction in spending to $350 million, a mere 40% of the original amount.
In 2018, in an effort to pass the Grid Transformation and Securitization Act, which had significant opposition, Dominion Energy offered up this investment into energy efficiency as a way to assuage concerns. As a result, many in the community are rightfully frustrated by this decision and are viewing it as a showing of bad faith.
Investments into energy efficiency are a low-risk way to reduce energy demand and lower the cost of energy for low-income customers. However, Dominion has very little to invest in, or incentivize investment in, energy efficiency programs. In a ranking of energy efficiency among large investor-owned utilities, conducted by the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy, Dominion placed 50th out of 51 utilities. Further, Ceres, in its analysis of the largest electric utilities in the country, also placed Dominion Energy last, with only about 80,000 MWh (0.10%) of savings through incremental energy efficiency as a portion of retail sales. This is compared to more than 1,000,000 MWh saved by the highest ranked utility.
It’s clear that energy efficiency programs are good for the consumer and for reducing the burden of energy production, and that Dominion Energy has failed to adequately invest in these measures. Even worse, after promising to improve, Dominion is attempting to use the regulatory process to significantly reduce its investment. Those who helped negotiate the Grid Transformation and Securitization Act last year, such as Secretary of Natural Resources Matthew Strickler and Senator Dick Saslaw, have spoken out against Dominion’s decision, stating that this outcome was not the intention of the legislation.
Dominion fears a reality in which consumers are using less electricity and thus paying less. But this is the equivalent of a company recalling a product, promising to pay for the repairs, and then charging customers for the revenue lost from decreased sales on newer products. Growth in energy demand is never a guarantee and rather than charging ratepayers for its expected loss in revenue, Dominion should find ways to innovate, just as any other company would. For instance, Dominion’s 2018 IRP anticipates very little growth in electric vehicles (EVs) in Virginia. It could easily invest some of its resources into paving the way for more EVs, which would, in turn, increase demand while keeping with its promise of a more energy efficient future.
The State Corporation Commission heard Dominion’s request on Wednesday, March 20th. It is our hope that the SCC will recognize the importance of rejecting this proposal for Virginia’s consumers and for Virginia’s economy. Powered by Facts will continue to update you as this matter unfolds.
As the 2019 session comes to a close, we’d like to give you a rundown of some of the emerging trends in Virginia’s energy policy. Approximately 60 different energy bills were filed this year, ranging from renewable energy policies and energy efficiency to utility regulation and climate change mitigation. Below are some of the most notable trends of this session.
A bill was proposed in the House which prohibits Virginia from joining RGGI, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a cooperative of states to cap carbon emissions, currently including Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont. HB2611 passed both the House and the Senate with ease by a party-line vote. While this bill is likely to be met with a veto, it shows the unfortunate unwillingness to invest in our energy future. This is why your vote matters this year! We need legislators who understand the importance of reducing our reliance on traditional energy sources!
Proposed Large-scale Changes
While many members of the legislature were not prepared to discuss drastic changes in Virginia’s energy mix, there were some noteworthy efforts this year. One was Delegate Rasoul’s “Off Act,” HB1635, which would have created a moratorium on approving any new fossil fuel facilities and other fossil fuel-related activities. It would have also required that retail energy producers sell 80% renewable energy by 2028 and 100% renewable energy by 2036. This bill remarkably made it out of the House Commerce and Labor Committee (which was likely a political move in itself), only to be rejected by the House along party lines.
Other notable efforts came in the form of “Solar Freedom” bills, HB2329 and SB1456. These comprehensive bills tackled issues like removing the cap on net-metering, legalizing power purchase agreements, and decreasing stand-by charges, among other changes. Both of these bills were met with animosity and killed in committee early on in the session.
Funding for Smart Energy Choices
This session saw a number of different bills whose aim was to provide funding for smart energy choices. Some of these solutions came in the form of funding explicitly for solar projects (HB1902) or to incentivize energy efficiency projects (HB2243 & HB2295). None, unfortunately, passed this year. A notable funding bill was HB2165, which would have created a grant program to offset some of the costs of building solar projects on contaminated lands. There are myriad benefits to projects such as these, and while this bill was removed from the docket this year, we will be working hard next session to get it passed.
Common-sense Solar Fixes
Despite some disappointment this session, it is important to highlight some common-sense bills aimed at fixing simple issues in Virginia that did succeed!
HB2792 and SB1779 Create a 6-year pilot program for municipal net metering for localities that are customers of utilities.
HB2621 & SB1091: Allows localities to require a decommission plan as a condition for approving a solar site plan.
HB2547 & SB1769: Makes changes to the net-metering program for customers of electric cooperatives, including raising the net-metering cap to 7% of system peak and permitting customers to install enough renewable energy to meet up to 125% of previous year’s demand.
What does renewable energy have to do with contaminated lands? These two seemingly separate issues can be combined to have a symbiotic solution. Contaminated lands include brownfields, superfund sites, mining sites, and landfills, among others. These lands are generally large open spaces but will often remain empty because the potential contamination prevents redevelopment. As a result, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has identified these types of land as promising for the development of renewable energy projects and launched its RE-Powering America’s Land program.
There are numerous reasons to site renewable energy projects on contaminated lands. For instance, they often have an existing infrastructure which can be used to reduce the cost of development. The cost of these vacant lands are also generally very low because of their status as contaminated. Another major advantage is the protection of open space lands. Large-scale renewable energy projects often require large amounts of open land, which is often hard to come by and is sometimes protected.
Landfills are a particularly viable option for solar installations because the land has already been cleared and generally cannot be used for other types of commercial development. Closed landfills are those that have been covered and are also monitored for leaching and groundwater contamination. A closed landfill creates a large, open space where installed solar would not need to compete with other productive uses, such as agriculture. In addition, closed landfills are generally located away from environmentally sensitive ecosystems. Most landfills are designed to be easily accessible, and most have security systems installed, reducing the need to build new infrastructure.
Communities with contaminated lands see an enormous benefit from converting vacant or underutilized land into a clean source of energy. Renewable energy projects also serve to create jobs and stimulate the local tax base. The EPA’s findings state, “communities, private site-owners, and consumers have saved millions of dollars in energy costs, created construction jobs, and received new property tax revenue as a result of reusing these sites for renewable energy.”
In Lackawanna, NY, a former steel production site was converted into a 35-MW wind installation after 20 years of vacancy. This development has generated $190,000 in annual tax revenues for local communities and school districts and created 140 construction jobs. A 42-acre landfill Superfund site in New Jersey was leased to a solar developer, who paid the township $2.5 million for a 15-year lease. The 7-MW solar facility provides all of the electricity needs of the township’s government and sells the extra to the grid. Once the 15-year lease terminates the township will assume ownership of the solar field, which will provide free electricity to the township, resulting in $500,000 to $600,000 in savings per year.
These are just a few of many success stories. In Virginia, there are approximately 20 brownfields alone that are currently for sale across the state. Additionally, there are approximately 30 closed landfills. One of these, the Prince William Landfill, has decided to install solar panels on its property, which will produce approximately 1.5 MW of electricity, which could be used to power 5,000 homes. The former Ivy landfill in Albemarle County, Virginia, is moving forward with a negotiation for a 25-year lease to install a solar energy array. This potential solar farm could power about 1,000 homes and would be installed on 10-14 acres. At the Virginia Brownfields Conference in March 2017, it was noted that 28 landfills had been screened for solar. No other contaminated lands in the Commonwealth have been revitalized in this way. With the proper incentives, Virginia could greatly benefit from converting contaminated lands into productive renewable energy projects.
Going Green: Arlington Schools Says Solar Energy Will Save Them $4 Million
Arlington County schools recently signed a contract for a power purchase agreement with Sun Tribe Solar, a firm based out of Charlottesville. Energy created by the solar panels will be supplied to the schools at a fixed cost, and the schools will not have to pay any fees for the installation. The agreement, which is a smart financial move for the district, will save the school district an estimated $4 million over the course of the 25-year contract. Read the story here.
Solar Coming to Virginia Coal Country
In an effort to diversify the economy of Virginia’s “coal country,” the Solar Workgroup of Southwest Virginia has been searching for ways to bring solar to the region. Negotiations are underway with a Richmond-based solar group, NCI, to install 1.5 MW of solar energy in various locations across Wise County. An important aspect of NCI’s proposal is the promise to train and hire local workers for the installation and maintenance of the project. The economy in this region of Virginia has relied primarily on coal mining for many years, so the promise of reeducation and employment of the local workforce is an important aspect of transitioning to solar. Read the story here.
Plans for Wind Farm Construction in Botetourt County Remain on Hold
Plans for a wind farm in Botetourt County have been discussed for the last two years, but no concrete plans have surfaced. Apex Clean Energy hopes to build 25 wind turbines on top of North Mountain and has received the necessary permits from federal, state, and local officials. However, the company has pushed back its intended construction date multiple times. The main obstacle for the project has been finding a utility willing to commit to purchasing the energy produced by the project. Despite this, Apex contends that the project will move forward, just not as quickly as they had hoped when the project first became public. Read the full story here.
Dominion Energy and Smithfield Foods Partner to Transform the Future of Sustainable Energy
Dominion Energy and Smithfield Foods have entered into a joint venture called Align Renewable Natural Gas. The purpose of the endeavors is to capture waste methane gas created by pig farms and convert it into natural gas for local homes and power companies. The first projects will take place in Virginia, North Carolina, and Utah. The goal of this partnership is to simultaneously reduce the harmful emissions that result from both the agriculture and energy industries and to aid in state efforts in greenhouse gas reduction. Dominion’s CEO said both “companies recognize the urgent need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions for the future of our planet.” Read the story here.
In November, the Virginia State Corporation Commission (SCC) approved Dominion Energy’s proposal for an offshore-wind pilot program, which will be the first of its kind in Virginia. The project, which was submitted for approval in August, will culminate in the construction of two 6-megawatt wind turbines off the coast of Virginia Beach. SCC approval is an important step for offshore-wind energy in Virginia; however, in a press release, the SCC expressed concerns about the project.
The SCC contends that cost of the project will be borne by the customers rather than the project developers. Specifically, it has said that the “risk of the project, including cost overruns, production and performance failures” all will fall to Dominion customers. The SCC also noted that the bidding process for the project was not competitive, which would have served to reduce the overall cost. As it stands, Dominion projects the cost of installment will amount to $300 million for only 12 MW of energy.
The SCC’s approval, despite concerns, which include cost and viability of offshore wind, is largely due to new legislation (SB966), which demands that a project such as this be deemed “in the public interest” and forgoes the usual economic considerations. In essence, the SCC had its hands tied by SB966, which can be viewed both positively and negatively. On the upside, the bill prevents the SCC from unreasonably holding up important projects that will improve the energy mix in Virginia, as well as pave the way for more renewables. The downside is that parameters set by the bill may prevent the SCC from making important considerations about risk and cost, which ultimately serve to protect the ratepayer from bearing the cost of unnecessarily expensive projects.
The SCC is correct in its assessment that $300 million to produce 12 MW of energy is an unusually high price tag. However, the SCC also has made it clear that it does not believe in the economic viability of an offshore-wind industry in Virginia. This pilot project should be seen as an initial investment in an industry that could offer great potential. As the cost of new technologies decrease and Virginia can begin to benefit from economies of scale, offshore wind will become an affordable source of energy. Dominion Energy already holds the lease for enough land to build 2,000 MW of offshore wind, depending on the success of this pilot program. By passing SB966, the General Assembly recognized the reality of the high upfront costs of renewable projects such as these but demonstrated the importance of these investments as a bridge to more cost-effective projects as time goes on. In the past, the SCC has shown reluctance to approve any renewable project, but now recognizes solar as the least cost source of energy.
The legislative oversight of the SCC resulting from SB966 has had a positive outcome. But, as Ivy Main of the Sierra Club points out, the SCC must be wary of relinquishing too much of its oversight authority. With Dominion Energy’s plans to spend billions of dollars on various projects in the near future, Virginia needs an SCC that will actively question both prudence and value.
Dominion Energy recently submitted a request to the Virginia State Corporation Commission (SCC) to spend a total of $3.5 billion on grid upgrades. This proposal, which would be broken into three phases, is massive even for the utility giant. $500 million of this has been designated to provide all Dominion customers with smart meters.
Currently, every customer of Dominion, or any electricity provider, has a meter which tracks and displays energy usage. This data is then used to calculate each customer’s electric bill. Typically, traditional meters must be read periodically by an employee of the electric company and the data is simply recorded, generally once per month.
Smart meters, on the other hand, transmit the data directly to the electricity provider, which allows for real-time energy consumption information. It can provide information regarding a customer’s peak consumption and can help consumers determine how to reduce their usage.
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While having this information can be valuable, the greatest potential value of smart meters lies in “time-of-use” pricing programs. These pricing structures allow consumers to pay the real-time price of electricity. The cost of electricity increases as demand increases and decreases as demand decreases. These programs create great incentives for customers to invest in energy efficient products, battery storage, solar panels, and more, to offset consumption at peak pricing times.
As it stands, Dominion’s $3.5 billion expenditure does not include the implementation of a “time-of-use” pricing option. While the investment in smart meters is an important step forward, if Dominion wants to spend such large sums (which are charged to the ratepayer), it should also be required to maximize the benefits to the ratepayer.
The SCC has approached this matter with a similar skepticism. It has the ability to accept or reject the proposal based on whether the spending is “reasonable and prudent.” And the commissioners seem to recognize that Dominion’s plan does not empower consumers the way it should. The way forward for a more modern grid is to put more control in the hands of consumers, whether that is through their choice of energy or their ability to efficiently curtail energy usage at times of higher prices.
The SCC has a large part to play in this matter. It should not be shy about permitting Dominion to invest in upgrades but should ensure that those upgrades are positively impacting the ratepayers who are funding them. As a reminder, the SCC currently has a vacancy and whoever fills it will be making important decisions such as this. Now is the time to urge your legislator to select a commissioner who understands the importance of protecting consumers and investing wisely in Virginia’s energy future.
If you’d like to read Dominion’s proposal, it can be found here.
Culpeper Approves First Solar Energy Generation Project
The board of supervisors for Culpeper County recently voted to approve its first ever solar project. The conditional use permit narrowly passed with a vote of 3-2 after a three-hour-long public comment period, in which many members of the community came out in support of the project because of its economic benefits. NextEra Energy, a large generator of renewable energy, will be responsible for the development of this utility-scale solar project. The 40-year project is expected to generate $1.7 million in county tax revenue. Read the story here.
There’s a Lot to Like in Northam’s Energy Plan, but Missed Opportunities Abound
Over the summer, the Virginia Department of Mines Minerals and Energy (DMME) worked to create a new Energy Plan for the Northam Administration. It was just released to the public in its final form and includes some promising aspects, such as energy efficiency, solar, offshore and onshore wind, and clean transportation. There are, however, a number of issues with the plan, including a lack of support for distributed energy in addition to the utility-scale projects. To find out more about the 2018 Virginia Energy Plan, read the story here.
Data Centers to Dominion: Don’t Use us to Justify More Power Plants
A group of technology companies have challenged Dominion Energy’s conclusion that more natural gas projects are necessary to keep up with demand in the Commonwealth. Adobe Systems, Akamai Technologies, eBay, and Equinix, among others, stated that most data centers, which make up a large source of their increasing energy demand, are looking for renewable energy. Four of the signing companies have committed to 100-percent renewable energy in the near term. As a result, the letter states, access to renewable energy will play a significant role in determining where these data centers are located, calling into question a major source of Virginia’s future economic prosperity. Read the full story here.
The Northam Administration Wants a ‘Prominent Role’ for Virginia in Offshore Wind. Can They Pull it Off?
Virginia DMME Director John Warren spoke at the American Wind Energy Association conference, explaining Virginia’s intention to play a “prominent role” in the American offshore-wind industry. He explained his belief that surrounding states, such are Maryland and North Carolina, could benefit from working in conjunction with one another to develop supply chain strategies and efficiently build out the necessary infrastructure. The conference saw a similar sentiment of cooperation among states in attendance, as many are beginning to realize that there are abundant opportunities for offshore wind. Read the story here.
Virginia is one of a few states that would benefit greatly from implementing offshore wind project, according to a recent report commissioned by Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2). The report demonstrates the potential for immense economic benefits from the offshore wind industry and examines the impacts it would have on various states. According to E2, if each of the five target states (New York, New Jersey, Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina) built a moderately-sized offshore wind installation, the aggregate result would be an additional 25,000 jobs and a $3.6-billion boost to the states’ economies. Again, this is from a single moderately-sized project in each state.
The report refines its findings by state, and the results are no less impressive. In Virginia alone, a single offshore wind project has the potential to create 4,377 construction and operation jobs and $641 million in economic benefits. The Virginia government also would receive an estimated $18.86 million in tax revenue. Even more simplified, the report suggests that for every $1 spent on offshore wind in Virginia, $1.73 would be generated.
To further demonstrate its point, the E2 report examined the financial risks associated with the offshore oil industry. In the event of an oil spill off the coast of Virginia, there would be $90 million in lost wages, and a $175-million loss in state income. Beyond that, offshore land leased for drilling oil and gas or building pipelines to transport them threatens natural resources and simply doesn’t make economic sense. That land could and should be used to develop offshore wind projects instead.
The economics of the offshore wind industry are clear, and Virginia could benefit greatly from it. The choice between investing in offshore drilling and offshore wind should be obvious, even simply from the perspective of dollars and cents.
Virginia needs to make the right choice for where to invest its money, otherwise it may miss out on an incredible opportunity for economic growth and job creation.
Click here for the full report.
What Virginia’s Electric Grid Could Look Like
All of the tools needed to build a renewable energy future already exist and are sufficiently affordable, Virginia simply needs the proper regulatory structure to support this future. Experience from other states has shown us that gas-fired “peaker” plants are becoming less necessary and, in many cases, superfluous. Virginia’s offshore wind potential alone is enough to satisfy Dominion’s net energy load. The best way forward for utilities and Virginia consumers alike is the development of a multi-directional grid with the ability to accommodate wind and solar. Read the story here.
Dominion acquires 240 MW-AC of solar in Virginia
Dominion has just reached a deal with a local solar developer, Urban Grid, to acquire two solar projects, totaling in 240 MW of power, once they are completed. The recent Grid Transformation and Security Act gives Dominion the ability to use its profits to invest in projects that would help strengthen and modernize the grid, including solar facilities like these. Each of these solar projects is larger than any Dominion-owned solar facility in Virginia. These projects will represent over 50% of Virginia’s installed solar capacity. Read the story here.
Virginia’s largest solar-generating facility in Spotsylvania would produce power for University of Richmond, Apple and others
Sustainable Power Group, or sPower, is a solar energy developer that wants to build a large solar facility in Spotsylvania County. The facility would generate 500 MW of power, all of which already has a dedicated buyer. Apple and the University of Richmond are among the businesses prepared to purchase power directly from this facility. The Virginia State Corporation has already approved the proposal, which allows sPower to move forward, however it still faces public hearings with the Spotsylvania Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors to obtain the necessary special-use permit. This would be the largest solar facility in Virginia. Read the story here.
New report charts course for Virginia to become industry hub for offshore wind
A renewable energy consultant group, BVG Associates, recently released a report that demonstrates how Virginia could become the leader in the offshore industry – if the right decisions are made. According to BVG, Virginia could produce up to 2 GW of wind by 2028, which is enough to power 500,000 homes! If this were to come to fruition, Virginia would be able to reduce its reliance on out-of-state energy by 30% and create thousands of local jobs. The key is supply chain investments. With the right investments, Virginia will be poised to significantly expand offshore wind projects in the future and secure its place in the growing offshore wind economy. Read the story here.
Most eastern bat species are declining, and several – including some that occur right here in Virginia – are listed as endangered or threatened. Bats provide important ecosystem services, including consuming insect pests and acting as pollinators. Bat populations are declining due to habitat loss, climate change, and worsening air quality, among others factors. Additionally, over the past decade, there have been reports of hundreds of thousands of bat deaths related to wind turbines, with the highest concentrations in the Midwest and Great Plains regions.
There are many thoughts as to why bats are attracted to the area around the turbines. Some potential factors include the noise produced by the wind turbines, the concentration of insects in the open spaces around, and various bat roosting and mating practices. Most bat deaths occur on low wind speed nights.
Does this mean wind projects must be stopped because of the impacts to bats? Absolutely not! Growing collaborative scientific research has provided us with a number of operational best practices that can be implemented to significantly reduce the number of bat fatalities seen each year. Some of these best practices include:
- Increasing the turbine cut-in speed (the speed at which the turbine first begins to rotate). This has been shown to decrease bat fatalities by up to 50%!
- Feathering turbine blades (which stops the blades from turning) when wind speeds are low. Some members of the American Wind Energy Association have already committed to this best practice to curtail impacts to bats.
- Predicting bat behavior and adjusting accordingly. Bats are only active at night and peak fatalities occur in the late summer and fall.
- Avoiding, to the greatest extent possible, installing wind projects within areas of intact forest in which bats are known to roost. These bats are likely to preferentially feed in the open areas around the turbines.
There have also been developments in acoustic devices that have the potential to deter bats from flying near turbines, though the effectiveness of these devices are in question. The impacts of ultraviolet light are also being evaluated as a potential option.
It is clear that there is an unfortunate correlation between wind turbines and bat deaths. Fortunately, this is something the wind industry has already acknowledged and is well underway to rectifying. The most important takeaway is that there are best practices that can be implemented with minimal impacts to the productivity of wind producers. Encouraging the wind industry to adopt these practices and supporting the scientific community as they continue to find solutions is the best route forward. Wind remains a clean and cost-effective energy resource, which should continue to develop in the most responsible way possible.
Resources for further research:
Twelve of Virginia’s largest energy consumers, including businesses, healthcare institutions, and universities, say that Virginia must allow large customers greater flexibility in energy procurement, so they will be encouraged to invest in large renewable projects and reap the benefits thereof. Salesforce, Adobe, Mars, and other notable companies are advocating for a competitive choice in energy suppliers and other recommendations for low-carbon initiatives, such as an electric vehicle infrastructure and energy efficiency programs, in a letter to the Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy (DMME) as a part of the comment period for the 2018 Virginia Energy Plan.
Read more about it in the Energy News Network.
The United States sees about 5.5% of its energy mix coming from wind power, which is significant compared to years past. In fact, today some states, such as Iowa, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Kansas, have managed to integrate enough utility-scale wind power into their mix to meet around 30% of their energy needs. Other states have more modest amounts of wind, but many of those are actively investing in a growing wind industry.
Where does Virginia fall this state-by-state evaluation of wind energy? It doesn’t. According to the American Wind Energy Association, Virginia, along with the rest of the Southeast, currently has no operational utility-owned wind projects. We also have no utility buyers of wind, which means that there is no incentive to independent producers to develop wind projects in the state.
This regional gap in wind energy may cause speculation that this part of the country is ill-suited for wind energy. This is not the case. Our neighbor, Maryland, currently has five wind projects, comprised of 79 turbines and capable of powering 40,000 homes. Another neighbor, West Virginia, has also invested in wind projects, with five currently up and running, which are able to power about 126,000 homes. Not only are they our neighbors, but Maryland and West Virginia have very similar terrains to Virginia. Further, the cost of wind, globally, has decreased significantly, with averages of about $0.06 per KwH, while traditional fossil fuels fluctuate from $0.05 per KwH all the up to $0.17 per KwH. Wind offers a great way to hedge against the volatile costs of traditional fuel sources.
All hope is not lost for Virginia, however. There are a few projects starting up soon. For example, Dominion Energy has leased federal land with the intention of developing a 2,000-MW offshore-wind project off the coast of Virginia Beach. With the extensive regulatory process that is in place, construction for this project will begin in the 2020s. At the same time, Dominion has yet to include wind energy in its Integrated Resource Plan, which maps out the next 15 years of its energy mix. This calls into question how serious the utility is about implementing the project.
Another Virginia energy producer, Apex Clean Energy, has obtained the permit necessary to develop a 75-MW wind project in Botetourt County. This is a promising development for wind in Virginia, however, the company is unlikely to move forward until there is a willing purchaser of the energy it produces, which, in Virginia, would have to be an electric utility. Additionally, Appalachian Power has been attempting to add wind energy to its portfolio, most recently by attempting to acquire wind projects in West Virginia and Ohio. Unfortunately, this request was refused by the Virginia State Corporation Commission, explaining that there was no need for the additional energy. Frustratingly, in instances such as these, wind projects have been halted or stalled by regulatory barriers.
While wind is starting to pick up in Virginia, there has been no sense of urgency from the utilities, the legislature, or the regulatory entities. Virginia is in danger of missing the boat on this opportunity and may eventually have to buy its wind energy from other states because of a lack of investment and infrastructure. Some studies have shown that a robust wind industry in Virginia could support more than 15,000 jobs, many of which will not come to fruition without proper encouragement for wind. We can help change that – much like we did with solar – for Virginia.
Stay tuned to Powered by Facts to find out how you can support wind energy for the Commonwealth.
During the 2018 session, the Virginia General Assembly passed a bill that seeks to promote the modernization of our state’s electrical grid. Called the Grid Transformation and Security Act, SB 966 also includes some financial boosts to renewable energy sources and energy efficiency initiatives. However, it is imperative that these investments go to the right place. Grid modernization and reliability is vitally important in today’s increasingly cyber-connected world, particularly when you consider that disabling just nine nodes could bring down the flow of energy across the entire nation.
Protecting the grid from cyber-attacks can be achieved by adding renewables, particularly distributed renewables, to Virginia’s energy mix. Let’s take a quick look at the way the energy flow has traditionally worked in Virginia and across the United States.
Our electrical grid connects energy generation through transmission lines, substations, transformers, and distribution lines to the end user – you and me. This has been the traditional way in which electricity is generated – from nuclear, natural gas, and other sources – and distributed to consumers. In the past, electricity could only flow one way, from producer to consumer.
While this system has functioned well enough for many years, it is inherently vulnerable. If a transmission or distribution line goes down, regardless of whether it is brought down by a natural or manmade disaster or act, consumers have no option but to wait for it to be fixed.
This can be circumvented by adding small-scale renewables, and other distributed energy resources, such as energy efficiency programs, demand response, and storage to our energy solutions. These resources can help when traditional power producers are experiencing excess demand, which happens more often that you hear about, that threatens reliability. Imagine a particularly hot day in the middle of a Virginia summer when overheated residents are cranking up their air conditioners across the state. These spikes in demand on summer days traditionally have been a cause for concern for utilities, but they happen to coincide with the ideal conditions for solar panels. Whether a business or residence is using panels to reduce its own power draw or actually has enough power to send back to the grid, the result is a reduction in demand.
A second component of grid reliability is resilience, which generally means the ability to bounce back from a harmful event. In the traditional paradigm for energy production and consumption, if there is an event that harms the system anywhere in that process, the end users will be without power. However, with the development of more distributed resources, such as those listed above and microgrids, there are more sources of energy to pull from to mitigate the impacts of a blackout. Storage, wind, and solar, in particular, can be pivotal in providing power to a home, a business, or even a whole community in the case of an outage, because they can operate completely independently from the power-producing utility.
Modernizing the grid to support these distributed resources and to take advantage of newly available technologies is critical. Ensuring that our utilities are investing wisely and are focused on a reliable grid that can implement distributed energy resources should be a priority for the General Assembly this session.
The Virginia State Corporation Commission (SCC) is not a well-known state agency, but it wields significant power in the Commonwealth. It regulates everything from state-chartered financial institutions to insurance to limited liability companies. But, most importantly, it also has the authority to regulate utilities, which, in the state of Virginia, includes Dominion Power and Appalachian Power. This means that the SCC reviews and approves electricity rates, and also has the power to reject rate increases if they prove to be unjust or unreasonable. This will be particularly important in the coming years due to the recent enactment of the Grid Transformation and Security Act, which will allow Dominion to recover the costs of implementing renewable energy projects and modernizing the grid. The SCC has the incredibly important task of safeguarding consumer interests in the face of state-sanctioned monopolies like Dominion. Vital to that task are commissioners of the SCC who understand the energy markets and the need for modernization. In February of this year, Commissioner James Dimitri retired, leaving the General Assembly tasked with appointing his replacement. Commissioner Dimitri, in his opinions and questions from the bench, is understood to have had a ratepayer perspective and to have been an effective advocate for their interests.
Senator Chap Peterson recently wrote an op-ed detailing the importance of this appointment and the characteristics he would like to see in the next commissioner. Read more here.
A number of candidates have been identified and considered for this position, many of whom do not have any track record of protecting the interests of consumers or ratepayers. David Clarke, an identified favorite in the House of Delegates, has been a lobbyist in Richmond for many years and has served clients such as the Virginia Oil & Gas Association. Another widely touted candidate is Phil Abraham, also a long-time lobbyist who has represented PJM Interconnection, the regional wholesale electric transmission organization, of which Virginia is a part. On the other hand, a young attorney with deep experience in energy regulation and clean energy development has recently surfaced as a candidate. His name is Will Reisinger. Mr. Reisinger also represented ratepayers when he worked in the Office of Attorney General.
It is important for the legislature to choose a candidate who is well qualified, but it is equally important that he or she is not biased by past dealings and understands the importance diversifying energy in Virginia. Possessing a ratepayer perspective, similar to Judge Dimitri, is also clearly needed.
There has been some disagreement among Senators as to whether the vacancy will be filled in the coming months or whether more candidates will be considered. Powered by Facts will be watching this appointment process closely and will provide updates as new information emerges.
Call to Action:
Contact your Senator and Delegate to express the importance of appointing a qualified commissioner. Virginians need an SCC commissioner who:
- Takes seriously the rights of consumers in Virginia;
- Understands the importance and long-term value of renewables and clean energy; and
- Supports utilities in instances where the best interests of all Virginians are being served, particularly when they are being innovative and undertaking clean energy projects.
When we think of wind energy, most of us conjure up images of towering turbines on massive wind farms. But this is not always the case. Methods for harvesting wind energy can vary significantly, both in project size and type. Generally, there are three different scales of wind projects: distributed, land-based utility-scale, and offshore utility-scale. Size within these different scales also can vary greatly.
Distributed wind projects are defined by their proximity to the end-user. They are installed at or near the point of end-use and generally do not need to be distributed through a public utility via transmission and distribution lines. These systems usually are installed on residential, agricultural, commercial, and industrial sites. According to the Department of Energy (DoE), approximately 44% of all buildings in the United States have the technical capability to install and utilize distributed wind systems.
Residential systems can be as small as 400 watts to power a home and be as sizable as 100 kW for a much larger home. A typical home will utilize an average of 897 kWh per
month of energy, which could be significantly curtailed by a 5 to 15 kW wind turbine. Turbines, however, can get even smaller. Micro-turbines, such as the one pictured to the right, can be as small as 20 watts and used to charge batteries. These have been used when there is no access to electricity, for instance, on a boat.
Utility-scale wind generally is defined as turbines that are more than 100 kW in size. These include multi-turbine wind farms that have connectivity to the electric transmission system and distribution of energy to the end-user through the utility. Generally, utility-scale projects are either land-based or offshore. According to the DoE, there are more than 52,000 land-based wind turbines currently operational in 41 states.
By contrast, there is only one operational offshore wind project in the United States. This is the Block Island Wind Farm off the coast of Rhode Island, which has a capacity of 30 MW. Offshore wind projects are constructed in bodies of water, generally in the ocean on the continental shelf. These projects bring the benefit of higher wind speeds than their land-based counterparts and do not have the same land-use implications. If you’d like to get a look at the Department of Energy’s “Wind Vision” through the year 2050, click here.
Types of Turbines:
One type of turbine available for wind energy is a horizontal axis (HAWT), which is most common. The blades, shaft, and generator sit on top of the tower and face towards the wind. The blades turn the shaft. If the wind becomes too strong, the shaft is able to slow the speed. The height of the tower allows the turbine to reach the strongest sites for wind power. It also allows the turbines to have a variety of placements, such as offshore, on uneven lands, and in forested areas. One disadvantage of these turbines is that they are difficult to transport and install.
A second type of turbine is a vertical axis (VAWT), which has all of the important components close to the ground. These types of turbines are easy to maintain and have lower construction and transportation costs than HAWT turbines. VAWT turbines are most effective when placed at hilltops, ridgelines, and passes. Unfortunately, these turbines are not very efficient, because the blades spin into the wind, which causes drag.
A third type of turbine is the ducted wind turbines, also known as Honeywell wind turbines, which can sit at the edge of a roof and utilize the wind at a building’s side. Wind will flow up the side of the building and feed directly into the turbine. These devices usually are very small. The blades are approximately 24 inches in length, which allows for little change in building aesthetics. They also occupy unused space on rooftops. One of the major advantages to these types of turbines is that they allow for on-site generation and there is no need for transmission lines.
There is a tremendous amount of complexity to the different types and sizes of wind projects, further complicated by rapidly improving and evolving technology. It offers immense flexibility, however, as wind energy can charge your cell phone on your yacht while you’re at sea, or an entire city, using a sizable offshore installation, and everything in between.
The Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals, and Energy (DMME) is currently engaging stakeholders and consumers as it attempts to create the 2018 Virginia Energy Plan. According to DMME, this plan is intended to create a “strategic vision for the energy policy of the Commonwealth over the next 10 years.” This process is required by the Virginia Code, and DMME will have to submit its plan to the Governor, the State Corporation Commission and the General Assembly by October 1, 2018.
Our representative attended the recent “Stakeholder Kickoff Meeting” to get a feel for DMME’s vision for energy policy in Virginia. The discussion was divided into five “tracks,” each with specific goals. The tracks include solar and wind, energy efficiency, offshore wind, electric vehicles, and energy storage.
The goals DMME has tentatively set forth for solar and wind in Virginia are promising. They include increasing the residential net metering cap from 20kW to 40kW and increasing the overall net metering program beyond the current maximum of 1% of the utility’s peak load to 3% of peak load. There will also be discussion of making third-party power purchase agreements available throughout the Commonwealth as well as increasing the cap on PPA installations. It also intends to propose that DMME and the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) use their full authority to develop the Virginia Wind Energy Area, the 113,000-acre area off the coast of Virginia.
We feel particularly encouraged by DMME’s purported commitment to engage stakeholders and the public in the process of developing this plan. There will be a 60-day public comment period, running through August 24, 2018. There will also be a number of public listening sessions throughout the state, each of which will focus on a particular topic. All of the information about submitting a comment or attending one of these meetings can be found here.
We at Powered by Facts will continue to be engaged and informed in this process as the 2018 Virginia Energy Plan is developed. We hope that you will also be inspired to submit a comment or attend a meeting to ensure that the voice of the ratepayer is heard. It is important that Virginia has a well thought out energy plan to guide it through diversifying energy sources and creating a more energy secure future.
We’ve seen some important legislative developments in Virginia that are paving the way for improved access to solar energy. That said, there is still tremendous room for improvement in the realm of developing alternative energy sources. In particular, wind energy has seen little to no support in Virginia. Much of that is due to a lack of understanding of wind energy and its potential benefits.
Harnessing wind energy is as simple as using turbines to capture the kinetic energy that flows from wind and turning it into mechanical energy using a generator. When we think of wind energy, we generally envision a wind farm, which is a plot of land that houses a number of large turbines in a windy area. However, this process can take many forms. There are now wind projects as small as 400 watts up to 100 kilowatts that can be housed in residential areas! To put this in prospective, an average home would need a turbine rated between 5 and 15 kilowatts to cover a significant portion of household demand.
According to the American Wind Energy Association, some of the benefits of wind energy include:
- In 2016, the wind industry supported over 100,000 American jobs – and this is in spite of how severely underdeveloped this industry is.
- Wind installments require investment into the project and into the surrounding community. The last decade has seen about $14 billion of investment. These projects are often located in rural areas, which can benefit greatly from the improved infrastructure and source of employment.
- Farmers and ranchers can invest in wind farms to help offset costs at times when growing conditions are poor.
- Adding wind energy to a utility’s energy mix can help keep rates low for consumers.
The average price of wind power has declined significantly in recent years, making it more and more valuable to consumers and utilities alike. Many European countries are investing heavily in wind energy technologies. Texas currently receives about 12% of its energy from wind. West Virginia has also begun investing in wind and now generates almost 2% of its energy from wind. Virginia has fallen far behind in the effort to encourage the growth of this potentially enormous industry and is often not even ranked in the compilation of wind data.
Powered by Facts believes that wind is complementary to solar energy, and we will be working to educate Virginians about the value of wind and paving the way for the growth of this beneficial resource.
Virginia’s Solar Power Capacity Could Triple in 5 Years
Virginia’s capacity to generate solar electricity is expected to triple over the next five years, according to a report from the Solar Energy Industries Association, meaning that enough solar energy may be generated in the near future to power upward of 200,000 homes in the state. The solar industry has been growing nationwide. But it still only accounts for about 2 percent of the nation’s capacity to generate electricity. In Virginia, that figure is half a percent. Several reasons account for the growth. The cost of installation has been falling, and the demand for green energy has been soaring. Owners of farmland are also finding that leasing their land for power generation is more profitable than growing traditional crops.
Read the story here.
Carilion New River Valley Medical Center Flips Switch on Solar Panels to Power Hospital
The Carilion New River Valley Medical Center is making healthcare more affordable with a solar energy. A nanogrid of nearly 4,000 solar panels now will generate nearly 20 percent of the hospital’s annual energy needs. That means they’re not only reducing their carbon footprint, but also saving money. “Over the course of 20 years, we are expecting to save about $1.5 million,” Scott Blankenship, Carilion director of facility operations, said. This will potentially save patients money down the line. “As expensive as health care is, anything that we can do to keep our costs down can be passed along to our patients ultimately,” Bill Flattery, CEO of Carilion New River Valley Medical Center and vice president of Carilion’s western region operations, said.
Read story here.
Tech Companies Pushing for Solar Energy Across America
Since 2008, renewable energy has gone from 9% to 18% of the U.S. energy mix, according to the Business Council for Sustainable Energy. A big part of that shift stems from tech companies’ rapid buildout of cloud storage centers and a move to burnish their public image by vowing they’ll run these centers on sources like wind and solar. Last year, the top four corporate users of renewable energy in the world were Google, Amazon, Microsoft and Apple, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance. Google announced this month that as of 2017, all its facilities and data centers were running on 100% renewable electricity. Rather than lose these deep-pocketed customers, the nation’s power companies are changing policies and crafting deals that meet increased demands for renewable energy, in some cases shifting away from traditional electricity supplies like coal and natural gas.
Read the story here.
Tech giant Microsoft announces massive purchase of solar power in Virginia.
Microsoft will purchase 315 megawatts (MW) of energy from two new solar facilities in Virginia, it said recently. The tech giant will buy energy from the Pleinmont I and II sites in what it described as “the single largest corporate purchase of solar energy ever in the United States.” The Pleinmont developments are part of a bigger 500 MW project owned and operated by sPower, an AES and AIMCo business. When operational, Pleinmont I and II will have over 750,000 solar panels covering more than 2,000 acres. Read the full story here.
Virginia legislation opens door to over 5 GW of renewable energy.
Recently passed legislation in Virginia shifts the renewable energy landscape by finding 5.5 GW of solar and wind energy are in the public interest and expediting the state’s renewable energy project regulatory approval process. Known as Senate Bill 966, the legislation includes provisions for energy efficiency and energy storage, in addition to wind and solar. The law also ends a utility rate freeze that has been in effect since 2015. The 5.5 GW of renewable energy in Virginia is not a mandatory target or procurement but serves as a regulatory greenlight for achieving that volume. Read the full story here.
180 US mayors call for use of solar energy in updated letter.
A bipartisan group of 180 mayors from across the U.S. have called for increased solar energy usage in an updated letter released Tuesday by Environment America. The first version of the letter, signed by 70 mayors, was released in December. A focus on renewable energy has become top-priority across the U.S., as dozens of cities have committed to getting 100% of their power from renewables. And while committing to increased solar usage is a significant step forward for these 180 cities, tangible actions will need to be taken for such cities to reach their goals. Read the full story here.
3 Things You [Probably] Didn’t Know About Solar Energy.
The solar industry has come a long way since it began in the 1970s. The way Americans are creating and harnessing solar energy is changing rapidly. In fact, the use of solar energy has grown nearly 20 percent per year over the past 15 years. Still, some preconceived notions about solar energy exist to this day. Here are four things you probably didn’t know about solar energy:
1. It’s affordable
2. It’s accessible
3. It benefits your community and environment, too
In this monthly roundup, we learn how lithium-ion batteries are affecting the energy market, how the 30-percent tariff on imported solar panels may actually help a Virginia business and why the Commonwealth needs to change energy policy and modernize its energy grid.
Big batteries are taking a bite out of the power market
The Wall Street Journal looks at how giant batteries that are charged by renewable energy are starting to “nibble away” at the power plants that create energy during peak hours. These plants are called “peakers,” are fired by natural gas and expensive to run. They usually crank into service only when demand rises, and regular supplies are insufficient, which is making them vulnerable to the appetite for lithium-ion batteries. Read the full story here.
Tariff may help Richmond solar panel manufacturer
When President Donald Trump’s administration announced that it would slap a 30-percent tariff on imported solar panels and the cells inside them, many saw it as a reckless move that would needlessly damage a booming U.S. industry. But for Charles Bush, who has pumped $1.2 million into a former die plant off Midlothian Turnpike in South Richmond in the hopes it soon will become Virginia’s first solar panel manufacturing facility, there could be a silver lining. Read the full story here.
CBJ: Local renewable energy companies face a changing political climate
Despite the historically cool climate toward renewable energy in Virginia, there are now more than 900 renewable energy companies in the state. To navigate state and federal roadblocks, energy companies are adjusting internal business models and eyeing state legislation that could do more to encourage the development and proliferation of renewable energy. Because there is no federal backing, many states and localities are providing their own incentives and leadership to promote renewable energy. For the most part, Virginia isn’t there — yet. Read the full story here.
Column: To attract businesses, Virginia needs to modernize its electric grid
Former Virginia Secretary of Commerce and Trade Todd P. Haymore shared his thoughts on the Commonwealth’s approach to the generation and distribution of electricity in a recent column. One way to help keep positive results going in terms of electricity, he said, is for state lawmakers to take the steps needed to invest in the infrastructure of tomorrow. The Grid Transformation & Security Act of 2018 is an opportunity to address one of the state’s key economic building blocks and ensure we are best positioned for future investment, job creation and prosperity. Read the full story here.
On Tuesday, February 13, the Virginia General Assembly will reach Crossover, which is the session midpoint and means that each chamber must complete on its own bills and begin considering legislation passed by the other body. Crossover also means that bills must pass one house or the either. If the bills do not pass by February 13, then the bills will die for the session.
With less than a week to crossover, your voice is more important than ever! All bills being discussed during this general assembly must be voted on by at least one hour before next Tuesday. Be sure to reach out to your representatives to ensure that the bills you support do not die before crossover occurs.
Please take a moment to email or call your Delegate and Senator to thank him or her for supporting solar in Virginia! Search for your delegate and learn more about how a bill becomes a law in Virginia on our Take Action Page here.
In this monthly roundup, we discuss how the recently imposed a 30-percent tariff on imported solar panels is expected to slow job growth and the Kawailoa solar project in Hawaii is the state’s biggest. We also learn about America’s first solar-powered town and the steps China is taking to move away from coal.
Solar Tariff is Touted as Creating ‘A Lot of Jobs,’ But It Could Wipe Out Many More
To promote U.S. manufacturing and the fossil fuel industry, the Trump Administration recently put a 30-percent tariff on imported solar technologies. However, the 178-percent growth in the American solar industry since 2010 is primarily from installing and maintaining solar installations. So, while U.S. solar panel manufacturers may now have less competition, they may not be able to meet consumer demands. The Solar Energy Industries Association estimates that 23,000 jobs may be lost in 2018 alone because of this decision.
Read more here.
NRG Breaks Ground On 110MW PV Project in Hawaii
On the island Oahu in the state of Hawaii, Hawaiian Electric Company has teamed up with NRG Energy, Kamehameha Schools and other partners to build the state’s biggest solar project yet. Once completed in 2019, this set of three installations will power almost 32,000 Hawaiian homes. The Kawailoa Solar Project — the largest of the installations — will be located on a former sugar cane farm and will generate 49 of the project’s total 110 megawatts.
Read more here.
Welcome to America’s First Solar-Powered Town
Babcock Ranch, north of Fort Myers, Florida, is unlike any town in America. This small community is almost completely powered by solar energy. Planning for Babcock Ranch began in 2006 and is a multigenerational community complete with a public charter school, a transit system and a shopping center. The town already has sold 80 homes, and two families moved in permanently in January. Babcock Ranch’s official grand opening is in March 2018.
Read more here.
China’s Latest Energy Megaproject Shows that Coal Really Is on the Way Out
China has long been a major player in the international fossil fuel economy, but the country’s extreme pollution is causing it to move further and further away from coal. China now has ambitious plans to create 13 million renewable energy jobs and invest at least $360 billion on clean energy projects by 2020. A recent solar project shows that Chinese leaders are taking this commitment seriously: Enough solar panels to power 15,000 homes float on top of an abandoned coal mine reservoir in Anhui, and a similar project in the same province is expected to power 94,000 homes by May 2018. Meanwhile, China also cancelled the development of 104 coal plants across the country last year.
Read more here.
The 2018 Virginia General Assembly will run for 60 days starting Wednesday, January 10. Powered by Facts hopes to see Virginia lawmakers pass solar and renewable energy legislation that will help the Commonwealth strengthen its energy grid, create more jobs and attract more businesses.
Last year, lawmakers passed several pieces of solar legislation that proved that the solar industry, electric utilities and others – Appalachian Power, Dominion Energy, MD-DC-VA Solar Energy Industry Association, Powered By Facts, the Southern Environmental Law Center and Virginia’s Electric Cooperatives, among others – can work together to move Virginia forward.
From successful passage of AgGEN, which allows farmers to generate additional revenue from solar energy, to a bill that allowed for an increase in Virginia solar energy storage development, 2017 was a great start in the direction of building a more robust solar and renewable energy portfolio for the Commonwealth.
More needs to be done, and we need your continued involvement. Here are ways you can keep track of the bills that are up for consideration, status of bills and schedule of meetings, among other legislative activities:
- Check back here to keep updated on solar and renewable energy bills and their status.
- Find the schedule of meetings and status of discussion on bills here.
- Click on the list of House of Delegates’ Members to find contact information here.
- Access contact information for Senate Members here.
- A full session calendar for the 2018 General Assembly can be found here.
Powered by Facts will keep you updated on proposed bills specific to solar and other renewable energy throughout the 2018 General Assembly on our News Page and here on our Myths vs. Facts page. We also have joined a coalition of organizations dedicated to keeping on top of proposed legislation and sharing that information with our communities. Called VA Our Way (VOW), we will work closely with each other to share information and to help our readers understand how we can continue to make change for the Commonwealth by making our voices heard on important issues. We will update you soon on VOW.
In this monthly roundup, we discuss how the final version of the new tax law affects the renewable energy industry. Solar also has seen gains in California, Texas and Virginia as developers find creative ways to diversify energy grids. Finally, we look at a cautionary tale in Georgia about the importance of having battery backups and alternative energy sources.
Wind, Solar, Oil, and Gas — What the Federal Tax Overhaul Does For Them
Renewable energy advocates across the country were upset with early drafts of the tax bill, which prioritized fossil fuel production over solar and wind production. Worse still, it ended tax credits for alternative energy projects and increased taxes on multinational companies that create solar panels and wind turbines (the Base Erosion Anti-Abuse Tax). However, with vocal advocacy from individuals and groups such as Solar Energy Industries Association, renewable energy companies can reap the benefits of tax credits for at least another legislative session. Read more .
Texas Installs Enough Solar Panels in Last Three Months to Power 44,000 Homes
Despite uncertainty regarding the new tax law and how it might affect the solar industry, Texas developers and landowners forged ahead and installed 227 megawatts of solar capacity in the third quarter of 2017. Although Texas ranks seventh nationally in terms of solar usage, the rate at which Texans install solar panels has made its solar industry the most active in the country. The continued growth of solar gives onlookers cautious hope that new tax codes won’t harm the industry. Read more .
Appalachian Power Signs Contract With Solar Energy Developer
Closer to home, Appalachian Power has signed its first agreement to purchase energy from a solar power plant. The Depot Solar Center, located in Campbell County, Virginia, will have a 15-megawatt capacity and will be operated by California-based Coronal Energy. The plant is expected to begin operation in 2019. Appalachian’s CEO expressed gratitude that the power company is beginning to diversify its portfolio for its 1 million customers in Virginia, West Virginia and Tennessee. Read more .
Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson Airport Restores Power After Crippling Outage
One of America’s busiest airports recently got a lesson in the importance of placement and security of battery back-up systems. A fire in the underground tunnels that house Hartsfield-Jackson Airport’s electrical system paralyzed the airport for 11 hours, stranding passengers on planes and in terminals. The back-up energy system that was supposed to be utilized in emergencies was apparently located in the same vicinity as the original system. Unsurprisingly, it was damaged in the fire. Hopefully, Atlanta’s government will consider incorporating durable solar energy and battery cells into the airport’s new system. Read more .
In this monthly roundup, we share how solar helps thousands of K-12 schools across the United States save money and expand their curriculum. Solar also is in the spotlight as scientists continue to find creative ways to use it for energy and to create other types of electricity and even water!
5,500 U.S. Schools Use Solar Power – Number is Growing as Costs Fall
Public and private schools across the country are reducing their electricity bills with solar, leaving them more money to spend on educational programs, including clean energy in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) lessons. About 5 percent of all K-12 U.S. schools are now powered by the sun, and their solar capacity has almost doubled in the last three years, according to a new study by the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), The Solar Foundation and Generation 180. The schools using solar power have a total of 910 megawatts of solar capacity, enough to power 190,000 homes, according to the study. Read more here.
Color-changing Windows Tap into Solar to Create Energy
Considering how many square feet of windows there are — from people’s homes to massive office buildings and skyscrapers and vehicles — solar technology fused with windows could increase renewable energy use. Scientists have created a new type of window, dubbed “thermochromic” for their ability to change colors in response to heat, to convert sunlight into electricity using minerals called perovskites and single-walled carbon nanotubes. Eventually, these could help power your home, car, or entire office building one day. Read more here.
Solar Panels Pull Drinkable Water Directly from the Air
Technology that harvests drinking water out of thin air, using a combination of materials science, solar power and predictive data, is now widely available in the United States. The technology is designed to help people go from a position of “water scarcity to water abundance,” regardless of whether they live in an area where access to clean water is a severe problem or live in a place where bottled water is often half-drunk and discarded. Marketed by Zero Mass and first developed at Arizona State University, the solar panels — called Source — cost $2,000 each and produce an average of two to five liters of water per day. Read more here.
Affordable Device Uses Solar Energy to Produce Hydrogen and Electricity
Researchers at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) have created a hybrid device that uses solar energy to produce hydrogen and electricity in a cost-effective manner. The invention is a significant step forward in the quest to harness the power of hydrogen as a fuel source, particularly in transportation. Current commercial production of hydrogen is costly and carbon intensive, but using ever-cheaper and clean solar power could change the game. Read more here.
The Virginia Environment and Renewable Energy (VERE) Caucus is a bipartisan effort to ensure that future generations can enjoy clean water and clean air and that the Commonwealth invests in technology that will put Virginia on the forefront of harnessing the potential of clean, renewable sources of energy.
Every year, the group of Virginia delegates works together to set a legislative agenda that covers a variety of environmental and energy issues, from water quality and climate change to clean energy, land conservation, toxic chemicals, coal ash and environmental education. The delegates who participate in the VERE Caucus are:
|John J. Bell (D-Chantilly)
Jennifer B. Boysko (D-Herndon)
David L. Bulova (D-Fairfax)
Daun Sessoms Hester (D-Norfolk)
Kaye Kory (D-Falls Church)
Mark H. Levine (D-Alexandria)
Alfonso H. Lopez (D-Arlington)
|Randall Minchew (R-Leesburg)
Kathleen J. Murphy (D-McLean)
Kenneth R. Plum (D-Reston)
Sam Rasoul (D-Roanoke)
Marcus B. Simon (D-Falls Church)
Richard C. “Rip” Sullivan Jr. (D-McLean)
In 2017, the Caucus’ stance on clean energy included the following:
SUPPORT: Legislation to expand solar energy in Virginia
- Over the summer, a working group [the Rubin Group] comprised of Virginia utility companies, solar energy industry representatives, and solar advocates met to discuss legislation to expand solar energy in Virginia and reached agreement on legislation that would expand opportunities for large, medium and small-scale solar projects in Virginia.
- This agreement would:
- increase the upper limit of solar and wind projects in Virginia,
- create a pilot program for community solar, and
- expand agricultural net-metering.
- This agreement is an important first step to growing Virginia’s clean energy industries so that we can protect our environment and build a stronger Virginia economy.
SUPPORT: Increased Energy Efficiency Goals and IRP Transparency
- Energy efficiency programs in Virginia represent an under-utilized tool by which the state can reduce its total energy consumption and stimulate local economies through in-state job generation.
- Energy efficiency is tool for economic stimulus and reducing harmful greenhouse gas emissions.
The VERE Caucus has been a steady promoter of clean energy policies in Virginia. Their often-unrecognized efforts year after year have pushed renewable energy to the forefront. Consistent and persistent pressure by these brave legislators has created the movement we see today. If these efforts and Virginia’s energy future are important to you, please support these delegates when you vote on Tuesday.
Expanding clean energy in the Commonwealth matters, because it creates jobs, attracts businesses and helps move toward a more hardened grid, which can protect it from natural or man-made disasters.
Read the VERE Caucus’ full 2017 agenda here.
VOTE on November 7, 2017!
This election will be a deciding factor in whether Virginia takes a path toward a future with a focus on policies that support solar and other renewable energies or a path that supports fossil fuels. Our next governor will set the tone surrounding our energy policy, and, ultimately, has veto power.
It is imperative that we elect the candidate who understands how important advanced energy sources, such as solar, wind and other renewables, are now — and can be in the future — to individuals, companies, communities and the Commonwealth as a whole. Solar creates jobs, attracts businesses, allows for additional revenue streams for farmers and protects our energy grid.
Listen to our interview with Karen Schaufeld about why solar is important to Virginia here.
Remember to vote for better energy policy for the Commonwealth on Tuesday, November 7.
Did you miss our first podcast interview with Karen about the energy policies of Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam (D) and Ed Gillespie (R)? Listen to it here.
As we head into the 2017 election, Powered by Facts has been recognizing legislators who are leading the way on solar energy policy in Virginia. In this podcast with Karen Schaufeld, founder of Powered by Facts, we take a close look at the front runners in the Virginia gubernatorial race.
Karen talks about the energy policies of Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, Democrat, and Ed Gillespie, Republican. She also shares why supporting solar with your vote is important for the Commonwealth.
Listen to our interview with Karen here.
Remember to vote for better energy policy for the Commonwealth on Tuesday, November 7.
Over the coming weeks, Powered by Facts will be recognizing legislators who are leading the way on solar energy policy in Virginia. A member of the House of Delegates since 2011, Del. Randy Minchew (R-10th District) is one such legislator.
We had the chance to interview Del. Minchew about renewable energy, conservation and solar power recently. He is an active member of the bipartisan Virginia Environment and Renewable Energy (VERE) Caucus, which as he notes, works together to promote renewable energy and energy independence – a common-ground issue for many Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians, and the Green party.
Del. Minchew has been very involved in promoting ag-net metering, which allows private residences and farms to connect their solar arrays to the existing power grid and decrease their utility bills, for the past two sessions of the Virginia General Assembly.
As he notes, he feels that turning to renewable energy is good for businesses and knows it can produce thousands of jobs in the state of Virginia. Del. Minchew describes his support for renewable energy as “energy liberty” that appeals to the American ethic of self-reliance.
Listen to our interview with Del. Minchew here.
Remember to vote for better energy policy for the Commonwealth on Tuesday, November 7.
Over the coming week, Powered By Facts will be recognizing legislators who are leading the way on solar energy policy in Virginia. A member of the House of Delegates since 2007, Del. Manoli Loupassi (R-Richmond) is one such legislator.
In 2016, Del. Loupassi sponsored House Bill 444 to better inform consumers of their renewable energy purchasing options. He also has promoted and voted for every bill that came from the “Rubin Group” in 2017. These bills, which include Agricultural Generation legislation and Community Solar legislation, will increase the use of solar generation in Virginia.
Although Republican legislators frequently are characterized as anti-solar, this has not been the experience of Powered By Facts. Del. Loupassi and many of his colleagues have been very helpful in finding both pro-consumer and pro-business ways to expand the use of solar generation in the Commonwealth.
We will dedicate a Spotlight to the Virginia gubernatorial candidates later this week.
Solar Power & Microgrids Could be the Answer to Protecting U.S. Military from Threats to the Electric Grid
As we have shared in previous posts, the U.S. electrical grid is outdated and could easily be crippled by natural disasters or an attack, either cyber or physical.
A recent 500-page comprehensive study from the U.S. Department of Energy (DoE) confirms this issue and “begged for new authority to defend against weaknesses in the grid,” according to a recent story in Defense One. The DoE went on to warn “…it’s only a matter of time before the grid fails, due to disaster or attack.”
The technical community recommends hardening the grid to make it more resilient to attack by using distributed generation and microgrids. “Solar photovoltaic (PV) systems are an ideal distributed generation technology to provide power for such microgrids.” (Learn how microgrids work in our Microgrids can Help Create More Reliable, Safer Energy Sources for Large Facilities post here.)
Unfortunately, the speed of policy and implementation is not getting the attention it should, when one realizes the level of threat our outdated grid is to our national security.
Read the DoE Quadrennial Energy Review, Second Installment here.
In this roundup, solar is in the spotlight as a potential way to update old energy systems that have been decimated by recent hurricanes. However, as pointed out in Science X, solar energy isn’t necessarily the “panacea” that many hope it will be. Those stories, along with why businesses reduce costs with solar and why Virginia leaders need to respond to climate change that is reshaping the coastline are in our monthly roundup.
Severe power failures in Puerto Rico and across the Caribbean spur new push for renewable energy
In the wake of a string of particularly harsh hurricanes, Caribbean islands are looking at ways to update their energy grids to be more sustainable and storm-resistant. The use of centralized grids and overhead cables on island nations leaves them vulnerable to massive power outages during storms. Furthermore, shipping fossil fuels to islands and isolated areas leads to high utility bills. CARICOM, an assembly of Caribbean nations, is already focused on decreasing dependence on imported fossil fuels, and the recent damages by hurricanes have only spurred island nations to rethink how they distribute their energy. Read more here.
Solar power alone won’t solve energy or climate needs
While solar energy is heralded as a natural and easy alternative to fossil fuels, it is important to understand terminology and conversion rates. Specifically, a kilowatt is not the same as a kilowatt hour — which is how we measure the actual usage we can get out of a certain amount of energy. This assessment is not meant to dismiss or abandon solar or renewable energy, but to better understand the limitations of technology paired with humanity’s current and expected needs. Read more here.
Virginia’s leaders have a serious case of the slows on climate change
Virginia’s landscapes and temperatures are already being affected by climate change, but elected leaders have been slow to respond. The coastlines of Virginia are experiencing chronic flooding, which, if unchecked will result in the loss of billions of dollars of real estate and ecologically priceless wetlands. Virginia’s forests will be at increased risk of fire, and our yearly number of above-90-degree days will triple by 2065. Read more here.
How businesses are reducing their energy costs and building resilience
Businesses are feeling pressure to improve their energy usage and distribution. Work interruptions from severe weather events, the fluctuating costs of fossil fuels, and the vulnerability of large grids to cyberattacks have brought this issue to the forefront of executives’ minds. However, only a third of executives interviewed for this Harvard Business Review article have a long-term energy plan; the rest are still distributing energy on a short-term, reactionary basis. Cost efficiency and social awareness both play a part in this new trend. Read more here.
The 2nd annual VA SUN Solar Congress is set for Saturday, October 14, and will focus on solar in the Commonwealth.
The free event, which is open to the public, offers a solar 101 information session, as well as sessions on growing solar in your community and electric vehicles and solar, solar jobs in Virginia, solar energy and storage and a solar case study.
The solar 101 information session will outline the basics of how solar works on a home or small business in Virginia and the incentives available. The “growing solar in your community” session will allow solar homeowners to share their experiences of spreading solar throughout their communities with one another. The electric vehicles and solar session will focus on the technology, costs and charging considerations of electric vehicles.
Other sessions include one on solar jobs in Virginia, designed to inform attendees about the variety of solar jobs currently available in the Commonwealth and why these jobs – and solar – are good for the economy here. Another will focus on a case study on local do-it-yourself solar and barn-raising initiatives, during which a group of community members will explain the process they went through to implement non-traditional models for solar. Lastly, for those who are interested in solar and energy storage, the afternoon will include a session the latest information for residential, commercial and multiple solar installations.
If you are interested in solar for your residence or business, sign up for the VA Sun Solar Congress in Harrisonburg here.
In our first two podcasts with Mark Rubin, Director at the Virginia Center for Consensus Building, he explained how the “Rubin Group” came to be, how they worked together to get three bills passed in the 2017 General Assembly and how they created five working groups to address specific issues that may be impeding progress of renewable and solar energy in the Commonwealth.
In this podcast, he talks more specifically about why the Rubin Group is important to the Commonwealth and how groups like it can offer help to our legislators by creating consensus on issues before they make it to the General Assembly.
As he explains, Virginia’s legislators are part-time and have limited staff and resources, which is by design. However, it can create a situation in which Virginia legislators don’t have time needed to solve very complex policy issues, like the energy mix in the Commonwealth.
Through the Center for Consensus Building, stakeholders — many of whom are on opposite sides of a spectrum — have the time and space needed to tackle those complex issues. As Rubin points out, when a group of stakeholders develops a compromise solution, it will probably work.
Learn more about how the Rubin Group and others like it work with the Center for Consensus Building and why Rubin says this model works for Virginia in the last in our series of interviews with him.
Link to this podcast for download: https://drive.google.com/open?id=0B51RhByqqW9LQ2xGT1VkS0pnX1k
By Adam Benalayat, Intern
In this roundup, we look at stories involving the positive steps taken by the University of Virginia, the expansion of solar power house Vivint into Virginia, a collaborative project between JinkoSolar and Hectate and how solar energy has helped veterans in Martinsburg.
The University of Virginia (UVA) has announced a deal with Dominion Energy for the purchasing rights of a 120-acre solar facility in Middlesex County. The solar farm will be developed by Coronal Energy and constructed by Dominion. The proposed UVA Puller Solar Facility will produce 15 megawatts of power and contribute more than 1/5th of the school’s entire electric demand when combined with the university’s additional solar facility in King William County. This project will allow UVA to reduce its nitrogen footprint by 19 metric tons, making further progress on the institution’s pledge to reduce its carbon and nitrogen footprint 25 percent by 2025.
Read more here.
Vivint Solar, one of the nation’s leading providers in residential solar, is expanding into Virginia. The company has had an incredible year, expanding services into six more states since January alone. Now, residents of the Commonwealth who wish to install solar systems also can finance the purchase of a Vivant Solar system through any lender, as well as use their systems to apply for utility-sponsored rebates and tax credits. The company hopes to become a major part of the growing clean energy market in Virginia and wants to bring energy independence to the Commonwealth.
Read more here.
Hectate Energy, one of the Commonwealth’s leading operators of power plants, recently announced plans to expand its solar projects. In a partnership with JinkoSolar, an agreement was reached to supply two upcoming Hectate projects with PV modules to increase both power and efficiency. The modules will power a 10 MW solar energy project in Double Tollgate, VA, as well as the first utility-scale solar farm in Northampton County, which is currently under construction.
Read more here.
The Martinsburg VA Medical Center recently received a 180-gallons-per-hour solar pump from Engineers Without Borders International for its on-campus garden, known as Veterans Green Acres Park/Greenhouse. The garden provides food for more than 300 veterans, who are patients and residents, every day and is used as a healing activity for those with medical or psychological issues. The portable pump will be able to reach any point of the garden with ease and was called a “win/win” because it helps to both feed and provide comfort for veterans in the center.
Read more here.
In the first in a series of interviews with Mark Rubin, Director at the Virginia Center for Consensus Building, he shared how Virginia’s “Rubin Group” members work together to create consensus on energy policies for the Commonwealth. In this interview, Rubin shares how the group’s recent public meeting helped them create working groups designed to create consensus and potential legislation for consideration during the 2018 Virginia General Assembly.
The Rubin Group, made up of representatives from companies, solar advocacy organizations, utility firms, energy education groups, the Virginia Manufacturers Association, the MD DC DE VA Solar Energy Industries Association, Powered by Facts and others, meet regularly to debate energy policies and work to advance Virginia legislation to include more renewable energy. At a recent public hearing, the group invited citizens, companies and community representatives to join five working groups to define what problems they want to tackle and then come up with solutions and come to consensus on ways they want to tackle those problems for the Commonwealth.
The groups will then create suggested legislation that Rubin Group would vet through members of Virginia legislation, the Attorney General’s office, the Governor’s office, the Renewable Caucus in the Virginia General Assembly and other stakeholders to determine if it is a viable offering.
Learn more about the working groups and what they are focusing on for the future of energy in Virginia in our interview with Mark Rubin here:
By Sarah Lasky, Intern
The recent Resilient Virginia Conference, for which Powered by Facts participated on the Planning Committee, enjoyed attendance from a wide range of businesses of all sizes, industries, state and local government officials, utilities and communities. Hundreds gathered to learn more about energy and resiliency in all areas. The sessions Powered by Facts attended were focused on rural agricultural challenges and energy security. Here are some highlights from these sessions:
The rural and agricultural challenges sessions included a discussion between Evan Feinman, Executive Director for Tobacco Regional Revitalization Commission, Julie Shortridge, Assistant Professor for Biological Systems Engineering at Virginia Tech, and Andy Sorrell, Coordinator for Farmland Preservation. Feinman discussed the challenge of economic resiliency for the agricultural sector and said it could be combated through distributed energy throughout Virginia. Shortridge focused on climate threats in Virginia, such as drastic temperature differences, floods, drought, storms and hurricanes, and discussed methods that are currently used to reduce sensitivity to climate threats. Sorrell revealed the necessity for farmland preservation, because of the local economic benefits. Overall, the panelists focused on economic resiliency and climate management.
The second rural break out session, which focused on moving towards energy security, featured Powered by Facts’ Founder Karen Schaufeld, who discussed the necessity to make Virginia a model for the rest of the country. She also mentioned how there are three other major concerns regarding safety and reliability of energy: cyber-attacks, physical attacks and weather events. Schaufeld also talked about the importance of protecting Virginia ratepayers by divesting energy sources and how the Rubin Group is working toward changing legislation to promote renewable and distributed energy systems.
During the session, Eduardo Alcorta, Senior Business Development Leader for GE Power, discussed the need for diverse energy sources to maintain reliable energy flow, which would create energy security. Aaron Sutch, Program Director for VA SUN, explained how solar co-ops help facilitate the purchasing of solar and the need for distributed generation of solar. Dianne Corsello, Director of Business Development for Dominion Energy, also discussed the importance of diversifying energy sources, which will allow for grid security.
Overall, the panelists all agreed that to secure Virginia’s energy, we need to rely on many different energy sources, and, as it was noted by an attendee of the second break out session, it was nice to see a diverse panel of constituencies working together for the future of Virginia.
Recently, the “Rubin Group,” a consensus-building cohort working together on energy policies for the Commonwealth, held an open discussion with concerned citizens about solar energy in Virginia, today and in the future. Rubin Group participants include representatives from energy companies, solar advocacy organizations, utility firms, energy education groups and others who meet regularly to debate energy policies and work to advance Virginia legislation to include more renewable energy.
In this first of a three-part series we learn more about the Rubin Group, its efforts and the conversation with Virginians, from Mark E. Rubin, J.D., facilitator of the group and Director at the Virginia Center for Consensus Building.
Listen to the podcast and get an in-depth view of the Rubin Group and its work for the Commonwealth:
Connection and collaboration are the main themes for this year’s Resilient Virginia Conference, which is set for August 1 & 2 in Richmond. The conference is designed to offer the opportunity for collaboration between representatives from businesses, higher education and local governments on how Virginia can set the best path for energy resources and resiliency.
Speakers are from a breadth of fields, from the Office of Emergency Preparedness and Response to Engineering professors to our own founder, Karen Schaufeld, who will be participating in a panel discussion about Innovative Technologies and Solutions for Moving Towards Energy Security. She will represent large-scale private solar in the discussion. Others on the panel include Moderator Angela Navarro, Virginia Deputy Secretary of Natural Resources; Eduardo Alcorta, Senior Business Development Leader, Distributed Power, GE Power, who will focus on microgrid systems and their role in resiliency; Aaron Sutch, Program Director, VA SUN, who will address small-scale Distributed Solar; and Dianne Corsello, Director of Business Development, Dominion Energy: Utility-Scale Solar.
The event serves as an opportunity to tap into the diverse set of minds present to identify challenges and discuss ways to tackle them, explore resiliency options for organizations and communities and discuss what both the private and public sectors can to do ensure a more sustainable future for the Commonwealth.
For more information about the 2017 Resilient Virginia Conference, visit www.resilientvirginia.org, or contact email@example.com. Powered by Facts was honored to work with representatives from national organizations, state and local government, the private sector, and academia on the Conference Planning Committee. We are looking forward to 2017 Resilient Virginia and will share some of what we learn from it soon.
By Adam Benalayat, Intern
The renewable energy resources industry, like many others today, has become the victim of over-politicization and antagonistic framing. Regardless of what one might see on the nightly news, however, issues pertaining to sustainable energy are far less divisive between parties than other topics. Whether Democrat or Republican, legislators across the country agree that it is wise to invest in America’s future and the industries that it will bring.
This is clear when you look at a recent Clean Edge report, which shows a healthy balance between blue states and red states when it comes to renewable energy, even though some politicians choose to present sustainable energy as a left-right schism. From that viewpoint, one would assume that the states that top the report would align blanketly with one political ideology or another, but the report shows the opposite. In fact, here are a few examples from the Clean Edge report:
- Historically Republican Idaho is one of the top states in conserving carbon emissions per capita.
- Iowa, which also leans red, leads the entire nation in percentage of electricity generated by utility-scale wind operations.
- Traditionally Democrat states, such as New York and California, lead in total solar electricity generation.
The report shows that the effects of energy efficiency are apolitical, and states have the bipartisan support of lawmakers and voters to thank for the legislative unity in that field.
Another report that revealed similar findings is a 2016 the Pew Research Center survey on the influence of political affiliation on views towards energy policies. The study did find points of contention between the left and right on some issues, but it also showed that both sides agree on many issues. For example, expanding solar paneling programs had the strongest bipartisan support, with 89% of respondents saying they would support such growth.
Respondents from both sides of the aisle proved to be strongly in favor of expanding wind turbine farms. These unified positive perspectives on renewable energy sources are contributing to the industry’s rapid growth.
Here in Virginia, we have active support for solar and renewable energy from both Republican and Democrat Senators and Delegates. They work together for the good of the Commonwealth, because renewable energy means great jobs, a robust economy, an attractive business climate and better – and less expensive – choices for ratepayers.
In this roundup, we highlight stories about an energy trade association urging Virginia gubernatorial candidates to focus on sustainable energy; that solar jobs in the Commonwealth now outnumber coal industry jobs here; and that two new solar installations (one approved and one proposed) offer hundreds of new jobs along with renewable energy for the Commonwealth
After the primaries ended, businesses from across the nation came together to urge Virginia gubernatorial candidates to focus on sustainable energy. Advanced Energy Economy, a trade association of 1,000+ energy sector businesses, published a policy paper outlining the steps that the candidates would have to take as governor to bring economic growth and more affordable energy. The paper details an extensive legislative plan set to create jobs in solar and wind generation, protect consumers in power purchase agreements, and introduce more competition in the utility resource industry.
Read more here.
Virginia has a rich history in the business of coal, but, for the first time, coal has been dethroned by the renewable energy sector. According to a report by Virginia Public Radio, 2016 marked the first year in the Commonwealth’s history in which more Virginians are employed in the solar industry than the coal industry. This is a drastic change from the 5-to-1 ratio of coal to solar jobs just six years ago. The dramatic shift can be mostly attributed to the emergence of solar jobs in manufacturing, installation and construction.
Read more here.
Earlier this month, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe announced the construction of the Kentucky Solar project in Danville, VA. The project is expected to power upwards of 900 homes in the region and is slated to be completed by the end of this year. The 6-megawatt farm will be the largest municipal utility solar farm in Virginia and bring hundreds of jobs with it. The farm’s influence will reach far beyond just the city of Danville, as it will affect over 40,000 customers, from Henry County to Halifax.
Read more here.
Hexagon Energy, an independent energy development firm, recently announced its proposal to build a 900-acre solar facility in Gloucester County, Virginia. The proposed facility would be equipped with nearly 400,000 panels and capable of producing 225 million kWh per year. If approved, the project also would create from 250 to 300 jobs during the construction period alone, and the facility would continue to produce employment for more than 25 years.
Read more here.
By Adam Benalayat, Powered by Facts Intern
Sixty-one percent of all new electricity-generating capacity in the United States in 2016 was in wind and solar power combined, according to industry watchdog Clean Edge in its annual US Clean Tech Leadership Index. That represents almost 17 GW of new capacity and is another sign that America is transitioning away from fossil fuels. Here is how the shift is changing the generation mix at the state level, according to the report:
- 17 states now get 10% or more of their electricity from wind, solar, and/or geothermal, which is up from 14 states in the 2015 Index and up more than five-fold since 2010;
- Iowa, South Dakota, and Kansas now generate 30% or more of their power from utility-scale wind, solar, and/or geothermal. Oklahoma, California, and North Dakota exceed 20 percent;
- The commercial and industrial market is now one of the largest procurers of renewables, with more than 7.5 GW of contracted wind and solar power.
Where does Virginia Stand? The Commonwealth has quietly excelled in energy storage, according to the index; but we still lag in our overall rankings. Virginia landed at 27th overall after Clean Edge analyzed 80 indicators in three top areas of comparison: Technology, Policy and Capital. Here is the breakdown for the Commonwealth:
- 19th in Technology: based upon a state’s progress in a myriad of indicators, including renewable energy generation, energy storage, use of electric vehicles, hybrids, utility-scale wind electricity generation, solar electricity generation, carbon dioxide emissions and electric productivity (measured as dollars per KWH).
- 34th in Policy: based upon the number and efficiency of clean-energy policies passed by each state’s legislature. Policies are separated into regulations and incentives, and weighted to reflect the state’s market conditions.
- 23rd in Capital: broken down into Financial Capital, which includes venture capital investment per capita, utility energy efficiency program spending per capita, etc.; and Human & Intellectual Capital, which encompasses clean energy patents per 1M people, clean tech jobs as & of total employment and other factors.
Virginia is making progress, however. In 2017 alone, 11 bills supporting renewable energy passed in the General Assembly. Other steps that will help Virginia climb these lists include a Department of Energy grant to create more clean energy jobs in Virginia and to further the further the growth of private sector clean energy investments.
Governor Terry McAuliffe’s embrace of clean energy jobs will allow Virginia to benefit from one of the fastest-growing job markets in the United States – the clean energy sector has seen its revenue increase to over $2 billion in the last three years. The more time and effort that is spent on this sector, the more the Commonwealth is securing itself a safe and stable economic future.
By Sarah Lasky, Powered by Facts Intern
- It is a 600-mile underground interstate natural gas pipeline that would stretch from Harrison County, West Virginia to North Carolina.
- It is owned by Atlantic Coast, which is made up of four major energy companies who work together to fund, develop, construct and operate the ACP:
- Dominion Energy,
- Duke Energy,
- Piedmont Natural Gas, and
- Southern Company Gas.
- The pipeline would range from a 42-inch diameter to a 20-inch diameter pipeline, with a Maximum Allowable Operating Pressure (MAOP) of 1,440 pounds per square inch gage (psig)
- Currently, Atlantic Coast states that the natural gas will feed Mid-Atlantic and Southeast customers
- Current ACP plans have it running through the George Washington, Jefferson and Monongahela National Forests of Virginia and West Virginia
- In order for the ACP to be built in the National Forests, the long-term management plan of all three forests needs to be considered, which means that Atlantic Coast officials need to use existing utility corridors and avoid fragmenting rare plant terrain. The route was rerouted in order to avoid sensitive environmental areas, which added 40 miles to the pipeline
In addition to public lands, the ACP would cut through private lands, which has several landowners worried because Dominion seems to be ignoring their state-sponsored conservation easements. A conservation easement is a tool that is used to protect a variety of important natural resources. The easement is used in order to deter future development and undesirable land uses, but continuing to allow private landownership. The Virginia Outdoors Foundation holds 3,835 easements, which totals more than 750,000 acres and Dominion has offered to donate two parcels that will total around 1,200 acres in the hopes of offsetting the intrusion of the pipeline on protected lands. Although land swaps are allowed in the state, it is required to be consistent with the locality’s comprehensive plan, and many locals along the pathway have clearly shared their opposition to the pipeline.
We encourage your comments and questions about our posts about the ACP. Please stay tuned as we take a deep dive into the economics of the pipeline and the pros and cons to the ratepayer.
Across Virginia, there are many important legislative seats — from Governor to state delegates — for which several candidates are vying for the Democrat and Republican nominations. Regardless of which party you support, it is important to exercise your right to vote on June 13.
Listen to what Powered by Facts Founder Karen G. Schaufeld has to say about the primaries and why they are important to the future of solar and renewable energy in Virginia. In her podcast interview, she shares her thoughts about the gubernatorial race and where the candidates stand on renewable energy options for ratepayers, among other topics. Listen now.
