Collaborate to Increase Virginia’s Energy Options

by Joy Loving

Several posts on Bacon’s Rebellion have caught my eye in recent weeks. In one, Jim Bacon noted  that “[m]arket forces are shifting dramatically in favor of clean energy.” He suggested that “clean power advocates need to back entrepreneurial, market-driven solutions.”

In another, he told readers: “Half the Fortune 500 companies have committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. … If Virginia wants to attract data centers, warehouses and big box stores, among other types of investment, it needs to provide a broader array of clean-energy options.”

And in a third, he discussed a large obstacle:

In an era of abundant capital and near-zero interest rates, reputable corporations can easily and cheaply borrow the money they need to expand. A much tougher task is finding a skilled workforce…. Addressing the jobs-skills mismatch is arguably the greatest economic challenge facing Virginia today…. Virginia’s colleges, community colleges and universities can do most of the heavy lifting on education and training, but they are not equipped to provide a fast-response, turnkey workforce solution….

Taken together, these three posts tell me that Virginia needs to:

1. Act decisively to bring more clean energy to the Commonwealth;
2. Emphasize workforce development over subsidies and tax breaks so Virginia can support the companies (and employment opportunities) that more green energy will bring to the state;
3. Create the “explicit legal framework” to make the first two things happen.

The 2017 energy outlook suggests that a huge competitor in the green energy arena is and will continue to be China, which has announced big bold plans to assure their leadership in renewable energy (RE) sources. Germany also has made huge strides in increasing their citizens’ access to and use of renewable energy. Both countries have developed sizable solar manufacturing models and many U.S. solar installers buy their products. It’s not a stretch to say that the U.S. is losing out in energy innovation and renewable energy jobs.

Hopefully, the Virginia General Assembly will address some of these issues and enact specific enabling legislation to foster many more large- and mid-size utility-scale clean energy projects. (In 2016 the GA took a bye in this area). If so, Virginia’s RE picture might improve significantly in the next few years.

But such action, however welcome, will not address the fact that many—even most–non corporate Virginians, individuals and small business owners, find it difficult to use RE to produce their electricity. The legislature has not thus far been responsive to the needs and desires of these citizens. Given the likely coming changes for federal energy policy under the Trump administration, Virginians will need to look to their legislators for the means to determine their energy sources.

Accordingly, I have reached the following conclusions:

• Individuals’ energy independence is limited and may be further eroded.
• Virginians may want more energy security than the state’s centralized generation and distribution model now offers.
• Virginia lags other states and other countries in exploring new energy distribution models and energy sources.
• There is great, currently under-exploited, economic potential from clean energy in Virginia.

Virginians must let their legislators know that they want these improvements. A recent survey by Conservatives for Clean Energy concluded, as reported by WVIR-TV, that “two-thirds of conservative voters in Virginia support renewables….” And, Utility Dive recently reported that “Three Republican governors recently strengthened the renewable portfolio standards in their states in a sign that the link between job growth and renewable energy incentives may be trumping traditional partisan affiliations.”

Improving Virginia’s energy policies and increasing Virginians’ energy options will take a concerted effort. It’s not a matter of politics. Solutions can be found if we—energy consumers—demand it. This year may see some momentum in the GA. We can keep that momentum going by telling our elected representatives what we want.

Joy Loving is a Virginian, utility investor, solar producer, and energy consumer.

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2 responses to “Collaborate to Increase Virginia’s Energy Options”

  1. I just returned from a week out of town so I am a little late in responding to your post.

    I am in agreement with what you said. I was very puzzled by the outpouring of support from unions for the conventional energy projects (pipelines and power plants) that are the main items on Virginia’s energy agenda. They seem not to understand that these projects are very limited job producers (jobs that last only a few months). And that continued investment in fossil generation sets us on a path of ongoing utility rate increases.

    We could create thousands of long-term jobs in Virginia by promoting energy efficiency and renewables. We could also attract modern businesses that want to locate where clean and affordable energy is readily available.

    Any gubernatorial candidate regardless of party, that wants to create a modern, prosperous economy for Virginia should embrace this path.

    The difficulty is that we need to change the rules so that utilities can embrace this path as well. But not in a way that makes them the only ones that are involved with this. Energy efficiency for commercial, industrial and many residential applications is better done by independent Energy Service Companies (ESCOs). Opening the door for more third-party development of distributed solar would also result in quicker, cheaper development of much more solar compared to leaving it up to just the utilities.

    Utilities need to assume a different role and be provided a new way of getting paid in order to prosper by serving us better managing the wires and creating a modern grid for all of these new innovations to take place.

  2. CleanAir&Water Avatar

    Yes, solutions can and should be found … the sooner the better, but there really seems to be only one primary issue … getting Dominion to rethink their future and let go of their monopoly business model. How to do that is the problem. Their legislative clout is described at …

    As I wrote in an earlier post … “Is a denial of the ACP the only way to change Dominion’s outdated view of our energy future? … The new system will be both more reliable and cheaper, will expand the economy creating more jobs and investment than the fossil economy can, and won’t require the questionable use of eminent domain or breaking VOF conservation covenants.”

    People from both political sides oppose this pipeline. Sounds like a plan and a reason to reject its construction.

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