How Virginia Is Deluding Itself About Net-Zero Energy
A few days ago I had a post about how tightening “green” energy regulations in Europe are gradually strangling sectors like the automobile and chemical industries.
The post was titled “Europe Is Firmly Committed To Economic Suicide.”
Here in the U.S., we have a large coterie of “blue” states that are hungering to follow the EU economic model — California, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and others. A latecomer to this party is Virginia.
In Virginia, you may be aware that in 2018, for the first time in a generation, the Democrats took control of both houses of the legislature.
They wasted no time in passing a big chunk of the progressive agenda en masse, in the form of over a thousand bills that had been blocked by their adversaries for decades.
The new laws cover everything from abortion to guns to the minimum wage to tax increases, and plenty more. Of course, at the top of the agenda, as it always seems to be, was “climate change.”
To slay this particular dragon, Virginia now has the newly-enacted Virginia Clean Economy Act or VCEA.
Here is a link to a legislative summary of the VCEA; and here is a link to the full text. The full text is almost impossible to follow because it comes in the form of interlineations to the previous public utility regulatory statute.
But the basic idea is that 58% of Virginia’s electricity must come from fossil-fuel-free sources by 2030, and 100% by 2050.
These standards are made mandatory upon the two major electric utilities that cover the state. This will all be accomplished by various tweaks to rate regulations and other economic incentives.
And thus will Virginians do their part over the course of the next three decades to save the planet.
A friend in Charlottesville sends me a link to a May 26 article from their local rag, Charlottesville Tomorrow, with the headline “Virginia Clean Economy Act may help get state’s economy back on track post-COVID-19.”
He asks for my comment. You will already have guessed from the headline that the author of the piece (Leah Small) thinks that the VCEA is an unalloyed positive.
First, according to Ms. Small, it is obvious that electricity from wind and solar has now become cheaper than electricity from fossil fuels (the VCEA is “[m]eant to support market forces that have . . . driven down the cost of renewables to rates lower than fossil fuels. . . .”).
And on top of that, the conversion to “green” energy provides a tremendous economic development opportunity:
Annually, the VCEA could create at least 13,000 clean energy jobs supporting efficiency upgrades, installations, and manufacturing, a recent study shows. Major utility-owned projects – such as the 2.6-megawatt Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind Project by Dominion Energy, scheduled to be completed by 2026, would go toward meeting VCEA mandates for energy generated from renewable sources.
In short, Leah is the typical completely innumerate journalist who has been 100% taken in by a scam, flying under the banner of “fighting climate change,” the real point of which is to jack up electricity rates in Virginia and then transfer billions of ratepayer dollars into the hands of crony capitalist wind and solar energy developers, all to no effect whatsoever on the climate.
To get just a starting sense of how innumerate Ms. Small is, notice her calling that 2.6-megawatt Dominion Energy Offshore Wind Project a “major utility-owned project.”
Actually, it is an insignificantly tiny pilot project consisting of a big two wind turbines. Maybe if it works out there will be more to come.
But let’s get to the heart of the matter:
- The business that wind and solar are now cheaper than fossil fuels is a complete hoax, as I have written about many times. From my post of March 8, 2019: “[T]he claim that wind and solar are the cheapest sources of power is just based on the simple deception of leaving out the incremental costs — including costs of backup and/or storage — imposed by their random intermittency.” An electric grid needs to work with near 100% reliability 24/7, or else it is worthless. This post from November 18, 2018, drawing on the work of Roger Andrews, demonstrates how the cost of backup and/or storage will drive up the cost-to-consumers of electricity by a factor of some 15 to 20 as you try to approach 100% electricity generation from wind and solar. That is not a small increment.
