McAuliffe Establishes Clean Energy Working Group


by James A. Bacon

Governor Terry McAuliffe has set up a work group to recommend concrete steps to reduce “carbon pollution” from Virginia’s electric power plants. Utilities cut carbon emissions 21% between 2005 and 2014, and the group will focus on how to continue the trajectory “in a way that makes clean energy a meaningful part of Virginia’s energy portfolio.”

“Many of the largest employers on the globe have made it clear that the availability of clean energy is a key part of their decision-making process when it comes to new jobs and investments,” said McAuliffe in a press release, in an apparent reference to Amazon Web Services and other companies who are working to develop clean energy sources for their Northern Virginia data centers. “To continue attracting competitive and innovative businesses, we need to invest in a 21st century energy policy to ensure our grid is reliable, affordable, and clean.”

The electric sector is responsible for 30% of man-made carbon dioxide emissions in the Commonwealth, stated the press release. “The electric sector is changing rapidly through increasing reliance on low and zero carbon resources. As such, it is vital that the Commonwealth could continue to facilitate and engage in a dialogue on carbon reduction methods while simultaneously creating a pathway for clean energy initiatives that will grow jobs and help diversify Virginia’s economy.”

While the work group is tasked with reducing carbon emissions, it shall “consider” the impact of such initiatives on electric reliability, electric rates, affordability for low-income communities, and economic development, among other factors. The group also shall reflect a diverse range of perspectives from scientists, energy experts, business leaders and environmental advocates.

McAuliffe has already convened a work group to update the Kaine administration’s report on climate change, and a group to advise the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) on how Virginia should implement the federal Clean Power Plan. Other actions have set up a Solar Energy Development Authority, directed state agencies to implement energy efficient practices, and set procurement standards to get 8% of their electricity from renewable sources within three years.

Bacon’s bottom line: It’s not clear to me what this group will accomplish that the others have not. But I guess it never hurts to take another bite of the apple.

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7 responses to “McAuliffe Establishes Clean Energy Working Group

  1. If the Governor is going to have a group like this, why didn’t he ask them to address all greenhouse gases? Methane needs attention or all that’s done for carbon will be undone by methane

  2. Maybe the Commission could get Virginia past the old idea that natural gas is THE transition fuel. The 50% less CO2 emitted by gas over coal is negated by methane emissions released at the wellhead and in transportation. Methane, as a Green House Gas, is 100 times more potent than CO2 while it is in the atmosphere. The old frequently quoted comparison is wrong because it is based on a hundred year time frame, skewing the numbers for methane, which only remains in the atmosphere for 10-15 years.

    Second, many have complained that methane emissions have been underestimated.
    Recently a complaint was filed against the accuracy of the measuring devices, claiming there was a deliberate misrepresentation of emission data because the inaccuracy of the devise was well known. In truth, methane has been both under reported and inaccurately measured. New methane rules are being developed that should give us a better picture of the emission levels. Going forward we will still need to use some measure of natural gas, but natural gas is no longer labeled a ‘transition’ fuel.

    And .. Maybe the new Commission could finish writing and get adopted those new energy rules the legislators left on the table in the last session. Without new rules Virginia will remain one of the “10 worst” … states whose excellent solar potential is blocked from being developed by old monopoly rules and yesterday’s energy proposals like the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

    AND … finally … Maybe the Commission will ask “What will ‘going forward’ require if not gas?” In May, the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) released “Phase II” of its reliability assessment of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan (CPP). NERC’s projection for additional renewable generation is now over 100-120GWs. The previously projected new renewable generation was 35-56GWs.

    The new NERC report also gives a central place in the new energy mix to energy efficient buildings. Using less, or increasing our energy intensity, will reduce demand significantly and not create the economic disaster previously warned about. Virginia has done very little of this, but Minnesota has found their efficiency program returned $4 for every $1 invested. The Minnesota Commerce Department reports that a successful energy efficiency program has helped create almost $6 billion in new economic output. Virginia should not dismiss the potential of efficient buildings to create economic expansion.

    The future isn’t just about changing a generating resource. The future is about developing a whole new structure in which you and I and our local mall will all make our own electricity on-site, feed some of what we make to storage and some into the network, drawing some from the network when we need it. That future is made up of lots of generators and generator owners, not just a central utility generator/distributor. Elon Musk of Tesla plans to buy SolarCity because he believes on-site generation with storage will account for 1/3 of our total future electricity generation.

