Monday, November 5, 2007

Dominion's Latest Global Warming Smokescreen

Dominion Virginia Power has a simple profit strategy -- sell Virginians as much cheap power as they'll consume, providing that power through risky nuclear power or environmentally disastrous mountaintop-removed coal-fired power.

I don't blame Dominion for that as much as I blame our elected officials, who've sold out our health and environment for a few thousand short-term coal mining jobs. If our legislators and governor were serious about protecting our environment and securing our energy future, they'd decouple Dominion's profits from the amount of power it sells and promote net metering to turn every roof into a power generator.

So why am I rehashing all of the above today? Because Dominion is hoping to make you forget all that:

RICHMOND, Va., -- Dominion (NYSE: D), one of the nation’s largest energy producers, will provide $500,000 to the Virginia Center for Coal & Energy Research at Virginia Tech to help the center find a way to keep carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere.
$500,000 sounds like a lot, until you remember Dominion brought in $1.4 billion in profit last year on $16.5 billion in revenue.

What will Dominion get for its investment in carbon capture and storage technology? According to Virginia's Commitment, not much:
Those who have looked seriously into carbon sequestration say it will be decades to never before we find a way for the concept to work. In his book, “The Weathermakers”, Tim Flannery says that the special power plants required, if ever brought on line, would use about 25 percent of the energy they made just to keep them running. Another 20 percent would be wasted turning the gas into liquid. Untold amounts of energy would be used to transport the liquid gas to locations remote from the power plant locations where no underground chambers exist.

Flannery says: "All indications suggest that building them on a commercial scale will be expensive and that it will take decades to make a significant contribution to power production.”

Still, research into carbon sequestration makes for a significant contribution to power production … of a different sort. For $500,000, less than Dominion Power contributed to Virginia political candidates of each political party this year alone, it makes for a feel-good press release.
Even the most optimistic guesses say carbon capture and storage technology won't be ready for rollout until 2020 at the earliest. So what are we better off doing? Investing in cabron sequestration or in already-existing solar technology that could provide limitless, carbon-neutral power at a competitive price?

If we leave it up to Dominion, we'll be helping ourselves to a nice, big slice of globally-warmed pie in the sky.


Unknown said...

Just so we're clear on our position at Virginia's Commitment: Serious research into coal sequestration must be part of the larger picture. Any forward-thinking electric utility should be trying to do everything it can to invest in energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies ... including geothermal, wind, solar thermal, biofuels ... and yes, some form of integrated coal gasification combined carbon capture and sequestration. If they can ever figure it out. Which requires lots and lots of research and patience.

But compare the token amount announced by Dominion to Virginia Tech Saturday with the hundreds of millions the company wants to simultaneously invest in dirty coal plants. The proposed new transmission line is part of that lopsided and short-sided strategy.

Anonymous said...

It would be easier to accept global warming as a critical threat that must be addressed now if people making the argument actually believed it themselves.

"Risky" nuclear power is a lot less risky than massive uncontrolled global warming right? So you we should go with nuclear until we find an alternative, right?

Or would you rather let half the planet bake while the other half floods in our search for the perfect solution?

The Green Miles said...

Since when is it nuclear or nothing? That's a completely false choice. How about solar? Wind? Tidal? Shouldn't we invest in those before dropping $6 billion each on nuclear plants that are prime terrorist targets and that we have no plan for disposing of the spent fuel?

Anonymous said...

Currently, solar, wind and tidal in the mid-Atantic isn't really viable. Because wind in our region is about 25-40% efficient, on- and offshore respectively, the 100k-200k turbine 330GW wind field proposed by Univ of Delaware isn't really viable. Soon solar tech which will increase efficiency by 40% or reduce its size by 40%, but won't be online for mass production until 2020-2025. Biomass would fall far too short, and signficant tidal or wave in our region is non-existance.

Combined, eventually, solar, some wind and biomass could make a nice supplement, but in the mid-Atlantic, since the Chesapeake Bay isn't the the Bay of Fundy (tidal), the Blue Ridge isn't the upper Midwest (wind), and because this isn't the southwest (solar), and there are not enough fields to farm due to our population density; like it or not all we have fossil fuels, and nuclear.

What is other option?

Demand-side management (aka Demand Response) - Smart meters and advanced grid technologies - Conservation 21st century-style. 15-20% of existing power can be claimed and used properly with DSM. While this will not solve future consumption needs forever, in the short and mid-term, DSM provides for the time necessary to develop alternative sources and new energy policy.

