It’s like Christmas in July — for those of us who get excited about energy news, at least.
Last week, Virginia’s utilities released their long-term plans to meet electric demand. Here we unwrap that bright and shiny package and take a look at what mix of resources Appalachian Power plans to pursue between now and 2029.
What would you expect APCo to include in its plan? It wouldn’t a surprise to see huge investments in solar and wind; after all, clean power is growing rapidly in the commonwealth.
In the first three months of 2015, clean energy and transportation announcements picked up rapidly to the point that Virginia was ranked seventh in the U.S. Solarize initiatives and institutions adopting solar are further fanning these flames, and this fire now appears to be reaching the utility level too. With utility participation in this trend, there is a chance to realize serious health, economic and employment benefits.
And there is another important consideration in Virginia. Last year, the State Corporation Commission, which regulates Virginia electric utilities, directed Appalachian Power to look at ways to meet national carbon pollution reduction goals.
Now that Appalachian Power’s latest plan is out, we have a window into how the company hopes to meet future demand. We can now ask how these options promote healthier communities, lower overall energy bills, and create more sustainable clean energy jobs in the company’s service area? And we can see how its plans interact with new pollution standards?
Here are five points to help illuminate the plan: its purpose, the mix of sources, how energy efficiency is treated, the role of fossil fuels, and the scale of renewables:
1. APCo’s calls its primary option the “hybrid” plan. According to the plan summary: “While not the least-cost plan, the Hybrid Plan, when compared to other portfolios, attempts to balance cost, the potential risk of a volatile energy market.” That last phrase can help defend the options based on the fluctuations in natural gas prices and may refer to regulations too.
2. Wind, solar and efficiency resources total just 1 percent of APCo’s total capacity (in megawatts). Today, coal represents 72 percent of APCo’s generation portfolio. Natural gas represents 14 percent. By 2029, wind, solar and efficiency will come to 22 percent under this approach, coal will fall to 52 percent and natural gas will grow to 23 percent.
3. But let’s look at energy efficiency. Currently, there are no APCo efficiency programs underway in Virginia. There is, however, a set of demand-side management programs that has been approved to begin later this year, and the company does fund low-income weatherization. Still, the Hybrid Plan largely ignores the opportunity to expand energy efficiency, which under the plan accounts for just 1 percent of energy needs by 2029. The state goal endorsed by Governor Terry McAuliffe is 10 percent savings by 2020. Only by developing much more robust energy efficiency programs can APCo significantly invest in reducing customer bills, help create jobs in home assessment and retrofitting, and avoid the need to develop costlier sources.
4. Note that Clinch River units 1 and 2 are still on schedule to be converted to gas now and then retired before 2026, unit 3 is currently close to being retired. Glen Lyn is also retired. While the Hybrid Plan describes pursuing constructing 836 megawatts of combined-cycle natural gas units, it appears the company plans to build those plants out of — limiting the growth of carbon emissions in Virginia but leading to an increase in the carbon footprint of APCo’s Virginia customers.
5. Clean energy investments grow significantly in this plan. Utility-scale solar will include a 10-megawatt project in 2016, with future projects bringing the total to 510 megawatts of solar by 2029. Onshore wind will include 150 megawatts of projects in 2016, with future projects bringing the total to 1,350 megawatts of wind by 2029. APCo assumes its customers will add a total of 25 megawatts of distributed solar generation by 2029. If APCo is factoring that distributed solar into its plans, it should assist customers with incentives to go solar and begin to fairly value those customers’ contributions to a more secure and cleaner energy system.
While APCo representatives stress that the resource plan document is merely a snapshot in time and subject to changes and evolution, it’s worth engaging with the utility about what this plan says about its priorities.
Since Appalachian Power’s choices figure into Virginia’s compliance with the Clean Power Plan compliance, it is critical that the utility consider how to maximize benefits for customers as it works to meet emissions targets. Over the next 15 years, APCo must plan to reduce its total annual carbon pollution, not just slow its growth. The goals for greenhouse gas reductions are within reach, and our energy choices send signals that echo louder than ever across the Southeast.
As APCo navigates permitting and rate-setting processes for its vision of future clean energy projects, customer involvement will be essential. We’ll need to be ready to challenge any and all barriers to smart renewable energy investments that diversify local energy sources, create jobs in the clean energy sector and result in healthier air in APCo’s service region.]]>
Today, Dominion Virginia Power and Appalachian Power will file their 2015 Integrated Resource Plans (IRPs) with the Virginia State Corporation Commission. These plans chart the power companies’ paths over the next fifteen years.
The IRPs will indicate the commitment of these utilities to meeting the pollution reduction goals of the Clean Power Plan—the landmark, federal proposal to cut carbon emissions from U.S. power plants that is linked to climate change and rising sea levels.
Based on past plans filed by the power companies, Virginia is already 79% of the way to meeting its Clean Power Plan target for 2030. Our organizations will be reviewing today’s updated plans to see how Dominion and Appalachian Power intend to achieve the final 21% of Virginia’s Clean Power Plan goal.
