Dominion Net Zero By 2050

In this exclusive interview with Jasmine Bedi, InterGlobix Magazine’s Editor-in-Chief, Baine throws light on Dominion’s “Net Zero by 2050” initiative and how Dominion is a key ally of the thriving Virginia data center industry, the No. 1 data center market globally. Baine also shares how Dominion Energy is preparing for a carbon free future.

Can you share with us your journey with Dominion?

I started with the company as an engineer 25 years ago and I’m now President of Dominion Energy Virginia, overseeing our generation, distribution and transmission assets serving 2.7 million customers in Virginia, as well as northeastern North Carolina. Before taking my current position, I held numerous senior roles within Dominion Energy Virginia including distribution, transmission, customer service and generation. Over the past quarter century, I have watched a remarkable evolution at our company. When I began in 1995, things were very different in the utility space. The energy industry was slow to evolve, especially compared to the rise in tech companies throughout the ‘90s and early 2000s. I am extremely proud to be a part of this industry and, especially, this company. We have made some incredible innovations over the past 20 years—innovations that put us on our journey toward clean energy, which is what we will be discussing today.

The demand for clean, renewable energy has never been higher, this development has happened rather quickly. The conversation always has been there, but it seems that it has been accelerated in the past decade. How has Dominion Energy responded?

Dominion Energy has come a long way over the past five years. In 2015, we had just 1 megawatt (MW) of solar operating in Virginia. As prices fell and the energy sector evolved, we adapted to provide our customers more renewable energy.  And, we are delivering.  We now own the third largest solar fleet among our utility peers in the United States and we are building the largest offshore wind facility in the Americas.  Across our 16-state footprint we have committed to achieving net zero carbon and methane emissions by 2050. This is not an easy goal, but we are committed to doing our part to help create a cleaner world and, as one of the largest utilities in the US, we are in a position to make positive change. Moreover, we will do so without compromising the affordable rates, strong reliability, superior safety and excellent service we keep at the heart of our mission.

The Virginia Clean Economy Act (VCEA) was recently passed. Can you talk about this act and what some of the key implications of this act are for Dominion Energy and its customers?

Dominion Energy firmly believes the VCEA, which was signed by Governor Ralph Northam following its passage earlier this year in the General Assembly, is the way forward for clean energy in Virginia. While our company already had made substantial progress in the development of solar, wind, energy storage and energy efficiency, this legislation provides the roadmap for further zero-carbon expansion.

Can you tell us about some clean energy projects in which Dominion Energy is investing?

The VCEA calls for over 16,000 MW of solar by 2035. Dominion Energy will deliver a significant portion of this clean and renewable solar energy, significantly expanding our solar portfolio.

In addition, one of the most important aspects of the VCEA is that it underscores the invaluable role of offshore wind. Dominion Energy is the only utility to own an offshore wind project and the first to construct turbines in federal waters. Our first two turbines from our pilot project are now generating electricity and we are shifting focus to build 2,600 MW of offshore wind. Once completed in 2026, the approximately 200 turbines will generate enough energy at peak to power up to 660,000 homes. This has far more implications than just the delivery of clean energy to our customers. Such a large endeavor will require a skilled workforce and advanced manufacturing.  We are working to develop a supply chain in Hampton Roads that will provide thousands of clean-energy jobs in Virginia and reduce overall costs for our customers.

ED BAINE, President, Dominion Energy

We have been an energy storage leader, thanks to our Bath County Power Station, which is called the “largest battery in the world.”  This pumped-storage facility provides approximately 3,000 MW of power when our customers need it most. We are piloting several new energy storage projects in Virginia now and, under the VCEA, we will add a large portion of the 2,700 MW of energy storage to our system by 2035.

For the first time, the VCEA also puts in place an energy-efficiency mandate to reduce overall consumption. This will continue the efforts sparked by the Grid Transformation & Security Act of 2018, which required nearly $1 billion in efficiency programs over the course of a decade. We are already 40 percent of the way to that goal with eight years to go and will continue to significantly invest in these efforts under VCEA.

Dominion recently announced it would be transitioning to net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. What is your strategy to achieve this goal?

