By Matt Lamb
May 11, 2023 - While President Joe Biden’s administration continues its push to transition the country away from coal, oil, and gas, a Virginia utility company shows that the president is chasing windmills when it comes to his green energy dreams.
Dominion Energy’s 2023 planning document provided to Virginia and North Carolina officials shows that the company is not going all in on solar and wind quite yet — in fact, it plans to increase its nuclear and natural gas capability for the long term. The document covers the company’s plans for the next 15 to 25 years.
“To maintain a readily available, reliable fuel source for this critical station and potentially others, the Company is proposing to add storage capabilities for [liquified natural gas],” the company wrote in its planning document. “This stored LNG will provide a reliable backup fuel supply to keep gas flowing in the event of a natural disaster, extreme weather, or other fuel supply disruptions or constraints.”
The company also wants to increase its use of nuclear power through small modular reactors. “As a carbon-free complement to renewable energy generation, nuclear generation provides a reliable and clean source of energy,” the document reads. “Nuclear power thus remains a fundamental component of the clean energy transition to net zero emissions and a necessary resource to maintain reliability and affordability.”
One reason is that while Dominion may be interested in solar power, it is not a reliable source of energy. “Based on current technology, challenges will arise as increasing amounts of these non-dispatchable, intermittent resources are added to the system,” the company warns.
“Solar generation experiences ‘non-normal’ weather conditions throughout the year when output is significantly less than expected seasonal averages,” which is a problem because “increased customer demand from data centers has a significantly different seasonal and time-of-day profile than planned solar generation.”
Heavy snowfall can also put solar power out of business for a few days, and clouds can harm its generation capability. In contrast, natural gas pipelines are not affected by the rain and snow.
Solar power also suffers from land use problems. It “requires significantly more land … than any other technology,” and its need for a “flat terrain” creates competition for agricultural land, according to Dominion. The energy company also notes “Virginia communities have actively opposed large scale solar developments.”
The warnings from Dominion should be heard not just in Richmond, Virginia, but in Washington as well. The company’s document describes the problems with compliance with the Virginia Clean Economy Act, a 2020 law “which requires [Dominion] to generate 100% of its electricity from carbon-free sources by the end of 2045,” according to the Associated Press .
Dominion’s stated struggles with reaching those goals in 22 years do not look good for Biden’s target date of 2035 to have a “carbon pollution-free power sector.”
At the moment, Dominion’s energy infrastructure only has the capacity to create 25% of the grid’s needs from carbon-free sources, and 16% of that comes from nuclear.
Unlike Biden, Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R-VA) is not in the dark about the state’s energy infrastructure.
“Virginia’s economy is growing, and the accelerated electricity demands of Virginia’s industrial users demonstrate the need for a more realistic and judicious approach to power planning,” Youngkin said in a statement about Dominion’s plans. His office noted that the state’s transmission operator “recently sounded the alarm on increasing reliability risks resulting from the premature retirement of generation facilities across the nation.”
Youngkin and Dominion see the light, but if everyone is forced to switch to solar and wind, no one will be able to turn on anything.