Don’t let Dominion Power fool you; natural gas has significant risks

Don’t let Dominion Power fool you; natural gas has significant risks

To the editor:

The commonwealth’s largest electric utility, Dominion Power, is way behind in making sure Virginians can rely on reasonable, consistent and stable electricity bills, as well as clean energy sources that don’t contribute to climate disruption. To get up to speed, its plans need a greater focus on energy efficiency as well as wind and solar power.

Instead, Dominion Power is proposing a roadmap that will leave Virginia further behind the curve: a $1 billion natural gas facility in Brunswick County. It’s a poor choice because natural gas is susceptible to volatile prices and, as a fossil fuel, contributes to global warming.

On Wednesday, the State Corporation Commission, Dominion’s regulator in Richmond, is considering whether to allow this new fossil fuel plant to go forward. The answer should be what’s in the best interests of Virginia families and businesses: No.

Although natural gas prices are low — leaving aside the significant costs associated with global warming and pollution — this may not continue. Tellingly, Dominion CEO Thomas Farrell recently expressed concern that if the country were to switch to all-natural gas for its electricity needs over the next 20 to 30 years, natural gas prices would rise significantly.

Additionally, plans to export natural gas from the United States could lead to upward pressure on prices since countries around the world pay much more for natural gas. For example, Europe pays about three times more and Japan about four times more.

Price volatility also is a major concern. Everyone has felt the impact of spiking gasoline prices. But, wind that turns turbine blades costs nothing, locks in a predictable long-term cost of electricity for decades, and protects families and businesses from unexpected price spikes and volatile fossil-fuel markets.

Dominion has no excuse for not investing more in clean energy. New Jersey obtains much more of its electricity from solar power than Virginia even though we get more sunshine. Studies show that offshore winds can generate enough electricity to power the entire state.

Dominion needs to pursue energy-efficiency programs much more vigorously. Virginia ranks 37th on the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy’s 2012 state scorecard, down from 34th in 2011. The commonwealth scored only one-and-a-half out of a possible 20 points on utility and public benefits programs and policies. Virginia businesses and families could save money on electricity bills and lower carbon emissions, if these rankings were significantly improved.

The corporation commission should deny the Brunswick County plant proposal and instruct Dominion to protect our families and businesses by investing in clean energy and energy efficiency instead. The commission’s hearing Wednesday on the plant is open to the public.

– Bill Brockhouse