Governor unveils 2014 Virginia Energy Plan
Amid a backdrop of protestors who railed against a proposed new natural-gas pipeline, Gov. Terry McAuliffe formally presented his 2014 Virginia Energy Plan Tuesday to a standing room only crowd of nearly 200 people.
The Virginia Chamber of Commerce and the Virginia League of Conservation Voters co-sponsored the event at the Virginia Science Museum in Richmond. In front of the museum, a crowd of about 30 people, including college students and residents of Nelson County, voiced their opposition to a new pipeline with signs and cheers amplified by a megaphone.
“We are the people. We are united. We won’t let you build this pipeline,” they said.
The group was referring to a $4.5 billion, 550-mile natural-gas pipeline proposed by four energy companies, including Virginia-based Dominion, that would run from Harrison County, W. Va., through Virginia including Nelson County, and south through central North Carolina.
While speakers at the event briefly referenced the controversial pipeline, the governor’s nearly 500-page energy plan focuses on a broad vision for state energy policy that advocates an “all of the above” approach.
In his remarks, McAuliffe said, “If we are going to build the economy Virginia families deserve, we must begin by giving them the energy plan our economy demands.’’
McAuliffe’s stamp on Virginia’s Energy Plan, mandated by state law to be updated by Oct. 1 of this year, primarily focuses on four areas: growing the state’s energy industry, delivering best-in-class infrastructure, incorporating energy conservation and innovation and addressing workforce needs with many workers in the energy sectors preparing for retirement.
Currently, about 6 percent of Virginia’s energy comes from renewable sources, Maurice Jones, Virginia’s secretary of commerce and trade, said. The plan calls for the formation of a new public/private authority to help facilitate renewable projects, particularly in the solar sector.
His remarks were followed by panel discussion on energy issues. One of those speakers noted that Virginia is far behind other states in solar development. Of the 6 percent renewable figure, only one half of one percent of that comes from renewables sources that are solar- or wind-based, according to Angela Navarro, a staff attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center who works with six states in the Southeast on energy issues. “That’s not a balanced portfolio,” she said.
Compared with Virginia, which currently has 15 megawatts of solar power installed, she said Georgia has 700 megawatts and North Carolina generates 650 megawatts of solar power. These states have solar tax credits, and North Carolina mandates a renewable portfolio standard — policies that drive significant change, Navarro said.
While the natural-gas sector is experiencing rapid growth and low prices now due to the discovery of the Marcellus shale, Navarro said prices for the commodity are historically volatile. “Wind and solar provide a hedge to natural gas prices,” she said.
The energy plan calls for 15 percent of Virginia’s energy to come from renewables by 2025 and a 10 percent reduction in energy consumption by 2020. Currently, most of the state’s energy comes from nuclear power (about 36 percent), natural gas (30 percent) and coal (29 percent).
Navarro commended the new plan’s recommendations for pilot programs that allow individuals to invest in solar.
Besides renewables, Jones says the state sees big opportunities in offshore wind and in energy efficiency, particularly by converting petro-fueled state vehicles to other forms of energy and by assisting local governments with conservation and retrofitting efforts.
State facilities alone, including colleges and universities, consume about $200 million a year in energy, so a 10 percent savings could bring $20 million to $30 million in savings a year, said Conrad Spangler, director of the state’s department of Mines, Mineral and Energy.
One new initiative for the state’s coal industry would help them find new international markets for their services and technology, Jones said, much like the state did for the defense industry.
“The market for coal is still robust abroad,” he said. “ Going global would help the coal supply chain,” which has seen mines close and jobs cut under new federal emission standards.
Providing new energy infrastructure is important to growing the state’s energy sector, Jones, said, and the state would be open to special utility rates to enhance such growth. “I know this is a sensitive topic, and we will have to do it in a way that balances interests,” he said.
Another panel speaker, Keith Togna, global energy lead for Honeywell Performance Materials and Technologies, reminded the audience that energy costs are one of a manufacturer’s highest expenses. “The cost of energy impacts our ability to be competitive in the global marketplace,” he said.
Large manufacturers need access, reliability and affordable energy. “It’s paramount to where we will site a facility.”
During the wide-ranging discussion on energy, the shouts of protestors could periodically be heard, punctuating the timeliness of the topic. Several students from the University of Virginia and Virginia Commonwealth University were among the protesters, and some of them attended the event as well. They belong to the Virginia Student Environmental Coalition, a relatively new group that brings student networks together.
Laura Cross, a student at the U.Va. said, “We’re trying to unify our voices as students.” As Jake Turner, a graduate student at U.Va. put it, “We’re the ones who are going to be around for a long time.”
According to Turner, the students are protesting the pipeline, because they would rather see money invested in renewables.