Category Archives: Clean Energy

Virginia Is a Solar Straggler


Former Governor McAuliffe touted Virginia’s leadership in solar, speaking of “the great work we’re doing to build the new Virginia economy, one that is less reliant on federal spending and focuses on growth in innovative sectors like the solar industry,” and he and Todd Haymore, Secretary of Commerce and Trade, boasted in March 2017 that “Virginia now ranks in the top twenty in the nation for solar jobs.”

But…

Due in no small part to Dominion’s coolness to solar and emphasis on fossil fuels, Virginia dropped in 2017 to 20th in use of solar – from 17th in 2016. Yes, McAuliffe and Haymore were boasting about a drop in ranking! A February 15, 2018, Blue Virginia article discusses the drop, citing a January 2018 report called Solar in Virginia, produced by Powered by Facts.

“Virginia now has 290.89 megawatts (MW) of solar installed, which represents approximately .037% of its total electricity generated. This is an increase from last year’s total of 192.4 MW, and represents the state moving more than half of the way towards Dominion’s goal of building facilities to generate 400 MW of solar energy by 2020. Despite the increase in MW, Virginia’s national ranking for solar and renewable energy slipped from 17th in 2016 to 20th in 2017. This indicates that other states have embraced this highly competitive industry and are reaping its rewards, while Virginia has lagged behind.”

The report points out part of Virginia’s difficulty: “Our largest utility – Dominion Energy – also falls short. In a recent annual benchmark review of clean energy published by the non-profit Ceres, Dominion consistently ranked last among 30 utility companies in the areas of Annual Energy Efficiency and Lifecycle Energy Efficiency. The latest numbers also show that Dominion Energy was ranked 24th out of 30 in renewable energy sales as a percentage of retail sales, 30 out of 30 in incremental energy efficiency and 29th out of 30 in life cycle energy efficiency, which are the estimated savings of all energy efficiency.”

The Blue Virginia article also discusses Virginia’s 2018 ranking by Solar Power Rocks, “a firm that focuses on helping homeowners and small businesses go solar, analyzes those 51 [states] as to solar attractiveness for those potential customers. “Virginia’s grade? A big fat D. “‘Solar in Virginia: about as bad as you might think!’ The state’s big utility company, Dominion Power, offers an anemic performance payments program, which will help homeowners now but isn’t guaranteed to be there in a few years. All in all, the “D” grade is earned.”

Learn About Dominion

Explore the new Web page from Clean Virginia and learn [some truths] about Dominion: “Dominion Energy is a public utility providing a necessary service to customers throughout the Commonwealth of Virginia, and employs thousands of hardworking Virginians who keep our lights on. But unlike other public utility companies, Dominion’s primary corporate objective is to maximize profit, not the public interest. What this means is that Dominion has consistently made choices directly in favor of its shareholders but directly opposed to the interests of Virginians. As a result, our pocketbook, health, and environment suffers.”

Fossil Fuel Divestment II

In a January 1, 2018, post we discussed the news release from Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office announcing that New York was going to divest its vast pension-fund investments in fossil fuels and an almost simultaneous statement from the comptroller of the city of New York that the city was actively investigating methods for “ceasing additional investments in fossil fuels, divesting current holdings in fossil-fuel companies, and increasing investments in clean energy.” The NY state pension fund totals two hundred billion dollars, making it one of the twenty largest pools of money on Earth, and the city’s pension funds add up to a hundred and ninety billion dollars, also in the top twenty.

On January 11, 2018, The Guardian reported that on January 10 New York City leaders, “at a press conference in a neighborhood damaged over five years ago by Hurricane Sandy, announced that the city was divesting its massive pension fund from fossil fuels, and added for good measure that they were suing the five biggest oil companies for damages. Our planet’s most important city was now at war with its richest industry. And overnight, the battle to save the planet shifted from largely political to largely financial. …. Smart money has been pouring into renewables; dumb money has stuck with fossil fuel, even as it underperformed markets for the last half-decade. Just two months ago Norway’s vast sovereign wealth fund began to divest, which was a pretty good signal: if even an oil industry stalwart thought the game was up, they were probably right.”

In addition to divesting $5 billion in their funds from fossil fuels, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that the city had just filed a lawsuit against major five fossil fuel firms – BP, Exxon Mobil, Chevron, ConocoPhillips and Shell – for their contributions to climate change, saying they “knew about its effects and intentionally misled the public to protect their profits.”

