Thursday, November 26, 2015

Dominion Power to Build Solar Generation in Virginia

Recently, Virginia Electric and Power Company doing business in Virginia as Dominion Power filed an application to build three utility scale solar power generation “plants” totaling 56 megawatts of electricity and projected to cost $130 million within the Commonwealth. The goal is to have the projects approved, built and operating before December 31, 2016 to be able to take advantage of the Federal Solar Tax Credit which will expire on December 31, 2016. If Dominion Power builds the solar facilities and brings them on line before December 31, 2016 they estimate that 91% of the capital expenditures for the projects will qualify for the 30% tax credit a savings of over $35 million to the company and the rate payers who in the end pay for almost all capital expenditures through electrical rates.

All three solar facilities would consist of ground-mounted, single axis tracking solar photovoltaic panel arrays that would connect to the grid. The Scott Solar facility will be in Powhatan County and have 17 megawatts of solar panels. It would be located on 165 acres of land. The Whitehouse Solar facility would have 20 megawatts of solar panels and be located in Louisa County. It will be built on a 250-acre site. Finally the Woodland Solar facility would have 19 megawatts of solar panels. It will be located in Isle of Wight County. The project will be constructed on approximately 200 acres. As it stands now, these projects while just a fraction (less than 0.3%) of the Dominion Power generating capacity are forecast to increase electrical rates by $0.07 per 1,000 kilowatt hours of power purchased.

In the southeast where it rains on average more than 44 inches each year and groundwater is an essential resource, covering hundreds of acres with solar panels and eliminating the tree and brush can have a significant impact on the recharge of groundwater and create excess runoff of sediment into surface water. According to research done at the Brookhaven National Laboratory
possible impacts include the erosion of topsoil, increase of sediment load or turbidity in local streams, reduction in the filtration of pollutants from air and rainwater, the reduction of groundwater recharge, or the increased likelihood of flooding. The impact increases with the amount of rainfall, but mitigation for storm flow surface water were required even for the Ivanpah power plant in the semi-arid inland of California to deal with the impact from the changed water velocity and geohydrology.

When installing solar power in forested regions trees and brush must be removed to prevent shading of solar panels. Typically, any plant taller than half a meter would be removed or cut down, and tree roots would also be removed to allow posts to be driven into the ground. These projects must include a study of the impact to water resources in the immediate area. Once the hydrology is destroyed it is nearly impossible to restore.

These projects are being driven by the expiration of the solar tax credit and the mandates under the EPA Clean Power Plan that require Virginia to cut carbon dioxide emissions by 38% from 2012 emissions levels by 2030. To meet EPA Clean Power Plan carbon dioxide emission levels means that Dominion will have to install or contract for more renewable energy and build more natural gas fired power plants. The steep investment for nuclear plants and the difficulty that in terms of cost and timing overruns that have been experienced in the Tennessee Valley Authority Watts Bar plant and Southern Co. and Scana Corporations projects in Georgia and South Carolina make expanding nuclear generation unlikely here in Virginia. It would be an error to irredeemably damage our water resources to reduce our carbon footprint. At this point reducing our carbon dioxide emissions is not going to stop climate change that is driven by increased concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. According to the climate models it is too late to stop global warming, so let’s stop and make sure that we do not destroy our water resources.

Dominion Resources, Inc. the parent of Dominion Power is one of the nation’s largest producers and transporters of energy: with about 24,600 megawatts of electric generation, 12,400 miles of natural gas pipeline and 63,600 miles of electric transmission and distribution lines. By the end of 2015 Dominion expects to have under long term contract 411 megawatts of solar power in California and Tennessee. But electric generators must construct large natural gas-fired combined-cycle stations, such as Dominion’s Warren County plant to meet both carbon dioxide reductions mandated by the Clean Carbon Plan and power needs. The highly efficient combined-cycle plants emit about two-thirds of the carbon of a single cycle plant and about 45% of the carbon of a coal fired electrical plant. However, to operate the plants must have an uninterrupted natural gas supply via a pipeline. Dominion will have to build more natural gas pipelines and power lines to supply and serve these plants.

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