TO: Virginia Governor’s Climate Change and Resiliency Commission

CC.9.14

TO: Virginia Governor’s Climate Change and Resiliency Commission
FROM: Climate Action Alliance of the Valley (CAAV)
DATE: October 11, 2014

Dear Commissioner:

Climate Action Alliance of the Valley is a grassroots organization in the Harrisonburg, Virginia area formed seven years ago with the mission to educate and lobby on issues arising from climate change and their solutions, such as renewable energy, energy efficiency, and sustainable practices. During that time we have organized public forums on all aspects of renewable energy and conservation; tabled at countless environmental events; written editorials and letters to the editor in our local newspaper and others around the state; met with the editorial board of The Daily News-Record and a committee from the local television station; lobbied local, state, and federal representatives; and given numerous presentations for civic and political groups. Our steering committee of 14 meets bi-monthly. We have an active mailing list of 450 associates.

We were gratified when Governor Kaine formed the first climate change commission, disappointed when Governor McDonnell ignored it, and are now encouraged that Governor McAuliffe has reinstated the Commission. We are impressed with the quality of its membership.

Some of our members attended meetings of the Commission under the Kaine administration, as well as the Commission’s inaugural meeting under Governor McAuliffe. We are pleased that Governor McAuliffe did not mince words as to the reality and seriousness of climate change and explicitly charged the Commission to proceed on that basis. Indeed, in general, we were impressed with the energy and forcefulness of the Governor and his charge to the Commission. At the same time, there are some things the Governor said and did not say that we would like to go on record as questioning.

Concerning the EPA carbon rules, the Governor seems to be convinced that the rules have not given Virginia credit for efficiencies already implemented. However, the process used by the EPA explicitly gives credit for initiatives implemented or started by states. We prefer that Virginia focus on complying rather than contesting the EPA carbon rules.

The Governor made the case that the proposed natural gas pipeline would help power Virginia’s economy and reduce the use of dirty coal. With respect to job creation, the Governor’s enthusiasm overlooked the “staying power” of those jobs once the pipeline construction is completed. In addition, he did not address the significant probability for harm to Virginia’s land, air, and water, and therefore to the economy, that the pipeline’s construction and deployment will cause.

Natural gas is cleaner than coal only if the leak rate is kept below 3%. No mention was made of the importance of keeping leak rates low if we are to use natural gas.

Building out natural gas infrastructure must be done as part of an overall plan that achieves greenhouse gas emission reduction goals. The danger is that if too much is invested in natural gas infrastructure, we will not be able to afford the desired build-out of renewable energy infrastructure.

The Governor seemed to let his concern for Virginia’s economy dominate his energy policy by citing the decline of national defense jobs. We think the proper approach is to design an energy and climate policy to meet climate change goals, allowing the economy to build around those priorities. If we do the former rather than the latter, we almost surely will continue the pattern of sacrificing the environment in hopes of short term gains for the economy.

Calling upon the Dominion Power representative on the Commission, the Governor pointed out that about 40% of Virginia’s power comes from nuclear power. There might be a push by Dominion to build additional nuclear power since nuclear power’s comparatively low carbon emissions could help with compliance with the EPA carbon rules. Conventional nuclear power continues to be plagued by the problem of disposal of nuclear waste, danger of meltdown and release of dangerous radiation, and vulnerability to terrorism. Given these considerations, the State Corporation Commission should be enabled to provide rate increases to support utility plans that involve additional nuclear power only if (a) the cost is less than solar and wind, either distributed or owned by the utility, and (b) the nuclear technology used is of an advanced type that minimizes vulnerability to terrorism, safety concerns, and issues of storage and/or disposal of nuclear waste.

Governor McAuliffe came across as defending the interests of Dominion Power. The demand for electricity is very likely to go up tremendously as we transition off of fossil fuels, possibly as much as 3-5 times by 2100. More cars will be electric, more buildings will use heat pumps, airplanes are likely to be powered by hydrogen, which requires electricity to produce, etc. Even with tremendous growth of rooftop solar and other on-site renewables, Dominion Power is destined for massive, continuous growth. It is our job to make sure that growth is from renewables and not fuels that emit greenhouse gases.

Among the specific recommendations we would like to see come out of the Commission are:

1.    A mandatory renewable energy portfolio standard for the utilities with incremental yearly increases
2.    Energy efficiency building code standards with enforcement of those standards for all commercial and domestic buildings, public and private
3.    Incentives and programs for schools to build net zero energy buildings and to add solar power to existing school buildings
4.    Build-out of offshore wind without delay
5.    A moratorium on offshore oil and gas (How can we expect to reduce greenhouse emissions if we keep expanding fossil fuel infrastructure?)
6.    Incentives for installation of solar power and avoidance of disincentives, such as standby fees, for connecting solar arrays to the grid
7.    A document that covers all of the sustainability practices needed to reduce greenhouse gases that include power plant emissions, renewable energy, energy efficiency, and agricultural practices.
8.    An analysis that shows how the sum of the initiatives required by the Federal government combined with the Commission’s recommendations will achieve Virginia’s share of greenhouse gas reductions needed to keep global temperature rise below 2° Celsius.
9.    If new nuclear energy facilities are used to meet our electricity needs they should be only advanced designs that minimize vulnerability to terrorism, safety concerns, and issues of storage and/or disposal of nuclear waste.

We would also urge the Commission to encourage the use of a carbon fee and dividend approach to meeting greenhouse gas emissions reductions. This approach has been incorporated into several bills proposed in Congress and is the focus of the Citizens Climate Lobby.

Carbon fee and dividend is a market based approach to emissions reduction. The carbon fee removes the current market distortion of fossil fuel prices that do not reflect the damage to the climate. The result would be that renewable energy will tend to replace fossil fuels and energy will be used more efficiently. The fees collected on carbon based fuels are paid back to citizens per capita to offset the increase in the price of fuel and other goods tied to that increase. Credible studies have shown that carbon fee and dividend reduces emissions and even modestly improves the economy over business as usual. (See REMI report at CitizensClimateLobby.org)

One of the tasks of the Commission should be to study how carbon fee and dividend would affect the Virginia economy in particular. It is likely that Virginia would benefit highly, because Virginia is not an oil and gas producing state. The movement to renewables would benefit Virginia’s high technology and manufacturing sectors.  The only sector that would be negatively affected would be coal, but coal is already destined to dramatic decrease regardless of how emissions are reduced.

We consider climate change the defining issue of our time, of all time, and encourage the Commission to make its decisions bearing this in mind. All credible sources have warned us that, indeed, time is not on humanity’s side with respect to our changing climate. Unfortunately Virginia has not been a leader with respect to energy reform up to this point. We trust that this will change with a rapid roll out of the Governor’s Climate Change and Resiliency Commission’s bold, thoughtful, and forward looking recommendations.

On behalf of the CAAV Steering Committee, whose names follow,

C. P. Leslie Grady Jr., Ph.D., Chair

Steering Committee Members
Emily Blake
Laura Dansby
Carl Droms
Joni Grady
Joy Loving
Pete Mahoney
Anne Nielsen
Lynn Smith
Cathy Strickler
Charles Strickler
RoxAnna Theiss
Adrie Voors
Rickie Wertz

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