Is Cleaner Energy in Virginia’s Future?

Bristol Herald Courier

Some answer the knock of opportunity. When that opportunity is cleaner energy, Virginia is welcoming it in and offering it some coffee and a place to stay. The state is eagerly looking to relinquish its crown of coal with statewide and even local decisions toward clean energy initiatives.

Take an announcement last week from Gov. Terry McAuliffe to actively reduce carbon emissions from power plants with the hope of having a tangible proposal of regulations for the Air Pollution Control Board before next year.
McAuliffe also announced a $5.6 million loan for schools to receive energy-efficient changes, like upgrades to air conditioning systems and water-wise faucets and toilets.

Consider also a recent poll from the Consumer Energy Alliance. The results found just over half of voters in Virginia, West Virginia and North Carolina support extending the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, which would provide natural gas to Virginia and North Carolina.
Even here in Southwest Virginia, the Bristol Herald Courier reported on a proposal to construct a solar-powered subdivision off of I-81 is underway, with the city’s approval to begin the first phase currently pending.

And all this comes in spite of President Trump’s vow to reverse the near-extinction of the coal industry. Virginia is the nation’s leading coal exporter, yet coal energy consumption in the state has declined 61 percent from February 2016 to February 2017, according to an April 2017 report from the U.S. Energy Information Administration. This may be a direct consequence of the Clean Power Plan from the Obama administration, but there’s enough here to evince something bigger is taking place.

If these all indicate anything, it’s that Virginia is gradually moving away from its coal-covered past and embracing a new wave of energy production that could include solar energy and could be our ticket to technological modernization, an improved job market and a stronger economy.

Is cleaner energy the future of Virginia?

Obviously, an initial question over job creation will more or less determine public opinion in our economically depressed region. The construction of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline alone is projected to introduce over 17,000 jobs. Electricity generation from nonhydroelectric renewables also presents untapped potential for us, considering the state currently ranks 20th in the nation for the availability of solar jobs.

Clean energy investment would also make Virginia more self-reliant. The EIA reported that Virginia used more electricity than it generated, and after natural gas and gasoline, interstate electricity was the third highest source of energy in 2014. In other words, the state had to buy and import energy from other states to meet our electrical demands.

Solar energy in particular should be explored to supplement that energy consumption. A 2016 report from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory estimates Virginia can generate 20.6 percent of its total electrical consumption just from installing rooftop photovoltaic panels on small buildings. In Southwest Virginia, 70 to 90 percent of small buildings are considered suitable for PV panels.
If we reduce that imported amount via intrastate energy creation, the resulting domino effect in our job market, local and state economy and, without argument, our environment would bring substantial prosperity to a state that’s fallen tremendously behind the rest of the country in forward-thinking efforts in those sectors and industries.

Indeed, energy development in Virginia opens a door to opportunity that we shouldn’t ignore. Clean, green energy might just put us back on the map.