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Sorry, Dominion Power (and Gov. McAuliffe), New Study Finds No New Fossil Fuel Infrastructure Can Be Built After 2017

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Sorry, Dominion Power (and the company’s BFF, Gov. Terry McAuliffe), the fossil-fuel jig is up. Or at least, it needs to be by the end of next year if we want to avoid catastrophic global warming, according to a new study  by researchers from Oxford University’s Institute for New Economic Thinking. Here’s the gist of it.

This paper defines the ‘2°C capital stock’ as the global stock of infrastructure which, if operated to the end of its normal economic life, implies global mean temperature increases of 2°C or more (with 50% probability). Using IPCC carbon budgets and the IPCC’s AR5 scenario database, and assuming future emissions from other sectors are compatible with a 2°C pathway, we calculate that the 2°C capital stock for electricity will be reached by 2017 based on current trends. In other words, even under the very optimistic assumption that other sectors reduce emissions in line with a 2°C target, no new emitting electricity infrastructure can be built after 2017 for this target to be met, unless other electricity infrastructure is retired early or retrofitted with carbon capture technologies. Policymakers and investors should question the economics of new long-lived energy infrastructure involving positive net emissions.

What does this imply for Dominion Power, and for Virginia’s energy plans in general? A few obvious conclusions leap to mind.

First, Dominion Power’s plans through 2020 should be scrapped and completely rethought/revamped. In doing so, several things should be on the chopping block, including “the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline, a $5 billion natural gas pipeline that is being built by a sister company to serve Dominion Virginia Power and other electric and natural gas utilities.” While they’re at it, Dominion should also ditch much of the money they’re planning to spend on existing (let alone new!) fossil fuel infrastructure, and instead pour it into ramping up clean energy (utility-scale solar, offshore wind, energy efficiency, distributed energy resources) as rapidly as possible.

Second, Dominion should move quickly and aggressively to replace existing fossil fuel infrastructure with cleaner alternatives. And no, Dominion’s pathetically small (and slow) start on offshore wind is not acceptable, nor is its absurdly small solar power effort (110 MW? seriously? try multiplying that by about 20-50 times and you’re on the right track, dudes).

Third, Dominion needs to immediately stop funding for climate science denial and anti-clean-energy efforts. I recently wrote about a new reportALEC EXPOSED: Corporate Polluters Undermining Clean Power in Virginia,” which noted that Dominion is a corporate sponsor of ALEC, a group which “helps large polluters in our state work behind the scenes to draft legislation to block action on climate change, pollution and in favor of clean energy….ALEC has been pretty consistent in fighting just about any action on climate change.” As I noted, this should be completely unacceptable on many levels, including the fact that Dominion Power is (at least theoretically) a state-regulated monopoly utility, to which many of us pay power bills every month, yet which spends huge amounts of money to “capture” our government, to block (or at least slow to a crawl) clean energy development in Virginia, etc.

Fourth, it’s time for Virginia’s General Assembly to gets its head out of the hindquarters of the fossil fuel industry which has bought and paid for them. More specifically, it’s long past time for the Virginia General Assembly to completely change the direction of Virginia’s energy policy — off of dirty energy and onto clean power, immediately.

Finally, I’d urge Attorney General Mark Herring, who yesterday joined with Al Gore and other state AGs in announcing efforts to, among other things, cooperate on “investigations into whether fossil fuel companies misled investors and the public on the impact of climate change on their businesses.” That would clearly include Dominion Power, which helps fund a major organization (ALEC) that works to deny climate science and to denigrate the leading solution — clean energy. If (theoretically) state-regulated utility Dominion’s funding of ALEC isn’t illegal under Virginia law, it certainly should be.  Note, however, that Virginia has its own RICO statute on the books, which seems to imply that it might be used as a basis for state-level investigation and/or prosecution of fossil fuel companies based in, or with offices in, Virginia, who engaged in climate science denial. I strongly encourage AG Herring’s office to look into that, and if possible, to pursue it vigorously. The planet they save may be our own.