Virginia Regulatory Town Hall
Department of Energy
Department of Energy
Previous Comment     Next Comment     Back to List of Comments
8/22/18  4:21 pm
Commenter: Joy Loving, Climate Action Alliance of the Valley

Comments on the Virginia Energy Plan First of Three Submittals

I am a solar producer, net metering customer, hybrid and electric vehicles driver, investor in utilities, citizen climate activist (as a Steering Committee member of Climate Action Alliance of the Valley), and distributed solar advocate.  I offer my perspectives about Virginia’s 2018 plan for our energy usage because they represent often?competing interests that, taken together, nonetheless provide some insights into future consumer, energy producer, and investor behavior, and activist/advocate focus areas.  My family has made decisions that, I believe, illustrate fairly clearly the importance of Virginia’s embracing a new vision for its next Energy Plan.  To conform to the word limit of the on-line Town Hall comment submission process, my comments are divided into 3 submittals.  This is the first.    

Virginia Needs to Re-invent its Plan

Virginia needs a plan that is more than recommendations.    Its plan must

  • Become much more than merely a “deliverable” report with purported guidance from the Governor that is ignored by the legislature, the regulatory agency, and the utilities;
  • Constitute a blueprint for evaluating all aspects of energy usage;
  • Be both enforceable and measurable;
  • Provide for Virginia government’s accountability for its adherence to the plan; and
  • Envision and set forth implementable strategies and methods to ensure and manage a 21st century approach to energy resource management.
  • Set forth a method for establishing an independent Virginia Energy Management Authority (VEMA) with the mission and authority and mission to create and implement a 21st century utility model, and to determine Virginia’s energy requirements, and to develop and implement an energy plan enabling Virginia to
  • Comply with the provisions of VA § 67-101. Energy objectives and VA § 67-101. Energy objectives .
  • Address proactively the risks we face from our overuse of fossil fuels with the aim of reducing those risks;
  • Implement ways to ensure Virginia will reduce its dependence on those fuels and offset their negative environmental and health hazards through reductions in Virginia’s greenhouse emissions (e.g., through carbon sequestration programs such as increased tree canopies)
  • Increase significantly its use of effective renewable energy;
  • Grow its economy through increasing non-exportable, renewable energy jobs and keeping to the lowest possible extent job losses from affected sectors (e.g., agriculture, defense installations, tourism);
  •  Create an environment that welcomes and attracts private capital to invest in distributed energy resources in the Commonwealth, from customer-scale distributed generation and storage to utility-scale renewable energy and energy storage projects.
  • Assist its citizens negatively affected by the job reductions in the coal counties to train, qualify for, and obtain such jobs;
  • Promote and reward energy efficiency;
  • Ensure the safety, security, dependability, and affordability of energy for all customers;
  • Design a new utility model;
  • Determine Virginia’s energy requirements and the most effective and efficient ways to meet them and direct their implementation in light of available and coming new technology especially energy storage; and
  • Drive research and innovations in such areas as grid modernization through, for example, increased deployment of smart meters and new technologies to enable effective data gathering and research and to provide customers greater capabilities to manage their own energy resources and use.
  • Hold Virginia’s utilities accountable financially and legally for environmental hazards and economic losses that result from their construction and operations, including coal ash disposal, and methane and other greenhouse gas emissions.


It’s Time to Change Virginia’s Greatly Outdated and Ineffective Utility Model

The utility model Virginia currently has encourages the use of more energy, rewarding the utilities handsomely for new infrastructure and increased energy usage.  In so doing, the model discourages investments in energy efficiency and does not reward consumers who choose, or desire to choose, alternative energy sources.  It provides monopoly protection for electricity generation and distribution but does not necessarily reward/compensate the utilities for performance in these areas.   Further, this model, and how it operates in Virginia, fosters many additional undesirable results, including:

