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27 September 2019

Dominion loves renewables/fossil fuels – delete as appropriate

Dominion Energy in the US is looking to join the sudden 2019 trend in the US of awarding offshore wind contracts of gargantuan proportions, and will build out 2.6 GW of wind by 2026 off the Virginia Coast, pretty much because that’s what the Governor has asked for and it doesn’t want to risk anyone else getting in ahead of it.

The capacity would come in 3 separate build outs of 880 MW each, and involve 220 wind turbines, and is part of a plan to eliminate 55% of emissions by 2030. Dominion plans to connect the turbines to the PJM Grid.

What we have seen up and down the east coast of the US is that each economy gets a boost in terms of jobs and local manufacturing and the world is spreading from state to state that offshore wind brings jobs, cheap energy and being renewable makes consumers happy.

Massachusetts, New York and New Jersey have all recently committed to significantly large offshore wind projects.

“Offshore wind is an excellent renewable energy source and this filing with PJM shows how serious we are about bringing commercial-scale offshore wind to Virginia, giving our customers what they have asked for – more renewable energy,” said Mark D. Mitchell, vice president of generation construction. “Governor Ralph Northam has made it clear Virginia is committed to leading the way in offshore wind. We are rising to this challenge with this 2,600-megawatt commercial offshore wind development.”

Dominion does not have the best history around renewables and has come in for huge criticism for partnering with Duke energy to try to push through an Atlantic Coast pipeline for natural gas, in a $7.5 billion project which has faced numerous legal challenges as it will cross the Appalachian Trail, the Blue Ridge Parkway and two national forests, to deliver gas that may not be needed by the time it gets built.

Perhaps Dominion will reconcile its aim for 55% from renewables, by pulling out of the pipeline, which is understood to have eaten up $109 million in government lobbying alone. We very much doubt that.

The press release does however suggest the Dominion strategy involves zero emissions, nuclear and low-carbon natural gas, so perhaps not.

Dominion also says it has plans for battery storage and pumped hydroelectric storage and to support the intermittent nature of solar and wind.

The project will sit on 112,800 acres which Dominion Energy is currently leasing from the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management some 27 miles off the coast and the ocean survey work is expected to begin in 2020 and a Construction and Operations Plan will be submitted in 2022.

So far Dominion has built just a single 12 MW project offshore, as a proof of concept and learning platform. The first phase of the new buildout will come online by 2024 with additional phases in 2025 and 2026.

Dominion operates in 18 US states and has 7.5 million electricity customers and consumers have been pushing it to adopt more renewable energy formats for years. This plan is however to be paid for by a $7.8 billion, ratepayer-backed plan, so that in effect its customers will pay the cost.

It still needs the approval of state regulators and they will not automatically allow the investment costs to be shouldered by customers, many of whom, especially large industrials, have already taken their own renewable energy, working around Dominion, rather than with it. These would include Costco and Kroger who have made applications to negotiate directly with independent electricity suppliers for renewable energy. This is the REAL pressure that has suddenly forced a fossil fuel rethink by Dominion. The regulator however will want to be sure this deal is right on price for consumers, which is down to picking an experienced renewables developer.

Dominion wants to get in on the renewables act before another 50 or so major corporates follow their lead, and this will allow Dominion to say “You can have 100% renewable energy from us.”

The announcement came just days after Gov. Ralph Northam issued an executive order calling on state agencies to develop a plan for Virginia to produce 30% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030 and to be fully carbon-free by 2050. What a surprise.