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Thu May 8, 2014

Dominion Slowly Heeding Push to Go Greener

Credit Phil Hollman/Wikimedia Commons

Shareholders hoping to push Dominion Power to go green are celebrating today, after four resolutions they proposed won about 20% support at the utility’s annual meeting.  Such resolutions are not binding, but they can be influential.

Sandy Hausman reports.

A shareholder resolution asking Dominion Energy to study the impact of greenhouse gases and the risk of investing in biomass won support from more than 20% of those voting at yesterday’s annual meeting. 

Analysts say that's a significant number, since institutions that hold most of the company’s stock rarely challenge management.  Dominion spokesman Dan Genest says three coal plants have been converted to burn biomass.

“When somebody goes into the forest for a timbering operation, they take the trunks, and they leave the branches and they leave the tree tops, and traditionally that stuff is either piled up and burned or it lays there and rots.  We have people who go out there and take that and grind it up for us, and that’s what we use for fuel.” 

Critics say burning wood adds more carbon to the atmosphere than coal, but supporters say new trees are planted, and they absorb carbon.  Either way, Dominion says it won’t be converting any more plants to biomass, and CEO Tom Farrell says the utility is moving away from carbon-based fuels.

“Our reliance on coal has gone down by over 30% in the last five years.  Most people in Virginia when they turn on their switch are getting power from a nuclear power station either at Surry or North Anna.  Over 40% of our power comes from those four reactors.” 

The company also announced it had won a large federal grant to install two wind turbines off Virginia Beach, but Farrell says consumers won’t be getting cheap electric power from wind any time soon.

“That’s 20 years away, and it’s probably four times more expensive than onshore wind, which is three or four times more expensive than fossil fuels.” 

On a related note, Dominion has purchased two new solar projects in Tennessee.  Virginia’s largest electric utility says it’s not investing much in solar here, because our electric rates are too low and there are no state incentives that would make it profitable to do so.
 

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