By David Wojick
February 8, 2021 - Virginia’s 100% renewables mandate has been estimated to cost its people billions of dollars, but a more realistic estimate is trillions.
Dominion Energy, the big Virginia utility, must know this, but they are hiding it so they can build a lot of expensive wind and solar generating facilities. The more money Dominion spends under the mandate, the more it makes for its shareholders. The Legislature has no clue it is being conned.
The law in question is called the Virginia Clean Economy Act or VCEA. (Does Virginia now have a dirty economy?) It mandates 100% non-fossil fueled power statewide by 2045. Given the old age of their nuclear reactors this could well mean 100% renewables.
Here is a simple back of the envelope estimate of what the real cost might be. For simplicity we initially assume 100% wind power, because wind is the renewables workhorse. We will use big round numbers as they are easier to read and remember.
The huge issue that the public is in the dark about is the astronomical cost of batteries to supply power when the wind generators do not. As a benchmark we will look at the 7 day heat waves that Virginia gets every few years. These heat waves are due to massive stagnant high pressure systems called Bermuda highs.
With temperatures around 100 degrees these are periods of peak power usage. But they are also times of low wind, so low that there is no wind power. The standard wind turbine requires wind speeds of around 30 mph for full power and 10 mph for any. During a week long Bermuda high heat wave folks are lucky to get a 5 mph breeze.
So what might it cost for batteries to supply the desperately needed power to get through one of these awful heat waves?
Here comes the math:
A. Virginia consumes about 100,000,000 megawatt hours a year (rounded down from 118,435,380 MWh in 2019).
B. This works out to about 11,500 MWh an hour.
C. A week has 168 hours which gives roughly 2,000,000 MWh of no wind power.
D. The average cost of grid scale batteries is reported to be around $1,500,000 per MWh of storage capacity.
E. The 2 million MWh of storage required will cost a staggering $3,000,000,000,000
That is THREE TRILLION DOLLARS just for the batteries to get through a heat wave.
Nowhere is this stupendous sum mentioned. Neither the People of Virginia, or their Legislators who passed the VCEA, has heard about the horrendous cost of batteries. Dominion Energy’s plan for VCEA compliance does not mention it, but the numbers are so simple that they must know about them.
No doubt Dominion is happy to let this horror slide, while they build tens of billions of dollars worth of unreliable wind and solar power facilities. After all, the more they spend the greater their profits. Keeping Virginia in the dark is a trillion dollar con game.
The profound ignorance of the Legislature is demonstrated by the truly strange power storage requirements in the VCEA, which deems 2,700 megawatts (MW) of storage to be in the public interest.
To begin with, MW is not a measure of storage capacity. It is actually the discharge rate. It is how fast you can poor the juice, not how much is in the container. It is true that grid batteries come with a MW rating, but this is for when they are used to stabilize the erratic output of renewables generators. For stabilization you need a lot of power really fast so every MW counts. For storage it is the MWh that matter.
Stabilization is not storage so this 2,700 MW number tells us nothing about how batteries might supply a low wind heat wave. However, as a rule of thumb the MWh of battery storage capacity is typically from two to four times the MW of discharge capacity.
So the VCEA batteries might provide from 5,400 to 10,800 MWh of power storage. But we need 2,000,000 MWh to weather our heat wave. This makes the VCEA numbers so small as to be nonexistent. Clearly the Virginia Legislature did not know about this enormous storage requirement.
Also, batteries are sometimes listed by MW in order to make them look like generators, which in fact come in MW. This is a deceptive practice. A 100 MW generator running constantly for 7 days produces 16,800 MWh of juice. A 100 MW battery only produces as much as it holds, typically 200 to 400 MWh. Thus making the battery sound like the generator is extremely misleading. Perhaps the Virginia Legislature was misled.
As for the THREE TRILLION DOLLARS cost estimate, that might come down if grid scale batteries get cheaper. After all, electric vehicle batteries have come down in cost quite a bit. This is due to a combination of innovation, standardization and mass production.
But there are also big reasons why this staggering cost might actually be very low. Here are several looming drivers of higher cost:
1. Our estimate is based on average power usage, but these heat waves create peak power usage, which can easily be 30% greater or more. So we might need 30% or so more batteries.
2. There is also the goal of converting all cars and trucks to electric power. Nationally the energy content of all the gasoline and diesel we use is much greater than the electricity we use. Thus switching to electric vehicles might require more than double the present electric power output. So we might need 100% or so more batteries.
3. In the same way there is the goal of switching all house, building and water heating from natural gas and fuel oil to electric power. This too would greatly increase the need for power, and so also for batteries.
Taking all these power increases together we might need three times as much storage, or 6,000,000 MWh. In that case the cost decreases start from NINE TRILLION DOLLARS, not three trillion.
But there is even more, because once in a while these low wind heat waves last a lot longer than a week, perhaps even two weeks or more. They too have to be supplied and this would by itself double the required storage.
Solar power is not considered here but it too has large scale supply problems. To begin with it produces no power most of every day. Add to that a multi-day snowstorm dumping several paralyzing feet of covering snow with frigid temperatures and the storage numbers will again be enormous.
All of this is, as I said, back of the envelope stuff. What is clearly needed is careful modeling and realistic cost estimating. The one VCEA cost estimate I know of is $84 billion. The reality is likely between ten and a hundred times greater, or one to two orders of magnitude. That is between $800 billion and $8 trillion.
Of course these estimated costs are impossibly large, but that is the reality of the Virginia Clean Economy Act. It would destroy the Virginia economy. Clearly VCEA should be repealed.
David Wojick, Ph.D. is an independent analyst working at the intersection of science, technology and policy. For origins see http://www.stemed.info/engineer_tackles_confusion.html For over 100 prior articles for CFACT see http://www.cfact.org/author/david-wojick-ph-d/ Available for confidential research and consulting.