Virginia State of the Commonwealth: Powering Ahead with Renewable Energy

, senior energy analyst | January 14, 2015, 9:17 pm EDT
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Tonight Governor Terry McAuliffe (D) gave his annual State of the Commonwealth address to the Virginia General Assembly. He outlined his agenda for Virginia and highlighted a number of important issues facing the Commonwealth. What did he say about energy, a topic that has far-reaching implications for Virginia?

Rising seas

Trumpeting investments in education and workforce development, the Governor focused on diversifying Virginia’s economy. Late in his remarks, he made the connection between renewable energy and economic development:

“Zero carbon sources of energy like solar, wind, and nuclear not only help create new jobs, but also reduce emissions as we work to reduce the impacts of climate change…”

Virginia is on the front lines of those climate change impacts. Norfolk, Virginia’s second largest city, is home to more than 250,000 people and the world’s largest naval base. In the Hampton Roads area, sea level has risen by more than a foot over the last 80 years, thanks to climate change and land subsidence. Surrounded on three sides by the ocean, the city is no stranger to flooding events. Our recent analysis found that the city could experience almost 40 tidal flooding events a year (4 times today’s frequency) by 2030.

Coastal flooding from a storm tide on the York River near the campus of the Virginia Institute of Marine Science in Gloucester Point, Virginia. Photo by Patrick Lynch.

Coastal flooding from a storm tide on the York River near the campus of the Virginia Institute of Marine Science in Gloucester Point, Virginia. Photo by Patrick Lynch.

Residents living on Virginia’s coasts are well aware of the impacts of sea level rise on their communities. Last month, Del. Ron Villanueva (R-Virginia Beach) introduced the Virginia Coastal Protection Act of 2015 that would direct resources to coastal communities for climate preparedness and adaptation, invest in renewables and energy efficiency, and stimulate economic development in coal-heavy southwest Virginia. The revenue would come from a plan for the Commonwealth to join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative—a multi-state cap and trade program that limits carbon emissions.

Carbon standards as an opportunity

The Governor’s Energy Plan, released in October, touts an “all of the above” approach and emphasizes support for renewable energy and strengthening energy efficiency goals. Gov. McAuliffe has been supportive of the EPA’s proposal to reduce CO2 emissions from existing power plants, while simultaneously arguing for weaker targets for the Commonwealth. In contrast to a flawed analysis of the costs of the proposal, Virginia is already well positioned to meet the target proposed by the EPA, and UCS analysis suggests that the EPA underestimated the potential for renewable energy.

Fortunately, the EPA explicitly confirmed that regional collaborations designed to reduce CO2 emissions—like RGGI—would count toward compliance with the proposed standard. If Virginia ultimately decides to become part of RGGI, the Commonwealth could simultaneously reduce its contribution to climate change and also shore up its defenses against the impacts.

Moving forward

The Governor is right to emphasize the potential for developing renewable energy technologies as an affordable and effective way to both diversify the state’s economy and reduce harmful global warming emissions. We look forward to helping Virginia Power Ahead.

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