Climate and Energy News Roundup 11/7/2022

Ultimately, climate change will not be solved by climate scientists and engineers calculating how many solar panels we need installed. It will be solved by citizens sitting down and talking to each other over a glass of iced tea about how we need to start taking care of each other, trusting each other, and working together to save this place and everything we love. —Andreas Karelas

Our Climate Crisis

Scientists are finding an alarming global drop in biodiversity. One study shows that monitored populations of vertebrates have declined an average of 69% from 1970 to 2018. That’s more than two-thirds in only 48 years.  The top driver on land is agriculture, as we turn forests and other ecosystems into farmland. At sea, it’s fishing. Unless we’re able to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius, preferably 1.5 degrees, climate change will become the leading cause of biodiversity loss in coming decades.

Extreme drought in the American Midwest has pushed water levels in the Mississippi River and its tributaries to drop to record lows this month. This has both constrained barge cargo traffic on the Mississippi and is allowing salt water from the Gulf of Mexico to creep up the river.

So-called ghost forests are stretching across eastern U.S. coastal communities. The miles of gray, barren trees in once-healthy wetlands are the result of sea rise and saltwater infiltration, which are the direct products of climate change. This is happening right now in our region, not by the end of the century or in some far off polar region.

A study by the World Meteorological Organization shows that the amount of methane in the atmosphere is racing ahead at an accelerating pace, threatening to undermine efforts to slow climate change. A worrisome part of the finding is that the bulk of the increased methane is coming from wetlands and other natural systems as a result of global warming.

Some 20 million people are already being displaced every year by natural disasters. All signs point to even more people being forced from their communities by weather-related disasters as well as slow-onset catastrophes like drought and sea-level rise. The World Bank projects that 216 million people will be forced to migrate because of climate change by 2050 if we do not take serious efforts to limit greenhouse gas emissions.

Politics and Policy

The Amazon rainforest was on the ballot in Brazil’s presidential election runoff, which former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva narrowly won over President Jair Bolsonaro. Deforestation skyrocketed under Bolsonaro and Lula made climate and protecting the Amazon part of his election campaign. Even so, it will be a tough fight because Bolsonaro won the popular vote in half the states that make up the rainforest.

The Inflation Reduction Act allocates $141 billion to wind and solar energy. This is the first time that subsidies and tax credits for renewable energy in the United States have exceeded subsidies to fossil fuel companies. Still, these renewable energy subsidies are only about two-thirds of what the petrochemical companies have received from the government over the past decade.

Germany is in the process of phasing out its nuclear reactors. Now, in response to the energy crisis created by the war in Ukraine, it is gearing up coal power plants to help meet energy needs for the winter. Climate activist Greta Thunberg created a heated political argument by chastising Germany for cutting already operating nuclear power for coal. Chancellor Olaf Scholz then ordered Germany’s three remaining nuclear plants to remain in operation at least until next April.

More than 20 major universities have pledged to stop investing their endowment funds in fossil fuel stocks. Getting them to stop taking donations from fossil fuel companies has been a harder sell. They need to stop doing so to protect the integrity of their climate research. It was therefore a major breakthrough when Princeton University recently committed not just to divest but also to disassociate from 90 fossil fuel companies. This puts pressure on other major universities to do the same.

The World Bank has come under fire for investing nearly $15 billion in fossil fuel projects despite its commitment to addressing climate change. One of those projects is a natural gas pipeline, which will stretch across the entire country of Turkey to deliver gas from Azerbaijan to Europe. The World Bank is pushing back on the criticism by saying they have “delivered a record $31.7 billion for climate-related investments, to help communities around the world.”

A report from the National Center for Science Education and the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund gives the Virginia science standards for public schools a failing grade in teaching climate change. It received an F grade along with only two other states, Pennsylvania and Texas.

Energy

“Energy markets and policies have changed as a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, not just for the time being, but for decades to come,” according to the executive director of the International Energy Agency. The spiraling energy costs caused by the war and various other factors could be a turning point toward cleaner energy. Worldwide investment in wind and solar is set to outpace oil and gas drilling for the first time this year.

Record wind and solar production in Europe offset 11 billion euros in natural gas costs this year. This softened the blow of limited natural gas supply and soaring energy prices caused by the war in Ukraine. Even so, this is too little to end the energy crisis or to completely supplant the continent’s appetite for fossil fuels.