  • Virginia is reactive, rather than proactive, to energy-related proposals from the utilities, and from individual legislators.
  • In the absence of a plan against which to compare and benchmark, Virginia relies on a piecemeal, haphazard approach to policy and operational changes.
  • Virginia’s model builds in an all-too-obvious conflict of interest for its utilities.  For-profit entities that are publicly-traded have a fiduciary obligation to their investors.  At the same time, they enjoy “regulated” monopoly status; that status is compromised, often against the consumer’s best interests, because the regulatory body’s effectiveness is frequently undermined by the legislature, abetted by the utilities and, recently, by the executive branch, via reactionary, not-well-thought-out requirements and restrictions, often with results that penalize the consumer.  A stunning example is the deployment of “eminent domain” for many utility projects that can deprive/restrict property owners of the use of and/or access to, their properties.
  • With its patchwork of legacy Phase I, Phase II, electric cooperatives, and municipal utilities, Virginia’s electricity consumers receive unequal treatment; this can and does happen within a single town/city/county, sometimes to individuals within yards of one another.
  • The model, designed for its utilities to generate as well as distribute electricity, has resulted in an over dependence on traditional sources of energy, especially fossil fuels, a disincentive for reducing that dependence in favor of alternative, renewable energy resources, and, often, “knee-jerk” negative reactions to approaches that would allow consumers basic rights to determine their own energy choices.
  • The current model allows for utilities to retain “stranded assets” and even build new assets that will assuredly become stranded.  This effect is harmful to both ratepayers and utility investors.
  • With their guaranteed rates of return, Virginia’s utilities can recoup costs (from ratepayers) and derive great profits (for its investors) from certain infrastructure projects, regardless of whether they are ever operational.  (Could we see a similar headline in Virginia after a major destructive weather event?)

Virginia’s 21st Century utility model must move away from guaranteed returns for new electricity generation infrastructure unless it’s consistent with the Energy Plan.  This model needs to encourage utilities to focus more in the direction of services such as distribution, energy storage, grid management, and perhaps new services such as financing of customer-owned energy production, as opposed to their current reliance on electricity generation.   Utilities must be able to derive adequate revenues from such services, allowing them to offer products and services that complement the energy sources of the future.  To accomplish this, the current structure of ad hoc legislation implemented (and often written) by the largest utilities with (and at times without) approval and oversight by the State Corporation Commission (SCC) must give way to one that has an independent authority, VEMA,  that sets Virginia energy policy and ensures implementation and enforcement of that policy.  One of its first actions should be to review the VA Code, especially VA § 67-101. Energy objectives  and VA § 67-101. Energy objectives, to identify and recommend to the legislature needed changes—additions, revisions, and deletions—to implement not only the authority of VEMA but all provisions of the VA Energy Plan.

This July 2018 article ( from Renewable Energy World makes an excellent case for state-driven energy policy and management and provides excellent insights for transitioning to a new utility model.  Another July 2018 report, from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, reinforces the need for and feasibility of a state’s deciding to chart its own course with respect to energy.

An August 2018 post by former reporter and noted blogger James Bacon highlights, through the original post and responses to commenters on the post, the need for well-thought-out rate setting to, among other things, fairly accommodate the increased use of renewable energy in Virginia’s 21st Century modernized grid.  My take-away is that leaving this task to the utilities and the SCC based on piece-meal projects continues Virginia along its rather bizarre path that sets policies, sometimes contradictory, for energy production, management, and usage.  One can debate how effective and consumer-friendly it was in the 20th Century, but Virginia is now almost 20 years into the 21st and needs a 21st Century utility model.

Referring to qualifications of SCC Commissioners, Powered by Facts concluded that “Virginians need an SCC commissioner who:

  • Takes seriously the rights of consumers in Virginia;
  • Understands the importance and long-term value of renewables and clean energy; and
  • Supports utilities in instances where the best interests of all Virginians are being served, particularly when they are being innovative and undertaking clean energy projects.”

These requirements also constitute some, though not all, of the important responsibilities of the proposed new VEMA.

A recent Institute for Local Self-Reliance ILSR) podcast discussed its report on the ways the combined technologies of solar and storage result in “consumers … generating and storing their own electricity on site and reversing the power flow from utilities to consumers – literally and figuratively.”  The discussion addressed this question:  “How are electric utility companies responding to the renewable energy revolution?”  ILSR Energy Democracy Initiative Director John Farrell said, in part:

 “Over 800,000 rooftops in California now host solar arrays. That’s 800,000 power plants that were planned without an energy commission or a public utilities commission or a utility involved. It was just a customer saying, hey, putting solar on my roof is a good deal. What that implies then is that the way that we make decisions about our electricity system have completely changed. That we’re reversing the power flow, it is now coming from the bottom up instead from the top down and it has enormous implications for the way that we structure the rules for the electricity system and for electric utilities.” 

 New technologies demand new approaches to all aspects of energy creation, management, distribution, and usage.  These new approaches must acknowledge and allow for consumer-driven choices while assuring infrastructure that deploys the generated electricity are the most cost-effective, efficient, reliable, stable, and safe and encourage prudent usage of energy, regardless of its source.  These technologies are not available only in California.  That state, along with many others, are already assimilating them into their energy management process.  Virginia must do the same—urgently.


