Dominion Power Was Built for the 20th Century; We Don't Need it in the 21st Century

Thursday, September 10, 2015

The title of this post is paraphrasing David Roberts of Vox, who yesterday posted the excellent, strongly-recommended-even-if-super-wonky article, "Power utilities are built for the 20th century. That's why they're flailing in the 21st." Here are the main points and how they directly apply to Dominion Virginia Power.1. Utilities like Dominion, and their executives like Dominion's $21-million-per-year CEO Thomas F. Farrell II, might not "hate clean energy out of sheer greed or malice," but "[g]reed and malice are definitely involved."
2. More importantly, however, is the "root problem...the way utilities are structured...monopoly providers of a whole bundle of electricity services in a given geographic area."
3. Why is the fact that utilities like Dominion Virginia Power are (regulated) monopolies a problem, anyway? For a very simple and powerful reason: "technology has evolved to the point that many of those services could be provided just as reliably, or better, by participants in competitive markets - if there were any such markets." In short, we won't really need Dominion Virginia Power going forward, but Dominion badly needs consumer their feel-good propaganda, keep our mouths shut, and not demand that this absurd situation change.
4. "Wait, WHAT?", you ask? We don't need Dominion's top-down, take-what-they-offer-and-LIKE-it model anymore? Yep, it's true; let's have David Roberts explain a bit further.
There's no longer any compelling reason for all those services to be bundled by a single "vertically integrated" monopoly. The only thing left that calls for monopoly control is the distribution grid itself, managing it and interfacing with customers. As for the rest - electricity generation, procurement, and management - they should be "unbundled," spun off into competitive markets to accelerate innovation.
And the reason all this is true is also simple yet profound: utilities like Dominion Virginia Power are in the process of rapidly losing, or already have lost, most if not all the rationale ("extremely high barriers to entry"; "enormous economies of scale") that were used to justify creating them in the first place!
lowkell :: Dominion Power Was Built for the 20th Century; We Don't Need it in the 21st Century
5. In turn, the collapse of pretty much any rationale for Dominion Virginia Power and other vertically-integrated, state-regulated-monopoly utility behemoths to exist is thanks in large part to: a) rapid technological innovation (e.g., "the dizzying expansion of information and communications technology;" b)plummeting costs for "batteries and the rise of plug-in electric vehicles, which have expanded options for home energy storage;" and c) "the extraordinary decline in the cost of distributed solar power on residential and commercial rooftops, which has expanded the market for home energy generation."
6. So why can't we just say "thanks for the memories, Dominion, it's been real, sayonara" to the antiquated, dirty, "big, dumb, and one-way only" "20th-century 'hub and spoke' grid" model? Because, as David Roberts explains:
The basic utility model has been around for nigh a century without changing much. Utilities and their regulators have developed cozy, familiar relationships. Those who benefit from the status quo have more access to legislators. And the general public is totally tuned out.
As Roberts argues, it's time for the public to tune in (and, I'd add, make their voices heard loud and clear that they want change to this decrepit model - now!), or Dominion will keep getting its way, at the expense of everyone else living or working in Virginia (not to mention the environment we all share).7. So once we get ditch Dominion (and bury its rotting, stinking corpse), what will things look like? Awesome! That is, if you like having: a) more control over your energy choices; b) a cleaner energy mix; c) a less expensive energy mix; d) power that's LESS likely to be disrupted by storms, etc. Basically, it will look like this, per David Roberts:
modular: the grid will be composed at least in part of smaller microgrids that can be "islanded" off from the larger grid in case of service problems, providing their own power for a limited timesmart: sensors and ICT technology will enable realtime information about distributed generation, consumption, grid congestion, and possible threats to reliability
multidirectional: rather than being passive recipients of electricity, thousands of consumers will also generate, store, and sell it, becoming participants in electricity markets - producer/consumers, or (gag) "prosumers"
A great vision, who in their right mind wouldn't want to move towards that as quickly as possible?!? Uhhhh... So, why AREN'T we moving towards that bright new paradigm as fast as possible? Here in Virginia, the answer is not hard to find. Just "follow the money," as the saying goes. According to the Virginia Public Access Project, Dominion has spent $13.5 MILLION over the years attempting to buy/control our politicians (of both parties). Do you seriously think those bought-and-paid-for politicians are going to turn around and bite the hand that feeds them so lavishly? And do you seriously think that fully-"captured" "regulatory agencies" like the Virginia State Corporation Commission (note: I put "regulatory agencies" in quotes because those agencies are actually the ones that are "regulated" - by the corporations) are going to tell Dominion Power to do anything its extremely-well-paid executives don't want to be told to do? I mean, seriously, if you believe that, then I've got an old, antiquated, dirty, expensive, state-protected, top-down, "regulated" monopoly utility to sell you! LOLP.S. For a perfect example of how monopoly utility behemoths like Dominion treat us vassals, see Dominion to offer community solar, minus the community and the solar by Ivy Main, one of the few people (along with Peter Galuszka and a few others) who really "gets it" when it comes to Dominion Power; the intersection between energy, environment, politics and economics; etc.