Supporting alternative energy, lowering carbon emissions, and protecting Virginia’s vulnerable communities were important issues to the crowd that gathered at the Capitol building.
Hundreds of clean energy supporters trekked to the State Capitol last week demanding Virginia move away from reliance on carbon-based energy, invest in alternative energy supplies, and lower rates for customers.
At the rally, hosted Tuesday by the Sierra Club Virginia Chapter, Chesapeake Climate Action Network Action Fund, and other environmental organizations, participants pushed for Virginia to join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, an effort to cap and reduce carbon emissions from the power sector.
Gov. Ralph Northam supported the initiative in his 2020 budget proposal by including $733 million in new funding for the environment and clean energy.
“In Virginia, we are proving that a clean environment and a strong economy go hand-in-hand — and having both is what makes our Commonwealth such a great place to live, work and play,” Northam said in a press release.
Organizations lobbied for bills that seek to depart from a reliance on fossil fuels such as coal and natural gas. One focus was House Bill 1526 and its counterpart Senate Bill 851, known as the Virginia Clean Economy Act.
These bills would develop mandatory standards, annual timelines and call for specific reductions of carbon emissions, with the goal to hit 0 percent by 2050. The bills also push for offshore wind operations and solar energy generation.
“I’m 100% for environmental issues,” Sen. Lionell Spruill Sr., D-Chesapeake, and co-patron of SB 851, said to supporters of the bill during the rally. “If I have to stand alone for environmental issues, I will do it alone.”
After supporters met with legislators, they reconvened at the nearby St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, where they heard speakers champion environmental justice and steps to combat climate change.
Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy, D-Prince William, took to the podium during the rally to address coal ash, a by-product of burning coal in power plants that contains arsenic, mercury, and other metals.
“Most of our environmental impacts, not only of climate change but also with coal ash and pipelines, are in our most vulnerable communities,” Carroll Foy said to the audience.
Dominion is Virginia’s main energy supplier, with 2.6 million customers in Virginia and Eastern North Carolina, according to its website. The energy giant has been moving away from coal production, but environmental advocates worry that closure of Dominion’s coal ash ponds will affect nearby communities. They want Dominion to haul away the coal ash, instead of capping it in place.
Advocates also said that the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline that Dominion and other utility companies want to build as they tap into alternative energy sources will compromise communities and deviate from a zero carbon future.
“There will be 35 years of non-renewable energy if the pipeline continues,” said Corrina Beall, legislative and political director of the Sierra Club Virginia Chapter.
The Environmental Justice Act (HB 704 and SB 406) patroned by Del. Mark Keam, D-Fairfax, and Sen. Ghazala Hashmi, D-Richmond, respectively, would require state agencies to review proposed environmental policies with regard to the impact on low income communities, communities of color and vulnerable populations and calls for “the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people.”
Supporters at the rally also pushed for the Fair Energy Bills Act (HB 1132), patroned by Del. Jerrauld “Jay” Jones, D-Norfolk, and Del. Lee Ware, R-Powhatan. The bill calls for lower rates from energy suppliers like Dominion Energy, who reportedly overcharged Virginians $277 million more than they were allowed in 2018.
SB 966 restored the SCC’s ability to conduct earnings reviews to determine whether Dominion Energy had collected more money than required. If so, the extra revenue could be reinvested in electric distribution grid transformation as well as solar and offshore wind projects, at no extra cost to the consumer.
“What makes more financial sense is for the money to be reinvested, which allows the customer to get the benefit of the project without any additional rates,” said Rayhan Daudani, manager of media relations for Dominion Energy.
He said that customers get a “great value” with rates 6.8 percent below the national average, along with increased investment in renewable energy and a transformed energy grid. Dominion said it plans to invest $750 million between offshore wind projects and smart meters that provide better grid service.
“Our mission is to keep those prices low, build the nation’s largest offshore wind project, continue to provide solar energy across the state, and keep the lights on for our customers,” Daudani said.
The offshore wind project is set to be the largest in the U.S., with enough energy to power up to 650,000 Virginia homes, according to a recent Dominion Energy press release.
So far none of the bills supported by clean energy advocates have passed committee.
Written by Jeffrey Knight, Capital News Service. Top Photo by Adrienne Eichner.