Dominion Energy has been a leader in reducing emissions. In the last 15 years we have reduced our carbon emissions by 57 percent.  We decided that we could do even better. Earlier this year we declared that we would achieve net zero carbon and methane emissions by 2050 across our entire 16-state footprint. We owe it not just to our customer, but to our environment and planet.

While we are not the first utility to set a net zero goal, we are among the largest and most operationally diverse to do so for both electric and natural gas operations. Moreover, we consider it imperative that our goal, and the means by which we propose to reach it, be credible. Above all, that means we will always pursue it with our customers in mind. Our customers expect a clean environment. They also expect safe, reliable and affordable energy. We intend to meet all of those expectations.

Making such a change is never easy, but we are up to the challenge and have already begun taking steps to achieve this goal – starting with the sale of substantially all of our gas transmission and storage assets. We expect that to immediately reduce the emissions profile of our natural gas businesses by 50 percent.

Of course, you are more likely to succeed at a long-term goal if you break it down into intermediate steps. So, we plan to reduce methane emissions by 65 percent by 2030 and 80 percent by 2040.  We also plan to cut our methane emissions though significant investments in Renewable Natural Gas (RNG), which we can produce from methane harvested at pig and cattle farms. This year we launched a partnership with Smithfield Foods to become the largest supplier of renewable natural gas in the nation. That project, Align RNG, will be able to power 70,000 homes and its emissions savings are equivalent to taking 500,000 cars off the road or planting 40 million trees. We are planning to develop additional projects to further carbon-free goals as well.

We also believe nuclear power has a major role to play, as it is our most reliable source of clean energy. We power more than 3 million Dominion Energy customers with round-the-clock zero carbon energy and work to extend the operating life of our zero-carbon nuclear fleet by 20 years.

Just as RNG will help the agricultural industry to reduce its emissions, we also are looking at ways to help other businesses and industries drive down their emissions. We are working to reduce the environmental impact of the transportation sector, which is the leading source of U.S. emissions. We have proposed the largest electric school bus deployment in America. We are rolling out incentives to help accelerate the adoption of electric vehicles. We also are investigating new and innovative ways to serve our customers. Autonomous vehicles, green hydrogen, small modular nuclear reactors and other technologies will soon become mainstream and we will work to incorporate them into our businesses as they best suit our customers’ needs.

Dominion Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind Project (CVOW)

Northern Virginia is the leading data center market globally.  Dominion Energy provides over 1.7GW of power to this industry. Currently, there is 6.4 million sq ft of new data center development underway. How does Dominion Energy plan to meet the growing requirements of the data center industry in Virginia with clean energy?

Clean energy is not focused just on residential customers.  All customer segments have been demanding it.  Dominion Energy is proud to serve the largest data center market in the world by developing and offering new alternatives for clean energy. The data center industry has been the driving force for the development of renewable energy over the past 10 years.  In fact, many of our data center customers are already powering their facilities with 100 percent renewable energy. 

Data centers are more important than ever during the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, in some places around the country, data center staff have been designated as essential workers. The centers keep us connected in an increasingly virtual world and they can’t survive without energy. Without our clean energy trajectory, we could never meet the demands of our customers.  We not only will meet their clean energy demands but exceed them. At the same time, reliability is very important.  Millions of people rely on data centers at all hours of the day and night, which means millions are relying on us not just to power their homes but to power their lives. We won’t let them down.

We’ve seen multiple utilities around the country moving in this direction, responding to consumer and legislative demand touting their clean energy goals, whether it be net zero emissions or 100 percent renewable energy. The question remains if it is truly achievable within the given time frames while maintaining customer reliability. Is Dominion Energy up to the challenge?

No matter the challenge, we have a plan to meet and exceed net zero goals for the greater good of our customers and the greater good of society. To answer the question: Yes, it is achievable in the future.  Dominion Energy already has started on the path to zero carbon energy.  As I mentioned earlier, the VCEA will accelerate the pace, not start the effort.  It also will require new technologies and additional innovation. At Dominion Energy, we want to lead—not follow—the rest of our industry towards a zero-carbon world.