August 4, 2017

Will Activists Seek to Shut Off Your Air Conditioning this Summer?

Heath Knakmuhs

Lately, it seems that some environmental activists are against almost everything.  Their latest cause?  Trying to shut down air conditioning during Virginia’s muggy summer months.  Fortunately, cooler heads have prevailed … thus far. 

Dominion Energy’s Yorktown Power Station is slated to be retired, in large part because it is unable to economically comply with recently enacted regulations from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).  However, due to the geographic location of the power plant – on the Southeast Virginia peninsula – alternative sources of electricity must first be brought into the area before the Yorktown Power Plant’s 323 Megawatts of coal-fired electricity generation can be shuttered for good.  Without this power plant or reliable backup resources, the more than 600,000 residents of this peninsula, which includes Williamsburg, Hampton, and Newport News, would have to cope with third-world electricity reliability, and would very likely not have electricity for air conditioning during many of the summer’s hottest days. 

Dominion Energy has made plans to provide alternative sources of electricity for the region:  the proposed Surry-Skiffes Creek Transmission Line, which would transport both renewably sourced and carbon-free nuclear electrons across the James River to this geographically constrained population center.  However, that line isn’t yet in place, thanks in large part to opposition from historical groups and environmental activists.  Those delays led EPA to grant an extension to Dominion to keep running the coal plant until April 2017.

In steps the Department of Energy (DOE).

Pursuant to its emergency authority under Section 202(c) of the Federal Power Act, the DOE last month ordered the Yorktown Plant to remain available and operational as necessary to “maintain grid reliability” through September 2017.  PJM, the independent overseer of the mid-Atlantic power grid, sought and obtained this order due to the imminent reliability risk present if the power plant were to shut down prior to the completion of the new transmission line.  Thus, the emergency order seeks to maintain reliable electric service, during the hottest months of the year, while pushback continues to stall the power line project.      

So with no power line to supply an alternative, there should be no question that the coal plant must remain open, right?  Unfortunately not.  Incredibly, the Sierra Club is now protesting the emergency DOE order that is keeping the lights on and the air conditioners humming, for the 600,000 plus residents of this Virginian peninsula.  The Sierra Club argues that the situation is not a true “emergency” because the potential shortage of power on the peninsula has been known for some time.  This part is true, because Dominion Energy identified the need for additional transmission capacity back in 2011. However, while Dominion estimates a construction period of approximately 18 months, that timeframe has been indefinitely delayed as a result of opposition to the line.  So, with no transmission line (thanks in part to opposition), and no power plant (if the Sierra Club gets its way), apparently the folks in southeast Virginia are just supposed to sweat their way through the summer, and cook with fire like the old days.  No power plant, no transmission line…and no air conditioning, according to the Sierra Club. 

What’s happening in Virginia is not an isolated incident.  It’s part of a larger effort by activist groups to oppose energy – and energy infrastructure – of all kinds.  In this case, the Sierra Club insists that an emergency order to keep the lights on and the air conditioning running isn’t as important as proving a point.  Hopefully, cooler heads will prevail.