Coal

A Compelling Narrative

Issue 1 and Volume 113.

O n December 2 at POWER-GEN International, Thomas F. Farrell II, chairman, president and CEO of Dominion (pictured below), delivered the Keynote Session speech “Realistic View of National Energy Challenge Is Needed.” An excerpt from that speech follows. The complete text is available at the Dominion Web site, www.dom.com.

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….For a hundred years, our industry’s credo has been built around “reliability,” and justly so. As public-service enterprises, we said that electricity would be reliable. And we demonstrated to our customers, that despite all that Mother Nature throws at us, it is reliable.

Brownouts, blackouts—when they happen—are the rare exception and are, almost always, a source of public shock. They are so unexpected.

Why? Because our industry has done its job so well that many people have never felt the need to understand what reliability requires. Folks know that if they flip the switch, power will be there.

Now we are faced with rising public demand—not just for reliable power, but for clean power, alternative sources of power, renewable sources of power. Just throw another switch, a different kind of switch, a better, cleaner switch and, while you are at it, make sure it doesn’t cost me any more money.

I understand. I live on this planet. My family lives on this planet. We all worry about the environment.

But in order to avoid present dangers it does us no good to manufacture new illusions; illusions that, if believed and accepted, will lead only to public frustration and cynicism—even anger, not to mention a lost opportunity to move forward as a nation.

End our dependency on foreign oil in 10 years?

One hundred percent clean energy within 10 years?

Failing an extraordinary and unexpected breakthrough in technology, these are impossible goals. These proposals seriously harm the debate because they distract people from the reality of where we find ourselves.

We are going to have to defend electricity by dispelling such illusions, not by flinching when we are confronted by them.

Confrontation is not something we do well—nor welcome. But some level of stern, unyielding engagement over basic facts is obligatory.

Starting with coal.

We know that coal makes electricity in this country. It makes half of it. It is efficient, and it is here—it is ours—an American resource.

Massive investments in coal-fired stations have been made by generations of Americans. About 600 such facilities around the country do the job quietly and cheaply. They help keep the lights on.

And we are effectively being asked, by some, to walk away from these investments.

Dominion relies on coal, not as much as many utilities in the U.S., but it is an important fuel for us. Last summer, we broke ground on the new Virginia City Hybrid Energy Center, a 585 MW, $1.8 billion facility that we expect to be completed in four years….


Artist’s rendering of the 585 MW Virginia City Hybrid Energy Center being built by Dominion.
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…Virginia is also the nation’s second largest importer of power behind California. Dominion’s Virginia City station will employ some of the most advanced environmental controls in the nation and, in addition to coal, will burn up to 20 percent renewable biomass.

But some people condemn this project in no uncertain terms.

What troubles me is that a substantial number of those alarmed people simply do not know what it takes to keep the power flowing—and we share some responsibility for that. We should have spent more time telling them.

We might take a lesson from our great national pastime, politics. You may have noticed that, during the just completed presidential race, the term “narrative” became popular political parlance, often used to describe a campaign necessity. You have to have a story to tell. You have to tell it consistently. You have to tell it well.

I believe we need to do just that. We certainly have all the components of a compelling narrative….