On June 2 the U.S. EPA proposed a Clean Power Plan for the states, and now the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality wants to know what Virginians think about it. Starting July 22, DEQ is holding four “listening sessions” to get the public’s views:
- Tues, July 22 in Wytheville, VA, Snyder Auditorium, Wytheville Community College, 1000 East Main Street, 5 PM to 8 PM.
- Thurs, July 24 in Alexandria, VA, Meeting Room, John Marshall Library, 6209 Rose Hill Drive, 5 PM to 8 PM.
- Mon, July 28 in Virginia Beach, VA, Auditorium, Virginia Beach Public Library, 4100 Virginia Beach Blvd., 5 PM to 8 PM.
- Thurs, Aug 7 in Henrico, VA, Administration Board Room, Henrico County Govt. Center, 4301 East Parham Rd., 5 PM to 8 PM.
Depending on turnout, speakers may be limited to 3-5 minutes, though written testimony can be any length. Written comments can also be submitted to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The purpose of the listening sessions, according to DEQ, is to help the agency determine what comments it will file on the EPA plan, and how Virginia can implement the rules as they have been proposed.
The first question is one for the public—do we support EPA’s plan to cut carbon emissions? The answer, of course, is an emphatic yes. In fact, EPA’s proposal is too modest, and we can do better.
Carbon pollution affects everyone in Virginia: residents of coastal areas experiencing recurrent flooding and beach erosion due to sea level rise; farmers whose crops will suffer from higher summer temperatures and drought; people who have asthma or heart disease; the elderly, who suffer most during heat waves; and parents who want to leave a healthier planet for our children and grandchildren. DEQ needs to hear from all these residents.
DEQ’s second question is how we should go about cutting carbon. The EPA plan proposes a carbon budget for Virginia that would reduce our emissions by 38.5% over 2005 levels by 2030. It wouldn’t tell us how to do it, but outlines four broad categories of options:
- Increasing the efficiency of existing coal plants to reduce carbon emissions;
- Increasing utilization of existing natural gas-fired power plants;
- Expanding the use of wind, solar, or other low- or zero-emitting alternatives; and
- Reducing consumption through energy efficiency.
We may be able to do all of these, but the third and fourth categories offer the big opportunities. Virginia lags behind other states on energy efficiency, has so little solar that the industry trade groups haven’t bothered to track it, and has no wind power at all. As a result, we have a lot of low-hanging fruit to go after. So EPA’s 38.5% is readily achievable if we refocus our energy policies to support energy efficiency and zero-emission energy sources like solar and wind.
This is hardly a new theme, though the EPA plan gives it new impetus. For years environmental groups have argued to the State Corporation Commission, utilities and the legislature (and anyone else who will listen), that a sound energy policy for Virginia should include substantial investments in energy efficiency, solar and wind. That combination offers the most bang for the buck and provides the most benefit to Virginians in the way of clean air, jobs and business opportunities.
It’s been a hard sell; Virginia utilities make more money when they sell more power, so they don’t like efficiency measures that lower demand, and the SCC has always favored “cheap” energy, no matter what it costs us. EPA’s plan can help us overcome these barriers if Virginia adopts the right policies. These could take the form of an energy efficiency resource standard (EERS) and a law giving teeth to our renewable portfolio standard (RPS). Alternatively or in addition, we could join a regional cap-and-trade system that effectively puts a price on carbon, such as the northeast’s very successful Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.
If any of these are to become a reality, it will take public demand to make it happen. Even with carbon taking center stage now, there is room for utilities to carry us in the wrong direction. Dominion Virginia Power sees carbon regulation as an opportunity to develop nuclear power at ratepayer expense, in spite of the costs, the risks, the shortage of cooling water, and the lack of any long-term plan for radioactive waste. Expensive central power stations, heavily subsidized by the public but comfortably familiar to executives and lucrative for shareholders, remain Dominion’s top choice.
With Dominion using its cash and clout liberally in Richmond, its preference for more gas and more nuclear will carry greater weight with decision-makers than such an approach deserves. So if the public wants anything else, it had better speak up—and now’s the time to do it.