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Tom Kirkman

Virginia's Natural Gas Plan Mapped Out. Politicians Irate.

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Maybe Governor Northam will mandate a lockdown of Dominion Energy's portfolio of natural gas.

Heck, just make natural gas illegal, and problem solved.

Right?

 

Virginia's Natural Gas Plan Mapped Out

Despite clean economy act, Dominion forecasts strong role for natural gas in state

Despite highly publicized commitments by political leaders and Dominion Energy to transitioning the state off carbon sources in favor of renewable forms of energy, the state's largest electric utility is continuing to bank heavily on natural gas, a long-range plan and statements to investors and shareholders reveal.

The continued allegiance to the fuel, expressed in Dominion's forward-looking Integrated Resource Plan released May 1 and reiterated in investor and shareholder calls this week, sparked a sharp response from the two Democratic legislators who spearheaded Virginia's historic Clean Economy Act this past session.

The utility's long-range plan, said a joint statement from Sen. Jennifer McClellan of Richmond and Del. Rip Sullivan of Fairfax, "is tantamount to quitting the game before the first pitch is thrown."

A legislatively mandated but not binding forward look, the IRP sketches out the demand the utility expects to fulfill over the next 15 to 25 years and how it anticipates meeting that demand.

This year's plan was the first to reflect the ambitious climate change goals of both Gov. Ralph Northam and the new Democratic majority that took control of both houses of the General Assembly for the first time in a generation this winter.

Last September, Northam issued an executive order directing that Virginia's electric grid become carbon-free by 2050. And this March, after months of negotiation with environmental groups, the renewables industry and Virginia's two major electric monopolies, Dominion and Appalachian Power Company, the legislature passed the Virginia Clean Economy Act, which upped Northam's ante to chart a course for the state's grid to become carbon-free by 2045.

Among the provisions of the highly technical law are mandated targets for solar, wind and energy storage development, as well as binding standards for utilities' renewable generation portfolios and energy efficiency provisions.

The Integrated Resource Plan released by Dominion last Friday incorporates many of the commitments fervently sought by clean energy advocates, including a roadmap for adding 16 to 19 gigawatts of new solar, five gigawatts of offshore wind and 2.7 gigawatts of energy storage over the next 15 years, with just under a gigawatt of natural gas energy as a "placeholder" to remedy potential reliability problems.

But while Dominion offered four possible paths forward for regulators to review, the IRP it released Friday ultimately recommended approval of its natural gas-heavy Plan B, which recommends retaining almost 10 gigawatts of natural gas as part of the utility's portfolio "to address future system reliability, stability and energy independence issues."

"In order to preserve the option to address probable system reliability issues resulting from the addition of significant renewable energy resources and the retirement of coal-fired facilities in the near term, the Company is evaluating sites and equipment for the construction of gas-fired [combustion turbine] units," the IRP said.  ...

 

... But even Dominion's preferred course will come with a hefty price tag: the utility projected customer bills will rise by about $46 between now and 2030, of which about $19 is attributed to legislative mandates from the 2020 session such as the Clean Economy Act.  ...

 

... "We are going to lead the nation in renewable energy in our Virginia electric service territory," Dominion CEO, chairman and president Tom Farrell told shareholders May 6, according to a recording provided to the Mercury by a shareholder. "We look forward to embracing that change, but with today's technology for the foreseeable future, natural gas infrastructure will be necessary to ensure our core mission."

"Now, if those technologies change, and hopefully they will over the decades to come … then we will be able to transition away from that, from natural gas as a feedstock for electric power," he added. "But that is not a realistic request for today."  ...

 

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