With the mid-Atlantic (PJM) being part of the largest electric grid in the USA, and one of the oldest, you can bet your arse there is plenty of wasted electricity which can be conserved and used to power this region into the future, until new technologies in CCS, nuclear, and solar photovoltiacs become avaiable to the market.

If you are in the mid-Atlantic and believe in global warming or if you are ardently opposed to, you need to understand DSM/DR and check this out. DSM/DR can deliver what both sides want.

Its the cheapest, the cleaniest, and most readily available "source" of power available to the existing grid.

Anonymous said...

To expand on the facts from floodguy. California has seen little or no growth in electrical consumption per person for the last twenty years due to energy efficiency measures. These changes were small incremental improvements across a range of areas. Energy efficiency (the fifth fuel) is a viable option to reduce overall demand by about 20%--if the capital investment can be made. Smart grids and meters are an excellent start. But it costs to install that equipment or change out all your light bulbs for CFB's. It costs to buy a hybrid or a solar panel. Net metering usually pays you less for your power than you pay the utility. For instance, in Germany they pay $0.20/Kwh but the power companies are required to pay homes $0.50/Kwh for power their customers generate. If Dominion is serious, how much of those $$ they make are they willing to spend now to help their customers make these small incremental changes that can add up to the 20%, rather than spend $1B+ on a new coal plant?

Anonymous said...

That is right. In June of 2006 California made demand side management the 1st in order when new power or transmission is needed. So before any new generation (fossil fuel or alternative) or transmission is proposed, Ca. state law now requires the utility company to first seek megawatts from conservation via demand side management.

California is the 1st and only state to have this. Texas is close. The NE states are some of the only few states that have Demand side management as part of their RPS.

Why isn't Demand side management at the forefront when discussing alternative energy and current electricity needs? Because its boring and isn't one of the new nifty alternative energy projects being promoted by Silicon Valley.

Think about it - Demand side management is the cheapest source of new power out there. Its the cleanest; and its the most readily available and quickest source to implement. Heck consumers already have the cost of wasted electricity built into the price of every kilowatt we purchase.

We are not talking about 1970's style sacrificing; we're talking technologies built by companies like Cisco, GE, and IBM. Check out that FERC link provided above, then ask your county supervisors to act on it locally.

Anonymous said...

I am the anon above:

The fact is that even with demand side mgmt, population growth means Virginia will need more power in ten years than it has today.

As others have said, reliable base-load generation from solar, wind, geo-thermal, tidal etc is not ready to provide that large-scale power. Nuclear is.

If environmentalists believe that global warming is a slow motion catastrophe, they have two choices:
a) accept that the near term solution to provide growing power neads without making global warming worse is nuclear


b) admit that they're ok with Virginia not having the power it needs in a decade, thus completely undermining their own support.

Further, if you actually want to strongly curtail greenhouse emissions in the U.S. right now, the largest way to do that would be to replace coal-fired base-load generation with something that produces the same electricity without greenhouse gasses. How could we do that? There is only one way: nuclear.

Anonymous said...

more from the same anon:

And let us take apart Mr. Miles statement in comments:

"Shouldn't we invest in those before dropping $6 billion each on nuclear plants" -- that would be a fine argument, if WE (the U.S. government, scientisits and businesses) had not been investing in all these technologies for decades, so yeah, we did invest in them to the tune of billions, they are not ready, global warming is here and we need to do something now while we keep investing in those alternatives.

"that are prime terrorist targets" -- everything is a prime terrorist target and there are a million ways to kill more people than trying to blow up a nuclear plant

"and that we have no plan for disposing of the spent fuel?"

Miles, you may not like the plan we have for disposing of spent fuel -- those who believe it is far from perfect are almost certainly right -- but that doesn't mean you can pretend it doesn't exist, at least to people who know the facts. And just like nuclear power itself, a pretty good plan in reality is better than a perfect plan that doesn't exist.

The Green Miles said...

Yes, you've proven something to all of us: Nuclear power proponents are so fanatical and convinced of their own righteousness, they'll not only comment, but comment on their own comments. Well played. I'm sure we're all totally convinced.

Anonymous said...

Way to dodge the issue. When you've lost the argument, call the other guy a fanatic.

I'd love to live in a world that didn't need nuclear power. I'd also like to live in a world without other tough choices. I want good beer that has zero calories.

Unfortunately, we live in a world of trade offs. There are never perfect choices. (Consider how much trouble wind farms are having locating in Virginia and Mass.)

Anonymous said...

Anon, what you say is true but the discussion needs to account for the regulatory hurdles a nuclear project has. The the timeframe from proposal to finish for a nuclear plant, extends from 12 to 15 years or more.

