Charlottesville environmental organizations make the case for renewable energy

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Several local environmental groups have come together to call on Dominion Power to incorporate more renewable sources in its long-term energy plan for Virginia. Photo: Heather Hughes Several local environmental groups have come together to call on Dominion Power to incorporate more renewable sources in its long-term energy plan for Virginia. Photo: Heather Hughes

Local environmental groups have teamed up to challenge the long-term plans of the state’s largest power provider, Virginia Dominion Power, citing a report released last Tuesday by third-party energy think tanks. The report, commissioned by Wise Energy for Virginia Coalition, which includes local organizations Appalachian Voices and the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC), claims that Dominion’s long-term plans rely too heavily on coal and natural gas and don’t incorporate enough clean, renewable energy.

Dominion went before the State Corporation Commission (SCC) last week to present its biannual Integrated Resource Plan, an outline of how the company will supply power to its customers over the next 15 years—what facilities it will build, what new programs it will develop, and what the energy market will look like over that period. SELC is requesting a hearing before the SCC, hoping to persuade the Commission not to give Dominion the green light until the company adds a little more green to its plan.

“The IRP is really the only process where we as the public, and the Commission as regulators, can evaluate all of Dominion’s resources at once,” said SELC attorney Angela Navarro.

The report commissioned by Wise Energy is based on past Dominion resource plans created as recently as September 2012. According to the report, coal and natural gas will constitute around 60 percent of the company’s energy production as late as 2027. A clean energy plan, the document says, would save thousands of megawatts of energy and cost millions of dollars less than construction of new power plants.

“Dominion has put forth in its documents a future trajectory that’s really heavily based on building two big gas plants and a nuclear plant, and very little on renewable energy and demand-side resources,” said Jeff Loiter, a consultant for the research firm Optimal Energy and co-author of the report. “We put together what we see as a potential alternate future that uses more of those resources to meet customers’ needs.

Dominion countered that many changes proposed by environmentalist groups simply aren’t practical.

“I endorse them for being concerned about having clean air, but it’s not as simple as that for us,” said company spokesman Dan Genest. “We have to come up with an energy plan that not only protects the environment and keeps us in full compliance with all state and federal laws and regulations, but also that is reliable, safe, and affordable.”

Genest said even if Dominion tried to put forth a plan like the alternatives proposed in “Changing Course,” it would never pass the SCC because of high cost and impracticality. He pointed out that Dominion already has clean energy initiatives in place, like its solar partnership with major commercial customers, including Old Dominion University.

But the company also has financial reasons to resist transitioning to clean energy, said Nathan Jenkins of Appalachian Voices.

“Energy efficiency measures cost much less to implement, but they don’t get the same financial reward,” Jenkins said. “Clearly, a for-profit company is going to do what makes them the most money.”

If no changes are made to Dominion’s long-term plans, Appalachian Voices and its partners will continue their “New Power for the Old Dominion” campaign to build public support for new energy regulation and reform. The group will host dozens of events across the state, starting in Charlottesville on September 12.

Several local environmental groups have come together to call on Dominion Power to incorporate more renewable sources in its long-term energy plan for Virginia.—Ryan McCrimmon

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