DOT, power sector seen as partners in creating infrastructure for net-zero economy

Published on July 09, 2021 by Tom Ewing

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The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and the electric power industry have an opportunity to develop innovative transportation solutions to help the United States transition to a net-zero economy, DOT Secretary Pete Buttigieg and energy and labor leaders said at an event hosted by the Bipartisan Policy Center.

The event held Thursday featured a discussion with Buttigieg and focused on Congress’ still-emerging $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure legislation. A panel discussion then followed focusing on ideas about how to act on and implement the various opportunities within the bill. The panel included Robert M. Blue, Chair, President and Chief Executive Officer of Dominion Energy; Liz Shuler, Secretary-Treasurer of AFL-CIO; and Toby Rice, President and CEO of EQT, the largest producer of natural gas in the United States.

Buttigieg focused not just on the massive spending within the infrastructure bill, and the range of projects that it would underwrite, including building electric transmission infrastructure, but the critical bipartisan support helping the bill’s progress. “The sausage making is in full swing,” Buttigieg remarked, “but the bottom line is we’ve arrived at something. This is powerful.”

Buttigieg said that the challenges faced by the energy and transportation sectors are interrelated; they do not exist in silos. This linkage will become more pronounced as electric vehicles (EVs) move into the transportation fleet. He cited the possibility of placing transmission infrastructure in highway rights-of-ways as an example of maximizing energy and transportation investments. He said if legislators can “get the policy right” there will emerge multiple project opportunities.

In considering Buttigieg’s remarks, the panelists highlighted their related clean energy work. Blue noted Dominion’s history of carbon reduction efforts: CO2 levels are down 50 percent since 2005, better than the 40 percent reduction achieved by the larger electric industry.

To really scale up, Blue said there needs to be new investments in two areas: renewable generation and EV adoption. He noted, for example, Dominion’s construction of the 8.8 GW Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind Project, due for completion in 2026 and projected to power 660,000 homes. It’s the largest planned offshore wind project in the U.S., 27 miles from VA’s coastline.

Blue noted that Dominion aims to reach net-zero by 2050, meaning that the company is working to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions across all of its electric and natural gas operations in all 16 states where it does business.

He added, though, that it will take substantial new investments in solar, in the electric grid, and continued operation of Dominion’s four nuclear plants, the company’s baseload non-carbon generation.

Regarding EV expansion, Blue referenced Dominion’s participation in The Electric Highway Coalition – made up of Duke Energy, American Electric Power (AEP), Dominion Energy, Entergy Corp., Southern Co., and the Tennessee Valley Authority. When built out, this network of DC fast chargers will enable EV drivers to seamlessly travel through a broad portion of eastern and Midwest states. EV charging infrastructure is a prominent part of the infrastructure bill. In addition, Dominion is working on a pilot project in Virginia that will provide charging facilities at apartments, and it is building its first company-owned fast-charging station.

New and expanded employment opportunities were an important focus for AFL-CIO’s Shuler. She said her organization is in full support of the bipartisan infrastructure plan and that she and her team are working to get the bill passed.

As an example of new opportunities, she referenced Dominion’s construction of a new offshore wind turbine installation vessel. “It is a big deal that Dominion is building this Jones Act-compliant ship,” she said. The Jones Act is a maritime statute requiring, for service in American waters, that a vessel is American built, American crewed and American owned. “I would say that offshore wind is a top-drawer example of how wind can deliver what we promise,” she added. This is a project that is “growing good jobs.”

She added further that Dominion is a company that has always had good labor relations because it knows that this adds value because it builds and retains a good workforce.

Blue also referenced the new wind turbine vessel, estimated to cost $500 million, and its multiplier effect across many industries. The vessel’s hull and infrastructure, for example, will utilize more than 14,000 tons of domestic steel, with nearly 10,000 tons sourced from Alabama and West Virginia suppliers. The vessel is being built at Keppel AmFELS at its Brownsville, Texas, shipyard.

EQT’s Toby Rice noted that natural gas will continue to play a major role in generation. Coal still provides 20 percent of America’s electricity generation, he noted. As coal transitions out, utility officials will continue to need gas because it is a replacement fuel that is low cost, reliable and available at scale. He added though that gas suppliers are working on new fuels, using natural gas, for example, to produce hydrogen. And he noted that depleted gas wells can be used for CO2 storage.

Additionally, he said EQT is working to certify gas production, a reference to maximally controlling upstream emissions so that utilities can document best practices from fuel providers. He commented further that sustainability has to be viewed across many fronts, from production to end use. And he cited another critical measure: profitability.