When it comes to energy efficiency and renewable energy sales, Dominion Resources comes in dead last or nearly so in a new report ranking the country's biggest utilities.
The report was compiled by the environmental advocacy group Ceres and the research and advisory firm Clean Edge in the first-ever attempt to rank investor-owned power companies by three clean energy indicators.
Out of 32 utilities included in the report, Dominion Resources — the parent company for Dominion Virginia Power, the largest electric utility in the state — ranked 30th for renewable energy sales, 31st for cumulative annual energy efficiency and 32nd for incremental annual energy efficiency.
Dan Bakal, director of electric power programs at Ceres, cautioned that the scope of the report was limited. It didn't consider large-scale hydroelectric or nuclear power, for example, since those power sources are expected to age out eventually in favor of carbon-free energy. And the data came from 2012 sources, which are the most recent available.
"We do see a lot of opportunity for the utilities and the states that are at the lower end of the list, and I do think there have been some encouraging developments happening that are not yet reflected in the report," Bakal said in an interview Thursday to announce the release of "Benchmarking Utility Clean Energy."
As a result, he said, the report doesn't reflect more recent progress in Virginia toward greater efficiency in renewables.
"There's a lot of opportunity here," Bakal said. "We are not here to critique companies. We are really here to highlight the possibilities."
Dominion Virginia spokesman Dan Genest agreed the report is based on old data.
"It does not reflect that by the end of this year we will have added more than 230 megawatts of operational solar generation to our fleet, received a $47 million grant to build a two-turbine, 12-megawatt wind turbine demonstration project off the coast of Virginia and are leading the effort to develop up to 2,000 megawatts of commercial offshore wind," Genest said in an email response.
Those 230 megawatts can power about 80,500 homes; 2,000 megawatts can power about 700,000 homes.
Genest also said the report fails to consider other greenhouse gas emission reductions, such as the 1,300-megawatts of coal-fired generation the company has closed or is committed to closing.
The report considered only wind, solar, geothermal and biomass energy sources.
And, while Dominion also supports renewable energy and efficiencies, Genest said, "we believe they must be prudent and realistic."
"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," Genest wrote. "Typical residential customer monthly bills are $228.85, $206.07 and $191.04, respectively. Dominion Virginia Power customers pay $112.45."
According to the report, each of the top five ranked utilities had renewable resources account for up to 21 percent of its retail electricity sales in 2012.
Among the bottom five, including Dominion, renewables accounted for less than 2 percent of each company's total power sales. For Dominion, it was 0.52 percent for renewable energy sales, 0.41 percent for cumulative annual energy efficiency and 0.05 percent for incremental annual energy efficiency.
Cumulative efficiency is considered all energy savings from all energy efficiency programs active in a given year, and incremental efficiency is all energy savings from new participants in existing programs and all participants in new programs in a given year.
The report comes as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency prepares for listening sessions next week on its proposed Clean Power Plan that calls for carbon emission reductions at existing power plants in an effort to reduce greenhouse gases that scientists blame for climate change. Energy efficiency and clean energy are two building blocks of that plan.
According to the report, energy efficiency is the lowest-cost energy resource, and renewable energy is rapidly becoming cost-competitive with fossil fuels. Renewables accounted for nearly half of the country's new electric generating capacity in 2012, with solar energy the fastest-growing energy source.
"The electric utility industry is entering a period of major transformation as it moves from a rate-regulated industry of monopolies to a market-based competitive system driven by consumer choices," energy law attorney Jon B. Wellinghoff said in a statement. "Ignoring this clean energy shift is dangerous for both the traditional utility business and the environment."
Wellinghoff is former chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
The U.S. Department of Energy claims renewables could supply 80 percent of the nation's energy by 2050, the report says. But U.S. investment in clean energy has actually fallen in the last two years, from $68.5 billion in 2011 to $48.4 billion in 2013.
According to Bakal, the report offers consumers, lawmakers, investors and companies a way to shape and drive energy debate and policies.
Dietrich can be reached by phone at 757-247-7892.
Read the report
To download a copy of the report (which requires registration on the website), go to http://www.ceres.org/resources/reports/benchmarking-utility-clean-energy-deployment-2014/viewCopyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun