The Department of Mines, Minerals, and Energy (DMME) should ensure that Virginia’s Energy Plan meets key requirements for a sustainable and clean future. Such a plan must include a mandatory transition to 100% renewable energy by 2030, a just transition for workers moving out of fossil fuel production, the reigning in of utilities regulated by the State Corporation Commission (SCC), and more consideration for the impact of energy construction projects on disadvantaged and minority communities.
The 2016 update to the energy plan does not sufficiently address the issue of renewable energy in Virginia. It promotes an “all-of-the-above” energy plan that has seen only 8% of energy generation in the state come from renewable sources. According to Dominion Energy’s 2017 Annual Report to the State Corporation Commission on Renewable Energy, almost all of this renewable energy came from hydro and various forms of biomass. While hydro is a step in the right direction, biomass fuels are not carbon neutral. Indeed, according to a Scientific American article on March 23, 2018, “Burning biomass for energy releases large amounts of carbon into the atmosphere all at once. But depending on the type of tree, forests may take decades or even a century to draw the same amount of carbon back out of the air.” What is needed instead, is a mandatory transition to 100% renewable, close to carbon-neutral energy such as solar, onshore and offshore wind, geothermal, and hydroelectric. This should be accomplished by the inclusion of mandatory Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) which would require state-regulated utilities to include progressively greater amounts of renewable energy over the next twelve years. Presently these are voluntary, which leads to their neglect. Such standards should not include biomass, trash-burning, or other heavily polluting forms of supposedly renewable energy.
Further, we call on DMME, the SCC, and the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to place a moratorium on all new fossil fuel infrastructure and instead to create a just transition program for workers currently engaged in fossil fuel production and distribution. This moratorium would require immediate stoppage of work on all new fracked natural gas pipelines, which can be accomplished through the application of section 401 of the Clean Water Act. A just transition requires that these state agencies work directly with workers and their unions to ensure that workers are able to retrain for new jobs in renewable energy. Former fossil fuel workers should be given preferential hiring for these positions and pay commensurate with their skills and time in the fossil fuel industry. They should be guaranteed the right to easily join a union.
Pursuant to § 67-201of the Virginia Code which calls on DMME to consider “Recommendations for legislative, regulatory, and other public and private actions” in its energy plan, we call on DMME, SCC, and the Governor to begin to reign in the power of regulated utilities in Virginia. These companies should not have the influence in Richmond that they presently hold if we want an energy policy that reflects the interests of the average Virginian. To this end, such companies should be barred from registering lobbyists with the state or donating money to candidates running for any local, state, or federal office. Indeed, their monopoly over energy production in the state should be eliminated. Residents should have the ability to sell energy produced through residential solar back to the grid everywhere in the state. Moreover, municipalities should have the right to organize community solar and wind projects that are owned by that municipality. Electric cooperatives should be encouraged and expanded.
The Energy Plan is also required to include an “analysis of whether there is a disproportionate adverse impact on economically disadvantaged or minority communities.” Sadly, many of the threats posed to disadvantaged communities are not considered in the Energy Plan as amended. For instance, eminent domain has a history of hurting minority communities. The construction of the Mountain Valley, Atlantic Coast, and Southside Connector pipelines has continued this history. According to the Farmville Herald on May 12, 2016, “The Union Hill Community in Buckingham has been named one of Virginia’s most endangered historic places by Preservation Virginia due to the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline’s (ACP) proximity to the area.” This is an historic African-American community formed by emancipated slaves. The threat is so dire that the National Association for the Advancement of Colored Persons (NAACP) has called the pipelines a form of “environmental racism.” An Energy Plan that truly considers the impact of energy production on disadvanatged and minority communities would oppose the continued use of eminent domain for private gain.
These are the necessary components of any energy plan that truly recognizes not only climate change and pollution but the need for increased democracy in Virginia.