A new report from the non-profit group Ceres shows Dominion Resources, the parent of Dominion Virginia Power, winning last place among investor-owned utilities on a nationwide ranking of renewable energy sales and energy efficiency savings.
That’s left Virginians wondering how a company that talks so big succeeds in doing so little. And more importantly, what would it take for Dominion to rank even among the average?
Dominion came in 30th out of 32 in renewable energy sales, at 0.52%. On energy efficiency, it achieved 31st out of 32 on savings measured cumulatively (0.41%), and 32nd out of 32 measured on an incremental annual level (at 0.03%). Together these put our team in last place overall—a notable achievement for a utility that trumpets its solar investments and carbon-cutting progress.
To show just how awful Dominion’s performance is, the top five finishers achieved between 16.67% and 21.08% on renewable energy sales, 10.62-17.18% on cumulative annual energy efficiency, and 1.46-1.77% on incremental annual energy efficiency. National averages were 5.29% for renewable energy sales, 4.96% for cumulative efficiency savings, and 0.73% for incremental annual efficiency savings. Rankings were based on 2012 numbers, the latest year for which data were available.
In case you’re wondering, American Electric Power, the parent company of Appalachian Power Co., earned 24th place for renewable energy, with 2.65% of sales from renewables—a number only half the national average and one we might have called pathetic if it weren’t five times higher than Dominion’s. AEP’s efficiency rankings also placed it firmly in the bottom half of utilities, running 23d and 20th for cumulative and incremental efficiency savings, respectively. However, AEP earned its own laurels recently as the nation’s largest emitter of carbon pollution from power plants due to its coal-centric portfolio.
A study of the rankings reveals that Dominion’s major competition for the title of absolute worst came from other utilities based in the South. The critic’s favorite, Southern Company, nabbed 31st place on the renewable energy sales measure, but failed to make the bottom five on one of the efficiency rankings. Another southeastern utility, SCANA, achieved rock bottom on renewable energy; but like Southern, its marginally better performance on efficiency disqualified it from an overall last-place ranking.
Why do utilities in the South do so poorly? Probably because they can. Most of the poor performers have monopoly control over their territories and are powerful players in their state legislatures. Lacking in competition, they do what’s best for themselves. Possessing political power, they are able to keep it that way.
Of course, they still have to contend with public opinion and the occasional legislator who gets out of line. For that it helps to have a well-worn narrative handy, like the one about how expensive clean energy is. Dominion has found that Virginia’s leaders fall for that one readily, even though it’s false.
And so, when asked about the Ceres report, Dominion responded that Virginia wouldn’t want to be like the states that have high-performing utilities. Dominion spokesman Dan Genest told the Daily Press, “The three states — California, Connecticut and Massachusetts — the report mentions as being leaders in those categories also have among the highest electric rates in the nation. Typical residential customer monthly bills are $228.85, $206.07 and $191.04, respectively. Dominion Virginia Power customers pay $112.45.”
This would be an excellent point, if it were true. Alas, Genest’s numbers appear to be a product of a fevered imagination. According to recent data reported in the Washington Post, California’s average monthly electric bill is only $87.91, Connecticut’s comes in at $126.75, and Massachusetts’ at $93.53, while Virginia’s is $123.72. (Virginia’s numbers presumably reflect an average of bills paid by customers statewide, probably accounting for the higher figure than Genest cites for Dominion’s “typical” customer.)
That’s right: in spite of higher rates, Californians pay way less for electricity than Virginians do, in part because they have achieved high levels of energy efficiency. If you do that, you can afford to invest in more renewable energy without people’s bills going up.
This is such a great idea that it seems like it would be worth trying it here. Remarkably, this is precisely the strategy that environmental groups have been urging for years in their conversations with legislators and their filings at the State Corporation Commission. With the pressure on from global warming and the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, this would seem to be a great opportunity to save money, cut carbon, and move us into the 21st century.
So go for it, Dominion. Aspire to lead! Or failing that, at least shoot for average.