Clean Energy Benefits Virginia
Today, Governor McAuliffe is expected to outline his vision for a “New Economy of Virginia” through implementation of the 2014 Virginia Energy Plan. While we don’t support all of the plan’s recommendations, the McAuliffe administration should be applauded for its strong leadership and bold commitment to spurring economic growth through the creation of renewable energy jobs in the wind and solar industries and reducing costly energy waste through smart investments in energy efficiency measures.
What’s more, the clean energy policies in the Virginia Energy Plan can be leveraged to help meet Virginia’s carbon pollution reduction target set in EPA’s proposed Clean Power Plan, which will be finalized next June.
Based on existing projections from Virginia’s utilities, we are already 80 percent of the way to meeting Virginia’s carbon pollution target under the Clean Power Plan. Almost all of the anticipated reductions are slated to come from coal plant retirements and natural gas conversions that the utilities put in place before the Clean Power Plan was released. By deepening our investments in renewable energy and energy efficiency through the recommendations in the governor’s energy plan, Virginia can easily get the rest of the way there.
The benefits of meeting the Clean Power Plan target — and implementing the clean energy recommendations in the Virginia Energy Plan — will include a stronger economy, thanks to new jobs in renewable energy sectors; lower electric bills, thanks to savings from energy efficiency measures; healthier families, thanks to less pollution from older, coal-fired power plants; and more resilient communities, thanks to reductions in climate-changing carbon pollution.
With only 4.5 percent of its electricity coming from renewable sources last year, Virginia is poised to take advantage of the untapped potential of its pollution-free energy resources. Our neighbors in North Carolina and Maryland have more than twice as many jobs in the solar industry as we do in Virginia. While Virginia is starting to catch up, with 60 percent of its solar jobs created in the past few years, there is much more we can be doing to capitalize on this zero-pollution source of energy. If Virginia expanded its use of solar from our current level of 0.2 percent to 2 percent over the next five years, 14,500 construction jobs would be created. Over a 20-year period, that solar development would provide $8.8 billion in economic output.
Offshore wind power also has the potential to become a valuable renewable energy resource for Virginia, with a tract of more than 100,000 acres off our coast that is ripe and ready for development. If this offshore wind capacity was fully developed, it could generate enough electricity to power 700,000 homes and create another 10,000 jobs.
Of course, the cheapest and cleanest kilowatt of energy is the one that never has to be produced. Energy efficiency measures provide just that. However, Virginia was recently ranked as the sixth-worst “energy hog” state in the nation, based on our lackluster efforts on energy efficiency. The efficiency policies embraced in the Virginia Energy Plan could improve that ranking while increasing the Gross State Domestic Product by $286 million, adding 38,000 jobs and reducing our monthly electricity bills.
But the Virginia Energy Plan and EPA’s Clean Power Plan are about more than just building 21st-century jobs. They enable Virginia to play a leadership role in reducing pollution from fossil fuels, which provides public health benefits and mitigates the consequences of climate change. A recent Harvard study shows that Virginia could avoid 120 premature deaths and dozens of hospitalizations by reducing our reliance on coal-fired power and increasing investments in renewables and energy efficiency. The benefits of transitioning toward clean energy will be felt particularly in Hampton Roads, which is second only to New Orleans in its vulnerability to sea level rise impacts. Rising sea levels have already forced the Navy to implement a $60 million replacement of several piers in Norfolk to protect ship repair facilities.
Governor McAuliffe’s energy plan makes key strides in prioritizing the growth of renewable energy and energy efficiency by recognizing their importance in strengthening the state’s economy. The Clean Power Plan can provide us with additional benchmarks to guide our progress in developing our clean energy resources over the next 15 years. The time is now for Virginia to turn the corner toward a stronger, cleaner economy that will protect our environment and communities for generations to come. The two plans that have been unveiled in recent months — the Virginia Energy Plan and the Clean Power Plan — can work together, hand in hand, to make it happen.
Angela Navarro, a staff attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center and leader of the organization’s Energy Efficiency Program, is a panelist at today’s executive briefing of the Virginia Energy Plan by Governor McAuliffe and his administration.