Coal is Virginia’s primary energy resource.
Virginia is located on the nation’s East Coast midway between the southern tip of Florida and the northern coast of Maine. The state’s coastal plain occupies the eastern part of Virginia and includes the site of the first English settlement in Colonial America, several of the state’s modern-day major population centers, and the nation’s largest coal port. To the west, the flat coastal plain meets the rolling hills and basins of the Piedmont region along a boundary typified by rapids and waterfalls. However, most of the state’s hydroelectric power is supplied from further west, where the rolling hills rise into the Blue Ridge Mountains. The valleys and ridges that occupy the western part of the state parallel the spine of the Appalachian Mountains and, along with the Appalachian Plateau, they contain most of the state’s coal, Virginia’s primary energy resource. The Appalachian Plateau, which cuts across the southwestern corner of Virginia, also holds almost all of the state’s oil and natural gas fields. More than half of Virginia is forested and the state’s widely distributed forests provide abundant biomass. Offshore winds may provide an additional energy resource. A recently discovered, but undeveloped, uranium deposit near the state’s southern border may be one of the nation’s largest.
Energy consumption in Virginia is more than twice the state’s energy production. The electric power sector is the leading energy consumer in the state, followed closely by the transportation sector. Virginia has the third-largest state-maintained transportation network in the nation, including six major interstate highways. More than a dozen railroads operate on 3,500 miles of railway in the state, and two of the nation’s busiest commercial airports and one of the nation’s largest seaports are located in Virginia. The commercial sector and the residential sector each consume much more energy than the state’s industrial sector, and, despite Virginia’s diverse climate, per capita energy consumption in the state is below the national average.
Virginia has abundant biomass. In 2015, biomass provided almost 5% of the state’s total net electricity generation. Wood and wood waste, along with municipal solid waste and landfill gas, are among the commonly used forms of biomass used to generate electricity in Virginia. In addition, biomass is used to produce ethanol. There is a cellulosic ethanol demonstration plant in Lawrenceville, Virginia, that converts municipal solid waste into ethanol. A larger commercial plant in Hopewell, Virginia, produces ethanol using corn as the feedstock. Virginia also has five biodiesel plants that use a variety of feedstocks.
Virginia’s Bath County Pumped Storage Station is the largest pumped hydroelectric facility in the world.
Hydroelectric generation is variable and typically contributes less than 2% of Virginia’s net electricity generation. The state has both conventional and pumped hydroelectric facilities. Virginia’s Bath County Pumped Storage Station, with a generating capacity of 3,003 megawatts, is the largest pumped storage hydroelectric facility in the world.During periods of low demand, inexpensive power is taken from conventional power plants to pump water from the lower reservoir to the upper reservoir. During periods of high demand, the water is released from the upper reservoir and flows to the lower reservoir. Electricity is generated as the water flows through turbines that are located between the reservoirs. Although the plant uses more power than it generates, it supplies power in periods of peak demand when electricity prices are highest.
Virginia has limited onshore wind energy resources. However, substantial wind energy potential exists off Virginia’s Atlantic coast and in the Chesapeake Bay. In March 2015, the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) issued an offshore wind energy research lease to the Virginia’s Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy (DMME). The Virginia DMME is planning to conduct wind energy research offshore by building a grid-connected, 12-megawatt wind test facility on the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) off the coast of Virginia. The demonstration project, known as Virginia Offshore Wind Technology Advancement Project, is in a research area adjacent to the commercial Virginia Wind Energy Area. The project has received the first federal OCS wind energy research lease issued by the U.S. BOEM. In March 2016, the BOEM approved the project’s research activities plan.
Virginia has established a voluntary renewable portfolio goal encouraging investor-owned utilities to acquire 15% of base year 2007 sales from eligible renewable technologies by 2025. Virginia also enacted a mandatory utility green power option in 2007 that gives electric utility customers the option of purchasing all of their electricity from renewable energy sources.
Natural gas contributes the largest share to electricity generation in Virginia. Coal was the primary fuel used for electricity generation in the state until 2009, when its share fell below that of nuclear power. As coal’s contribution fell, natural gas-fired generation increased, and in 2012, natural gas-fueled generation exceeded that of coal for the first time. By 2015, natural gas-fired generation surpassed that of nuclear power. Natural gas now provides about two-fifths of the state’s net electricity generation. The state’s two nuclear power plants, with two reactors each, supply about one-third of Virginia’s electricity generation. Coal provides most of the rest, although biomass, petroleum, and hydropower also provide electricity, and there is a small but increasing amount of distributed (customer-sited small-scale) generation from solar photovoltaic energy.
Virginia residents consume more electricity than is generated in the state. Retail electricity sales are highest to the commercial sector, followed closely by sales to the residential sector.67 Most Virginia households have air conditioning, and slightly more than half of all state households use electricity for home heating.
Two of Virginia’s coalbed methane fields are among the nation’s top 100 natural gas fields.
Virginia’s natural gas fields are located in seven counties in the southwestern corner of the state. In recent years, more than seven-tenths of the state’s natural gas production has come from coalbed methane wells drilled into coal-rich formations rather than from conventional natural gas reservoirs. Two of Virginia’s coalbed methane fields are among the nation’s top 100 natural gas fields as ranked by proved reserves.
Virginia produces a small fraction of the nation’s natural gas. In the past three decades, the state’s natural gas production increased significantly, with gross withdrawals peaking in 2011 at more than 10 times their 1991 volume. However, Virginia’s natural gas production still equals only about one-third of state demand. Most of Virginia’s natural gas supply is delivered via several major interstate natural gas pipelines.
Natural gas supplies come to Virginia from both the Gulf Coast and the Appalachian regions. In past years, the largest share of the state’s natural gas supply came from the south. In 2012, however, natural gas movements into Virginia from the south began to decline, and, while the supply from West Virginia remained fairly constant, more natural gas entered the state from the north through Maryland, as natural gas production in Pennsylvania increased. In future, planned pipeline expansions will allow more natural gas supplies to flow from Pennsylvania into Virginia. Almost half the natural gas that enters Virginia exits the state; most of it moves into Maryland but some goes to North Carolina and Tennessee. A small amount of the natural gas leaving Virginia is distributed to Washington, DC, and the surrounding Maryland suburbs by the local natural gas utility. Some of the natural gas that enters Virginia is stored in two depleted fields that have a combined capacity of 9.5 billion cubic feet.
Natural gas consumption by Virginia’s electric power generators has risen sharply since 2003, increasing almost fourfold by 2012, when it reached more than half of the natural gas delivered to consumers in the state. By 2015, the electric power sector consumed three times as much natural gas as the residential sector, the second-largest natural gas consuming sector in Virginia. One in three Virginia households uses natural gas for home heating.
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