Area leaders turned their attention to energy for the next installment of COG’s 2014 Regional Infrastructure Series. During the May Board meeting utility officials and experts led a wide-ranging discussion on more than $5.5 billion in investments over the next five years to replace and upgrade aging natural gas pipes and electric power lines as well as new technologies to improve reliability. In addition they covered topics central to our Region Forward goals for sustainable growth such as energy efficiency and renewable sources of energy.
COG Environmental Programs Director Stephen Walz began with an overview on the region’s diverse infrastructure. Electric generating plants and wires and natural gas pipelines provide the largest sources of energy and are expensive regional assets. The electric distribution system is valued at $10.2 billion and has 75000 miles of distribution lines. The natural gas system is worth $4.5 billion and has 15000 miles of distribution pipelines. Smaller parts of our energy infrastructure include emergency generators systems for wood heating homes and solar and wind generators. In addition gasoline diesel and propane are used to fuel transportation and buildings.
Walz noted that coal use is decreasing due to economics and environmental considerations with increasing amounts of electricity being generated by nuclear and natural gas. The region also imports the majority of the electric power it uses with two-thirds generated outside the region mostly from coal and nuclear energy. Within the region there are 19 power plants using a variety of primary fuels including coal natural gas distillate-light fuel oil-diesel and waste-to-energy.
Upgrading Infrastructure and Improving Reliability
Representatives from the region’s two largest electric utilities discussed plans to upgrade their companies’ infrastructure. Pepco Region Vice President of Maryland Affairs Jerry Pasternak highlighted the utility’s work to develop a smart grid to improve reliability and energy efficiency through technologies like smart meters. Dominion Managing Director of Corporate Public Policy William Murray noted the current trend toward converting power plants to natural gas but cautioned utilities against going “all in” on a specific source of energy as supplies and prices can fluctuate over time. Unlike Pepco Dominion generates its own power in addition to providing transmission and distribution services.
WGL Holdings Director of Corporate Public Policy Steven Jumper talked about the Washington Gas Capital Plan to upgrade its infrastructure including the accelerated replacement of its distribution pipes. He said over 1500 miles of mains have already been replaced in D.C. Maryland and Virginia and that the utility is planning to extend its service to more parts of the region.
COG Board members asked about fracking a method of extracting shale gas from deep rock formations. According to Jumper shale gas accounts for 40 percent of natural gas currently used. He went on to say that because of fracking the region gets most its natural gas from neighboring states like Pennsylvania and West Virginia; in the past our supplies came from the Gulf of Mexico.
Advancing Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Use
During the discussion officials frequently mentioned metropolitan Washington as an energy efficient region—a major goal of area leaders. Recent data shows the region has been outpacing the rest of the country in reducing its energy use between 2005 and 2011. While the average American is using 8 percent less energy residents in D.C. and Virginia lowered their energy use by 11 percent and residents in Maryland did so by 12 percent. Area residents also pay less for energy. For example energy costs average less than $3900 annually per person in the District of Columbia. The national average is more than $4400. This is caused by a combination of improvements in energy efficiency greater use of transit and other fuel-efficient transportation lower electricity rates and the Region’s concentration of business sectors that use less energy than manufacturing heavy areas.
Regional Energy Costs
Officials also spoke positively about the production of more wind and solar power in the near future. Murray said innovations with renewables–and energy storage—could have a major impact for the energy sector and environment.
Financing Improvements and the Role of Local Government
After presentations by the panelists COG board members asked a variety of questions—many which focused on financing the infrastructure upgrades. Panelist Rajnish Barua Executive Director of the National Regulatory Research Institute stressed that ratepayers would ultimately be paying for the improved reliability.
The utility representatives also stressed the important role local government plays in helping the region meet its future energy and sustainability needs. They said local governments influence planning decisions by utilities as well as energy regulations at the state level. In addition utilities regularly work with local governments on siting substations and other facilities and coordinating during emergencies.
About the 2014 Regional Infrastructure Series:
COG has planned a series on regional infrastructure focused on its main areas of expertise such as transportation water energy and public safety communications. Officials hope the series will identify policy advocacy and outreach actions around key infrastructure needs. COG’s officials believe that long-term commitment to capital investment and maintenance of our infrastructure is vital to achieving our Region Forward vision for a more prosperous accessible livable and sustainable metropolitan Washington.
Previous Infrastructure Series Blogs:
• Officials Launch Series with Discussion on Water Infrastructure
Media Clips from May 2014 discussion:
• Washington Business Journal
• PGCTV (COG’s Stephen Walz interiewed)