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Dominion must significantly cut emissions to meet Va. energy goal

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Dominion Energy Virginia's 1,472-MW Warren County Power Station is one of three major combined-cycle gas plants the utility has brought online since December 2014. Dominion executives have often said they view natural gas, a fossil fuel, as essential to the cleaner energy transition.
Source: S&P Global Market Intelligence

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam signed an executive order in September calling for 30% of the state's electricity to be generated from renewable resources by 2030 and 100% of Virginia's electricity produced by carbon-free resources, including nuclear generation, by 2050. The governor's order includes ensuring that 3,000 MW of new solar and onshore wind projects are under development by 2022 and up to 2,500 MW of offshore wind is "fully developed" by 2026.

"Challenge accepted," Dominion Energy Inc., which operates the state's largest utility, said in response.

The executive order builds on the 2018 Virginia Energy Plan and the Grid Transformation and Security Act, or GTSA, which Northam signed in March 2018. The GTSA supports the integration of 5,500 MW of new solar and wind generation by 2028.

While Dominion Energy backed the GTSA and has accepted the governor's decarbonization challenge, the utility will need to significantly cut emissions over the next 30 years to meet these goals.

Power plants owned by Dominion Energy Virginia, known legally as Virginia Electric and Power Co., were responsible for more than 23 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions in 2018, according to data from S&P Global Market Intelligence.

"Meeting the 2050 challenge will take both public policy and technology advances as well as innovation," Dominion Energy spokesperson Audrey Cannon said in an Oct. 17 email.

A day later, Dominion Energy and Northam announced the commonwealth had signed a contract with the utility to ensure that 30% of the electricity the government uses comes from renewable sources by 2022.

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Dominion Energy also recently released its 2018 Sustainability & Corporate Responsibility report in which it outlines its emissions reduction and clean energy initiatives.

The Richmond, Va.-headquartered utility said it has cut carbon-dioxide emissions by 52% since 2005 and "prevented more than 250,000 metric tons of methane from entering the atmosphere in the past decade."

"The people of Dominion Energy are leading the country's transition to clean energy. We are transforming everything we do to build a more sustainable future for our customers, the planet and our company," Dominion Energy Chairman, President and CEO Thomas Farrell II said in an Oct. 10 statement.

"We intend to be one of the most sustainable companies in the United States," Farrell added.

Dominion is targeting a 55% reduction in carbon emissions and a 50% cut in methane emissions by 2030. The company plans to reduce carbon emissions from its power plants by at least 80% between 2005 and 2050.

"Technologies (such as solar capacity, battery storage) will need to improve to help us get the rest of the way," Cannon said. "We are embracing innovative solutions to develop new clean energy solutions to reach those goals."

In September, Dominion announced plans to develop more than 2,600 MW of offshore wind capacity by 2026 off the coast of Virginia Beach, Va. Dominion, which made the announcement days after the governor's executive order, said it plans to build the 2,640-MW offshore wind project in three phases. If approved, each phase of the project will total 880 MW, with the first phase complete by 2024.

The company said in its report that it plans to "invest another $4 billion in renewable energy" over the next few years.

"Prices continue to drop, making the development of renewable energy more economically feasible," Cannon said.

"In the past five years, we have built our solar portfolio from virtually nothing to 2,600 MW, which places us fourth in the country among investor-owned utilities," Farrell told analysts in March at the company's 2019 investor day in New York.

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However, Dominion said it will continue to invest in natural gas as a bridge fuel that it views as being essential to the energy transition.

"Renewables alone don't have the capacity to meet the peak demand of our customers," Cannon said. "That's why a diverse energy mix — including solar and wind as well as natural gas and zero-carbon nuclear energy — are critical to serving our customers reliably and affordably. We're investing in natural gas because it's a great partner for renewables. It helps fill in the gaps when the sun isn't shining and the wind isn't blowing."

Dominion also said the Atlantic Coast Pipeline "is needed more than ever" to support electric reliability and to supply natural gas for home heating and manufacturing.

Virginia's second-largest utility, Appalachian Power Co., said in its 2019 integrated resource plan that it envisions adding up to 1,500 MW of new solar capacity over the next 15 years to meet Virginia mandates. The American Electric Power Co. Inc. subsidiary said it "no longer owns or operates coal-fueled generation plants in Virginia" and plans to retire the gas-fired Clinch River units 1 and 2 in 2026.

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