By Drew Apperson

 

On June 14, 2021, the Commonwealth of Virginia’s State Corporation Commission (“SCC”) approved Phase IB of Dominion Energy’s (also known as Virginia Electric and Power Company, or VEPCO) plan for electric distribution grid transformation projects pursuant to § 56-585.1 A 6 of the Code of Virginia.[1] This is but one part of a grid overhaul plan by the Virginia-based utility company.[2] “The electric grid was originally designed for one-way flow of electricity to meet customers’ demand.”[3] In the traditional electric grid system, electricity is produced by a generator, such as a hydroelectric dam or nuclear power plant. Electricity then feeds through the transmission system to the distribution system, and finally, is made available to the end-use customer – the outlets in your home.[4] On the other hand, “smart grid” designs, like that of Dominion’s being considered by the SCC, allow for bidirectional electrical flows and alternative routes for the electricity to reach the consumers. [5]

With the growing number of not just personal electric cars, trucks, and SUVs, but also commercial fleets of electric vehicles, traditional grids are inadequate to utilize what are essentially drivable batteries. For example, when an area loses power from a downed electrical line during a storm, anything down-stream of the issue is isolated from the generator and is thus without power – a so called “voltage island.”[6] In a two-way electric grid, however, the batteries powering electric vehicles can serve as the generators. An electric vehicle can plug into the grid and provide temporary power to the isolated area until the electrical lines are repaired. [7]

Another added benefit of smart grids comes when there is no power outage. Transmitting electricity hundreds of miles from the generator incurs noticeable loss and loses efficiency as the distance to the consumer increases.[8] To overcome the issue in a traditional grid could require monumental investments, such as replacing the typical steel-aluminum construction of common transmission lines with precious metals, such as silver, gold, or copper.[9] However, plugging an electric vehicle back into the grid has the potential to reduce this inefficiency because the electrical source is closer to the end-user. Furthermore, this puts less demand on the infrastructure, especially during times of high overall power consumption.[10]

Understandably, consumers may not want to exploit their car’s battery packs given that discharges directly lower the effective life of a battery. Dominion is also in the process of addressing this with a solution that has its own independent benefits. “In 2019, [Dominion] announced an innovative electric school bus initiative to replace diesel school buses with electric school buses, and then leverage the batteries using vehicle-to-grid technology. Fifty electric school buses have been delivered to school districts throughout Virginia. The Company plan[ned] to begin evaluation and vehicle-to-grid testing this year.”[11]

Virginia’s “General Assembly accelerated its transition to a cleaner energy future with the passage of the VCEA in 2020. The VCEA calls for the development of a significant amounts . . . of small-scale [generation] resources that will interconnect to the distribution grid.”[12] The implementation of Dominion’s grid transformation plan is well underway to meet these developments, and Virginia’s SCC continues to keep a watchful eye over it.[13]

 

[1] Petition of Virginia Electric and Power Company, For approval of a plan for electric distribution grid transformation projects pursuant to § 56-585.1 A 6 of the Code of Virginia, and for approval of an addition to the terms and conditions applicable to electric service, Case No. PUR-2019-00154, Doc. Con. Cen. No. 218630055, Order Granting Motion (June 14, 2020), https://scc.virginia.gov/docketsearch/DOCS/532v01!.PDF.

[2] Grid Transformation Plan Phase II, Dominion Energy, Inc. (last visited Nov. 9, 2021), https://cdn-dominionenergy-prd-001.azureedge.net/-/media/pdfs/global/projects-and-facilities/electric-projects/grid/gt-plan-phase-ii.pdf?la=en&rev=0cd40dd1b5674ebf813de4f10d5e440d.

[3] Petition of Virginia Electric and Power Company, For approval of a plan for electric distribution grid transformation projects pursuant to § 56-585.1 A 6 of the Code of Virginia, Part 1 of 7 at 4, Case No. PUR-2021-00127, Doc. Con. Cen. No. 210640058, (June 21, 2021), https://scc.virginia.gov/docketsearch/DOCS/53v901!.PDF [hereinafter 2021 Petition].

[4] See id.

[5] Id at 35.

[6] Id at 22.

[7] See What is the Smart Grid, Department of Energy Office of Electricity (last visited Nov. 9, 2021), https://www.smartgrid.gov/the_smart_grid/index.html (defining “smart grids”).

[8] Jacques Schonek, How Big are Power Line Losses, Schneider Electric (Mar. 25, 2013), https://blog.se.com/energy-management-energy-efficiency/2013/03/25/how-big-are-power-line-losses/.

[9] See Kashyap Vyas, Electrical Energy and the Importance of Conductors, Interesting Engineering (Dec. 7, 2019), https://interestingengineering.com/electrical-energy-and-the-importance-of-conductors; Jennifer Sutton, How Do Electricity Transmission Lines Withstand a Lifetime of Exposure to the Elements?, MIT School of Engineering (Apr. 26, 2010), https://engineering.mit.edu/engage/ask-an-engineer/how-do-electricity-transmission-lines-withstand-a-lifetime-of-exposure-to-the-elements/.

[10] 2021 Petition, supra note 3, at 9–10.

[11] Id at 37.

[12] Id at 6.

[13] See Case Summary for Case Number: PUR-2021-00127, Virginia State Corporation Commission: Docket Search (last visited Nov. 10, 2021), https://www.scc.virginia.gov/docketsearch#caseDetails/142210.

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