Secondly, there are not enough companies capable of delivering more than 20% of the MW required over the next 2 decades. This is why coal generation is the majority of all new proposed source. This is why CCS is important and why the coal states and their politicans are pushing it so hard. Agreed, this has to change, but that would require more nuclear scientists and engineers, but unfortunately, most of our nation's kids find video games and internet porn more interesting.

In the meantime, the push for alternative sources is being made. Miles is right for pushing it, and the market, and thats the "free" market, has also demonstrated it.

But what we will all soon see is, that not one region or state can truly have a cost-effective and therefore a truly viable array of alternative sources, which is why I think the nation is better off with a RPS as a primary policy vs. all 50 state. Too many pilot projects will only raise rates which elected officials can't tolerate, and create doubt amongst the ignorant and denyers - both of whom are consumers of electricity.

I'm in the camp that until times brings the technology for affordable solar pv to the market, clean coal / ccs technology arrives, and wider nuclear development occurs via more "relaxed" regulation, demand-side management needs to be at the forefront whether your argument is pro-nuclear, fighting global warming, or promoting domestic energy consumption and less foreign.

As consumers of electricity, we are already paying for the electricity wasted in the entire national grid. This cost is already calculated in each and every kilowatt you purchase, and some 45% of all electricity produced, is lost and never used due to conversion, delivery and consumer waste. (fyi - not all of it is usable)

The damn problem is efficiency and conservation just isn't exciting and Silicon Valley isn't going to hop on it heads promoting it to venture capitalists. This is why demand-side management has been laying by the wayside, waiting patiently for our speedy Congress to implement its importance nation-wide and encourage it amongst all states.

Check out that FERC link and ask your local officials to implement all DSM measures for all its municipal and county properties.
In the state of Va, the governor has done this, Prince William, Fauquier, Stafford and a few other counties have intiatated it. Fairfax is still on the bubble, and surprisingly Arlington and Alexandria to my knowledge have done nothing. I believe D.C. is currently proposing or just proposed something. The sad part about it, urban places have more industry and older grids, and that means there is more electricity lost there in places like NYC, DC, Arlington and Alexandria. Another sad thing is that the red counties in Va seem to get it, but not the blue, but it is the red who doubt global warming more than the blue! I think its because in Prince William County, Republicans pushed DSM as a way to stop the powerline, so it might take awhile for the Dems inside the Beltway to go with it. The Board of Sup passed the county law, but to my utter amazement, the two Dem supervisors were the only one's to oppose it!

Implementation is a no-brainer as it costs no money, saves electricity, and the more it is implemented the lower the overall cost of electricity is to all consumers.

Miles, it would be a delight to see this pushed more in green discussions. I think we all agree that California is leading the nation with regards to sound energy policy, correct? Well in June 2006, Ca. made it state law putting DSM at the top of its energy ranking order. That's gotta mean something? CT was the first to make it part of a state's RPS. And, DSM isn't just available in certain states like solar, wind, and tidal; its applicable everywhere electricity is consumed!

Anon, if you are pushing for nuclear because of reliability issue in combination with reducing GHG, and I wholeheartedly agree with that, then with that argument should be a push for DSM. If alternative energy sources are less significant v. nuclear long-term, then following that same line of reasoning, DSM can effectively address climate fears thru the mid-term more cheaply, cleanier, and faster, than both nuclear and other alteratives.

Anonymous said...

Dominion is a utility company that is in our service territory. We have no product until next year but we are forming an interest list. This would be a big first step toward solving many of the problems that you addressed. Let do something about it! If you are a homewoner a photovoltaic solar system is a good place to start. Can't afford one? We already trying to market solar to the masses with an approach similar to satelite TV, cellular telephones, and alarm systems. Provide the customer a complete solar system with no upfront charges and make money from a service contract. In this case the service contract would be a rent agreement.We intend o putting a complete solar system on a clients home. When the system produces electricity, it will lower the bill from the current utility provider. In most cases the savings from the lower bill will more than cover the rent fee that the company intends to charge. As mentioned, the company currently has no product available but intends to deploy in the middle of 2008. They are currently taking reservations and have 25,000 takers so far. I have written several articles on this company in my blog and even have a couple of vidoes that I have recorded at Feel free to take a look. I welcome comments. As in any start up business, a chance exists that they may never get off the ground and fulfill any preorders, but if this is the case - the potential client has not lost anything. If you cannot afford the upfront cost of solar today, this may turn out to be a great alternative.