Dominion Energy must conduct a comprehensive coal fleet retirement analysis and assess replacing its South Carolina plants, according to an order from the state’s Public Service Commission.
Commissioners will open a docket ordering Dominion to “evaluate the reliability risks and environmental costs of continued operation of the coal plants.” The order also directs the utility to consider options–informed by resource bids–to replace coal technology with state-of- the art clean energy as part of its 2022 energy plan update.
The order requires the retirement analysis to be completed before Dominion can make any decisions about spending customers’ money to retrofit the Williams and Wateree coal plants. Both plants need to be retrofitted to meet federal rules meant to protect waterways from mercury, arsenic and other pollutants.
The order was met with praise from both renewable energy proponents and environmental conservationists alike. Will Harlan, senior representative for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign in South Carolina, said, “We’re confident a thorough analysis of Dominion’s coal fleet will show that phasing out these dirty, polluting plants and replacing them with clean, affordable energy is the best path forward.”
A troubled IRP
The new order comes less than a month after the Commission unanimously rejected Dominion’s proposed integrated resource plan (IRP).
The rejected IRP, according to the Commission, failed to include a demand side management resource option or power purchasing options. The IRP also did not model any renewable energy additions prior to 2026, nor any coal retirements prior to 2028.
The IRP also proposed raising solar customers’ basic service charge to $19.50 a month, adding a “solar subscription fee” of $5.40/kW a month and slashing the solar export credit that customers can receive.
The fees were described by Kate Lee Mixson, an attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center, as an attempt to “keep customers tethered to Dominion’s rising rates.”
The proposed fees also drew the attention of South Carolina Governor, Henry McMaster, who urged the utility to reconsider, especially “in the midst of a pandemic.”
Many have pointed to the rate hike as an attempt by Dominion to claw back some funds after the utility’s purchase of South Carolina Energy & Gas, as that utility faced a large debt after its involvement in a scrapped nuclear power plant construction project.
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