Editorial – Energy supply isn’t quite ready to go all green

Published 4:36 pm Tuesday, May 9, 2023

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As much as we love the idea of Virginia being powered completely by clean energy, and believe it will one day happen, we understand that the electrical grid just isn’t there yet. So does Dominion Energy Virginia.

The state’s largest utility made that clear with its most recent integrated resource plan (IRP), which proposes how it will meet ratepayers’ electricity needs for the next quarter-century. There are significant changes from Dominion’s IRP just one year earlier.

Highlights of the May 1 filing include 2,900 megawatts of new natural glass plans and 1,600 megawatts of small modular nuclear reactors — a warning that the Virginia Clean Economy Act, passed three years ago with a mandate of carbon-emissions-free electricity by 2045, is out of touch with reality.

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Dominion’s plan also aligns with Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s energy plan, which calls for expansion of both nuclear and natural gas to ensure the electrical grid’s reliability and affordable electricity for Virginians while admirable and needed work continues toward 100% renewable energy.

Steve Haner of the Alexandria-based Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy opined this week on Dominion’s filing and what it means for ratepayers and policymakers:

“Adding the new SMR nuclear capacity and natural gas capacity allows Dominion to propose either building or buying substantially less solar capacity. The preferred 2022 plan projected adding almost 26 gigawatts of solar but this new plan trims that to below 20 GW. Both the 2022 and 2023 plans include the second phase of the Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind project, another 2.6 gigawatts, coming online in the early 2030. But the 2023 plan, for the first time, also includes more than 600 megawatts of onshore wind turbines. 

“As before, Dominion offered five alternatives in all, one intended to be ‘least cost’ and showing no concern for reducing CO2 emissions, and then two that achieve a claimed zero emissions by the VCEA target date of 2045. Interestingly, the zero carbon alternatives rely on even more nuclear power to balance demand with supply. The least-cost plan adds no nuclear but far more natural gas generation. What are Virginians willing to pay for miniscule, too-tiny-to-matter reductions in worldwide CO2 levels?

“Last year Dominion projected a residential bill on 1,000 kilowatt hours per month would reach $177 by 2035, and now it has lowered that to $174. (The actual bill was under $117 three years ago.) The earlier estimate using the State Corporation Commission’s method was $213 and now it projects that bill reaching $235 by 2035. Yes, the SCC methodology has bills doubling between 2020 and 2035.” 

Work on a carbonless energy supply must continue with urgency, but impractical mandates like the Virginia Clean Economy Act mustn’t be allowed to wreck the economy and consumers’ pocketbooks in the meantime.