The solar energy market is heating up with incredible innovation that will ultimately help consumers and ratepayers. Mercedes-Benz will soon compete in the solar battery storage market in California. The state also is at the forefront in U.S. innovation with a proposed plan for floating solar panels that would power more than 1,500 homes annually while saving water. Innovation from across the globe comes from Australia, where they have developed printed solar panels from plastic.
Elon Musk’s Solar Roofs Have Some Serious (and Seriously Cheap) Competition
The University of Newcastle has potentially upended the commercial solar-energy industry: they believe they’ve found a way to 2-d print solar panels using a plastic material commonly found in soda bottles. This recyclable film is expected to be up to 97% cheaper per square meter than competitor Tesla’s roofing units. In addition, the pliability of this material allows for more flexibility when it comes to the actual placement of the panels. While aesthetics is still a roadblock, this invention could change the way every homeowner looks at solar panels.
Read more here.
Mercedes-Benz and Vivint Solar Partner to Compete with Tesla in Home Energy
California will become the first state in which a Mercedes-Benz/Vivant partnership will bring battery and energy storage systems to homeowners. The project, which is slated to begin Q2, will serve as the first major competitor to the residential power program offered by Tesla. The Mercedes-Benz/Vivant offering includes a solar system paired with batteries, inverter, all tech components, permitting and installation. Mercedes-Benz also plans to go head-to-head with Tesla in the market of electric cars, announcing the release of their own battery-powered cars in 2022.
Read more here.
Floating Solar Panels Possible Wave of Future
A plan to use floating solar panels at the Olivehain Reservoir near San Diego could produce energy, save and protect the water supply and cut costs simultaneously. The proposed “triple technology threat” plan is the first of its kind and would use floating solar panels to produce 6 megawatts of energy annually, which would power 1,500 houses, all while imposing no burden on ratepayers. In addition to saving water by reducing evaporation, the panels also could potentially reduce water quality issues, such as algae bloom, according to the San Diego County Water Authority. The project, which must be approved, is slated for early 2018.
Read more here.
American schools spend more on electricity and natural gas than on textbooks and computers, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. However, schools can change that equation and save millions by going “net zero” through a combination of efficiency and onsite renewable energy, such as solar, to produce more energy than is used in a year.
It is already happening in Virginia at the Discovery Elementary School in Arlington, which also happens to be one of the nation’s largest net zero buildings of any kind. Not only is Discovery saving the district money now, but it also saved them money during construction and will save money every year going forward. The district’s budget for the school was $36 million, but the architect realized they could create a “net zero ready” building for $30.7 million.
Discovery is part of a trend across the United States, and 2016 was a big year for net zero K-12 schools, according to the New Buildings Institute. In fact, 38% percent of the 332 “verified” and “emerging” net zero building projects last year were K-12 schools.
Why? Because schools are a good fit for net zero projects. They have predictable and relatively constant energy demand; they have large roofs suitable for solar panels and districts have a long-term interest in reducing energy costs; and they possess bonding authority for big projects, according to the New Buildings Institute.
In addition to saving money, a school’s sustainable features can become fodder for teaching students about energy, technology and the environment. The Solar Lab at Discovery Elementary, for example, allows students to interact with the school’s rooftop electric and water systems. The school has a custom-made dashboard that tracks the energy production, energy consumption and the net of those two numbers. Students can access the dashboard in real-time from any school computer and view it on a large-screen TV in the entrance lobby or in solar lab.
The Discovery dashboard consistently shows good news. Since it opened in Fall 2015, the energy return has exceeded expectations. Even the winter months ran net positive. This year, the school is expected to save the district some $80,000 in power bills (compared to the typical Arlington elementary), and that number is likely only to get better.
Districts across the Commonwealth could learn from Arlington and Discovery Elementary, as well as from other states, which are making net zero schools a priority. From every angle – education, budgets, resiliency and sustainability – net zero schools should be a priority for Virginia too.
By Karen G. Schaufeld
Virginia is moving up in the charts in terms of solar job growth: according to The Solar Foundation’s National Solar Jobs Census 2016, the Commonwealth was 9th in the United States (tied with Utah) for year-over-year solar job growth and 2nd in the Southeast.
In fact, according to Governor Terry McAuliffe, Virginia has one of the fastest growing solar job markets in the country. Here’s a snapshot:
- Total number of solar jobs: 3,326, which is a 65% increase from 2015.
- Jobs growth across the supply chain:
- almost 1,750 installation jobs, representing a 46-percent increase over 2015;
- more than 575 project development jobs, a 108-percent increase; and
- more than 300 manufacturing jobs, an 88-percent increase.
- Women represent almost 38 percent of our solar workforce, while Latino/Hispanic workers represent 22 percent.
- More than 174 megawatts of solar have been installed in Virginia since 2014.
- Revenue in the clean energy sector generally has grown four-fold – to $2 billion – in the last three years.
Governor McAuliffe said that solar growth helps Virginia become “… less reliant on federal spending and [more focused] on growth in innovative sectors… Virginia is moving in the right direction, but there is still work to do. I will continue to work with our public and private sector stakeholders to implement policies that will continue to bolster not only our solar industry, but the entire clean energy sector in the Commonwealth.”
Growth in solar jobs is not only great news for those who get them, but also great news for the Commonwealth. With more solar in our energy mix, we can lower rates for customers and create a more attractive business climate for the Commonwealth.
Virginia farmers have a new way to generate a reliable stream of income for up to 25 years with the signing of HB 2303 and SB 1394 by Governor McAuliffe. The identical bills create an additional renewable generation option for farmers known as AgGEN (small agricultural generation tariff) and has the potential to increase income for Virginia farmers while allowing the Commonwealth to reap the benefits of expanded uses of renewable energy.
Virginia House Delegate Randy Minchew (R-Leesburg) was the patron of HB 2303, along with co-patrons, Del. Steve Landes (R-Weyers Cave), and Del. Joe Lindsey (D-Norfolk). Sen. Frank Wagner (R-Virginia Beach) introduced SB 1394 with support from co-patron Sen. Jeremy McPike (D-Dale City).
Traditionally, Virginia has lagged behind other states in solar energy, but this year’s General Assembly actions may have been a harbinger of change in the Commonwealth. AgGEN, as well as SB 1393 (Electric Utilities; community solar pilot programs), SB 1395 (Permit by Rule Modifications, PBR), passed this session and proved that the solar industry, electric utilities and others – Appalachian Power, Dominion Energy, MD-DC-VA Solar Energy Industry Association, Powered By Facts, and Virginia’s Electric Cooperatives – can work together to move Virginia forward.
This is what AgGEN will do for Virginia, in a nutshell:
AgGEN has certain advantages over agricultural net metering (AgNEM). Under AgGEN, farmers may:
- Install larger facilities (up to 1.5 MW).
- Receive payment for more generation (up to 150% of annual usage).
- Receive payment for both the utility’s avoided cost of electricity plus the utility’s avoided cost of capacity.
- In certain utility areas, earn higher rates for power produced during peak demand periods.
The legislation also:
- Does not change AgNEM in Dominion and AEP territories.
- Does not change residential and nonresidential net metering.
- Sunsets AgNEM in Co-op territories on July 1, 2019, but grandfathers current Co-op AgNEM customers for 25 years.
- Caps the amount of land that may be used for generation (25% of the farm).
- Allows all types of renewable generation.
We encourage you to thank your legislators for showing how working across the aisle can create great new opportunities for Virginia residents and businesses. Specifically, Powered by Facts would like to thank Governor McAuliffe, Kathleen Murphy, and the members of the Senate and House committees who worked on AgGEN and SB 1393 & SB 1395.
A special thanks to Delegates Minchew, Landes and Lindsey, as well as Senators Wagner and Kilgore, for championing farmers and protecting our access to fresh, healthy, locally grown produce, meat and dairy products.
Here’s how you can reach the patrons of AgGEN, SB 1393 and SB 1395, with a call or a thank you note:
Del. Randy Minchew
P.O. Box 385
Leesburg, VA 20178
Del. Steve Landes
P.O. Box 12
Verona, VA 24482
Del. Joe Lindsey
505 East Plume Street Suite 105
Norfolk VA 23510
Sen. Frank Wagner
P.O. Box 68008
Virginia Beach, VA 23471
Sen. Jeremy McPike
P.O. Box 2819
Woodbridge, VA 22195
Adam P. Ebbin
P.O. Box 26415
Alexandria, Virginia 22313
Sen. Montgomery “Monty” Mason
District Office 120 Monticello Ave, Ste. 102,
Williamsburg VA 23185
Sen. Jennifer T. Wexton
20 W. Market Street
Leesburg, Virginia 20176
By Karen Schaufeld
Solar energy is a job creator. In 2016, the number of solar power workers in the USA in 2016 was 373, 807, vs. 187,117 in the fossil fuels sector, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Solar power jobs also are higher paying jobs – $26 per hour is the median wage for solar installers.
During the 2017 General Assembly, Virginia legislators took steps toward expanding solar in the Commonwealth by passing several bills that will allow for farmers to harvest the sun and will support community solar. Most of our legislators understand that solar energy offers more jobs for Virginians, as well as a safer and more resilient source of energy for the Commonwealth.
- Solar jobs in the United States have increased at least 20 percent per year for the past four years, and jobs have nearly tripled since the first Solar Jobs Census was released in 2010.
- One in 50 new U.S. jobs were in the solar industry.
- Nine percent of solar workers are veterans, compared to 7 percent of the total U.S. workforce.
- Employers surveyed expect to see total solar industry employment increase by at least 10 percent in 2017.
- Solar offers wide-ranging career opportunities and is a highly diverse field, offering great jobs for women and minorities.
The recent passage of SB 1393 (Electric Utilities; community solar pilot programs), SB 1394 (Small agricultural generators), SB 1395 (Permit by Rule Modifications, PBR) will help our state and move toward increasing the amount of solar jobs for Virginians. The Commonwealth still ranks very low in comparison to other states, coming in at 33rd for solar jobs per capita and a ratio of solar worker to overall workforce mix of just 1 in 2,600.
While waiting for Governor McAuliffe to sign the new legislation, SolUnesco posted: “We are filled with optimism when we think about the future of energy in Virginia. The following conditions will continue to propel an open and dynamic market for solar – strong and growing demand, political awareness of the job growth and investment potential, and a sufficient local industry base. We need to enable entrepreneurs to build innovative businesses that can develop a skilled Virginia-based workforce. Through a locally grown workforce, local innovation and entrepreneurial hunger, we will capture the economic benefits and job growth here in Virginia.”
Microgrids are gaining traction as an attractive alternative to tapping into the traditional American energy grid, which is good for consumers and businesses that want to lower energy bills and create a secure and more reliable source for their energy needs. A microgrid, according to the U.S. Department of Energy, is a local energy grid with control capability, which means it can disconnect from the traditional grid and operate autonomously.
Upfront costs are still expensive, but are likely to fall as microgrids become more popular. Why are they gaining traction? Here’s a great example:
Microgrids can operate in an “island mode,” in which they are independent from the larger grid. They are a great resource for hospitals, data centers and other large facilities that demand a high level of energy reliability. When Hurricane Sandy cut power to 8.5 million people, up to 60 percent of backup diesel generators failed in medical centers and other essential facilities. But, Princeton University’s 20 MW microgrid kept the campus operational in island mode for three days while a connection to the grid was being restored.
Read the full story from Aquicore here.
Farming can be a risky business. Everything from weather events – snow, flood, drought, ice, etc. – to pests and the vagaries of the market, Virginia farmers must fight on a lot of fronts to create a profitable living.
You can help Virginia farmers by supporting SB 1394 & HB 2303. These identical bills are currently in subcommittee and need your support. SB 1394 & HB 2303 both will allow farmers to harvest the sun and generate a reliable stream of income for up to 25 years. By helping the thousands of small and family-owned farmers in Virginia, you protect your access to fresh, healthy, locally grown produce, meat and dairy products.
Tell your Senator and Representative that you expect them to vote yes for SB 1394 & HB 2303, because it will allow farmers to:
- Sell excess energy back from on-site renewable generation to utilities at a fair price – creating an additional, year-round source of revenue for farmers.
- Triple the size of their solar capacity (from 500 KW to 1.5 MW), allowing them to create a new “crop” of guaranteed yearly & year-round harvest. This will go a long way toward helping lower their costs, which can be exorbitant for farmers.
- Possibly earn higher rates from utilities during peak demand periods – a win for all Virginians, because it allows utilities to buy the additional energy needed at peak periods from local sources and gives farmers a chance to benefit – both agriculturally and fiscally – from the sunniest days.
Call and email Senate & House subcommittee members now and tell them you support SB 1394 & HB 2303:
Senate Commerce and Labor Subcommittee on Renewable Energy
Senator Ben Chafin
Senator Glen Sturtevant Jr.
Senator Rosalyn Dance
Senator Frank Wagner
House Commerce and Labor Special Subcommittee on Energy
Delegate Terry Kilgore (Chairman)
Delegate Kathy J. Byron
Delegate R. Lee Ware
Delegate Timothy D. Hugo
Delegate Daniel W. Marshall
Delegate Benjamin Cline
Delegate Jackson H. Miller
Delegate Manoli Loupassi
Delegate Gregory Habeeb
Delegate Ronald A. Villanueva
Delegate Roslyn C. Tyler
Delegate Mark L. KEam
Delegate Joseph C. Lindsey
We need more solar power generated in Virginia. SB 1394 & HB 2303 are a great step in the right direction.
But “crossover” means there actually is less time than that. Crossover occurs at the session midpoint and marks the day when bills must pass one house or the other or die for the session.
So, we have approximately 1 month to make sure our state legislators hear from us about what is important to us and to effect change in Virginia in 2017 and beyond. On our main page, we have added a Countdown to Crossover clock, which we hope will serve as a reminder of the urgency needed from all Virginians to reach out to their Delegates and Senators to communicate your priorities for the Commonwealth.
Here at Powered by Facts, we are focused on solar energy and expanding the energy mix in Virginia. More solar for the Commonwealth means:
• more opportunities for both businesses and individuals alike,
• more jobs,
• lower rates for customers, and a
• more attractive business climate.
In the coming weeks, we will highlight the solar legislation that is under consideration in the 2017 General Assembly and share our thoughts on them and why they are beneficial to Virginia businesses and individuals. We also will share letters that you can send to your Delegates and Senators to let them know that you support more solar in Virginia.
BY BRUCE HENDERSON
Idle for nearly a half-century, the overgrown 155 acres of city-owned property north of uptown, in an industrial area off Statesville Road and Interstate 85, seems ripe for development.
Whiffs of garbage give away its past. The site is a landfill built and closed (in 1970) before standards existed to protect groundwater, limit the types of waste buried there or even cover it all with dirt.
There are 675 such landfills across North Carolina – eight in Mecklenburg County alone – and only in recent years has the state begun cleaning them up. As landfill owners like Charlotte search for new uses, the state’s solar industry may have part of the answer.
In November, Charlotte City Council approved a lease of 22 acres of the Statesville Road landfill to a company that wants to build a small solar farm. The Kannapolis company that leased the land hopes to create a niche in planting solar panels on old dumps.
Gaston County also has plans to make solar energy from an old landfill. The county has leased about 25 acres of its more recently closed, 167-acre Auten Road landfill to Cypress Creek Renewables for a planned 4.7 megawatt solar farm.
Prompted by a redevelopment plan between uptown and UNC Charlotte, called the Applied Innovation Corridor, Charlotte is eager to reuse the rest of the Statesville Road tract.
“The idea from the get-go was, how do we bring somebody in who could do something on top of a landfill?” said Rob Phocas, the city’s energy and sustainability manager. “It’s been a long process. (Solar) fits in really well with our vision for bringing that property back into play, but is something that is not really very impactful to the site.”
What other uses are possible at the Statesville Road landfill depends largely on the extent of contamination found during research that could take a decade. It’s not unusual to find polluted groundwater and streams, toxic metals in soil and cancer-causing asbestos at such sites.
“Whatever was in that area, you’re going to find in that landfill,” said Cheryl Marks, who leads the state program to clean up old landfills. “Some sites are pumping (potentially hazardous) landfill gas, methane and volatile organic compounds. Some have soil cover, some don’t. Some are stacked so high that the slopes are no longer stable.”
The program, created in 2009, runs on the $8 million a year it gets from a share of a statewide $2-a-ton waste tax.
The cleanups are intended to address environmental risks that can’t be reduced by land use restrictions. If the groundwater under a landfill is contaminated, for instance, the state may install water filters for well owners rather than cleaning the groundwater itself, a process that can take decades and cost millions of dollars.
“It’s an opportunity to restore land and make it usable, and also protects the public,” Marks said. “There’s nothing worse than buying a piece of property thinking it’s pristine and finding out it’s not.”
About 80 old landfills statewide have been cleaned up or work is underway. One of them is a Mecklenburg County-owned landfill, Double Oaks.
At the outset, Marks said, Double Oaks was “a pretty sad piece of property.” Now, after a layer of clean soil and grading of slopes that cost $2.1 million, it’s a play area for a nearby subdivision.
The Statesville Road landfill is within an area the city began studying in 2014 as an “innovation corridor” to nurture jobs in cutting-edge industries that would also stimulate investments in housing and commercial development.
“We’ve been looking optimistically for some sustainable uses out there for years,” said David Wolfe, the city’s environmental services manager. “It’s in that (innovation corridor) geography and a big property. We’re excited about the potential for solar and would love to find other positive uses for that property.”
The company that leased part of the Statesville Road landfill, Momentum Solar LLC, will spend a year on further study of the site’s suitability for solar energy.
Permitting and other details could add years more to it development, but Momentum believes the site could support a 2- or 3- megawatt system. That output would be enough to supply 360 to 540 homes for a year.
Because virgin ground for solar farms is becoming scarce – North Carolina is the second-leading solar state – Momentum and its consultants analyzed the state’s inventory of old landfills. The list shrank to a few dozen candidate sites after those with problems, such as sites in floodplains or those far from utility substations, were eliminated.
The Statesville Road landfill topped the most desirable sites. Momentum says it has four more landfill solar projects in some stage stage of development and has identified about 10 other landfills as candidates.
“We love the concept because it’s a great use of that land,” said contractor Rich Deming of Power Resource Group. “You’re not displacing farmland or development land, and it’s a huge win for these municipalities, which get a (lease) check.”
Read more here: http://www.charlotteobserver.com/news/local/article124113469.html#storylink=cpy
Virginia has been leapfrogged yet again – this time by South Carolina. It went from 36th in annual solar photovoltaic installations in the United States in 2015 to 9th in the second quarter of 2016 alone. In the same Solar Energy Industries Association report, Virginia ranked 34th of the 40 states included, and actually dropped from 31st in 2015 to its present position. Virginia is now ahead of the District of Columbia, Idaho, Alabama, Illinois, Montana and Arkansas.
When I see solar success stories about other states, the main themes I read about are cooperation among the stakeholders – state and local governments, public utilities and the solar industry – as well as highly engaged business sector. We need to catch up in Virginia.
Here are a few examples of how other states are getting ahead and expanding solar:
South Carolina – Clarendon County will be home to two separate solar farms, which promise new jobs, tax revenue and clean power for the local area. The first of the two 72 megawatt (MW) solar farms should be up and running by the end of 2018. According to an article in the Post and Courier, South Carolina’s rapid growth in solar “…has been attributed to the Distributed Energy Resource Program Act, which was passed unanimously by the Legislature in 2014. The act allows residential and commercial consumers to lease solar systems, electric utility companies to get power from independent renewable installations and net-metering rates to be updated.”