- At lower percentages of electricity from wind and solar, the cost-to-consumers of electricity gradually creeps up. The basic problem is that no matter how much wind and solar generation you add, you can’t get rid of any of your fossil fuel plants because they are needed for times (such as calm nights) when the wind and sun combined produce nothing. Therefore as you buy more wind and solar, you are paying the full capital costs for one-and-a-half, and then one-and-three-quarters, and then two completely redundant systems. In Virginia, without redundant systems, they currently pay an average of 11.4 cents per kWh for electricity. Compare that to states where wind and solar generation has become significant. For example, in California, where wind and solar are pushing 40% of electricity generation but they still have full fossil fuel backup, the average cost-to-consumer is 18.34 cents. In Germany, where they have actually gotten the percentage of electricity from wind and solar above 40% for significant periods of time, they pay about 30 cents per kWh — almost triple the current price in Virginia. You can’t get beyond the 40s without phasing out the back-up fossil fuel plants and going for storage, like batteries. That’s when you will get electricity prices 5 and 10 and even 20 times our current averages. No jurisdiction has gone there yet, and frankly, I don’t believe that any jurisdiction ever will. Virginia’s “100% renewable by 2050” thing is a total fantasy. The current pols are just expecting that by the time we get to 2050, no one will even remember who they were.
- But how about the VCEA’s mandate of 58% of electricity from non-fossil-fuel sources by 2030? Won’t that drive electricity prices up by three or five times or more? Probably not by that much. If you are wondering how they came up with that magic number of 58%, it appears to have been strategically selected. The missing fact is that currently, Virginia gets more than 30% of its electricity from four large nuclear reactors (in 2017 the figure was more than 40%); and, as far as I can see, nothing in the VCEA appears to do anything to get rid of those. (There are provisions in the VCEA to discourage construction of any additional nukes.). Nuclear plants generate no carbon emissions. Assuming an average of 35% of Virginia’s electricity from the nukes, that means that to get to the 58% “non-fossil-fuel” goal by 2030, only about 35% of the remainder will need to come from wind and solar. This figure is comparable to California, and therefore can probably be achieved by increasing consumer electricity costs to the same extent that California has done, by something in the range of 50 – 100%, most to all of which will however go into the pockets of the wind and solar developers.
- Assume that Virginia actually builds these wind and solar facilities to generate some 35% of its electricity by 2030. How much can we expect its CO2 emissions to go down? There are two major problems: (1) electricity is only about 30% of energy usage, and you still aren’t attacking other big things like automobiles, airplanes, home heating, and industry; and (2) even in the electricity sector, your emissions reductions are going to be limited so long as you keep around the 100% fossil fuel backup for the wind and solar. In Germany, during the time of the “Energiewende,” like wind and solar have gone to over 40% of electricity generation, greenhouse gas emissions have declined only from 908 million tons CO2 equivalent in 2009 to 805 million tons CO2 equivalent in 2019 — about an 11% decline, despite electricity prices having climbed to close to triple the U.S. average.
- And then there is the potential effect, or lack thereof, on the climate. The U.S. in total generates some 14% of world CO2 emissions, about 4.8 Gigatons per year; and Virginia, with 8.5 million people, is about 2.5% of the U.S. by population. That would make Virginia about 0.35% of world CO2 emissions, or about 120 megatons per year of CO2. If you could somehow achieve the 11% reduction that Germany has achieved, that would make Virginia’s emissions about 108 megatons per year. Over in China, per figures from the Rhodium Group reported at Reuters, they are emitting annually just under 14 billion tons CO2 equivalent, which is going up at a rate of 3% per year. That would be some 420 additional megatons from China each year, totally swamping any reductions of say 10 or 12 megatons that Virginia may hope to achieve, even by doubling or tripling its consumers’ costs of electricity.
And finally, I come to Ms. Small’s contention that all of this constitutes a tremendous “economic development” opportunity for Virginia.
If the people of Virginia are forced to pay 50% or 100% more for the exact same electricity, I would have said that they are poorer by that amount. This is the opposite of economic development.
Read rest at Manhattan Contrarian
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