COMMENTS OF WILLIAM PENNIMAN
CONCERNING NECESSARY ELEMENTS OF 2018 VIRGINIA ENERGY PLAN
I submit these comments as a citizen of Virginia with children and grandchildren. My comments are for them and my fellow citizens. My comments reflect 40 years practicing law relating to energy regulation and transactions and several years volunteering for environmental NGOs.
The authors of the 2018 Virginia Energy Plan must look to the future not to the past. Every aspect of the Plan must be evaluated with reference to how it will reduce, continue or increase climate pollution. The Plan must layout a program to sharply reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the next 10, 20 and 30 years. A ten-year horizon is not long enough given the perils that face us.
Virginia use the 2018 Energy Plan to announce the Commonwealth’s intention to become a leader in GHG reductions and in producing energy on a zero-GHG basis. Taking steps to achieve that goal will make Virginia an economic leader with a future, which will attract businesses with a long-term future.
Climate change is harming our communities now and it is rapidly getting worse. Flooding is routine along coasts and tidal rivers; flash flooding frequently occurs throughout the Commonwealth; dangers of major storms and storm surges (like Sandy, Katrina, Harvey, etc.) are growing; heat illnesses, asthma, Lyme disease and other health harms are spreading; heat and other adverse impacts are raising business costs and reducing economic efficiency. Harm to the economy is growing with property values falling in newly flood-prone areas and with dangers to coastal economies and naval installations rising.
These changes are largely caused by human emissions from energy supplies, particularly fossil fuels. Coal is the worst source of carbon dioxide (CO2) from combustion, but it is also a significant source of methane (CH4) from mining and nitrous oxide (N20) from combustion. Oil and natural gas follow with emissions of CO2 from combustion and CH4 from production, and CH4 is also leaked during processing, gathering, transportation and local distribution. Natural gas may produce less CO2 than coal at the point of combustion, but we cannot afford to add the climate pollution from natural gas (either the CO2 or the CH4 emissions) at this stage in our descent to a steadily worsening climate. Instead, we need to sharply decrease GHG pollution and to stop investing in GHG-emitting fossil fuel technologies, most of which will have operating lives that run decades into the future.
More than ever, Virginia must act to sharply cut its GHG emissions with a long-term plan to achieve a zero-carbon electric supply by 2050 and a 50% reduction in carbon emissions by no later than 2035. As the electric sector’s carbon emissions are being reduced, Virginia needs to dramatically improve energy efficiency in buildings, appliances, heating and cooling and industrial equipment and convert its transportation system to electric vehicles which produce no emissions in their operations. Virginia must also act to reduce GHG emissions from other parts of the energy sector.
It is very possible to reduce CO2 emissions in the electric system to net-zero. The zero-carbon technology exists and it is getting better and cheaper. Political leadership and commitments are the major missing ingredients. The 2018 Energy Plan needs to supply the zero-GHG vision and the climate-imperatives upon which that vision is based.
Energy efficiency improvements can dramatically reduce the amount of electricity and natural gas that is needed to heat, cool and operate our homes and businesses. Reducing energy consumption is a critical component to reducing GHGs emitted. The Electric Power Research Institute recently found that Virginia had achieved only 2% of the energy efficiency improvements available to it.
The problems with achieving greater energy efficiency are several. Building codes are inadequate and secrecy often surrounds the costs of energy usage. Builders and building operators (landlords) can get higher returns for themselves by lowering their own costs even if the customers will pay higher total energy bills over time. They do not have to publicize these costs or offer a better deal for customers. It will cost buyers more to retrofit dwellings (often much more, as in the case of building envelopes) than it would have for the builder to include a more efficient designs in the first place and the higher construction costs would be paid with mortgages in the case of new home purchases. Renters have no ability or incentive to retrofit a rental property.
Another problem is that many of the state’s utility efficiency programs are run by companies that want to increase their sales and justify their past and future investments, not reduce sales. (What would General Motors do if you asked it to reduce car sales in the public interest?)
Even public bodies, like local governments, are often more interested in short-term costs than in costs that will be faced by future taxpayers and officials.
The 2018 Energy Plan needs to address these issues with several recommendations, including the following:
If these changes are not made, then the best alternative would be to transfer a portion of a utility’s charges (e.g., $0.01-0.02/kwh) to an independent, non-profit entity charged with maximizing consumer energy savings.Utilities have an inherent conflict of interest with respect to energy usage reductions—they want to increase load and investments in new generation.An independent entity would be better positioned to maximize energy savings for the same amount of expenditures.Other states (e.g., Vermont) have successfully implemented this approach.
Electric vehicles have no point-of-use pollution emissions, have much less need for maintenance, and lower per-mile operating costs. They can be a major benefit for consumers and the environment, particularly as electric systems shift to zero-carbon energy production.
The central problems to getting to much greater EV usage are (a) lack of buyer awareness of benefits and (b) fears that the low availability of charging facilities will interfere with convenient travel particularly over longer trips. Virginia should address these issues with at least the following measures:
Methane is a dangerous GHG with a potency over 20 years of 87 times that of CO2. Since we need to reduce climate changes as rapidly as possible, it is not acceptable to continue to emit methane from fossil fuel production (natural gas, petroleum or coal) or from pipelines, local distribution facilities or processing operations – all of which contribute significantly to methane emissions.
The Energy Plan should call for prompt regulatory measures to reduce methane emissions from the fossil-fuel supply chain DEQ and DMME have the authority to require reductions in methane emissions from these fossil fuel operations and should use that authority to require emissions reductions. Much of the reductions come from poor maintenance, carelessness or conscious decisions to vent methane. Those can be regulated with the result of significantly reducing methane emissions. Regulatory proceedings should be initiated as soon as possible.
In sum, Virginia’s 2018 Energy Plan should be a plan to reduce GHG emissions from the energy sector through clean energy and energy efficiency. It should reflect the old advice: when you are digging yourself into a hole, stop digging; and, when you are digging your children into a hole, stop digging, pull them out and start filling the hole.
2007 Upper Lake Dr.
Reston, VA 20191
August 23, 2018