The House speakers in Virginia and West Virginia recently announced that they are working together to bring advanced small, modular nuclear reactors to the rural and economically challenged regions of their states. The energy hub in Virginia would be located on former coal mine sites in the Southwest part of the state. Residents there say they were not consulted on the proposal to locate a nuclear reactor in their community.

This is part of Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s push to make Virginia an innovative energy hub with a focus on emerging technologies such as nuclear, hydrogen, carbon capture, and battery storage—strangely omitting offshore wind. Environmental critics say the plan focuses on unproven technologies that are not necessarily green. This is kicking the climate can down the road.

Australia will build the world’s largest battery to help position the country to shut down its biggest coal plant. Australia has more than doubled its renewable electricity generation in the last decade thanks to rapid growth in solar and wind production. The battery will help the electric grid to store and evenly distribute this intermittent energy.

Climate Justice

Twenty poor countries most vulnerable to climate change say they are caught in a trap of spending money for climate change mitigation that will increase their debt payments. They are pushing for the creation of an international fund that would compensate them for losses and damage caused by climate change. Therefore, whether wealthy countries like it or not, climate reparations will be on the agenda at the United Nations climate change conference, or COP27, in Egypt this month.

A study, recently published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology, shows that climate anxiety is spreading all over the planet, not just in wealthy countries. A related study shows that “45 percent of teens and young adults said that climate anxiety was affecting their daily lives and ability to function.” They are taking various actions “like going to a protest, becoming an advocate for mass transit, or trying to get an environmental champion elected.”

Climate Action

The transportation sector accounts for 27% of total greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S., making it the largest single emitter. Tackling those emissions will necessarily include better public transit that utilizes microtransit, demand-response transit, and specified commuter routes in addition to fixed circular routes. Cities and local governments can utilize $3 billion in the Inflation Reduction Act climate law to create such efficient transportation systems.

Under a new federal program, nearly 400 school districts across the United States are receiving roughly $1 billion in grants to purchase about 2,500 electric school buses. This will benefit the health of children, who will no longer be exposed to noxious diesel fumes, while reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Protected bike lanes can help cities cut greenhouse gas emissions. It, however, requires a full network of protected lanes to make biking a viable, safe alternative for more people. Bogota’s $130 million investment in protected bike lanes proves that it works.

Two of our biggest problems globally are hunger and climate change. Food waste accounts for 8 to 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions. When it rots in a landfill, it produces methane that quickly heats up the planet. At the same time, 31% of food that is grown, shipped or sold is wasted. This is where governments and resourceful local people are stepping in to help feed hungry people, while cutting down on food waste. 

Many homes in the U.S. are ill-prepared for the increasing stresses of climate change. The Department of Energy’s Weatherization Assistance Program helps low-income homeowners save on utility costs, while reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Activities covered under WAP include adding insulation, replacing heating and/or cooling systems, air sealing, replacing doors and windows, as well as various repairs.

There are roughly 50 million acres of lawn in the U.S.; they take up as much land as all our national parks combined. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, our sod-obsessed, grow, mow and blow culture relies on three trillion gallons of water, 800 million gallons of gasoline, and 59 million pounds of pesticides per year. Louise Washer discovered that her lawn was a food desert for bees and other wildlife so she is transforming it into a pollinator friendly landscape.

Eight states are launching their own Civilian Climate Corps programs after funding was stripped out of the Democrats’ landmark climate bill this summer. Using the AmeriCorps program and additional state funding, these efforts range from home energy conservation in Maine to composting and edible food recovery in California. Advocates hope that these programs will eventually provide a powerful model for a Civilian Climate Corps at the federal level.

Solar panels were recently installed on the roof of the Shenandoah Valley Black Heritage Center as supporters gathered to celebrate with a solar picnic. The Harrisonburg Carpenters’ Guild had earlier carried out weatherization improvements on the building. An energy efficient electric HVAC system will also be installed. These upgrades will make the center more effective at achieving its core mission while contributing to environmental solutions.

The second annual Rocktown Energy Festival was held in downtown Harrisonburg on Saturday, Oct. 29, near the farmers market. It was a great place to learn more about efforts to combat climate change through converting to clean energy. Local non-profits and clean energy companies were there promoting practical solutions such as home weatherization, installing solar panels, transitioning to EV cars, and offering ways to get politically involved. There were also forums where speakers discussed various clean energy related matters. 

Earl Zimmerman
CAAV Steering Committee

Virginia Environmental News Roundup for October 2022 (Part II)

The Climate Action Alliance of the Valley is pleased to provide Harrisonburg’s The Citizen with a monthly survey of energy and environmental news stories about Virginia.

