Don't Buy Dominion's Hype: Va CAN Cut Carbon & Grow Economy

Dominion’s latest long-term plan to deliver energy to Virginia doesn’t ring true―or reflect already demonstrated reality―when it comes to their assessment of cutting carbon in Virginia. In fact, they get it exactly backwards.

Cutting the carbon pollution from power plants that drives costly climate change has been a proven economic boon for the states that have chosen this sensible path. States charting this path have faster-growing economies, lower energy costs, cleaner air, and healthier citizens as a result. This has been confirmed over and over by the states in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), so it’s no surprise those states recently doubled down and pledged to make even more significant carbon reductions over the next decade.

There’s no reason Virginia can’t achieve the same success, and that is the reality that should have been captured in Dominion’s plan.

The Facts: Done Right, Cutting Carbon Benefits the Environment and the Economy

RGGI’s proven track record was highlighted in a recent report from the Analysis Group, reassessing the impact RGGI has had on participating states, which identified the following eye-popping trends, as summarized by my colleague Bruce Ho:

Including the findings from today’s report, across the region RGGI has already contributed at least:

  • $4.3 billion in regional economic growth,
  • 44,700 years of additional full-time employment, and
  • $5.7 billion in public health benefits, including preventing at least 8,200 asthma attacks, 39,000 lost workdays, and 300 premature deaths, by cutting dangerous air pollutants like soot and smog alongside carbon,
  • All while saving customers an estimated $773 million on their energy bills (with billions more expected) thanks to energy efficiency and renewable energy investments funded under the program.

This economic growth makes sense: energy efficiency is the cheapest way to both reduce carbon emissions and directly lower energy costs, and the RGGI states have doubled down on precisely those investments. Their more durable economies, with less money wasted on electricity, have been built on smart clean energy and climate policy portfolios that cut carbon and reinvest in efficiency and renewables. And that effect is even more pronounced when one considers that the zero-carbon renewable resources of solar and wind are now cost-competitive with―and often cheaper than―carbon polluting resources.

There is no reason Virginia can’t take the same smart approach and reap the same rewards.

So, it’s perplexing that, yet again, Dominion claims, apparently with a straight face, and contrary to the real-world experience in one-in-ten states in America, that a plan in Virginia to cut pollution will somehow inevitably hurt the state’s economy. Not true, the facts show, but Dominion may be pushing this false line to boost its profits.

This Latest Filing Follows a Familiar Dominion Playbook

This isn’t the first time Dominion has ginned up its projected costs―and presumably anticipated profits―in contemplation of Virginia’s plan to cut harmful, costly pollution. In previous years, Dominion has inflated its future costs by ignoring cheaper energy on the open market in one year, and in the next year by inflating solar “integration” costs, despite solar’s rapid and dirt-cheap uptake in so many other places.

This year, one of the main culprits for Dominion’s cost-padding appears to be Dominion’s continued underinvestment in energy efficiency. Despite the proven means of investing in energy efficiency to reduce carbon pollution and consumer bills, as widely shown across RGGI states, Dominion assumes its anemic, business-as-usual level of (low) efficiency gains. This complacency despite the fact that Virginia has the 10th-highest in the nation statewide average bills, and a wealth of opportunities to reduce those bills across Virginia’s highly-electrified households, be it improved lighting, insulation, or electrical appliances.

To Dominion’s credit, the utility does plan to invest up to $870 million over the next decade in sensible efficiency programs. However, those savings benefits (and emissions reductions) are not included in this particular long-range plan. That’s a glaring omission.

The company would be smart to make those investments, and their regulators at the SCC would be smart to get out of the way of increasing efficiency, for the sake of lowering Virginians’ energy bills.

But for now, Dominion ignores the fact that RGGI states have reduced costs, while cutting carbon, precisely through direct investment in sensible efficiency programs. Despite well-documented and ongoing overearnings and therefore inflated bills, Dominion’s plan ignores its customers’ best interests by blithely assuming in this year’s plan that it won’t serve its customers with more and better efficiency investment.

Until Dominion fixes that flaw, their high-cost claims will remain just a fantasy, not based in reality, and never likely to come true.  

The SCC Too Needs to Drive Efficiency, Not Deny Virginians the Benefits It Delivers

As Dominion increases its efficiency investments in future years, it will not be the only one with responsibility to reduce customer costs through commonsense efficiency. The SCC also needs to look alive on this opportunity.

Instead, Dominion’s erstwhile watchdogs at the SCC have repeatedly rejected sensible efficiency programs that would reduce customer costs as well as pollution. Their hostility to efficiency, an extreme outlier among states, is good for Dominion’s bottom line: the SCC ensures Dominion can increase their electricity sales and their justification to build more and more multi-billion dollar power plants, which are built to serve that wasteful and increasing demand. But that’s bad for Virginians, with their tenth-highest statewide bills in America.

Thankfully, though, Dominion, the SCC, and other policymakers in Richmond can still get it right: increase investment in efficiency over the next decade, as recently required by law, and repeat RGGI’s success by reinvesting carbon allowance revenues directly into efficiency programs.

If Dominion would factor that into their long-term plans, as they plan for carbon pollution reductions, they’ll find that Virginia’s economy can follow in the footsteps of RGGI states. When we do, we’ll see less pollution, lower customer costs, and a thriving, clean energy economy.

About the Authors

Walton Shepherd

Virginia Policy Director, Climate & Clean Energy Program

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