Guest Column

Margi Vanderhye



Green is Good

Virginia needs a comprehensive plan to encourage conservation and renewable energy. Here's what it should look like.

The environment has always been a top priority in our family. It is a personal commitment all my family members share, and it has shaped our public life. I have been recycling long before there was curbside pickup, and I worked hard as Governor L. Douglas Wilder’s appointee to the Chesapeake Bay Local Assistance Board to protect and improve the Bay. Since 2000 we‘ve had solar cells on our house in McLean, and we supplement that power source by purchasing green energy[i]. One of our family cars is a hybrid. Our house has Energy Star appliances, and we use compact fluorescent light bulbs wherever practical. My campaign uses recycled paper. My husband invents and develops wind power technology & gives renewable energy presentations to schools, camps, & civic groups.


We need a comprehensive environmental program in Virginia, one that encourages conservation and the development of renewable energy sources. By doing so we can also spur economic development in economically stressed areas of Virginia.


We need: 

  • A statewide conservation program for both the public and private sectors. It has been demonstrated that for every $1 invested in conservation $3 of economic benefits are returned. In most cases all that is necessary is information. I would begin by calling for the transition to Energy Star appliances and, wherever practical, compact fluorescent light bulbs in government buildings and schools.

  • Recycling programs in all state agencies and public schools, and purchase of recycled products by state agencies and public schools.  As with conservation, recycling typically returns about $3 in public benefit for every $1 invested.  Every aluminum can recycled saves enough energy to power a color TV 3 hours. One hundred percent post-consumer waste recycled paper uses 43 percent less energy and 49 percent less water, and produces 36 percent fewer greenhouse gas emissions, than 100-percent virgin paper.

  • Reform of electricity rates and dissemination of information to encourage conservation and relieve economic pressure on low income families. Present residential utility rates charge more per kwh for the first 800 kwh per month.  The rates should be prominently listed on the bill, and should be significantly lower for the first 500 kwh for both distribution and production (the “initial rate”), twice the initial rate for the next 500 kwh, and four times the initial rate for everything after 1000 kwh.[ii] This tarriff has been proven to work. In California, which has a similar plan, the average resident (who has an equal or higher standard of living than in Virginia) uses about half the electricity a Virginia resident uses. Virginians also use more than 10 percent above the national average.

  • Significant and mandatory goals for conservation and renewable energy usage. The deregulation bill that passed the legislature sets only modest suggested goals for conservation and renewable energy use. The modest goals it does suggest [§56-585.2D], not mandate, are five percent for conservation and 12 percent for renewables by 2022. Compare this to New York, where 25 percent of electrical energy must be from renewables by 2013, or California, 33 percent by 2020. We need a mandated renewable energy portfolio.

  • In 2004 Virginia utilities spent ZERO on energy efficiency programs. In contrast Californians spent $380 million on such programs, and New Yorkers $147 million[iii]. The present deregulation bill also gives utilities four times more “basis points” if they construct coal or nuclear plants compared to environmentally friendly landfill gas, methane generator, biomass, wave, or tidal plants, and twice as many basis points as wind or solar facilities.

  • The conversion of old tobacco and other depleted crop lands in rural Virginia to growing ethanol producing crops. The present use of corn for making ethanol is not sustainable, and extremely inefficient. Corn must be grown on good soil, and even using the best techniques we get an energy output only 1.2 times greater than the energy input. Switchgrass, on the other hand, grows anywhere (even on depleted tobacco soils), and with reasonable practices we can get an energy output five times the energy input. We can get 1,000 gallons of ethanol per acre from switchgrass, with the residue used as biomass in methane generators to produce electricity. Small ethanol plants can be located in every rural county in Virginia and can guarantee purchase of switchgrass from farmers in the county, increasing jobs while improving the environment (ethanol burns cleaner than gasoline) and reducing our dependence on foreign oil.

  • A similar and complementary program for making biodiesel. Biodiesel and ethanol plants can share land and facilities.

  • Low interest loans from the state to farmers and feedlot operators throughout Virginia for methane generators can greatly reduce water and air pollution (including the global warming gases methane and carbon dioxide). The methane generators can be hooked up to the grid to provide electricity to everyone at costs competitive with coal (and with greatly enhanced environmental benefit) in addition to supplying all the farmer’s or feedlot operator’s energy needs. Methane generators have been shown to be money makers for dairy farmers throughout the country, allowing the loans to be repaid with a low default rate and no net cost to taxpayers.

  • Continued investments in water quality improvement to address non-point source pollution. The legislature approved $250 million in bonds for sewage treatment plants to reduce nitrogen pollution by 28 million pounds annually by 2010. We need to focus now on storm-water and agricultural runoff. The Virginia Conservation Network has suggested forming alliances with farmers; I would add local governments and private sector developers as partners as well.

-- April 2, 2007





[i] Anyone can just go to, click on “electricity…green energy”, then on “green energy”, then “residential”, and the rest is self explanatory.  You can buy either 10, 51, or 100 percent “green energy” (usually from landfill gas) or “wind energy” (100 percent wind)


[ii] For example, 4¢ per kwh for the 1st 500 kwh per month, 8¢ for the next 500, and 16¢ for everything over 1000 kwh per month.


[iii] “Voltage Hogs”,









































Margaret Vanderhye, a McLean resident, is a Democratic Party candidate for the 34th House of Delegates district. She worked for Henry Kissinger and Brent Scowcroft at the National Security Council, then in the 1990s as a political appointee in environment, growth and transportation. Governor L .Douglas Wilder appointed her to the Commission on Population Growth and Development. President William Jefferson Clinton appointed her to the National Capital Planning Commission, and most recently Governors Mark Warner and Tim Kaine appointed and re-appointed her to the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority.