Sunday, November 29, 2020

Climate Goals for Prince William County

The Prince William Board of County Supervisors voted last Tuesday night to adopt the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments’ (COG) Region Forward Vision includes a sustainability goal that calls for a decrease in greenhouse gas emissions of 50 % below 2005 levels by 2030.

But, the Prince Board of County Supervisors went further in their resolution and directed staff to incorporate into the Comprehensive Plan goals of 100% of Prince William County’s electricity to be from renewable sources by 2035, for Prince William County Government operations to achieve 100% renewable electricity by 2030, and for Prince William County Government to be 100% carbon neutral by 2050.

The Board of Supervisors also directed staff to begin to work on recommendations for the creation of a public advisory body charged with advising on potential enhancements to the Community Energy Master Plan (CEMP) to achieve the goals of the Comprehensive Plan changes.

Okay, let’s look at these goals:

  • 100% of PW County’s electricity to be from renewable sources by 2035
  • 100% PW County Government operations to achieve 100% renewable electricity by 2030
  • and for the PW County government operations to be 100% carbon neutral by 2050

First of all, not all renewable sources of electricity are carbon neutral and carbon neutral is not necessarily renewable. In July Governor Ralph Northam officially launched Clean Energy Virginia,  to direct investment to renewable energy and energy efficiency and help meet the Commonwealth’s goals under the Virginia Clean Economy Act for clean energy production, which include powering "100 % of Virginia’s electricity from carbon-free sources" by 2045.

According to U.S. Energy Information Agency (EIA) Natural gas fueled more than half of Virginia's electricity net generation in 2018. The state's two nuclear power plants supplied about 30% of Virginia's generation. Coal provided most of the rest, but biomass, hydropower, petroleum, solar photovoltaic (PV), and other energy sources also generate some electricity.

As the Washington Post pointed out the Virginia Clean Economy Act defines “ total electric energy to mean the electric energy sold by Dominion Energy and Appalachian Power in the previous calendar year, excluding nuclear power generated by plants in service in 2020, and excluding carbon-free (but not renewable) electrical power sources established after July 1, 2030.” This definition allows Dominion Energy and Appalachian Power the flexibility to ensure that they can provide reliable power 24/7 to a future that includes the needs of data centers, and envisioned to have increased demand from the electrification of cars and other portions of the transportation sector as well as electrification of space heating. The nuclear power that provides over 30% of Virginia’s needs will stay in the mix and provide the base power.  

It is unclear what definitions the County is using since this was adopted as a resolution without definitions. Howeve[EW1] r, it is clear, this creates a conundrum for Prince William County. They cannot rely on the grid to ever supply the 100% of PW County’s electricity to be from renewable sources by 2035 or in the future. Nuclear is not renewable, but will remain a significant portion of the electrical supply under the Virginia Clean Economy Act 

Furthermore there are problems with the other portions of the resolutions goals:  Prince William County Government operations to achieve 100% renewable electricity by 2030 and for the County government operations to be 100% carbon neutral by 2050. Prince William County has a source of renewable energy that is not carbon free:

In the late 1990’s NEO Prince William (Fortistar) installed a landfill gas collection system and a 1.9 Mega Watt generator tied into the electrical grid. This system became operational in November 1998. The landfill electrical generation plant was expanded in November 2013. The facility, still operated by Fortistar, now generates a total of 6.7 MW of electricity. This is enough power for approximately 5,000 homes. NOVEC buys the renewable (but not carbon free) energy produced at the landfill and resells it to their customers.

In addition, the county built a pipeline from the landfill to the county animal shelter on Bristow Road with connections to several buildings along the way to provide landfill gas to heat the Fleet Maintenance Building and provide fuel to the Animal Shelter incinerator. A connection to the School bus garage was added in 2014. This allows the County Public Works Department to replace the propane formerly used with landfill gas which is a “Renewable Fuel Resource,” and reducing the energy footprint of our county. While this is all renewable and captures and uses the landfill gas with is a very powerful greenhouse gas, it is not carbon neutral.

NOVEC which supplies electricity to a significant portion of Prince William County has only limited generation, it is predominantly a distributor of electricity purchased from other sources including the landfill and a small solar farm in Fauquier. What limited generation they own is renewable, but not carbon free. NOVEC’s   first-ever power plant is the Halifax County Biomass Plant. The plant has the capacity to generate nearly 50 megawatts , but biomass is not carbon free.

So, staff and the future Prince William County public advisory board have work to do to sort out what needs to be done to meet these goals in the Community Energy Master Plan (CEMP). It looks as if there will be significant need and opportunity for a renewable, carbon free credit market for the county to meet these goals. This could benefit residents in the county interested in building solar arrays on their roofs or property. This could make the difference in the return on investment in a solar project and make it worthwhile to deal with the constant stream of repairs to keep a distributed solar system operational or other costs associated with solar power generation.

Other thoughts, for years there has been conversation to use the landfill for a wind power generation. That is a possibility. Also, Lake Jackson Dam once generated electricity maybe it could again or the expanding water storage in Northern Virginia could be used as part of a water storage/power generation management scheme. This no doubt will all be explored as the County moves forward.  

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