by Glen Besa
It’s May 1st, not April 1st, but Dominion Power still is attempting to play us for fools with its publicity blitz around the release of its 2017 Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) today. The IRP is the annual recalibration by Dominion of its long range plan to meet our energy needs. It doesn’t really change much from year to year, but this year Dominion seemed obliged to try to fool the media, the public and, most importantly, Virginia politicians with its claim that “carbon emissions to meet energy needs of a typical residential customer would fall by up to 46% between 2007 and 2027.”
Clearly, Dominion is actually increasing its carbon emissions again; otherwise, it would not have resorted to so tortured and misleading a claim as quoted above.
Typical of Dominion, it failed to give us its actual carbon emissions. Instead it wants us to rely on its spin of the facts when it didn’t even give us the facts.
And the only way to get the actual carbon pollution projections out of Dominion is to go to the expense of intervening in a case before the State Corporation Commission (SCC) and filing a discovery motion. That means we’ll see the real increase that Dominion is proposing some time this summer — long after it has convinced many Virginians, especially our elected officials, that it is actually doing something about climate change.
We may not have Dominion’s 2017 numbers, but we do have its 2016 carbon pollution emissions from the last year’s case before the SCC . Since these numbers don’t change much, let’s take a look what is likely going on behind Dominion’s bold “greenwashing” claim.
The facts (based on data provide by Dominion under oath in 2016):
- 2012 carbon pollution emissions: 26,734,645 tons
- 2041 projected carbon pollution: 49,002,930 tons (under Dominion’s preferred Plan B)
Do the math and that is a whopping 83% increase in carbon pollution, when the scientific consensus is that we need an 80% reduction by 2050. That massive increase reflects the simple fact that natural gas is a fossil fuel and when you burn it you get carbon pollution. Dominion will tell you that 2012 is not representative of their actual carbon emissions. In this year’s IRP, it uses 2007 as the base year, but 2007 emissions were 38,115,424 tons, still an overall increase of over 28% if the 2041 emissions number remains 49 million tons.
My guess is that the 49 million tons figure will not be seen when we finally pry the calculations from Dominion’s clutches later this summer. But it will not be because Dominion has turned over a new “green” leaf.
As our electric utility, Dominion Virginia Power is a wholly owned subsidiary of Dominion Energy, one the nation’s largest gas companies. Consequently, it is not likely that Dominion is abandoning its plans for more new natural gas power plants or the pipeline it wants to build to supply that gas.
Here’s what is probably going on. During last year’s SCC case on Dominion’s IRP, it was clear that Dominion was defensive about this 83% increase in carbon pollution, a number based on data provided by the company. As a result, a Dominion analyst argued that the lower base year number did not reflect emissions associated with power that Dominion imported into the state that year. He then testified that his “back of the envelop” calculations, taking into account this imported power, resulted in only about a 4% increase in carbon by 2041.
While there are good reasons for rejecting Dominion’s imported power argument, the real point is that Dominion is still projecting an increase in carbon pollution, when it really needs to be dramatically reducing carbon. To get around that inconvenient truth, Dominion has apparently decided to take into account its growing customer base, dividing a larger numerator (carbon pollution) by an even larger denominator (more customers) and, lo and behold, it can announce to the world a per capita reduction in carbon pollution when it is actually increasing its carbon pollution.
We’ll have to wait until we pry the actual numbers from Dominion to know for sure what is going on, but one hint that I am right is its meager projected increase in solar. Dominion is projecting 3,200 megawatts (MW) of solar power by 2032, which may sound like a lot if you have no reference point. One daily newspaper has already proclaimed “Dominion proposes huge expansion of solar plants” as its headline. But 3,200 MW of solar translates to only 213 MW per year, when NC installed over 900 MW last year alone. Making this 3,200 MW of solar over the next 15 years claim all the more miniscule is the fact that in just the last two years, Dominion installed 3,200 MW of new gas-fired generation.
Unfortunately, the large corporate campaign contributions to both Democrats and Republicans seem to convince most Virginia politicians to conflate Dominion’s press releases with the truth. To appropriate an old truism about statistics, my take on Dominion’s claims around its 2017 IRP is that there are liars, damn liars — and then there is Dominion Power.