By Collister Johnson, Jr.
Despite a recent vote in the Virginia House of Delegates by the entire Republican delegation in favor of repealing the Virginia Clean Economy Act (VCEA), the Democratic-controlled Senate predictably chose to block that result.
During the hearing on HB 118, the bill sponsored by state Del. Nick Freitas (R-Culpeper) to repeal the VCEA, I testified before the Senate Committee on Commerce and Labor, contending that the VCEA was the “most radical, dangerous, and destructive energy legislation every enacted in the Commonwealth,”
By “dangerous” I meant that under the VCEA Virginia would be relinquishing its energy independence, that is, the ability to control its own energy destiny through the use of dispatchable, reliable natural gas and nuclear power, by replacing it with weather-dependent solar and wind.
Storage Doesn’t Solve Reliability
The VCEA’s proponents claim to solve the intermittency problem through the use of batteries for electricity “storage.”
Batteries have a number of problems, including enormous cost and documented safety concerns. Analysts writing for the Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow (CFACT), for instance in the January 21 article, “VCEA Makes Virginia’s Electricity Grid Dangerously Unreliable,” have demonstrated, batteries are totally inadequate to supply electricity during periods of low generation. Batteries are not generators. They need to be recharged constantly, and under the VCEA, the mechanism for charging them are the very solar and wind generators whose intermittency causes the energy deficiency in the first place.
This loop of self-imposed energy deficiency was illustrated perfectly by the recent electricity fiasco in Texas.
Climate alarmists claim the blackout problem was caused by the failure of natural gas turbines This was partially true. Gas turbines did fail. But their failure was due to the fact that they lacked the electricity necessary to activate the compressors and other machinery required for their start up – electricity that was supposed to be supplied by the very same wind turbines whose initial failure created the problem to begin with.
But wait, say the proponents of the VCEA. If the batteries prove to be inadequate, the shortage can be solved through the importation of electricity from adjoining grid systems. Really? How would that actually work, when the adjoining systems have also been depleted by the same requirement to convert their grids to solar and wind? They have the same problem, at the same time – a severe shortage of dispatchable energy. So, just like batteries, they can’t be relied on to provide reliable energy either.
Overbuilding Supply and Transmission
What this means in practical terms is that solar and wind intermittency and unreliability will require Virginia’s electricity grid to be massively overbuilt.
How much overbuilt?
The Suburban Virginia Republican Coalition commissioned a study by the Center of the American Experiment (CAE) to answer that question. CAE has impressive experience in making such a calculation, having performed similar studies for the States of Minnesota, North Carolina, and West Virginia.
The CAE study found that a VCEA compliant grid would require a monstrous 203,000 Megawatts of solar and wind generation to be constructed, four times greater than would be required if the current system of natural gas and nuclear were simply expanded.
The cost of the VCEA grid would balloon to $203 billion, while a simple expansion would cost only $15.5 billion. The annual cost for a residential utility customer under the VCEA would be $2,235, while simple expansion would cost just $88 per year. Industrial customers would be hit especially hard, seeing their electric bills by an average of $437,000 annually under the VCEA versus $25,000 under an expansion using natural gas and nuclear.
Plan Benefits Utilities
But surely, Virginia’s two electric utilities, Dominion Energy and Appalachian Power, must understand this problem.
Surely they understand that they are walking into a trap of enormous proportions, one which will create dangerous unreliability and loss of energy independence, and accordingly won’t go along with the VCEA plan.
In fact, not only will they go along with the massive solar, wind, and battery build out, they are enthusiastic supporters of the plan. The CAE study explains, the utilities benefit from the VCEA.
“Because investor-owned utilities [Dominion Energy and Appalachian Power] are regulated monopolies…. they are not allowed to make a profit. Instead, they are guaranteed a 9.35 percent rate of return on equity when they spend money on capital assets …,” writes CAE. “The VCEA will require utilities to spend billions of dollars on new infrastructure.
“Additional utility returns under the VCEA would be roughly $109 billion,” said CAE.” Under the [expansion of existing assets] scenario, they would be $11.3 billion.
Put simply, the massive overbuilding of the grid required by the VCEA would increase utility profits by approximately $100 billion, all paid for by captive Virginia ratepayers.
Energy Poverty, Blackouts Looming
So Virginia Democrats have succeeded in launching Virginia on a course grid expansion which will result in a huge increase in utility profits, coupled with a loss of energy independence and a dangerous and self-inflicted state of energy poverty and unreliabilty.
This course directly jeopardizes the promise made by new Gov. Glenn Youngkin, who has stood by his statement that “reliable and affordable access to electricity is imperative to the health and safety of all Virginians … and the unpredictable and rising cost of electricity poses a significant and immediate threat to our Commonwealth and its citizens.”
Collister Johnson, J.D., (Johnson.email@example.com) serves on CFACT’s board of advisors.