Conservation groups are calling on the power companies to address the following three issues in the Integrated Resource Plans:
1. CARBON POLLUTION: Given pending regulations on carbon pollution over the next fifteen years, it is vital that power companies disclose their total, fleet-wide carbon emissions as of today and provide projections of total, fleet-wide emissions for 2030. It is not enough to simply show a decrease in the rate of growth of carbon emissions. Rather, communities and customers have a right to see actual, real-world reductions in carbon pollution.
2. ENERGY EFFICIENCY: Power companies need to provide customers with far more options to participate in energy efficiency programs, which will save money and cut pollution. Governor McAuliffe has adopted a goal of reducing energy consumption by 10% by 2020—but Dominion and Appalachian Power remain far off the pace necessary to achieve that target.
3. RENEWABLE ENERGY: Power companies need to make significant, utility-scale investments in offshore wind and solar energy, while also opening up markets to allow customers to install their own solar-generating resources on their private property. Dominion has stated that building a new 20-megawatt solar farm in Remington, Virginia is beneficial for customers because it is cheaper than market purchases off of a grid that consists primarily of coal and natural gas. Yet all renewable resources in Dominion’s territory amount to just 2% of the company’s energy mix. The Remington solar project equates to just one-tenth of 1% of Dominion’s 17,500-megawatt generation fleet.
“Expanding clean energy opportunities to meet the goals of the federal Clean Power Plan benefits Virginia families,” said Cale Jaffe, Director of the Virginia office of the Southern Environmental Law Center. “Our analysis shows that simply expanding customer options on energy efficiency can help meet carbon reduction goals while also lowering household electric bills by up to 8%.”
“Customer demand in western Virginia for clean energy is growing fast, because it saves money and because of the benefits of cleaner air and preserved mountain landscapes. Appalachian Power can best serve its customers, and comply with the Clean Power Plan, by planning now for wind, solar and energy efficiency,” said Hannah Wiegard, Virginia Campaign Coordinator with Appalachian Voices.
“We need to see a serious plan from Dominion for cutting global warming pollution,” said Mike Tidwell, Director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network. “Virginia’s coastal communities already flood routinely due to fossil fuel pollution, while southwest Virginians await federal disaster loans to rebuild from extreme storms and flooding this winter. If Dominion were looking out for the best interests of Virginians, it would prioritize aggressive investments in solar, energy efficiency and offshore wind, and stop doubling down on dirty fracked gas.”
“As monopoly public utilities, Dominion and Appalachian Power have an obligation to provide power that is safe as well as affordable and reliable,” said Kate Addleson, Conservation Director for the Sierra Club Virginia Chapter. “Burning fossil fuels no longer fits the bill. It’s time state regulators weigh the full costs of dirty energy sources, and require investments in renewable energy and efficiency – it is a win-win for the economy and the environment.”
Learn more about our organizations online:
In a major decision today, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the Environmental Protection Agency did not properly consider costs when it created a rule to limit mercury emissions from power plants.
Finalized in 2012, the Mercury and Air Toxics Standard is one of the Obama administration’s most significant efforts to combat harmful air pollution and protect public health. Mercury is a neurotoxin that can bypass the body’s placental and blood-brain barriers, threatening cognitive development and the nervous system.
The rule, which also targets pollutants such as arsenic, chromium and hydrochloric acid gas is expected to prevent 11,000 premature deaths, 4,700 heart attacks and 130,000 asthma attacks each year.
While difficult to quantify, the rule’s the health benefits would well exceed the estimated $9.6 billion cost in annual compliance costs. In fact, a formal analysis found the quantifiable benefits of the rule could reach $80 billion each year — as much as $9 for every dollar spent.
Still, industry groups and several states argue the EPA did not adequately consider costs when determining whether regulating mercury under the Clean Air Act is “appropriate and necessary.”
Last year, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit sided with the EPA, leading the challengers to ask the Supreme Court to hear the case. Today’s 5-4 ruling remands the case back to the D.C. Circuit Court, which could order the EPA to reconsider the costs of compliance or to craft a new plan to regulate mercury altogether.
A statement from Appalachian Voices Campaign Director Kate Rooth:
Today’s Supreme Court ruling is a disappointing setback; for far too long the costs of unregulated pollution to human health and the environment have not been adequately weighed in determining our energy future. The Mercury and Air Toxics Standard is a critical component of the Obama administration’s effort to curb pollution from power plants. Already this rule has resulted in many of the oldest and dirtiest coal plants being retired or updated and it is critical that these safeguards remain in place in order to protect communities and future generations from mercury and other toxic air pollution.
The Supreme Court decision still provides a clear path forward for the EPA to limit dangerous mercury and other toxic pollutants in our air. We are confident that the agency will be able to respond to the court’s ruling by demonstrating that the health costs of continued power plant pollution greatly outweigh the costs of the rule itself.