Illinois – The state recently set a legislative precedent in the Midwest by passing its Future Energy Jobs Bill (SB 2814), which sets the state on a path to 25 percent renewables by 2025, including potentially thousands of megawatts of new solar. This is a huge step given that Illinois currently has only 66 MW of installed solar and ranks 27th nationally for total capacity (still higher than Virginia). The RPS update not only establishes initiatives for new community solar and distributed generation, but it also includes low-income solar programs. Utility-scale projects will make up an additional 40 percent of the mandate, brownfield solar another 2 percent and other PV resources will make up the remaining 8 percent.
It’s time for Virginia legislators to make changes here in the Commonwealth. More solar in our energy mix means more opportunities for both business and individuals alike, as well as more jobs, lower rates for customers and a more attractive business climate for the Commonwealth.
Reprinted with permission from Southeast Energy News.
Written by: Jim Pierobon
Photo by: SCFiasco / Creative Commons
Clean energy advocates accuse Dominion Virginia Power’s recently submitted resource plan of inflating future power needs and the costs of integrating solar systems, but the utility defends its calculations.
The advocates claim the strategy – part of Dominion’s efforts to comply with the Clean Power Plan – is to build new power plants, including a fifth nuclear reactor, as a means of boosting the assets that can earn a regulated, and thus secure, profit.
Dominion’s 2016 Integrated Resource Plan, submitted in April, is the first time since the U.S. EPA finalized the Clean Power Plan (CPP) that Virginians have a real opportunity to assess “least-cost” options in a carbon-constrained world.
“The Commission ordered (Dominion) to perform rigorous modeling of how the company might best comply with the CPP. The company’s filing, however, contains several fundamental flaws,” said Will Cleveland, an attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center in remarks at the State Corporation Commission in Richmond earlier this month. Cleveland is the lead counsel for Appalachian Voices, the Chesapeake Climate Action Center and Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).
Dominion “has layered error upon error that leads to only one result: unnecessary and costly investment in company-owned generation to meet an inflated and unlikely future load growth,” Cleveland said.
Dominion spokesman David Botkins responded, saying “the company’s load forecasting methodology has been consistently used for over 30 years and was found generally sound and appropriate by Commission staff.”
Starla Yeh, a senior policy analyst with the NRDC, says part of the problem is the inputs the utility used when performing the modeling. She testified that despite Dominion’s historic practice of purchasing about one-quarter of its total power from other suppliers, it neglected to include purchased power in its modeling “even if it is economical to do so.” That “produces only one result: over-investment in company-owned generation,” she said.
Bob Thomas, who is managing Dominion’s IRP and is its Director of Energy Markets Analysis, said “if it’s cheaper for customers that we purchase power, that’s what the model simulates. In this case, it was our own units that was the cheaper option for our customers.”
But Cleveland said Thomas is only telling part of the story. After reviewing Dominion’s filings and challenging Thomas during the IRP hearings, he said Dominion capped the amount of purchased power the model could buy at a very low, arbitrary amount, leaving Dominion’s own units as the only other option.
Thomas acknowledged Dominion has purchased power it has needed every year since 2000.
“The artificial restriction on power purchases cut off potentially cheaper compliance options, so as of right now we simply have no idea what the cheapest CPP compliance options are,” Cleveland said.
After weeks of hundreds of discovery requests by the advocates, Commission staff and the state Attorney General’s office, Cleveland said he is “hopeful the order will require Dominion, at a minimum, to model compliance with the same levels of imports they historically have had.”
Karl Rábago, executive director of the Pace Energy and Climate Center in New York and a respected solar analyst, said Dominion “inflated the cost of solar using a ‘proxy’ cost for grid upgrades that radically alters how the model selects solar resources.”
Rábago testified that the only scenario that Dominion asserted could meet its emissions cap under the CPP was $1.5 billion more expensive than a model it ran but did not disclose — which did not involve any nuclear but instead on a mix of natural gas and solar — until compelled to do so under discovery proceedings. He said Dominion rejected his scenario “as too ‘risky’ without actually running the comprehensive risk analysis they ran on all other (scenarios).”
Botkins rebutted Rábago’s testimony, saying he did not include the cost of upgrading its transmission network and backup generating sources to accommodate its modest, but now growing, portfolio of solar energy systems.
Rábago asserted that the charge Dominion used – of $390 per kilowatt – “was way out of the range of reasonableness” and “means that the IRP (scenario) selected even less solar than it would have had fair costs been included.”
Bob Thomas, who is managing Dominion’s IRP and is its Director of Energy Markets Analysis, defended the $390-per-kilowatt figure. He claimed for every 1,000 megawatts of solar added and its intermittent availability, Dominion needs to back it up with 450 megawatts of natural gas-fueled combustion turbines.
Rábago was quick to add that he’s been challenging Dominion’s solar integration costs in at least three IRPs. “My point is that the company is supposed to take a hard look at resources and their costs and benefits. They have not,” Rábago said.
Botkins said Dominion will “develop new planning processes and tools to better quantify renewable energy integration costs … in future IRPs.”
Energy efficiency consultant Jeffry Loiter said Dominion neglected to “properly study alternative rate designs” that would integrate efficiency options into meeting future power demand. But Dominion replied that characterization “was not shared by Commission staff” and that it offered alternative rate designs in the current and previous IRPs.
Dominion claims demand throughout its service territory in Virginia will grow by about 1.5% per year. But independent economist James Wilson challenged that in testimony, saying demand has been relatively flat for the past decade. Much of that is widely attributable to the 2008-2010 recession but more recently to companies boosting investments in energy efficiency.
Power demand from the increasing number of data centers in Northern Virginia is growing, Wilson acknowledged. But some data center operators – companies such as Amazon, Facebook and Google – are choosing to power their operations with renewable sources either in Virginia or elsewhere in the PJM power grid that Dominion operates in.
Dominion’s application for a combined construction and operating license at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for a third reactor at its North Anna complex in central Virginia – its fifth system-wide – could be issued as early as next March, according to Thomas.
With that in hand, Virginia regulators are expected to decide whether the utility can proceed and if, as a least-cost option, adding a fifth reactor will, or won’t, adversely impact ratepayers and whether it is needed to maintain system reliability.
The Commission is expected to weigh in on the integrated resource plan by Dec. 1.
October 22, 2016
By Debbie Dooley, Conservatives for Energy Freedom
Free markets and competition are at the root of who we are as Americans. We believe that consumers should not only have choice, but a fair opportunity to exercise that choice. Government should not stand in the way of this choice and should do all it can to create a level playing field. This should be the case with solar here in Arizona.
Next month, the Arizona Corporation Commission will be making a decision on the “value of solar.” The Commission will decide how it will determine the costs and benefits of rooftop solar. This may sound too technical for the average Arizonan – and it is quite technical. But what is really at stake and why you should pay attention is that whatever the Commission decides will determine whether Arizona embraces markets and competition for energy.
Historically, energy has been provided by government sanctioned monopolies, such as your utility company. The government and the monopoly utilities work together to determine the utility’s customers and the rates these customers will be charged. In exchange, the monopoly utilities invest in energy infrastructure, like power lines and the power plants used to generate energy. All of this is being done with a guaranteed profit for the utility.
This worked well for nearly 100 years, but never once operated like a free market and these monopoly utilities – because of the lack of competition – were never incentivized to innovate and incorporate new technology.
In recent years, this has all changed. Distributed solar technology has created competition. Now, homeowners can decide to have a solar company as their energy provider or reduce the bills they pay to the monopoly utility through ownership of solar panels.
The result is savings for customers and control of their energy bills — and a loss of revenue by the monopoly utilities. The monopoly utilities can no longer build new power lines and power plants at its will since the localized sources of power from solar are making them increasingly less necessary.
Unfortunately, faced with a loss of profits, the monopoly utilities are going to the government to guarantee their profits. They are trying to make sure you – the consumer – continue to pay higher bills and do not have the option to go solar.
This is wrong.
Fortunately, the Commission is taking a close look at the costs and benefits of solar and has the opportunity to keep competition alive in Arizona. The key questions that should drive this process are: (1) does solar promote competition; (2) does solar allow for energy independence; and (3) do all consumers benefit from distributed solar.
The clear answer to all three questions is yes. Competition is good. Solar enables customers to have a choice in how their power is provided. The monopoly structure may have made sense in the past, but we don’t need to prop up an outdated system.
Solar also allows for energy independence – something we all should strive for. By putting panels on your home, you – the consumer – have control over your energy. You produce the energy that powers your home and are taking a step towards moving us toward self-reliance when it comes to energy.
Lastly, all customers benefit from distributed solar. If my neighbors and I put solar on our roofs, we reduce the need for the monopoly utility to build a new power plant. This saves all customers since the building those plants is billed to all ratepayers. Solar also reduces prices for everyone since the monopoly utilities won’t need to use more expensive power plants during the hottest hours since solar homeowners are being self-sufficient and reducing usage of the traditional sources of power.
The old monopoly structure made sense at one time. It is no longer necessary and we can actually embrace competition. The Arizona Corporations Commission must value the choice and competition that solar creates.
Solar has been all over the news lately, as more and more Americans realize it generates jobs, stimulates the economy and lowers prices for ratepayers. In this roundup, Powered by Facts is sharing highlights from stories about how corporate America is adopting solar, why Texas is leading the nation in renewables and how Loudoun County is planning to help residents benefit from solar.
Corporate America Loves Solar Energy
In its recently released 2016 Solar Means Business report, the Solar Energies Industry Association (SEIA) tracks the adoption of solar energy by America’s Top Companies. In its 5th annual report, which focuses on America’s largest adopters, and represents 16% of all non-residential, non-utility-scale solar PV capacity in the country, the SEIA found that solar has expanded from 300MW in 2012 to more than 1GW this year. In the first 3 quarters of 2016, companies in this report installed 142 MW, which is the highest total since 2013. Other highlights include finding that the systems in the report collectively produce 1.5 million MWh annually, which is equivalent to the electricity needed to power 193,000 homes.
Read more here.
Texas Leads U.S. in Use of Renewable Energy
Most of us think of oil – Texas tea – when we think of the Lone Star state, but it has become a leader in the development and use of renewable energy. Wind power leads the renewable sector there, but solar energy production is growing rapidly “spurred on by the state’s abundant sunshine and the sharp drop in the price of solar panels in recent years.” As U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said in a visit to Texas, “Millions of jobs will be created in the building of, and in the maintenance and running of, these kinds of energy production facilities.” In Texas, the push is mainly about cost and jobs, and it is evolving the renewable energy industry. Now, companies that have focused on wind are also developing solar projects to balance out their systems and produce energy around the clock.
Read more here.
Solar Power Push Comes to Loudoun
Promotion of solar for homes and businesses finally is coming to Loudoun County! County government is working with the Northern Virginia Regional Commission (NVRC) and the Local Energy Alliance Program (LEAP) to make solar power more accessible and affordable. Solar prices continue to drop and the federal tax credit for solar has been extended. In addition to those incentives, the partnership will help residents find additional discounts and navigate the Solar Renewable Energy Credit market. Adding solar can raise a home’s value as much as $22,000, according to the NVRC.
Read more here.
New maps show where to generate solar energy in South Carolina
A Clemson University team has created a map that shows the best places in South Carolina for building one-megawatt developments. According to the story, the state has more than enough land suitable to generate the large amounts of solar power that would be needed to meet goals calling for all energy to come from renewable sources by 2050. The Clemson research could help South Carolina plan for continuing its growth in generating solar energy, which, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association, grew 303 percent in the past year. There are lands suitable for one- and five-megawatt developments are peppered across the state.
Read the story here.
By Karen Schaufeld
National security – specifically, cyber security – is a major concern for all Americans. Federal agencies consider it a top priority because cybercriminals and other bad actors continue to change tactics and ramp up capabilities to disrupt companies and even our government. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is focusing on cyber security during its 13th Annual National Cyber Security Awareness Month (NCSAM) this month, presented in collaboration with the National Cyber Security Alliance.
NCSAM puts the focus on educating the public and private sectors about threats to the connected world, as well as providing tools to help safeguard and respond to cyber incidents. When most Americans think about threats to our safety, they don’t first think of our energy grid. I think they should. In addition to the potential for natural disasters, including extreme weather events, the threat of targeted cyber attacks is real. In fact, from 2011 to 2014, there were 362 targeted cyber-attacks that caused outages or other power disruptions.
This statistic is even more alarming when you realize that disabling nine nodes of the 55,000 transmission substations of America’s energy infrastructure would cause a regional or nationwide electricity outage that could last for weeks or more, according to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).
This is a major threat given that “reliable electricity underpins every facet of American lives. Without it, our homes, our businesses, and our national security engine would grind to a halt—especially when so much of this power is becoming ‘smart’ and integrated,” as the CAN Military Advisory Board (MAB) stated in its “National Security and Assured U.S. Electrical Power,” report.
Balancing 21st Century electrical needs on an aging and vulnerable grid has created a “need for secure, affordable, and resilient sources of power that can ensure mission accomplishment in the face of a determined adversary,” according to the MAB.
The Department of Energy (DoE), however, has been innovating for thinking and pushing investment to create that “resilient grid infrastructure that can survive a cyber incident while sustaining critical functions.” The DoE has created localized grids that are normally connected to our traditional grid, but can be disconnected to support reliability and resiliency. Microgrids use advanced smart grid technologies and integrate “distributed energy resources such as backup generators, solar panels and storage.” They can be used when there is a severe outage to offer local areas reliable power even when weather or a cyber event takes out the traditional grid.
Because we already have the technology to build a grid that is more resilient and less of a target for adversaries, all Americans need to push for this to remain a priority and find ways to support legislation that will allow for energy autonomy through energy sources such as solar. America’s adversaries are determined and the threats to our electrical grid and national security are real and substantial, according to the MAB. The time is now to fix the issues with our grid.
In Virginia, we can help do this by supporting solar legislation and urging our lawmakers and the State Corporation Commission to do more to diversify our options.
By Nigam Trivedi, Lehigh University
Recently, the owner of a small company in Virginia shared with Powered by Facts that he had reduced energy consumption by 25 percent in order to save some overhead costs. However, he ended up actually paying more in electricity bills, because Dominion charges less per kilowatt hour the more energy a ratepayer consumes. When consumption goes down, as it did in this case, the hourly rate goes up, defeating the business owner’s purpose of trying to save money by increasing energy efficiency.
This story prompted us to do a little research into how Dominion structures billing when energy efficiency measures are implemented. We learned that from generation to consumption, the goals of an energy utility can clash with consumers’ desire to move toward cheaper forms of energy. This is particularly true in Virginia, because we have a monopoly utility and state policies that protect it from competition and ensure that creates ever-increasing top-line revenue.
Needless to say, that is more beneficial to the utility than to the ratepayer. You have to do some digging below the surface, because utilities appear to offer help and support consumers who want to generate electricity independently or increase their energy efficiency. Dominion, for one, boasts a variety of energy conservation programs for both residential and non-residential customers, though each category of customer is assigned a certain rate or tariff structure stipulated by Dominion.
A close look at Dominion’s economic model reveals not only that the utility is dis-incentivized to provide energy efficiency programs, but also that even when the utility receives more incentives to provide consumers with a path to efficient energy usage, the financial incentives of the utility come at a cost to the ratepayer.
Utilities like Dominion usually compensate for the fixed costs of their energy efficiency operations with other fees imposed on ratepayers to alleviate reduced profits. In Virginia, nearly 80 regulatory programs, tax incentives, and ordinances have been established in the past 20 years to promote statewide energy efficiency.
A recent report, however, demonstrates that none of these incentives have made Dominion competitive with electric utilities across the country in the realm of energy efficiency. For example, a June 2016 Ceres, Inc., report revealed that when compared to 29 other holding companies with respect to “Incremental Energy Efficiency as a Percentage of Retail Sales,” Dominion placed dead last, at just 0.1% (for reference, FPL, which took 29th place, demonstrated a percentage of 0.2%, while Eversource Energy, a New England-based utility, mustered a rating of 1.87%).
In addition, Dominion is an investor-owned utility, so their shareholders and shareholder profits come before considerations for ratepayers and others. By contrast, in the public power utility model, the consumers and shareholders are one and the same, so the utility is not balancing the financial interests of two different groups, particularly at the cost of one in favor of the other.
Wouldn’t it be great if we lived in an area where a consumer’s desire to reduce his or her carbon footprint or electricity rates were actually in alignment with the goals of our state government and supported by our utility companies? Instead, we find that the pursuit of profits will keep our energy rates going up, no matter what we may try to do to lower our bills.
It’s time for a change in Virginia – we need the State Corporation Commission to urge Dominion to change its fee structure for ratepayers who implement energy efficiency programs.
By Karen Schaufeld
Last week was a tough week for anyone who relies on traditional electrical grids and natural gas – pretty much anyone who lives in the United States, for example. From New England to Puerto Rico, shortages and outages affected millions of United States’ citizens and residents.
In Puerto Rico, at least one person died and four police officers were injured during a power outage that started when a fire broke out at the substation of Aguirre power plant cutting off electricity to more than 3.5 million utility customers for more than four days. The outage prompted activation of the National Guard and a declaration of a state of emergency and resulted primarily from the fact that the island’s electrical infrastructure is “aging and debt ridden.” Puerto Rican Gov. Alejandro García Padilla said, “Given that the [Electric Power Authority] system is so old, numerous setbacks could occur,” at a news conference. “The system is not designed to withstand a failure of this magnitude.”
The power outage also cut off water to thousands whose supply relied on filtration plants and pumping stations that needed electricity, but did not have emergency generators. In fact, businesses and residents without generators either had to scramble to find ways to hydrate and stay cool while the entire island suffered from record high temperatures.
Meanwhile, on the U.S. mainland, a pipeline leak in Alabama disrupted gas distribution and caused panic and a sharp rise in gas prices, not to mention ecological damage that is still being evaluated. The leak was in a pipeline operated by Colonial Pipeline Co. Hundreds of thousands of gallons poured out of the broken line, according to Colonial, and panic resulted from the fact that the pipeline is a “key artery for transporting approximately 40% of the gasoline from the West Coast to the East Coast. According to an oil company that relied on gas from Colonial, “[We are] treating this situation with the same importance and urgency as a natural disaster.”
Frankly, if our energy supply was diversified, these types of interruptions would not escalate to national emergency-level status. As I described in my post “Just Nine Nodes,” America is balancing 21st Century electricity requirements on a 20th Century approach to energy production and distribution, according to a report by the CNA Military Advisory.
And, alarmingly, because our energy infrastructure is so outdated, the disruption of just nine of the nation’s 55,000 transmission stations could cause a serious and prolonged regional or nationwide electricity outage, according to a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) study. Don’t believe it? Just look at what happened in Puerto Rico and from Alabama to the Eastern Seaboard for a quick snapshot of what can happen if your power sources are too heavily reliant on the traditional grid.
What can we do to mitigate some of the risk? Luckily, advancing technologies and lowered prices in solar, as an example, will allow us to produce electrical power closer to the consumer and reduce our reliance on the traditional grid quickly. An added bonus would be that on-site electrical generation from solar is impervious to fuel supply disruptions.
As I noted in Creating Distributed, Adaptable, Resilient & Reliable Sources of Energy Will Help Protect America, large-scale adoption of solar energy by both consumers and businesses would help break up the traditional grid and make it less vulnerable to natural or man-made disasters that could bring entire regions of our country down in a single, targeted disruption, fire, leak, attack, weather-related event or any other scenario that you can imagine.
Are you ready for a safer source of energy in the Commonwealth of Virginia? The time for solar is now.
By Nigam Trivedi, Lehigh University
It is a straightforward idea to access local, state or federal funds to pay for a portion of energy improvement costs. In late 2009, the U.S. Department of Energy (DoE) termed this financing technique Property Assessed Clean Energy, or PACE for short. More than half of the United States have enacted PACE-related legislation since 2010, and a recent update to PACE guidelines extends their applicability to energy efficiency and renewable energy measures.
