Energy as a long-term investment

Dominion Energy 125 acre solar farm Remington va
Dominion Energy's 125-acre solar farm in Remington, Va.

Dear Editor,

In his letter published Aug. 2, Paul Conklin Quigg makes good points about the challenges facing renewable energy.

But, his conclusion — that wind and solar development waste our efforts — ignores reality. It also ignores progress so far and the fruits of continued innovation.

Battery technology has existed only since 1800, relatively recent in human history. I bet a few Ford 8N tractors with 6-volt systems still work the fields of Page County. Battery efficiency consistently improves about 5 percent a year, until the next big breakthrough.

But, the solutions to our ever-growing energy needs rely on a variety of technologies — yes, for the immediate future, including fossil fuels. (Ford bets its all-electric F-150 will accelerate a shift.)

Matching energy to demand always has presented significant challenges, which led to development of our grid that moves electricity from state to state as needed. It also has led utilities to build “peaking generators” — including Dominion Energy’s Pumped Storage Station in Bath County and natural-gas-fired turbines all around Virginia. They produce electricity that costs more than Dominion can charge, but it arrives when needed most.

Thanks to a large solar array that my wife and I installed 2-1/2 years ago, we generate virtually all the electricity our homestead consumes — just not exactly when we need all of it. On sunny days, we send excess electricity to the grid. At night and on cloudy days, we rely on the grid. It did cost a lot, an expense that will take 11 years to recoup — after which we will have “free” electricity for another 14 years or so. Does that prospect justify the investment? We think so.

Block Island, R.I., had the most expensive electricity in the United States until it installed five huge wind turbines 3.8 miles off its coast in the Atlantic. Completed in 2016, the project replaced inefficient, pollution-belching diesel generators and, for the first time, tied the island to the mainland with undersea cable. Island customers’ electricity bills have declined by 50 percent. Does that justify the long-term investment?

Our nation has innovated constantly to address its energy needs. Halting investment in renewables would suggest that we can dig and drill forever without negative consequences, including depletion of finite resources.

We need constant innovation.

Some of the nation’s largest electricity consumers, along with energy and utility companies — including Exxon and Dominion Energy — already have shifted much of their investment to renewables. They do so for many reasons, including future financial viability.

We thankfully and rather quickly have come a long way from whale oil for light and coal stoves for heat.

Lawrence Emerson ~ Warrenton, Va.

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