With their permission, we are re-posting these pieces here after they appear in the Citizen.


The link to this piece as first published by the Citizen is HERE.

Statewide Environmental News Roundup for October 2022 (Part II)

Energy

Virginia’s Governor issued his Energy Plan. A Southwest Virginia editor noted that the “plan shows the changing politics of energy [with] … the Republican governor of a coal-producing state who is not talking up coal.” A long-time follower of Virginia energy policy and laws expressed skepticism, asking “You call that an energy plan? Youngkin doesn’t have a lot of ammunition to use against the switch to renewable energy.” She argued that the Governor’s document is not actually a plan and doesn’t meet the statutory requirements for what each Energy Plan must address.

Canary Media graded Virginia a B on fostering community-led clean energy; its grades “reflect whether states have a range of policies to promote community-led clean energy.” The Institute for Local Self‑Reliance’s Community Power Scorecard also rated Virginia a B on “how [its] policies help or hinder local clean energy action.” The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (MWCOG) announced “the greater Washington, D.C., region [exceeded] its 2020 goal of reducing greenhouse gases 20% below 2005 levels, thanks to “Fewer miles traveled on the roads along with a drop in energy usage in buildings facilitated by the pandemic-induced lockdowns in 2020 along with a cleaner power generating grid.” Virginia Conservatives for Clean Energy reported that the Port of Virginia plans to transition to 100% Clean Energy by 2024 through “a new power purchase agreement signed this year [that] will allow it to power all of its energy needs with solar, nuclear and wind resources through Dominion Energy.”

Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares is joining 18 other states in an investigation of six major American banks over their environmental, social and governance, or ESG, investing, citing harms to Virginia farmers and companies. ESG is an umbrella term used to describe companies’ consideration of environmental, social and governance factors such as climate change and diversity, equity and inclusion efforts in their business dealings.”

Protestors from Pulaski County visited with legislators in DC to express their views about the climate justice aspects of the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) project. There is a pending appeal from environmental groups of a previous water crossing certification because of prior MVP violations of water quality standards. The “three-judge panel with a history of tossing out permits for the Mountain Valley pipeline appeared ready … to reject yet another approval for the natural gas project.” ”MVP owners “decided to withdraw eminent domain actions against land in North Carolina the company sought for its Southgate extension, a 75-mile offshoot of the main pipeline that would carry gas from Pittsylvania south to Rockingham and Alamance counties.” However the owners denied “giving up on [the] Southgate Extension after [its] eminent domain pullback [was] cheered by opponents.”

Given the Governor’s intent to withdraw Virginia from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), some legislators are considering what legislative remedies might lessen the impact on ratepayers of the utilities’ passing on to consumers their costs associated with participation in RGGI. “One legislator, however, wants the General Assembly to change how utilities such as Dominion Energy pass along those costs, asserting that adding them to the base rate could help customers by prompting more scrutiny from regulators.”

Following a request for reconsideration, the SCC has let stand its determination that $55.10 is a reasonable monthly administrative fee for Dominion’s multifamily shared solar administrative fee. Critics believe the fee “is too high. But those interested in a different solar program for people who live in multifamily housing like apartments will see a lower administrative fee ($16.78) than initially proposed by the utility…. Both programs were created by legislation in the 2020 session to expand options for solar use, with the shared solar program intended for those with solar restrictions like shady yards. The multifamily solar program was intended to be used by those living in apartments.”

“The Wood Brothers Road Solar project will be located on a portion of an active soybean farm in Middlesex County, where it’s slated to reach commercial operation in the first half of 2024. Along with adding solar energy to the farm’s harvest, Wood Brothers also provides supplemental income to the landowner in the form of land lease payments over the lifetime of the project.” Goochland County wants to “get ahead of requests for solar projects” and its supervisors “voted unanimously to begin the process of amending the county’s current ordinance governing those operations.”

Dominion Energy … proposed 23 new solar and energy storage projects totaling over 800 MWs that could power more than 200,000 Virginia homes at peak output.” The company announced its “acquisition of a 15.7MW battery storage project in development” as part of its plan. One of its planned solar projects is “an 835-acre, 100-megawatt solar array at Dulles Airport. Loudoun County Supervisors “advanced for action a proposal to rezone the airport land to an industrial district [from its current residential zoning], a holdover from the land’s pre-airport history …. But until now the need to change that zoning has never arisen—the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority is exempt from local zoning control for airport-related development.” Dominion also plans “to build [a] city‑block-sized electric vehicle charging park [in a vacant parking lot in] downtown” Richmond. The non-profit Partnership for Smart Growth reacted: “While we support EV’s, this is still a parking lot (albeit with some green space) in a city seeking to become less car dependent.”

