Facing backlash, Dominion says it’s willing to have coal plant removed from green energy package

By: - November 25, 2019 12:05 am

Dominion’s Virginia City Hybrid Energy Center in Wise County, Virginia, 2019. (Sarah Vogelsong/Virginia Mercury)

Amid complaints from businesses and environmental groups, Virginia’s largest utility said it would be willing to let regulators remove a Southwest Virginia power plant that relies almost entirely on coal from a renewable energy portfolio it is aiming to sell to environmentally conscious consumers.

The Virginia City Hybrid Energy Center “is in fact one of the cleanest-burning coal plants in the country,” Dominion Energy lawyer Joseph Reid contended early in State Corporation Commission hearings on the proposal Thursday. “But we hear the concerns, the company hears the concerns of interveners that having a co-fired fossil fuel plant in the portfolio could conceivably diminish customer interest.”

Dominion formally noted its willingness to let regulators exclude the plant from the portfolio, which is being packaged as a “100 percent renewable energy” offering, in SCC rebuttal testimony filed Nov. 12.

Virginia City Hybrid Energy Center, located in Wise County, produces energy using a mix of biomass and coal. Currently coal represents 93 percent of all fuel used by the facility and at a minimum will power 80 percent of its production.

An amendment to Virginia law passed in 2009 allows the “proportion of … energy from a facility that results from the co-firing of biomass” to be legally classified as renewable energy.

But while opponents of Dominion’s green energy plan — formally known as a renewable energy tariff and named Rider Total Renewable Generation, or TRG for short — expressed satisfaction about the potential removal of Virginia City from the proposal, they remained unconvinced about its overall value.

Among their complaints: the tariff would not result in the addition of new renewable resources to Virginia’s fleet, does not meet the environmental sustainability standards many large corporations have set and makes customers pay a premium for energy that is currently less expensive than that generated by traditional fuels.

Most consequentially, opponents point out that if approved, Dominion’s tariff will result in the closure of the state’s fledgling renewable market because of state laws that prohibit non-utilities from selling “100 percent renewable energy” if the utility in that territory offers a fully renewable package of its own.

Letters filed with the State Corporation Commission before the Nov. 21 and 22 hearings by companies including Telco Pros, Lockheed Martin and Microsoft contended that Dominion’s proposal would have “a vast negative impact on the Virginian market and its consumers” and “is inconsistent with the public interest.”

The city of Alexandria and Arlington County also registered their displeasure, while the state Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy declared that approval of the tariff “would be highly detrimental to the state’s energy goals.”

Dominion Director of Regulation Robert Trexler, however, argued throughout hearings that he believes the proposal “will be appealing to a large number of customers” and “no one particular offering will meet every customer’s needs.”

Instead, Dominion relied in its case on the extent to which its proposal matches three criteria for green tariffs outlined by the State Corporation Commission earlier this year: any green tariff must ensure that nonparticipating customers aren’t financially harmed, that all electricity comes from 100 percent renewable energy and that rates are reasonable.

“The test for … this commission in this case is not, I would submit, does this proposal make everyone 100 percent satisfied — which I believe is likely impossible — but rather whether its parameters satisfy these three requirements,” said Dominion attorney Reid. “And it does.”

But Carrie Grundmann, an attorney representing Walmart, which has strenuously opposed the tariff and said it won’t sign up for the program if it is approved, suggested that the commission should take a broader view.

“If you look solely at TRG in and of itself, does it make the commonwealth better? Does it improve renewable energy options, the quality of resources? Does it reduce our carbon footprint?” she asked. “And the answer to that question is no.”

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Sarah Vogelsong
Sarah Vogelsong

Sarah is the Mercury's environment and energy reporter, covering everything from utility regulation to sea level rise. Originally from McLean, she has spent over a decade in journalism and academic publishing. She previously worked as a staff reporter for Chesapeake Bay Journal, the Progress-Index and the Caroline Progress, and her work has been twice honored by the Virginia Press Association as "Best in Show" for online writing. She was chosen for the 2020 cohort of the Columbia Energy Journalism Institute and is a graduate of the College of William and Mary. Contact her at [email protected]