Under a new plan proposed by Dominion Virginia Power, the carbon footprint for a typical Dominion customer could shrink by as much as 25% over the next eight years, according to the energy company.
The main drivers of this improvement are a significant drop in the subsidized cost of utility-scale solar power, the ability to support the variable output of solar and wind with natural gas, and Virginia’s two nuclear power stations, says Dominion.
“For the first time, the subsidized costs of utility-scale universal solar power are expected to be low enough to make it a component of future generation additions at reasonable cost to our customers,” states Paul Koonce, CEO of Dominion Generation Group.
The company has filed its annual Integrated Resource Plan (IRP), a long-term energy forecast required by state law. The IRP is a planning document based on current information and projections regarding energy markets, regulatory requirements and other major factors. The document examines options to meet the electricity needs of customers over a 15-year planning period and considers a longer, 25-year study period. The document was filed simultaneously with the North Carolina Utilities Commission. In light of current uncertainty around the future of federal and state regulatory policies, the study models different regulatory scenarios, the company notes.
Major elements of the 15-year planning period of 2018-2032 include as follows:
- Developing the 12 MW Virginia Offshore Wind Technology Advancement Project, which will test two wind turbines off the coast of Virginia Beach as early as 2021;
- Implementing demand-side management programs that are forecast to reduce the annual energy consumption of Dominion Virginia Power customers by over 1,200 GWh by 2032;
- By 2022, adding at least 990 MW of solar capacity owned by third-party generators in northeastern North Carolina and Virginia under long-term contracts;
- Adding at least 3.2 GW of new solar capacity by 2032 and at least 5.2 GW by 2042;
- Bringing Greensville County Power Station into service by 2019 – what Dominion calls one of the largest and most environmentally friendly power stations of its kind. It will be governed by stringent air permit limiting CO2 emissions according to Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality;
- Adding approximately 1,374 megawatts of new natural gas-powered combustion turbine units by 2032; and
- Re-licensing the four nuclear units that have provided Virginia carbon-free energy since the 1970s.
As it has in recent years, Dominion’s 2017 plan also includes potential alternatives based on different assumptions about future carbon regulations and other factors. This year’s report outlines eight alternatives.
At least 5.2 GW of new solar generation could be added under each alternative during the 25-year study period. The company says solar eventually could generate electricity at maximum output to serve more than 1.3 million homes when there is sufficient sunlight.
Along with the company’s North Anna and Surry nuclear facilities, over one-third of Dominion’s Virginia service territory could be powered with carbon-free electricity by 2032. Most of the rest of the demand would be served by low-emitting natural gas, says Dominion.
“Widespread solar use – both utility-scale universal solar and private systems – will require a modern energy grid, upgraded from the one-directional grid system that has worked so well to deliver power to generations of customers,” says Robert M. Blue, president and CEO of Dominion Virginia Power. “When the variable nature of solar becomes a major factor on the grid, it must become a flexible, two-way network so we can deliver energy seamlessly to everyone. Having a robust energy grid is absolutely vital and will become even more important in the future.”
Moreover, grid modernization will ultimately be able to provide customers with more information on their energy consumption and new opportunities to manage their usage, the company says.
Dominion also anticipates future national and state energy policy to include limitations on greenhouse-gas emissions in some form. At the state level, the Virginia State Air Pollution Control Board is currently considering a petition on carbon limitations. Also, a task force set up by Gov. Terry McAuliffe, D-Va., is developing proposals to reduce carbon emissions in Virginia, regardless of what happens with federal Clean Power Plan, the company notes.
“Dominion will continue moving toward cleaner power sources with lower emissions, whether the Clean Power Plan lives or dies,” Koonce concludes.