A long-planned mountaintop wind farm, the Rocky Forge Wind project in Botetourt County, received renewed approval from the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality. If the project is completed, it would be the state’s first on-shore wind farm.

Citing his “all-of-the-above” Virginia Energy Plan,” the Governor said he will seek $10 million from the legislature for an “Innovation Fund for research and development of innovative energy technologies including nuclear, hydrogen, carbon capture and utilization and battery storage.” After Governor Youngkin declared his support for a “push for small nuclear reactors” in coal communitiesVirginia’s and West Virginia’s House Speakers both jumped on board. The Governor also announced that the Energy DELTA Lab, “an outgrowth of the Southwest Virginia Energy Research and Development Authority, which the General Assembly created in 2019, will “pitch [previously set-aside] land for energy companies who are looking for a place to test new technologies – be it solar and wind or hydrogen or carbon capture or … small nuclear reactors.” Local citizen groups expressed concerns about nuclear development and about the lack to date of community engagement. An editor wondered whether “Youngkin’s nuclear pledge to Southwest Virginia [is] full of potential or just empty.” A Virginia Tech professor and “director of the nuclear engineering program” argued that “Virginia is well positioned to be a leader in nuclear energy.”

Climate and Environment

planned landfill in Cumberland County is raising concerns because of its proximity to a historic Black School. A Southwest Virginia group is pushing “for [a] halt to open burning at [the] Radford Army Ammunition Plant” because of concerns about undesirable health risks. The Virginia Department of Health’s Division of Onsite Water and Wastewater Services will reexamine its sewage handling and disposal regulations; such a review was last done 20 years ago. The current effort is spurred by “climate change pressures” that cause flooding of septic systems from “sea-level rise and intensified rainfall.” Ironically, a state “Program [that] provides safe water and septic to Virginians [is now] out of funding.

Kroger grocery store chain began “effort to eliminate single-use plastic bags in mid-Atlantic stores [with its Henrico County store piloting the] bag program.”

During a recent meeting of the Chesapeake Bay Executive Council … to set goals for 2025, Virginia’s Governor acknowledged that Virginia will not meet federal guidelines for Chesapeake Bay cleanup by 2025, despite “the General Assembly [having] dedicated record funding this year to state programs that help farmers pay for pollution reduction practices like streamside fencing. About three-quarters of the pollution reductions Virginia still has to achieve are expected to come from the agricultural sector.” The Environmental Protection Agency just issued its own mixed though generally sunny assessment.

 “Farmers and landowners can access a record $235 million next year in state funds to help pay for an array of practices aimed at protecting the nation’s largest estuary. The funding is available through the Virginia Agricultural Best Management Practices Cost-Share Program.” The “Chesapeake Bay Watershed Task Force co-chairs issue[d] $3.5 million in grant funding” through the Chesapeake WILD grants. The awards will protect more than 3,300 acres of fish and wildlife habitat, the restoration of nearly 1,000 acres of forest and marsh habitat and more than 20 miles of rivers and streams across the Chesapeake Bay watershed.”

The Chesapeake Bay watershed region is “losing ground” despite efforts to increase tree canopy. Efforts continue to help the declining and endangered fresh water mussel population, with one project happening in the South River, near Waynesboro. This article outlines ways of “Helping the Chesapeake from way upstream.”

Following a July flooding event, “Dickenson County [was] awarded $2.2 million from the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) to fund an acquisition, floodproofing and restoration project in the county.” The Governor announced that “State aid for Hurley flood victims to arrive ‘well before Christmas.’”  However, FEMA denied financial help to Buchanan County property owners after [the] July flood.

The Governor “endorsed eight [abandoned mine] sites in Southwest Virginia for funding by the Abandoned Mine Land Economic Revitalization (AMLER) grant program.”

Good news! The American “chestnut is not dead. Every now and then, mostly in remote and rugged areas, a full-grown American chestnut is discovered. And scientists at Virginia Tech recently helped confirm one.”

“The Virginia Grassland Bird Initiative works with landowners and farmers in a 16-county region to preserve bird habitat during several species’ nesting periods in the spring and early summer. Their working region stretches from Frederick and Loudoun counties down to Augusta and Albemarle.” This “program that protects bird populations in the Piedmont, Blue Ridge, and Shenandoah Valley regions is entering its second year.” “Conservation of grassland birds may provide incentives for qualifying farmers.”

