Dominion Energy’s costly expansion plans sent back to drawing board

Regulators’ rare rebuke requires utility to give renewable energy more than lip service

Dominion’s continued push for large, risky, customer-funded fossil-fuel plants is not in line with lawmakers’ and regulators’ efforts to modernize the way South Carolinians get electricity. (© Mike Mather)

A South Carolina regulatory board rejected Dominion Energy’s expensive and predictable plans to provide power to its customers over the next decades, saying the Virginia-based utility had given short shrift to cost-saving options like energy-efficiency upgrades and broader adoption of renewable energy sources.

The rare rebuke of a large power company effectively sends Dominion Energy back to the drawing board with requirements to do more homework before appearing again before the Public Service Commission. Dominion had asked the commission to approve the company’s “Integrated Resource Plan,” a multi-decade road map that outlines how the utility plans to provide electricity to customers in an economical and sustainable way.

The commission was instead swayed by testimony of several groups, including SELC, representing the South Carolina Coastal Conservation League and Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, that said Dominion’s plan failed to properly evaluate:

  • Retiring old, dirty and uneconomical coal-fired power plants
  • Investing in energy-efficiency programs to reduce overall power demand
  • Investing in cheaper renewable energy, including solar power and battery storage

“Dominion showed up with an outdated approach that could force customers to pay for large and expensive fossil-fuel power plants,” says Attorney Kate Lee Mixson. “And at the same time, Dominion essentially ignored or cast aside cheaper, more flexible options like solar power that would better serve its customers by cutting power bills. Fortunately, the commission is holding Dominion to a higher standard.”

Dominion in its IRP fell short of the new requirements of the state’s landmark “Energy Freedom Act,” which required that utilities consider more cost-effective renewable energy in plans to meet future energy needs, and to avoid costly boondoggles, Mixson says.

Now Dominion will have to come back to the commission with a plan that puts customers first and sets South Carolina on a path toward a clean-energy future, and that is the way it should be.”

—Attorney Kate Lee Mixson

The Energy Freedom Act largely was borne from the multi-billion-dollar failure of the VC Summer power station, a nuclear-power project that soaked customers with higher power bills to pay for a facility that was poorly conceived and managed, went way over budget and fell hopelessly behind schedule, and was ultimately abandoned. Several key leaders of that project are being prosecuted for fraud.

Mixson says Dominion’s continued push for large, risky, customer-funded fossil-fuel plants is not in line with lawmakers’ and regulators’ efforts to modernize the way South Carolinians get electricity.

“Now Dominion will have to come back to the commission with a plan that puts customers first and sets South Carolina on a path toward a clean-energy future, and that is the way it should be,” Mixon says.

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