By Dac Collins
William Dixon takes a short break during our conversation to ring up a customer in his international grocery store located in Beckley, W.Va. “If she’s Ethiopian, she’ll like this one…tell her it’s Egyptian style,” he tells a patron who is shopping for his girlfriend.
Taya and Abraham’s International Grocery is unique in a town with just over 17,000 people. And so is William, who opened the store in 2009 with his wife Dipinti, and has distributed The Appalachian Voice there for the past three years. The native West Virginian has lived his whole life in a nearby holler that has been home to his family for generations.
The holler, known by locals as Bishop Ranch, is located in the heart of coal country—halfway between Beckley and Charleston. William was an adolescent when mountaintop removal coal mining became the primary means of extracting coal in the area. Now 31 years old, he has a front row seat in the theater of destruction that surrounds his home.
“You grow attached to the landscape when you’re growing up, it becomes a part of who you are,” William says, “And when you see this type of change, it does something to you.”
William admits that he didn’t become an activist until his early twenties, when he suddenly realized that the mountain he climbed as a teenager was altered permanently, its peak blown up and flattened. “This is something that took millions of years to form, and now it’s gone forever,” he comments.
Although the destruction William has witnessed over the past two decades is nothing short of tragic, he still has hope for the future and refuses to leave the holler where he was raised. The eternal optimist, he suggests that the flattened, treeless mountaintops would make perfect sites for wind farms.
“I ask myself how bad are things going to get before they get better,” William says. “[But] I gotta keep that hope inside of me that things will get better. We gotta keep that little bit of hope, although things seem to get worse and worse.”
William believes that the only real solution to the problems created by mountaintop removal would be to move away from coal as an energy source, and he suggests that before we can complete that transition, we have to quit referring to coal as “cheap energy.”]]>
Virginia’s coal-bearing counties would directly benefit from the adoption of the POWER+ plan, a proposal in the Obama administration’s 2016 budget that would direct more than a billion dollars to Central Appalachia.
But the U.S. House budget cuts Virginia entirely out of the forward-thinking Abandoned Mined Lands funding reforms that were spelled out in the POWER+ Plan. That component of the plan would send $30 million directly to the Virginia coalfields for economic development and put laid-off miners back to work cleaning up the messes left by coal companies.
Last week, the U.S. Senate appropriations committee passed a budget bill the leaves out any mention of POWER+.
Please contact your senators now to make sure they support a budget that includes a path forward for Appalachian communities.
For more background, we recommend this piece by Naveena Sadasivam for InsideClimate News, which details the curious quiet around POWER+ and how the plan has been pulled into the partisan bickering that’s embroiled the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan and the 2016 budget process as a whole.
Under the federal Abandoned Mine Lands program, sites that pose a threat to safety are prioritized over sites that offer a potential economic benefit if cleaned up. While this program has reduced potential hazards in the coal-mining regions of Appalachia and the U.S., it has done little to positively impact local economies.
The POWER+ Plan, however, calls for funds to be used for projects that not only improve the environment and reduce hazards, but also create an economic benefit for local economies.
There’s still time for both House and Senate to include the meaningful funding proposals outlined in POWER+. But in order for that to happen we need to make sure that Virginia’s U.S. Senators, Tim Kaine and Mark Warner, hear the clear message from you to make sure Appalachia gets this much needed funding!
Please contact your senators now to make sure they support a budget that includes a path forward for Appalachian communities.]]>
Two weeks ago members of our Energy Savings action team traveled to Lenoir for Blue Ridge Electric’s annual membership meeting. CEO Doug Johnson’s response to each of our comments about energy efficiency programs assured us that we now have a public, verbal commitment from BRE about an on-bill financing program!
Now, we really need to make one final push to obtain signatures supporting energy efficiency programs at BRE and to prepare to deliver them to the co-op. And we need your help to plan the big event! Join us Tuesday, July 7 at 6:00 p.m. at the Appalachian Voices office in Boone, N.C.
We will discuss tabling opportunities, host a workshop to show you how to write letters to the editor for local newspapers, and plan for the big petition delivery at the end of July. We will have MELONS!, pizza, veggies & hummus, and soda for you to feast on as we delve into some fun community organizing tactics.
Please RSVP below and let us know you can come! Need to carpool? Email firstname.lastname@example.org for details.]]>
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Wednesday, July 1 at 2 p.m. EST
Due in part to the advancement of a controversial drilling technique known as fracking, this past decade has witnessed the staggering growth of natural gas production. The accompanying infrastructure, such as well pad extraction sites and thousands of miles of pipelines, has torn across the landscape — and even through communities — without regard for the concerns of local landowners and residents, and without effective legal safeguards. At the same time, these large-scale investments in natural gas infrastructure increasingly entrench the fuel in our energy future despite the urgent need for sustainable energy development.
Join our webinar, featuring a panel of experts and active organizers, and find out more on how these these concerns affect our communities. You’ll also hear about how citizens are working on the ground to build a movement in opposition, from the site of extraction to the route of transportation