ACTION ALERTS:

  • Help let Harrisonburg residents know about the no-cost home weatherization opportunity from Community Housing Partners. 50by 25 Harrisonburg will lead a walk-around in several neighborhoods on Saturday, November 12, from noon to 3 pm. Sign up here if you can come out and help your neighbors lower their energy bills.
  • Learn ways that Harrisonburg can become more healthy and sustainable. Attend this discussion on Nov 10 from 5 to 6:30 pm at the Massanutten Main Library, sponsored by several local organizations including Livable Harrisonburg and Sierra Club/ Shenandoah Group. Join UVA Professor Andrew Mondshein for a presentation on the high cost of mandatory parking minimums.

Check out…

Why not…

  • Consider becoming a beekeeper? Virginia’s Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services will provide help and up to three beehives.
  • Learn how to protect your farmland from development, and help clean up the Chesapeake Bay, as explained by an Augusta County farmer who succeeded.
  • Plan a hike through the “Blue Ridge Tunnel, which runs between Nelson and Augusta counties, [and] was recently recognized for its historic significance. The Virginia Department of Historic Resources announced … the tunnel and eight other historic sites have been added to the Virginia Landmarks Register.”

The Climate Action Alliance of the Valley (CAAV) is a non-profit, grassroots group in the Central Shenandoah Valley that educates legislators and the public about the implications of the Earth’s worsening climate crisis.

Virginia Environmental News Roundup for October 2022 (Part 1)

The Climate Action Alliance of the Valley is pleased to provide Harrisonburg’s The Citizen with a monthly survey of energy and environmental news stories about Virginia.

With their permission, we are re-posting these pieces here after they appear in the Citizen.


The link to this piece as first published by the Citizen is HERE.

Statewide Environmental News Roundup for October 2022 (Part 1)

Energy

Amherst County joins other Virginia school systems deploying its first electric school buses. Currently, “Virginia is required to follow California EV standard, [and automobile] dealers … [are preparing] for [an] electric future.” “California ban on gas-powered vehicles [by 2035] highlights EV challenges, including affordability.”

Whether or not to allow solar farms, including ones to support large data centers, remains a vexing question for localities like Halifax CountyCulpeper CountyPatrick CountyPrince William CountyPittsylvania CountyHanover County, and Charlotte County. One concern is around disposal of panels at the end of a solar facility’s life.

However illogical it seems on its face, a coal company in Southwest Virginia said the demand for renewable energy means more of a specialized type of coal mining –for thermal or steam coal—needed to make steel. This region is also working hard to develop pathways to renewable energy careers, including around the solar industry, making use of federal money. Virginia Tech scientists are focusing on ways to obtain 17 so-called “rare” earth elements that are actually “relatively abundant in the earth’s crust.” The “scientists are studying methods of extracting critical minerals from tailings [“material left over after separating out the coal”] and another waste product called acid mine drainage. Their aim is to lay out “what could be the groundwork for a new industry.” Passage of the Inflation Reduction Act is expected to facilitate the region’s transition from “coal to green jobs.” Virginia Senator Warner and state and local economic development officials are vying to attract semiconductor chip manufacturing facilities to four Virginia industrial sites as the commonwealth gears up to fight for a piece of the financial pie from sweeping federal legislation that promises to ramp up chip production in the U.S.”

Hydrogen could become an alternative fuel source at some point. “A hydrogen plant could rise near a former King George coal plant.”

There is a federal and regional state initiative to develop regional hubs to serve the growing wind industry and provide a coordinated buildout of its needed infrastructure. “Siemens Gamesa plans to build the first U.S. offshore wind turbine blade factory in Virginia but the first offshore wind projects will have to source turbines and other major components from” elsewhere and there is a competitive need to reduce times to acquire materials for that infrastructure. The State Corporation Commission (SCC) ruled that Dominion Energy will need to cover costs, without holding ratepayers liable, if its off-shore wind project fails to perform at the capacity the company says it will. The SCC has the authority to take this action, according to some experts. For Dominion and its customers and shareholders, the question who will pay for the project. Some believe a more competitive process is needed.

The SCC wants more authority to proactively “protect electric reliability related to plant closures …, a move some environmental lawyers say isn’t a pressing priority.”

