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BREAKING: Just 48 Hours After Gov. Northam’s Executive Order on 100% Carbon-Free Power, Dominion Proposes “Largest Offshore Wind Development in the Country”

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Not at all coincidentally, just two days after Ralph Northam’s announcement of his executive order setting a 100% carbon-free state goal by 2050, Dominion Energy is out with a big announcement (bolding added by me for emphasis):

Dominion Energy is proposing the largest offshore wind development in the country to provide more renewable energy to its customers in the Commonwealth and provide a boost to the offshore wind industry on the East Coast.

The company filed an application with PJM, the regional transmission organization that coordinates the electrical grid in all or parts of 13 states and the District of Columbia, to interconnect the proposed turbines to the transmission grid.

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Dominion Energy is aggressively pursuing a clean energy future anchored by a 55 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2030. To accomplish this goal, the company is investing in solar and wind energy partnered with zero-carbon nuclear and low-carbon natural gas. The company also has planned investments in battery storage, pumped hydroelectric storage and other resources that can support the intermittent nature of solar and wind.

If approved, the project would be located in the 112,800 acres Dominion Energy currently is leasing from the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management 27 miles off the coast of Virginia Beach. Following the key filing with PJM, ocean survey work is expected to begin in 2020 and a Construction and Operations Plan will be submitted in 2022.

Building on an expected successful deployment of the Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind (CVOW) project in 2020, Dominion Energy plans to move forward with its commercial offshore wind project in three phases, each totaling 880 megawatts. The first phase of the buildout will support initial generation of wind energy by 2024. Additional phases will come online in 2025 and 2026, totaling more than 2,600 megawatts of energy, enough to power 650,000 homes during peak wind.

Here are a few quick reactions.

First off, Dominion might be scrambling a bit to keep up with Northam’s executive order, but I strongly doubt that Dominion’s announcement today was some sort of knee-jerk reaction or that a powerful, well-connected company like Dominion was blindsided in any way. Instead, my guess is that what Dominion announced this morning – which is huge, complex, and clearly has gone through a great deal of internal planning – was in the works for years.

Second, why did this announcement come just two days after Northam’s executive order on 100% non-carbon energy? It seems obvious to me that Northam and Dominion were (and are) coordinated on all this, at least in terms of timing. Note, for instance, that Northam called for “up to 2,500 megawatts of offshore wind are fully developed on an accelerated timeline by 2026,” while Dominion conveniently announced “more than 2,600 megawatts” in 2024-2026. So, if you just look at this quickly, you might think that Dominion responded to Northam by doing exactly what he called for…and going even a little bit further. But again, it seems clear that the timing of these two announcements, within 48 hours of each other, was choreographed, orchestrated, coordinated, whatever word you want to use.

Third, note how Dominion slipped in a reference to “low-carbon natural gas?” That’s significant, as clearly there’s a huge and basically irreconcilable conflict between locking in massive new fracked-gas capacity, with all its carbon and – even worse – methane emissions, and moving towards a clean energy future. As I’ve said many times, if Dominion, Northam, etc. are serious about this goal, then they need to cancel the Atlantic Coast Pipeline immediately, along with the just-as-absurd Mountain Valley Pipeline. And while we’re at it, how about Dominion clearly and unequivocally acknowledge the man-made climate crisis and cease any/all support for climate denialism and/or “skepticism?”

Fourth, as I noted in the context of Northam’s executive order, we badly need serious clean energy legislation from the Virginia General Assembly, including an ambitious, aggressive and MANDATORY Renewable Portfolio Standard for Virginia. It would also be smart to put a price on carbon, one way or the other, and to institute elements of a “Green New Deal” so that the transition from fossil fuels to clean energy is done in an equitable, sustainable, and holistic fashion.

Finally, to leave this on a bit of a positive note, it’s very encouraging to see Dominion *finally* moving to tap into the enormous offshore wind power resources here in Virginia. As Adam Siegel asked back in June, “Will Virginia Learn from France? (Offshore Wind Edition.”

Recent news from France should make clear how much things have changed…in favor of offshore wind power’s economics.  Just announced is a 600-megawatt project that will deliver electrons at Euro 44 per megawatt hour … or under $US50 per MWh (under 5 cents per kilowatt hour). This is truly impressive: clean, inexhaustible offshore wind power at a lower cost than any fossil fuel (or nuclear power) option for new electric generation capacity. The French government has responded to this low pricing by doing an assessment of their future plans. That assessment that has led to rapid change: upping the planned installments of offshore wind to 1GW per year (around 80 times more, each year, than Dominion’s tiny 12-megawatt demonstration project).

So yes, at this point – given the massive advances in offshore wind technology and cost – it’s strongly in Dominion’s own economic self interest to pursue offshore wind power development. If it turns out to be a “win-win-win” for Dominion, for Virginia and for the environment, that’s great. And yes, it took a long time, but hopefully better late than never…

P.S. Here’s some reaction from Adam Siegel, which I strongly agree with.

1. “At its core, Dominion is about making profits for its shareholders — by whatever legal means it can. Their strategic planning and analytical capacities are serious, with attention to ‘green-eye shade’ details.  This announcement is a clear statement that their analysis shows that offshore wind energy will provide affordable and reliable electrical services to power Virginia’s economy while boosting Dominion’s profitability and shareholder value.”

2.  “Dominion has, for far too long, an outsized influence on and power within ‘The Virginia Way’.  Moves over the past year, from battery demonstration projects, the recently announced Electric School Buses (ESBs) program and now this Offshore Wind project suggest that Dominion, which has long been a serious obstacle to clean-energy progress (including funding of climate denial outlets and politicians), may have woken to the reality that ‘doing the right thing’ in terms of moving toward a sustainable energy system is good for their bottom line.”
3.  “Across the clean energy space, with increased deployments, we have been seeing stunning and continuing price declines.  Solar, batteries, LED lights, onshore and now offshore wind are all arenas where the price declines have been stunning and often more rapid than even the strongest proponents expected. In region after region, around the world, renewables are now the most cost effective way to provide new electrons (and often less expensive than continuing to operate existing power plants). Dominion owns significant fossil fuel assets and has been working hard to lock them into Virginia’s ratepayer base for decades to come.  This announcement shows that Dominion’s leadership has recognized the significant opportunities created by plunging renewable energy prices and has determined that this offshore wind will be more profitable, while providing lower cost power for Virginians, than fighting for more fossil fuel projects that will, inevitably, become stranded assets in the years ahead.”
4.  “This announcement suggests a coordination between Governor Northam and Dominion Power in terms of planning and announcements. This one Dominion announcement fully achieves Governor Northam’s announced clean-energy targets when it comes to offshore wind.  While applauding both the Governor’s announcement, even as the targets should be more aggressive, and Dominion’s decision to step out with a serious offshore wind project, this is yet another sign of Dominion’s outsized place in ‘The Virginia Way’ of influence politics and relationships.”