According to a January 10 Guardian article, “Court documents state that New York has suffered from flooding and erosion due to climate change and because of looming future threats it is seeking to ‘shift the costs of protecting the city from climate change impacts back on to the companies that have done nearly all they could to create this existential threat.’ The court filing claims that just 100 fossil fuel producers are responsible for nearly two-thirds of all greenhouse gas emissions since the industrial revolution, with the five targeted companies the largest contributors. The case will also point to evidence that firms such as Exxon knew of the impact of climate change for decades, only to downplay and even deny this in public. New York’s attorney general, Eric Schneiderman, is investigating Exxon over this alleged deception.”

Writing in The Intercept on January 11, 2018, Naomi Klein says, “Now, with New York City’s lawsuit for climate damages, the market is confronting the prospect of a cascade of similar legal actions — cities, towns, and countries all suing the industry for billions or even (combined) trillions of dollars in damages caused by sea-level rise and extreme weather events. The more suits that get filed, the more the market will have to factor in the possibility of fossil fuel companies having to pay out huge settlements in the near to medium term, much as the tobacco companies were forced to in past decades. As that threat becomes more credible, with more players taking New York City’s lead, the investor case for dumping these stocks as overly high risk will be strengthened, thereby lending a potent new tool to the fossil fuel divestment movement. A virtuous cycle. Oh, and the more we are able to hit the industry in the pocketbook, the less likely costly new drilling and pipeline projects will be to go ahead….”

Energy Efficiency: Compare and Contrast

Virginia is dominated by Dominion, but:

These reports are cited in a December 29, 2017, article in Blue Virginia, which discusses how Virginia utilities are significantly underperforming in achieving energy efficiency, ways in which advances in energy efficiency will bring great benefits to Virginia, and suggestions for policies Virginia could implement to achieve the significant advances other states have made.

Meanwhile, in contrast to Dominion’s and Virginia’s dismal record, Germany’s investment in renewables is paying off. Imagine US customers being PAID to use more electricity!

On December 25, 2017, the New York Times reported that Power Prices Go Negative in Germany, a Positive for Energy Users. “German has spent $200 billion over the past two decades to promote cleaner sources of electricity. That enormous investment is now having an unexpected impact – consumers are now actually paid to use power on occasion, as was the case over the [Christmas] weekend.”

The same story was covered in the Independent in Great Britain: Germany energy consumers paid to use power over Christmas as supply outstrips demand. “Demand for energy has particularly been outstripped by supply on weekends this year, when factories across the country tend to power down and many offices are closed. German energy consumers were paid to use power over the Christmas period, thanks to a slump in demand, warm weather and plenty of wind power on the grid, trading data shows.”

Fossil Fuel Divestment

In a December 21, 2017, article, The New Yorker reported that The Movement to Divest from Fossil Fuels Gains Momentum. “Tuesday should have been a day of unmitigated joy for America’s oil and gas executives. The new G.O.P. tax bill treats their companies with great tenderness, reducing even further their federal tax burden. And the bill gave them something else they’ve sought for decades: permission to go a-drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. But, around four in the afternoon, something utterly unexpected began to happen. A news release went out from Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office, saying that New York was going to divest its vast pension-fund investments in fossil fuels. The state, Cuomo said, would be ‘ceasing all new investments in entities with significant fossil-fuel-related activities,’ and he would set up a committee with Thomas DiNapoli, the state comptroller, to figure out how to ‘decarbonize’ the existing portfolio. Cuomo’s office even provided a handy little Twitter meme of the type that activists often create: it showed three smoke-belching stacks and the legend ‘New York Is Divesting from Fossil Fuels.’ The pension fund under Albany’s control totals two hundred billion dollars, making it one of the twenty largest pools of money on Earth. Not to be outdone, half an hour later the comptroller of the city of New York, Scott Stringer, sent out a similar statement: he, too, was now actively investigating methods for ‘ceasing additional investments in fossil fuels, divesting current holdings in fossil-fuel companies, and increasing investments in clean energy.’ Stringer’s pension funds add up to a hundred and ninety billion dollars—that’s in the top twenty, too.”

This follows the December 12, 2017, announcement in The Guardian, World Bank to end financial support for oil and gas extraction. “The World Bank will end its financial support for oil and gas extraction within the next two years in response to the growing threat posed by climate change. In a statement that delighted campaigners opposed to fossil fuels, the Bank used a conference in Paris to announce that it ‘will no longer finance upstream oil and gas’ after 2019. The Bank ceased lending for coal-fired power stations in 2010 but has been under pressure from lobby groups also to halt the $1bn (£750m) a year it has been lending for oil and gas in developing countries. The Bank said it saw the need to change the way it was operating in a ‘rapidly changing world,’ adding that it was on course to have 28% of its lending going to climate action by 2020. At present, 1-2% of the Bank’s $280bn portfolio is accounted for by oil and gas projects.”