Customers should expect even more renewable energy projects from Dominion Energy Virginia in the coming years under a long-range plan presented this week. The plan also looks at options for further improvements in reliability, energy efficiency and grid modernization.
Dominion Energy Virginia's solar fleet could expand by at least 4,720 megawatts of capacity in the next 15 years, according to the Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) filed with the Virginia State Corporation Commission (SCC). That's enough energy to power 1.18 million homes at peak sunlight and a nearly 50 percent increase over the forecast of 3,200 megawatts presented last year.
The plan calls for pairing additional renewable generation with new high-efficiency power stations fueled by natural gas, and extending the operating lives of Virginia's four nuclear units to ensure future reliability and lower greenhouse gas emission rates for years to come.
The IRP lays out how the company forecasts it will generate power to meet customer needs while complying with expected regulatory requirements in the next 15 years.
This year's plan offers five alternatives envisioning compliance with state or federal carbon regulations, including a proposed state cap on carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions and a potential link to the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) now being implemented in the Northeast.
Dominion Energy believes carbon emissions regulation is virtually assured in the future, either through new federal initiatives or through measures adopted at the state level. Although the final scope and form are uncertain, a proposed regulation from the Department of Environmental Quality is moving through the regulatory process. If not mitigated by other public policies, such as successful implementation of the renewable, energy efficiency, and other provisions of the Grid Transformation and Security Act of 2018, Virginia's proposed regulation linking to RGGI would encourage customers able to competitively shop to purchase higher-carbon intensive generation outside of the Commonwealth while also increasing the utility's need to purchase out-of-state power to meet its obligations to serve Virginia customers. While this would reduce carbon emissions in Virginia, the reductions would be more than offset by increased emissions elsewhere in the Eastern United States. Compliance with carbon regulation could, unless mitigated by other public policies, lead to an increase of between $2.23 and $5.81 in 2018 dollars in the typical residential customer's monthly electric bills by 2030.
The Grid Transformation & Security Act of 2018, approved by the Virginia General Assembly and signed into law by Gov. Ralph Northam, finds an additional 5,500 megawatts of solar and wind projects in the public interest, including 500 megawatts for smaller scale projects of one megawatt or less. It also encourages smart grid projects to enable the integration of those resources. Dominion Energy expects to address the full scope of new technology and energy efficiency projects envisioned in the Grid Transformation and Security Act in future filings with the SCC.
The options also include the construction of the 12-megawatt Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind demonstration project off the coast of Virginia Beach to explore the potential for greater zero-emission wind generation. The IRP calls for the project, the first of its kind off the Mid-Atlantic coast, to begin operations by 2021.
Zero-carbon nuclear generation remains the backbone of the Dominion Energy Virginia fuel mix. Virginia already is a low-carbon producer of electricity, due in large part to the fact that nearly one-third of the company's power generation came from nuclear generation last year. All of the alternative plans presented in the IRP include 20-year operating license extensions at the two reactors at Surry Power Station and two at North Anna Power Station.
The Surry and North Anna nuclear units continue to be the largest source of zero-emissions generation for the company by far, with their operation avoiding the release of approximately 22 million tons of CO2 per year. Through the license extensions, the units will continue to produce power into the second half of the 21st century. More than 100,000 acres of solar photovoltaic facilities would be needed to match the nuclear units' annual power output.
Clean-burning, low-emission natural gas also plays a critical role, both in meeting the energy needs of the company's customers and backing up units powered by renewable resources when they are unable to operate. All plans call for at least eight new power stations by 2033. The new stations, powered by combustion turbine technology, will be capable of producing up to 3,664 megawatts of electricity, enough to supply the needs of more than 900,000 homes.
All scenarios in the 2018 IRP include implementation of energy efficiency programs capable of reducing customers' peak demand for energy from the company's system by 304 megawatts by 2033 and overall annual energy usage by 805 gigawatt-hours of electricity. Since Virginia's Grid Transformation and Security Act of 2018 will become law on July 1 the plan does not yet reflect the emphasis placed on energy conservation. The company will directly address this significant expansion of energy conservation programming in future filings with the SCC and the reports and stakeholder processes required by the Grid Transformation and Security Act.
Following the announcement earlier this year to place several power stations in cold storage reserve by the end of the year, the IRP includes the potential retirement of older, less-efficient coal, oil and natural gas technology in the next three to four years. All generation retirements presented in the Alternative Plans should be considered tentative, with the company's final decision being made at a future date.