PACE guidelines include 10 broad categories that govern the establishment of programs for a building. Owners who enroll in PACE programs and make energy improvements agree to pay back the governing authority over a period of 10 to 20 years.
Additionally, the PACE contract is a “debt of property, meaning the debt is tied to the property as opposed to the property owner(s), so the repayment obligation may transfer with property ownership,” eliminating a major disincentive to investing in energy improvements. Many property owners hesitate to make property improvements if they think they may not stay in the property long enough for the resulting savings to cover the upfront costs.”
Loudoun County is one of the nearly 50 locations in the United States that is engaging with the PACE paradigm at some level, although Loudoun County has not begun a PACE program. Rather, the county lists its involvement with the program as “in development.”
PACE-based financing structures could serve the Loudoun County homeowners well. From 2010 to 2013, the county had a 145-percent increase in permits for new residential construction. A PACE program for these new homes would allow homeowners to invest in clean, renewable options like solar without worrying about shouldering the burden afterwards. In addition, an increase in the energy efficiency of homes could contribute to an increased value of real property per capita. While property values have been slowly increasing since 2012, widespread residential participation in the PACE financing structure could contribute a greater increase in per capita property values over the course of the next two decades.
The guidelines for a PACE program are highly detailed, but owners of residential and commercial buildings who participate in the program could both monitor the balance of their own energy resource portfolio and improve the efficiency of their buildings while simultaneously making a positive contribution to the economy of Loudoun County as a whole.
And imagine if through conservation, efficiency and individual generation, we collectively could forestall or eliminate the need for new power plants and new, unsightly transmission lines!
Why – when there are cheaper and safer ways to create energy for Virginia in the near term – does Dominion Virginia Power continue to push for its North Anna 3 nuclear power plant? It’s all about the money, frankly, and I was pleased to learn that the Virginia Citizens Consumer Council (VCCC) has filed a petition for formal approval from the Virginia SCC before it can continue building the plant.
The VCCC petition states: “At an estimated total cost of at least $19.2 billion, North Anna 3 would be the most expensive power plant ever built in the United States and could raise customers’ rates by 26 percent or more according to the Virginia Attorney General. While Dominion claims that North Anna 3 is needed for compliance with the federal Clean Power Plan, it would be far costlier than the low-carbon alternative of combined renewables, demand-side management, and efficiency … Dominion has not complied with Virginia law by failing to seek SCC approval before making expenditures on project development and beginning preliminary construction of North Anna 3.”
I agree with VCCC President Irene Leech’s assessment that the construction of North Anna 3 “is a huge raid on the pocketbooks of Virginia consumers and businesses.” In fact, I think the SCC should not allow Dominion any development costs at all for North Anna 3. There are cheaper, safer and more expedient alternatives available to our Commonwealth and ratepayers, including solar energy that Dominion should be focusing on to provide low-carbon electricity and lower rates much sooner than we will ever see from North Anna 3.
Dr. Mark Cooper, senior fellow for economic analysis for the Institute for Energy and the Environment at Vermont Law School, called North Anna 3 “abysmally wasteful and unnecessary,” in formal comments on behalf of the VCCC. He concluded that North Anna 3 “would cost twice as much as solar to generate the same amount of energy, fatten profits for shareholders by inflating Virginia ratepayer bills by up to 36 percent (reflecting $6-12 billion in unnecessary costs).”
Please support the VCCC’s effort to stop Dominion from proceeding with North Anna 3:
Contact Mark Herring, Office of the Attorney General: (804) 786-2071, or file a complaint with the AoG’s Consumer Protection Office: http://ag.virginia.gov/citizen-resources/consumer-protection
Contact the Virginia State Corporation Commission: Energy Regulation: Electric, Gas, Water & Sewer: 804-371-9611
Virginia Citizens Consumer Council: https://www.facebook.com/Virginia-Citizens-Consumer-Council-236174056404968/?fref=ts
By Karen Schaufeld
Congratulations to California for setting a record for powering 6 million homes with solar in just one day! Their previous record was set in May of this year, but thanks to this summer’s coast-to-coast high temperatures, their new record is 8,030 megawatts. According to San Francisco Gate, California only included large solar plants in this tally. An additional 537,637 smaller solar panel arrays installed on private homes and business’ rooftops across the state were not counted in this tally.
Meanwhile, Virginia is ranked 39th in solar capacity in the United States. Even with Dominion’s recent pledge of 400mw of solar capacity by 2020, we won’t be anywhere near the production that California is realizing.
And even though California’s climate is often used to discredit solar capacity on the East Coast, our neighbor to the south, North Carolina, shares a similar climate and is ranked 3rd in the United States in terms of solar energy production. In fact, North Carolina already has 100 times more the solar capacity than Virginia does.
Our hope is that legislators this next session will support significant legislation to allow Virginia to participate in the solar revolution. Virginia should be allowed to experience the benefits of solar, including:
- reducing reliance on the traditional energy grid, which reduces the risk of widespread failure in the event of a disruption;
- protecting against rising energy costs;
- protecting and increasing property values;
- boosting U.S. energy independence; and
- creating jobs and stimulating the Virginia economy.
During peak energy demand, utilities in the Commonwealth actually purchase electricity from out-of-state sources, and I believe it is time for that to change. Visit our Take Action page to send a letter showing your support for a greater renewable energy mix in Virginia.
By Nigam Trivedi, Lehigh University
Those who argue in favor of construction or expansion of non-renewable facilities say it will create jobs. In that vein, advocates for Dominion’s Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) point to the significant benefits it will have for Eastern North Carolina. To transport the fracked gas the 554 miles from West Virginia, however, the ACP will be routed through rural Virginia, which is not going to realize the same benefits from it.
In our last post, we shared an example of how the ACP poses risk to homeowners in and around its projected path. The issue, however, reaches deeper. The eminent domain granted to Dominion has already wreaked havoc on the lives of many Virginians, who have banded together to form “All Pain No Gain,” (APNG) to highlight the negative impacts the ACP will have on property owners, the environment, small businesses, public safety, local heritage and history.
Virginia Constitution Article I, Section 11 gives a utility, if granted the authority, the ability to use or cause ruin to any private property without the permission of the property owner as long as the effort is directed towards an effort of public service. Dominion has even asked the Virginia Outdoors Foundation to abdicate responsibility of 10 protected areas in favor of the ACP.
If the gas is going to North Carolina, is it truly a “public service” to Virginians? Since it won’t benefit Virginians, eminent domain shouldn’t be invoked for the ACP. This issue and others prompted Dominion to commission impact analyses from Chmura Analytics and ICF International, both of which they have used to substantiate the claim that the ACP will drive the creation of thousands of new jobs and create millions in economic benefits.
APNG disputes the studies, and says the ACP will spur a rise in energy prices for Virginians, while simultaneously creating less than 10 percent of the 9,000 jobs Dominion claims it will. In my opinion, it is always better to find a neutral source, such as the Synapse Energy Economics study commissioned by the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC).
This study also counters the claims made in Dominion’s reports and noted that at least one of them has a noticeable lack of transparency and lacks clarity in the presentation of its data. SELC study leveled eight main criticisms against the ICF report, including the claim that the ACP will bolster reliability for regional consumers. To support the claim, the ICF used data from an electric utility based in Maryland and does not provide any data on reliability impacts that relate to the ACP in particular.
The SELC study also criticizes Dominion’s Chmura report for a shortage of data or assumptions relevant to its claims, specifically regarding whether ACP would provide tax revenue benefits for the states in which it will actually be located.
So why is Dominion working so hard to justify the construction of the ACP?
Simply put, it is profitable. In fact, current regulatory policy favors utilities that build pipelines for natural gas. Rates of return can be as high as 14% from a natural gas pipeline, compared to the average return of under 10%, despite the fact that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has done little to verify the necessity of such a large rate of return. While the FERC can challenge the rate that a utility requests, it generally does not do so until after a pipeline is in service.
The FERC process actually incentivizes utilities to overbuild, because it does not require that a utility take into account regional demand in the area that it proposes to build. Also, the FERC will declare a pipeline necessary, if the would-be-builder has convinced a certain number of companies to join in on capacity for the line. As long as the pipeline has enough partners signed up for participation, FERC will approve their request.
If Virginia residents wish to protect their property rights and values, look out for their own economic interests, and preserve their physical environment for their safety and health, they need to ask, “What’s in it for me?” Currently, it seems that the answer is financial, environmental and human health risks – all at no benefit to Virginians and with great benefit to Dominion.
This is just another reason that the task falls on Virginia energy consumers to gain energy independence as quickly and effectively as possible and to push for a better mix of energy options for the commonwealth.
In his next post in this series, Nigam will compare the cost of renewables to the cost of the pipeline, the output from both scenarios and how each will affect ratepayers in Virginia.
By Nigam Trivedi, Lehigh University
In recent years, natural gas has been touted as a cheaper and cleaner alternative to both non-renewable and renewable energy sources. Utilities hold strong incentives to build for natural gas supply where they can, and Dominion’s Atlantic Coast Pipeline is no exception. In fact, the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, LLP boasts a myriad of supporters in the form of state government officials, private companies and state-level organizations from West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina.
The pipeline’s stated goal is to replace coal power to help reduce carbon emissions. The pipeline plan, however, is not without some significant drawbacks and dangers. In order to construct this pipeline, Dominion Energy has asked for, and has been granted, a right of way through residential homes. The construction of such a pipeline not only gives the corporation the power to supersede ownership rights of so many homeowners, but it also presents a significant safety risk to them as well.
Heidi Cochran of Nelson County, Virginia, has been struggling against Dominion for more than two years to keep the ACP off of her property. Dominion insists on the safety of the pipeline that would run underneath her home. However, one employee of the utility informed her that in the event of an explosion, its radius would measure at 1,100 feet from one side of the pipe, and that such an explosion would set any buildings in the vicinity ablaze. Cochran’s home would stand about 50 feet from this leg of the ACP.
Such catastrophes are not relegated to the imagination, as a fire triggered by the explosion of an underground natural gas pipeline destroyed a block of a San Francisco suburb in 2010. It is worth emphasizing that an explosion such as this carries with it the risk of fatalities as well as significant financial costs of property damage. Solar and wind farms, by comparison, do not present such a risk.
Furthermore, in the aftermath of a pipeline explosion, energy dependent customers would be bereft of that much power until Dominion mustered up the capital to reconstruct it. A wind farm or a solar farm would have the distinct advantage of a decentralized generation layout; a hit to one turbine or a few PV panels wouldn’t knock out miles of power, whereas a break anywhere in the pipeline very well could.
As Dominion continues to insist that the construction of an interstate natural gas pipeline is the quickest path to a cleaner energy future, one must realize that it is not necessarily the safest and most environmentally friendly one. Energy consumers will continue to lose the opportunity to effectively use their own naturally occurring resources while they simultaneously find their property eaten up by a utility that seems to be willing to build at the expense of the consumer.
In his next post in this series, Nigam will explore the pipeline and eminent domain issues surrounding it.
By Karen Schaufeld
Many of us want more renewable energy available to consumers and ratepayers as quickly as possible here in Virginia, but our state policies need to be updated to make that possible. Across the country, “the U.S. electric sector is in the midst of an unprecedented shift toward clean energy resources,” according to an analyst from the nonprofit sustainability advocacy organization Ceres, who added that “state policies are critical for continued progress in achieving national and international climate goals.”
We are making some headway in the Commonwealth. In fact, Dominion recently won approval from the State Corporation Commission for three new solar farms in Powhatan, Louisa and Isle of Wight counties. With these, Dominion will add 56 megawatts of potential generation that are expected to produce about 124 gigawatts of electricity annually, according to reports.
This is a good first step toward the 400 megawatts of solar power that Dominion has committed to generate by 2020. However, Ceres ranks Dominion 24th of the 30 largest electric utilities in terms of “advances in renewable energy and efficiency.”
In its 2016 Benchmarking Utility Clean Energy analysis, Ceres reports that many of the nation’s largest electric utilities are moving toward lower carbon fuel sources. They determine that the key drivers are “ambitious state policies and strong corporate demand for renewable energy.”
Utilities with the strongest results were in states with strong clean energy policies, such as Colorado, Minnesota, Massachusetts and California. According to an author of the report, “Governments, corporations and individual customers continue to demand clean, efficient energy and some utilities are answering that call.”
We need Dominion to step up even more and start answering the call for solar and other clean, efficient energy sources for Virginia. To get there, we need our Senators and Delegates to demand that Dominion include even more renewable energy options in its offerings in the Commonwealth.
See the Ceres chart for the breakdown of the top 30 utilities:
By Nigam Trivedi, Lehigh University
The direction that America takes with energy is the center of many a debate about whether we should continue to invest in coal and fossil fuels or continue the shift to more renewables, including wind and solar. These debates bring up questions, such as how much of the energy portfolio should be of what type, how can we make renewable energy more easily accessible to the average consumer, and where does nuclear come into play? After all, there are 92 (active, closed and proposed) nuclear power plants across America.
Proponents of nuclear energy want these plants – and new ones – to play an active role in America’s energy mix. Opponents – citing cost and safety issues, including intentional sabotage and questions surrounding the safety and efficacy of disposing of spent fuel rods – would vehemently disagree with new plants and want to see existing plants closed. These long-held fears of nuclear meltdown are countered with assertions of the complex security mechanisms that are in place to safeguard against catastrophic events. They also point to the rarity of large-scale disasters as reassurances of the safety of nuclear energy.
Here in Virginia, Dominion is committed to increasing both its solar and nuclear generating capacity. Three solar facilities have been approved for and are under construction. Despite this innovation, Dominion shows no signs of shutting down either its North Anna or Surry nuclear stations, both of which were constructed more than 30 years ago.
Furthermore, Dominion applied for a permit to build a third unit at the North Anna facility in 2007 and hopes to receive permission from the federal government for construction by the end of 2017. In its 2016 Integrated Resource Plan (IRP), Dominion outlines and describes five scenarios for the future of its energy portfolio, none of which includes a shutdown of any nuclear unit. In fact, “Plan E” includes the addition of more than 1,400 MW of nuclear energy from the proposed North Anna Unit 3 as a step towards a cleaner energy portfolio. The same IRP seeks, in its short-term action plan, to “continue analysis and evaluations for the 20-year nuclear-license extensions for Surry Units 1 and 2, and North Anna Units 1 and 2,” but has redacted cost estimates for the extensions.
Regardless of where you stand on nuclear power, we all must accede to the fact that they are extremely costly. Despite high costs, shutting down nuclear power plants often is criticized for contributing to an increase in non-renewable production (from sources such as coal and natural gas) to compensate for the loss. At least one recent example of a nuclear plant shutdown calls this assumption into question.
California-based electric utility, PG&E is planning to phase out the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant slowly over a period of eight or nine years. In his article, reputed physicist and chief scientist of the Rocky Mountain Institute, Amory Lovins notes that executing the shutdown over a longer timeframe will allow renewables like solar and wind, rather than natural gas, to fill in the energy gaps. This will reduce carbon dioxide emissions while saving ratepayers $1 billion.
The relicensing of existing nuclear plants, or the construction of new ones, is much greater than the cost of wind and solar resources that provide a carbon-free solution to energy. And, fears and assertions that nuclear shutdowns will lead to an increase in natural gas production overlook the fact that PG&E’s gradual closure of Diablo Canyon will allow for the integration of solar and wind without the use of non-renewables.
As Diablo Canyon illustrates, gradual nuclear shutdowns with integration of solar and wind resources hold greater potential to save carbon than does the maintenance of costly and often old nuclear generating facilities. We should also remember that nuclear power does indeed produce its own waste, for which we have still not found effective disposal techniques.
Maybe Virginia should consider getting on the nuclear shutdown bandwagon.
By: Forest Langhorne, Tufts University
Tesla Motors, a brand most associate with its high-end electric cars, is much more than just an automobile manufacturer. In their attempts to increase the power and range of their automobiles, Tesla has become an industry leader in battery manufacturing and development. As they have shown, improved battery technology could be extended to make America’s energy grid more efficient by allowing energy producers to store energy for use during peak consumption times and increasing the viability of renewable energy sources by giving solar and wind an “all-weather” capacity.
The potential benefits from the union of solar energy and improved battery storage were affirmed last week when Tesla acquired SolarCity, which specializes in the production of photovoltaic cells for residential use through long-term lease agreements with its buyers. Tesla’s proposed takeover of SolarCity would allow the two companies to sell solar PV systems and batteries for energy storage as packages, streamlining the two products and encouraging further use of solar systems. This acquisition is a strong move towards increasing solar viability and is a great step forward in creating a larger market for the marriage of battery and solar technologies.
This is a great opportunity for both companies, opening up new markets and introducing each to new audiences. SolarCity’s stock has fallen as competition in the solar industry has become fiercer, due in part to greater supply and innovation in the solar industry, as well as changing political landscapes on the state level. For example, energy utilities are now pushing states to decrease net-metering rates in response to more economic behind-the-meter solar units. These changes have already come in several states, and more are evaluating similar changes. With the drop in rates, utilities will pay consumers for their excess energy, the incentive to use solar drops too.
While part of the motivation for the Tesla acquisition of SolarCity is rooted in pushback against solar by utilities, the merger itself offers a solution to this problem. With increased battery use, solar could offer consumers enough energy savings to make up for drops in net-metering.
By Forest Langhorne, Tufts University
At Senator Mark Warner’s Virginia Energy Policy Forum (VEPF), a series of speakers, including U.S. Energy Secretary Dr. Ernest Moniz, presented updates on existing ideas and technology, both known and emerging, that could help Virginia advance the volume of solar and other renewable energy produced in the state.
One of these discussions involved comparisons of North Carolina and Virginia energy policy. For example, Dominion Electric has a large footprint in both states, and they both have similar climates and geography. Comparisons of their current and possible renewable energy footprint carry more weight than others.
Yet North Carolina outpaces Virginia in renewable energy generation. North Carolina produced 2,294 megawatts of solar energy in 2015 and installed 1,140 megawatts of solar capacity, while Virginia installed 10 megawatts of solar capacity and only produced 22 megawatts of solar energy.
At VEPF, the main reason posed for this discrepancy is differences in state energy policy. Two pieces of North Carolina legislation were cited specifically:
- A renewable energy tax credit passed in 1977, established a tax credit equal to 35% of the value of any renewable energy system installed.
- A more recent law that exempted 80% of the value of a photovoltaic solar unit from property taxes.
The result? North Carolina businesses and residents enjoy two important financial incentives to increase renewable, and especially solar, energy production. In the past few years, Virginia has adopted a similar property tax abatement, but has yet to authorize any renewable tax credits.
Virginia’s property tax abatement is a strong policy development but North Carolina still possesses a strong lead in policy encouraging renewable energy generation, a gap that is being keenly felt right now.
If Virginia wants to encourage a high level of renewable energy development, emulating its neighbor to the south would be a good place to start.
By Karen Schaufeld
U.S. Senator Mark Warner’s 2016 Virginia Energy Policy Forum this Friday is designed to offer energy and climate stakeholders, such as Powered by Facts, the opportunity to learn more about major energy regulations that “will not only affect the Virginia economy but the way we diversify our energy moving forward.”
We are looking forward to presentations by private organizations, public utilities, environmental groups and lawmakers at the state and federal levels will range from energy policy for the Commonwealth and the nation; energy efficiency and storage; new developments in clean energy technology; and – importantly – “Cybersecurity for a 21st Century Energy Grid” and “Energy Security and Resiliency.”