Why Virginia Must Manage its Energy Resources through a New Energy Plan and Bold New Strategies and Tactics

Virginia’s current electricity delivery system was conceived and built in the 1920s and 1930s.  One hundred years later, that system, with its flaws, no longer meets the needs of energy consumers—who are all Virginians.  The last century’s technology is inadequate for this century’s requirements as noted above and below.  Of equal and possibly more urgent importance is that the world’s—and Virginia’s-- environment has changed radically—and will continue to change radically— and not for the better.  Based on climate science and weather patterns over the past several decades—as well as temperature extremes, increased severe drought conditions and great variability in the frequency and amounts of rainfall—Virginia faces at least the following in the coming decade and subsequent ones:

  • Global weather unpredictability will continue.
  • Severe weather patterns will worsen in frequency and duration.
  • Sea level rise off Virginia’s coasts is a certainty, due both to sea level rise and uplift in sea floor levels.
  • Rainfall frequency, duration, and patterns will remain uncertain.
  • Air quality will worsen.
  • Temperature extremes and variances will persist.
  • Wildfires are certain to not only continue but also to become hotter and more frequent; Virginia is not immune from the conditions that give rise to such fires.
  • Temperature extremes, particularly in the hotter ranges, will bring consequences such as higher death rates from heat waves and the need for cooling devices (e.g., air conditioning) that will require more energy to operate.  These results will disproportionately affect low-income communities.

The following several articles are but a few of many that document these hazards:

In the Washington Post (WaPo) on August 2, 2018 we learn how severe drought likely toppled the Mayan civilization.  In the WaPo on August 2, 2018 we hear from an opinion writer that the world seems to be “fiddling” while it burns.  That opinion is backed up by a WaPo editorial that stopping California’s wildfires (and those in other states) can’t happen unless we acknowledge, discuss, and act on climate change.  Virginia has thus far not experienced the conditions that have repeatedly triggered massive wildfires in the U.S. west and elsewhere.  Virginia is heavily forested in many parts of the state and must plan for the circumstances that may expose it to similar wildfire threats.  Despite the current Interior Secretary’s view about causes and occurrences of wildfires, per the attached article from The Guardian, science and actual data make a strong case for the seriousness of the wildfire threat.  Another item in The Guardian discusses the implications of our increasingly hot summers.  A recent Richmond Federal Reserve Scientific Brief describes the economic impact of higher temperatures.  From this WaPo August 16 item, we learn that the next five years will be “’anomalously warm’,” even beyond what the steady increase in global warming would produce on its own.” This August 2018 article in The Guardian warns the disappearance of Arctic sea ice is a major problem, stating “For the first time in recorded history, the entire Greenland icecap is melting” and “If we lose the ice, we stand to lose the entire ecosystem.”  In August 2018 the WaPo published Sea level rise is already costing property owners on the coast.  While the piece focuses on South Carolina and Miami/Dade, there is every reason to believe that the same issues/problems, including especially the economic impacts to its coastal areas, will occur in Virginia and indeed may already be occurring.  Also in August 2018, The New York Times Magazine ran a powerful piece about the current and future impacts of climate change, including sea level rise, and our collective failure to act decades ago.  Included was this statement:  “Nearly everything we understand about global warming was understood in 1979.”  Virginia needs to get its head out of the sand and recognize that we must do all we can to reduce (mitigate) the effects on Virginia’s citizens and develop plans—including the Energy Plan—to help its citizens adapt.

All of the above threats, and many not specifically named, can and undoubtedly will, occur in Virginia.  Closer to home, this recent blogpost from Ivy Main—a well-respected expert on Virginia energy policy—makes it clear that Virginia is not immune to the consequences of climate change and needs to act.  Ms. Main highlights inadequacies in policies of one large Virginia County that were glaringly apparent following recent severe flooding in that county.  Before listing a 10-point action plan, Ms. Main states:  “So what would it take to move Fairfax County from left-behind to leader? Advocates agree the County needs to make three big changes: commit to serious targets for renewable energy and energy efficiency in county operations; actively assist residents and businesses to save energy and go solar; and become an advocate for stronger state policies, including removing barriers to customer-sited solar.”  The blueprint for action addresses many points made in these comments, though more completely and succinctly.

Economic losses from all of these hazards will affect all economic sectors—maritime industry, military base infrastructure and existence (in Virginia), tourism, agricultural production, health care, energy production, manufacturing, insurance, personal services, population demographics and numbers, and social services.  Virginia can anticipate degradation of its land, air, water, wildlife, human health and economic well-being.  A July 2018 Quinnipiac poll showed that almost 2/3 of Americans favor “doing more” to “address climate change”.  Virginia must take seriously the threats it faces from global warming.  A comprehensive Energy Plan is one way to do that.

To Be Continued in the 2nd submittal....

CommentID: 66410