By Peter Galuszka
One conceit of Gov. Robert F. McDonnell is that he magically wants to transform Virginia into “The Energy Capital of the East Coast.” The idea smacks of Alice in Wonderland.
An example is “The Governor’s Conference on Energy,” that began in Richmond on Monday. I dropped by today and noted that the conference logo has a map with the state colored red as the aforementioned energy capital. There were the usual fossil fuels — coal, petroleum and natural gas — represented in exhibits along with a fair showing of nuclear power. Scattered here and there were cogeneration and wind turbine possibilities.
A keynote speaker was by Christine Todd Whitman, a former New Jersey governor and head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency under George W. Bush from 2001 to 2003. During her tenure, she helped emasculate the agency. She now advocates nuclear power. Despite the Fukushima disaster and the fact that Dominion’s North Anna nuclear plant remains shut down after a 5.8-scale earthquake on Aug. 23, Whitman beat the drum for more nuclear plants.
Coal companies also had a big role, likely because Dominion and American Electric Power, the state’s two largest utilities, have a large coal-fired capacity. And McDonnell is still pushing for oil drilling off the state’s coast despite the Deepwater Horizon disaster and the lack of evidence of any significant deposits.
The favored mix did not sit well with the few environmentalists at the conference. “It’s nuclear, nuclear, coal, coal, gas,” Glen Besa, an official with the Sierra Club told me. In fact, the Sierra Club intends to give a counter
speech favoring non fossil and alternative energy as McDonnell gives his
keynote address Tuesday evening.
There’s more odd about the conference. The “Energy Capital” moniker is a bit of a stretch for one thing. Take coa. The coalfields in far Southwestern
Virginia produce between 30 to 40 million tons a year. Next door, West Virginia produces 144 million tons and Kentucky 96 million tons a year. Total U.S. production is about 1 billion tons, so Virginia’s 40 million tons is rather puny.
Ditto oil. There’s isn’t much in Virginia although there are natural gas wells. Nuclear? In the state are four reactors, two of which are shut down due to the earthquake.
Yet there’s lots of interest in wind, especially offshore where Google plans a big farm and on the Eastern Shore where a turbine test facility is planned. Plenty of wind blows in the mountains near the West Virginia border. McDonnell ought to emphasize wind a lot more than he does.
Another curiosity is that the conference entrance fee was $245 ($50 for students). In other words, the conference was not intended as an informational session for the general public. Rather, it was a pep rally for well-heeled energy executives who might enjoy the governor’s nonsense about Virginia being the “Energy Capital of the East Coast.”