In addition, we are looking forward to the keynote speech by Dr. Ernest Moniz, U.S. Secretary of Energy, as well as representatives of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the U.S. Navy, the City of Norfolk, the Alliance to Save Energy, Dominion Resources, Energy Storage Association, Environment Virginia, Apex Clean Energy, Johnson Controls and the Virginia State Corporation Commission, among others.
The VEPF is a non-partisan event hosted by Sen. Warner, who believes that the U.S. needs to reduce dependence on foreign oil while investing in new technologies that reduce harmful emissions and, according to his website, favors an “all of the above,” portfolio approach that employs solar, wind, bio-fuels, nuclear energy and next-generation battery technologies.
Virginia, as our readers know, lags behind other states in creating the “all of the above” approach to which Sen. Warner aspires. Thanks to Sen. Warner for hosting the VEPF. I am hoping it and similar events (the 2016 Energy, Sustainability & Resiliency Conference held in Richmond in May, for example) will foster greater dialogue about the energy mix – or lack thereof – in the Commonwealth.
By Karen Schaufeld
When I started Powered by Facts, my goal was to create a source for accurate, up-to-date information on energy production and the costs and benefits of a varied energy production mix in Virginia. Unfortunately, if you don’t understand the different types available to you, as well as their pros and cons, it is difficult to know the best course.
Joe Baker, Vice President of Editorial and Advocacy for Care2 and ThePetitionSite, recently shared a post with The Energy Collective that I found helpful. It outlines the pros and cons of some of today’s most popular energy sources, from solar to fossil fuels. Here are the top points Baker made for each in Demystifying the Energy Source: Is One Better Than Another?:
Strengths: Solar energy is clean, unlimited and inexpensive. According to Baker, “the cost of solar has dropped by 70 percent since 2009 and the price is only expected to drop further as technology advances.”
Weaknesses: Distribution of costs. “With your energy bills, you pay not only for the actual energy you use, but also for the system that gets it to your home,” and most people don’t have the money needed upfront to buy a system.
Strengths: Wind energy is clean and abundant and could provide needed jobs to rural communities, and supplement incomes on existing farms.
Weaknesses: Transmission across long distances is hard, there are storage problems, and wind strength and patterns are unpredictable and don’t always align with power demand. Baker states that wind turbines also pose a hazard to wildlife; however, this data can only be judged relative to other threats to wildlife such as pollution or outdoor cats (it’s true… look it up).
Strengths: This is the most widely used renewable energy in the United States, according to Baker’s post. A big selling point for hydropower is that it’s local and … “creates local jobs both managing the dam and power generation … and can provide power on demand.”
Weaknesses: It’s two biggest drawbacks: location and environmental impacts. You need lots of water year-round to make it work, and dams severely disrupt natural habitats.
Strengths: Geothermal energy can be deployed at the utility scale or in a single building, using heat pumps and a network of pipes to regulate indoor temperatures. It’s also reliable and “ridiculously” efficient, according to Baker.
Weaknesses: Utility-scale geothermal sites are location specific and rarely close to where people live, so much of the energy is lost in transmission. It also requires a great deal of water, which is then polluted with toxic minerals, and it has been linked to earthquakes. Smaller scale, home-based geothermal does not pose these risks.
Strengths: Nuclear power production has a low carbon footprint, is a reliable energy source that can operate on demand and has unique economic benefits. Nuclear power plants can be built anywhere and offer job opportunities.
Weaknesses: Nuclear reactor meltdowns are uncommon, but the impact is devastating. Chernobyl and Fukushima. Enough said. (Author’s Note: Here at Powered by Facts, we value cheaper energy and nuclear power is now among the most expensive to be placed into the rate base borne by ratepayers. Estimates for new nuclear generation are pegged at double the cost of solar. In addition, environmental impacts related to production of nuclear fuel and safekeeping of spent nuclear fuel are concerning.)
Strengths: Fossil fuels are cheap, historically abundant and meet on-demand needs, according to Baker. It also has the advantage that the US energy infrastructure is built for fossil fuel power plants.
Weaknesses: Fossil fuels are damaging the planet and changing the climate (and are more vulnerable to price fluctuations).
Regardless of which type of energy you decide to support, it’s important to understand the options and what they can do for you and for the Commonwealth.
I hope you will continue to educate yourself about energy options for our state and our nation and visit Powered by Facts often.
Share your comments and thoughts with me here.
By Karen Schaufeld
Virginia is one of the 10 states included in the “Throwing Shade: 10 Sunny States Blocking Solar Development” report by The Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), a group known to advocate for laws to protect the environment and ecological diversity that has recently begun focusing on solar and other renewable energy policy.
The report listed the 10 states with high solar potential that are blocking distributed solar development. These states, according to a story by Herman K. Trabish in Utility Dive, “hold 35% of total solar potential in the United States, but only account for 6% of the nation’s total installed capacity.” Trabish writes that while, “across most of the nation, it’s clear solar power is taking off . . . some states are lagging behind and are holding on to policies that cramp growth instead of nurturing it.”
CBD looked at specific metrics to create its report, so, for example, it doesn’t include Georgia’s strides in 2015 to make up for its deficits in the area of solar. Knowing that some lists will differ, here’s what it said about the Commonwealth (p.24):
- #11 in technical potential for rooftop solar
- #29 in installed capacity (MW of distributed solar)
- Overall policy grade: F
- Renewable portfolio standard: Voluntary and weak
- Net-metering policy: Weak
- Third-party ownership: Unclear
- Community solar laws: None
This should come as no big surprise to Powered by Facts readers, but it is still disappointing to be in this particular Top 10 list.
Here are some of the highlights about the Top 10 worst states from the Throwing Shade report:
- Seven of the top 10 states blocking distributed solar lack mandatory renewable portfolio standards (RPS), policies that are key to creating a safe market for investing in rooftop solar.
- Three lack mandatory statewide net-metering policies, possibly the most important policy model in place in the United States that allows solar customers to connect with the grid.
- Only three allow for third-party ownership of solar panels — a financing model that has fostered a distributed solar boom across the United States by allowing for those who wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford solar panels outright to be able to install them on their property.
- None have community solar programs in place, which are a key policy to encourage access to distributed solar resources and ensure community resiliency.
- Nine lack strong interconnection laws, making the process of installing solar panels harder for homeowners, business owners and third-party companies alike.
- Five don’t have any solar-access laws that protect home and business owners from local restrictions on solar panel installations due to issues such as neighborhood aesthetics.
Finally, according to the report, “all 10 of these states are bad actors in the distributed solar policy game, but two in particular stand out as the worst: Florida and Texas.” So at least Virginia has that.
Most of us don’t think about how everything – EVERYTHING – we do, use and need to lead our 21st Century lives relies on the generation of reliable sources of energy. Our water supply and sewage treatment facilities rely on electricity. Traffic lights, air traffic control, etc., as well as healthcare, public safety, government, finance and manufacturing must have energy to run effectively and communicate.
This 21st Century need for electricity is balancing on a 20th Century approach to energy production and distribution, according “National Security and Assured U.S. Electrical Power,” a report by the CNA Military Advisory Board.
Today’s grid is comprised of three grids: the Eastern, Western and Texas Interconnects and “is built on the model that power comes from large stationary power-generation facilities, flows through hundreds of thousands of miles of transmission lines and high-voltage transformers, and finally reaches consumers.” As our country has evolved, it almost seems like the grid has reversed… while they have grown in size, they also have grown in distance from consumers, and their numbers have decreased.
Why should we care about this outdated and rigid grid? As I mentioned in my last post, the growing number of attacks on it is just one reason. More alarming to me is the fact that our infrastructure has 55,000 transmission substations, but, according to a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) study, if an attack – physical or cyber – took out just nine of these nodes, we could end up in a regional or nationwide electricity outage that could last for weeks or more.
In addition, since most generating sources are fossil fuel powered or nuclear powered, the consequences of disrupting or attacking these plants are far more dangerous than destroying wind turbines or solar panels.
Remember, everything relies on energy, and backup generators aren’t designed to last for weeks or months. Not only could we not communicate in the ways we are used to – phones, email, blogging, etc. – our public safety networks would eventually go down. Our transportation infrastructure – street lights and, presumably, the ability to travel by air or rail – would also eventually stop. Hospitals would run out of power for dialysis machines and other life-saving supports. “The likely resulting chaos and potential social unrest will present overwhelming challenges for emergency responders, law enforcement, and public health and medical providers—providers who will be confronting the same power shortages.”
Not scared yet? You should be. Our country needs to move away from our traditional approach to energy and toward a modern, “flexible, open-architecture grid paradigm [that] will provide for electrical energy that is generated closer to the user and will be less of a strategic target.”
That new open architecture will include renewable energy sources, such as solar and help reduce our reliance on our large – and very vulnerable – traditional power plants.
By Karen Schaufeld
A gas well explosion in Pennsylvania continues to raise concern for the area, and it was a reminder that the way America produces and distributes energy is not only costly, but also exposes us to dangerous situations. In fact, relying on an electrical generation and distribution infrastructure that is more than 100 years old is so dangerous that a cohort of retired military leaders says it is a “national security imperative” to change the way America approaches the production and distribution of energy.
I recently read “National Security and Assured U.S. Electrical Power,” a report by the CNA Military Advisory Board, which outlines ways we can move away from the “vulnerabilities inherent in today’s grid” to a safer, more distributed infrastructure. The 36-page report calls for “a new approach to our nation’s power paradigm.”
Why? “Cities and regions get their power primarily from large clustered electric power producers,” and “electricity is typically transmitted over long distances, across vulnerable, high-voltage infrastructure.” That puts every step of the process at risk from attack, weather or other threats that could create sustained power outages and, frankly, cripple parts of our nation.
While we don’t know what caused the explosion in Salem Township, PA, we do know that it is a great example of how our traditional energy system works. The well and gas line involved are owned and operated by Texas Eastern Transmission and are connected to the grid of natural gas pipelines that crisscross the nation.
In addition to the potential for natural disasters, such as tornado or other extreme weather, the threat of targeted attacks is real and growing. From 2011 to 2014, according to the report, there were 362 targeted attacks that caused outages or other power disruptions. The Board calls this a distressing trend, which “requires us to consider the potential for even more serious assaults, with strategic consequences.”
Luckily, we are at a “unique point in history,” because advancing technologies and proven, innovative sources will allow us to produce electrical power closer to the consumer thereby reducing our reliance on the traditional grid.
One way we can do that is through distributed renewable energy sources, such as solar. By producing energy closer to consumers and breaking up the traditional grid, it will be much harder for adversaries and natural disasters to bring entire regions of our country down with a single, targeted attack.
“The new production paradigm will be driven by technological advances, demand for increased flexibility, more secure and lower-cost power, and a growing public demand for cleaner energy sources,” according to the report.
Assuring that we have reliable, accessible, sustainable, and affordable electric power is a national security imperative.
By Karen Schaufeld
It is rainy here in Northern Virginia, and the forecast calls for rain for at least another five days. Kind of gloomy, to be sure, but it reminds me of the oft-misunderstood “rain with solar panels” situation.
Many people think that when it rains, solar panels don’t work, but – while that seems logical – it just isn’t true. In a short post by the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), they explain that (while obviously more effective in direct sunlight), solar panels still work even when light is reflected or partially blocked by clouds. According to the SEIA, “Rain actually helps to keep your panels operating efficiently by washing away any dust or dirt.”
What becomes more important in this situation is net metering. According the group, net metering comes into play for solar users during rainy days because, “If the home is net-metered, the electricity meter will run backwards to provide a credit against what electricity is consumed at night or other periods where the home’s electricity use exceeds the system’s output.”
As of 2013, 43 states, including Virginia had net metering policies in place. In the Commonwealth, according to the Department of Mines Minerals and Energy (DMME), net metering is offered for solar and wind up to 20 Kilowatts for residential customers and 500 Kilowatts for non-residential customers. A big impediment to homeowners is the upfront capital cost of purchasing solar panels. A typical home installation my cost $20,000 upfront. A solar array reduces or eliminates electricity bills for the next 25 years and pays the homeowner back many times over.
In other states, homeowners can contract with solar companies to “lease” their roof. In this scenario, the solar company owns the solar panels and reduces the electric bill to the homeowner, often by 20 percent or more. Unfortunately, Virginia law currently prohibits homeowners from taking advantage of these arrangements. We continue to lag behind because of the way state policy is enforced and the way utilities in the Commonwealth are regulated.
This is even more unfortunate for us given that Virginia is a rural state with millions of acres of farmland. We need a stronger net metering policy that would allow residents with land and farmers to “harvest” the sun by installing solar arrays that exceed the 20 kw limit and then use or sell the excess to neighbors or back to utility companies at the retail rate. We tried to make that happen with SB 779, and we plan to continue to push for this in the coming months.
Do you agree? Should you be able to lease your roof and participate in net metering? Should a farm be entitled to make the sun a crop?
Share your thoughts for how Virginia can improve its renewable energy policies with us!
There was a time when climate change was a topic reserved for scientists and, occasionally, politicians. That has changed, and the discussion is front and center across the globe. Productive discussions about the next steps to take have taken place from Paris to Richmond, but real change will come from the grass-roots level: house by house and state by state.
Powered by Facts was excited to lend our voice to this discussion at the VA Power Dialog hosted by Virginia Commonwealth University and the University of Richmond. At the conference, students from more than 12 schools across the Commonwealth discussed how Virginia would contribute to the nation’s Clean Power Plan with Deputy Secretary of Natural Resources Angela Navarro and DEQ Director David Paylor.
Several Virginia communities already are experiencing sea level changes, which are attributed to climate change. Navarro and Paylor addressed questions from Old Dominion students about community protection projects while representatives from Roanoke College deliberated with them about how to protect coal-based economies in western Virginia while still pursuing a decrease in greenhouse gas emissions. After the panel discussions and a question-and-answer session with Navarro and Paylor, attendees were able to visit with one another to learn more about how students at Virginia universities are addressing the issue.
A high school student, who was on the panel was from Harrisonburg, presented a workshop outline he developed to teach students the basics of climate change in less than two hours. After a full day of discussing, learning and networking it became clear that not only are the students of Virginia interested in finding a solution to climate change, but they also are qualified for the job!
This was the first event for Powered by Facts, but we hope to attend many more as we engage in discussions with future leaders about how to change the energy mix in Virginia. We encourage you to join us as we continue this dialog on our blog and social media where we provide up-to-date facts on energy production and weigh the costs and benefits of mixed energy production in Virginia.
Imported Energy Means Raising Prices for Virginia Ratepayers
Although not much ground was gained for renewable energy during the 2016 Virginia General Assembly, now is the time to begin making your voice heard! By letting your representatives know early and often that we demand cheaper, safer and more reliable energy in the Commonwealth, we can make sure that we aren’t left any further behind other states that are already way ahead of Virginia with renewables.
In addition, renewable energy options would alleviate Virginia’s current need to buy energy from outside the state. Here’s what you need to know about the current energy mix:
Virginia Faces an Energy Deficit
In 2013, the most recent year with complete information available from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), Virginia consumed 107,794,985 MWh of electricity. Of this, only 70,739,235 MWh, or about two-thirds, was generated within the Commonwealth. What’s more, most of the energy purchased was to make up Virginia’s deficit during “on-peak” times, such as on a hot summer day when our air conditioners are working overtime.
What Does This Mean?
When utilities are forced to purchase energy during these on-peak times of high demand, it is far more expensive than during “off-peak” times when demand for energy is much lower. For example, in 2015, utilities in Virginia saw these on-peak prices reach over 27 cents/kWh. Because utilities are obligated to provide us with electricity around the clock, they pay this exorbitant rate and then pass the costs along to us, the ratepayers. However, this doesn’t have to be the case…
I Want Cheaper Electricity, What Can I Do About it?
In order to avoid these unnecessary costs and lower rates for consumers, Virginia utilities must be able to generate enough electricity in state to meet on-peak consumer demand, rather than purchasing electricity from utilities far away. The most effective way for utilities to do this is by growing renewable energy.
While nuclear power is unsafe and the price for uranium, coal, and gas is only projected to increase over time, the price for sources of renewable energy – the wind and sun – will always be zero! Even in the short term, Virginia utilities admit that solar energy is one of the most economic options and would save customers money on their electric bills!
It’s Not Too Late to Support Virginia Renewable Energy
There is still time to support renewable energy legislation for the Commonwealth of Virginia. The end of the 2016 General Assembly is approaching fast, so make time now to contact Governor Terry McAuliffe to let him know that you support Senate Bill 745 and House Bill 444.
These identical bills have passed in the House and the Senate and now are with the Governor, who has until midnight on March 8 to sign, amend or veto them. These bills would require the Virginia State Corporation Commission (SCC) to post on its website the names and telephone numbers of electric energy suppliers licensed to sell renewable electric energy in Virginia, as well as to provide links to the companies’ websites. The measures also require each Virginia investor-owned electric utility to include a notice in bills about this information on the SCC website at least once each calendar quarter.
Please encourage Governor McAuliffe to sign SB 745 and HB 444 by sending a note from his Contact page or by calling his office at 804-786-2211.
While these may not seem groundbreaking, they are a step in the right direction. After all, the Commonwealth continues to lag behind many other states, including North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Iowa, Maryland, Delaware, Florida and many others, in terms of renewable energy production, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Maybe providing easier access to information on the SCC website and requiring our electric utilities to remind ratepayers where to find options for renewable power will help Virginia start to improve its renewable energy mix.
If you believe, as I do, that Virginia can do better, then make sure to thank Delegate Manoli Loupassi and Senator Frank Wagner for their efforts with these bills on behalf of renewable energy this session.
Delegate G. Manoli Loupassi (R) – District 68
Senator Frank W. Wagner (R) – District 7
There is much to do over the next 10 months to ensure that all Virginia Senators and Delegates understand how important changing the renewable energy mix in our state is to business, agriculture and economic growth potential.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), within the Department of Energy (DoE) projects in its Short-Term Energy Outlook that electricity generated from utility-scale renewable plants will grow by 9 percent in 2016. That should be an exciting prospect for people who live in states other than the Commonwealth of Virginia, where we continue to lag woefully behind others in renewable energy.
How far behind? We fall behind North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi (yes, Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi are ahead of Virginia), Iowa, Maryland, Delaware, Florida and a host of other states lead Virginia in terms of renewable energy production, according to the DoE.
As the DoE pointed out, “increases in renewable capacity and generation are influenced by federal, state, and local policies.”
Our state policies keep Virginia stumbling on this front. For example, nearly 20 bills that would have had a positive impact on renewable energy generation were introduced this session in Richmond, but only 2 made it past Crossover, the Assembly’s halfway mark and the date that symbolizes whether a bill will continue or die. Further, one of these two bills was altered so much that it has been left ineffective in promoting renewable energy growth.
Virginia Continues to Push for a Renewable Energy Future
As we have said many times, Virginia can no longer afford to sit on the sideline as opportunities to create cheaper and more secure energy pass us by. Unfortunately, that is happening in 2016 as bills – including SB 779 and HB 1285 and HB 1286, have been shelved and sent to working groups out of session.
This means that our work will not end in mid-March, but, rather, will continue throughout the year. We all need to continue to push for a better energy mix in Virginia and show our support of renewable energy to spur the state economy, create jobs and reduce our reliance on fossil fuels.
Non-sustainable energy sources have proven to be inadequate for Virginia’s growing energy needs. Not only that, but the prevention of the growth of Renewable Energy is largely based on competing energy businesses and factual inaccuracies. Here’s our newest entrant in our Virginia renewable energy myths and facts series (#VAenergyfacts):
Myth: Growth in renewable energy can’t possibly keep up with the growing energy demand.
Fact: Renewable energy is poised to overtake the increase in need in Virginia more rapidly than conventional power sources. It’s time to change the laws that have prevented growth in solar and renewables.