    Maybe the Commission will get Virginia turned toward the future and see that our state is not left behind.

  3. I would like to see a genuine effort at revising our energy future (REV NY). The comments above point to many important issues. Some experts have raised the point that we would make far less CO2 if we ran the coal plants a few years longer then replaced them with non-carbon sources of generation; rather than replacing them with natural gas generation which will run for the next 40 years and emit far more CO2 because of their higher capacity factors (not even considering the effects of methane leaks).

    The issue is to completely shift our mindset about energy and how and where it is produced. A group of the same old cronies reshuffling the deck chairs of the same old issues will not get us there.

    It is essential for the long-term health of our utilities too. The obstructionist policies of both Duke and Dominion in shutting out third-party participation in our energy system will harm state economies and the utilities in the long run. The longer the old way is extended, the greater the pain of correction when they can no longer ignore the changing scene.

    Many states are now adopting double digit energy efficiency targets and renewable use use in the 40-50% range in the next 25 years. Virginia will not be seen as an innovative center for business if our energy structure does not keep up with other regions. We have a golden opportunity now if we move in the right direction with the collaboration of all the stakeholders.

  4. The keys to a successful task force are to nominate both knowledgeable experts, representatives from all key stakeholder groups and some “real” people who can protect the public interest. And “no,” I don’t see Dominion. academics or environmental groups fulfilling that function. There must also be sufficient numbers of task force members with differing views so that the task force’s findings have some credibility. And with appropriate representation, the members will soon realize that the task force must address the concerns of all stakeholders or nothing will get done.

    Meetings should be open to the public, absent authorization by state law. All documents, agendas and meeting minutes need to be posted to the Internet as soon as practicable. Communications by “third parties” with the task force, staff or individual members acting in their capacity as a task force member must be reduced to writing and posted on the Internet.

    And, of course, the work of the task force must be consistent with state law, including appropriations bills.

    If done right and fairly, this task force could produce good results and recommendations that will have broad credibility.

  5. I’d be curious to know if the mainstream environmental community is turning away from natural gas.

    I’ve seen reports that they’re headed back to nukes but this is the first I’ve heard about advocating keeping the coal plants.

    Don’t tell me we’re going to find common ground between the enviro-weenies and the skeptic deniers on coal!! good gawd!

  6. if coal is now considered to generate less lifecycle greenhouse emissions than natural gas – it makes one wonder why the folks who are opposed to CPP have not made that case…. right now….

    or is this whole issue changing…???

    • Perhaps I was not clear in my comment.

      If you compare the CO2 emissions from running a coal plant in an intermediate load capacity for the next 3-5 years, then replacing it with solar after the prices have dropped another 30-50% vs replacing the coal plant now with a natural gas plant that might produce 46% less CO2 per MWh but runs twice as much (80% capacity factor vs 40% for the coal plant) – You will produce the same amount of CO2 with the natural gas plant for the next 5 years as with the coal plant (although more electricity). But for the next 35 years, the CO2 from the natural gas plant will be far greater than the other alternative.

      Some feel the CPP is not so much about climate change as it is a bailout for Wall Street. Billions moved from the housing market into shale oil and gas development in 2007-2008. More than 70 oil and gas developers have gone bankrupt so far this year with more to come. Many high roller investors are losing lots of money in this market right now. A major move to natural gas (and oil peakers) is protecting against those losses. Investing billions in pipelines and power plants gives a better yield and less risk than many other investments right now.

      If the CPP was really about climate change and a modern energy system, we would see a much greater emphasis on energy efficiency and redesigning our energy system to get the most value out of renewables.

      Right now we are extending the same old central station approach, just with a different fuel. The money and the power is highly concentrated in the energy arena. Making a more open grid, that is resilient and accessible to more players, with lower costs and fewer emissions is not something that is of interest to the prevailing power brokers.

      There is far more to climate change than just CO2. Some of it is still well beyond our understanding. But it serves as another divisive issue that sets against one another and keeps us distracted from the real issues.

      There is a lot of discussion about nukes because of no CO2 (at least during operation). But the costs are many times higher than other options. They will not be the answer.

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