There remains opposition to going along with Senator Manchin’s demand that the Mountain Valley Pipeline be completed, including objections by indigenous people and other residents of Appalachia to his recently proposed bill, as well as advocacy groupsHouse members weighed in. West Virginians are divided. Nonetheless, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approved a “stabilization plan” to replace installed pipeline equipment that has aged out. Protesters in Giles County were fined and ordered to do community service after the “Trojan Duck” action against the pipeline.

The Governor is proposing a regulatory action to remove Virginia from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative(RGGI). Some faith leaders want Virginia to remain in the program. Because there is strong opposition to the Governor’s position and efforts around RGGI, there may be legal action ahead. “Legislators [are considering] ways to keep power bills down amid Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative debate.” A cartoonist expressed his view of the effect of ending RGGI on Virginia’s carbon footprint.

Climate and Environment

An Old Dominion University study said “Unchecked sea level rise would cost Virginia $79 billion this century.” Another study projected “major local tax losses due to sea level rise” for numerous Virginia coastal cities and counties, because of tide lines and current definitions around property lines.

“The Roanoke Valley’s primary supplier of public water took steps Thursday to curtail a contaminant found in the Spring Hollow reservoir and the nearby Roanoke River.” The contaminant is known as “forever chemicals.” “The goal is to limit the spread of GenX, a so-called “forever chemical” that has been detected in both the reservoir and the nearby Roanoke River.” These chemicals have also been found in Chincoteague, located near NASA’s Wallops Island Flight Facility, which has increased the frequency of testing.

Virginia’s two senators “secured $25 million in a budget proposal for imperiled Tangier Island,” but one commentator said the need for action to curb sea level rise suggests this one-off bailout is misplaced. The senators also arranged for $46 million in federal funding to replace lead water pipes in the state. Cedar Island will benefit from federal funding to “restore and expand 217 acres of marsh along the southern part.”

“Virginia’s promise to cut pollution flowing into the Chesapeake Bay is likely to miss its 2025 deadline, and Gov. Glenn Youngkin said speeding up work is a top priority.”

NOVA Parks adds 44-acre preserve [in Alexandria] to its network of green spaces.”

Indoor vertical farming is becoming more popular and Chesterfield County will soon have one. Herndon has one called “Beanstalk”, as does Pittsylvania County.

ACTION ALERT:

If you are a Harrisonburg resident, please consider attending the October 25 City Council meeting to hear a statement from several local organizations, including CAAV, urging the Council members to take action urgently to reduce the City’s Greenhouse Gas Emissions. Details will be published on social media October 19 or 20.

Check out…

  • This upcoming webinar from Virginians for High Speed Rail: Transforming (Intercity & Commuter) Rail Across Virginia – Nov. 1, 2022, 01:00 PM. Register here.
  • Virginia Conservation Network’s Education series of webinars about its 2023 “Our Common Agenda.” The Schedule is below. Register here.
  • Climate & Energy Week: Oct. 3–7 (webinar 10/6 at 11 AM)
  • Clean Water & Flood Resiliency Week: Oct. 10–14 (webinar on 10/13 at 11 AM)
  • Land Use & Transportation Week: Oct. 17–21 (webinar on 10/20 at 11 AM)
  • Good Governance & Budget Week: Oct. 24–28 (webinar on 10/27 at 11 AM)
  • Land & Wildlife Conservation Week: Oct. 31–Nov. 4 (webinar on 11/3, at 11 AM)
  • Blue Ridge PRISM’s “Homegrown National Park” webinar with Doug Tallamy, Tuesday, October 18, 11:30 to 1. This presentation will include discussion on how we can regenerate biodiversity in our landscapes. Dr. Tallamy will have a Q&A with the audience at the end of his presentation. Register here for this online event; it’s waitlisted but you can sign up anyway. Those who register will receive access to the recording.
  • Blue Ridge PRISM’s fall 2022 newsletter that includes the article “Restore Biodiversity Where You Live” by Natali Walker, with tips by Dr. Tallamy. Find details on his 10 tips, which are:
  1. Shrink the lawn
  2. Remove invasive species
  3. Plant keystone species
  4. Be generous with your plantings
  5. Reduce your nighttime light pollution
  6. Network with neighbors and get on the

Homegrown National Park Map

  1. Build a conservation hardscape (you don’t have to be a gardener)
  2. Create caterpillar pupation sites under your trees
  3. Do not spray or fertilize
  4. Educate your neighborhood civic association
  • Charlottesville Area Tree Stewards (CATS) Zoom presentation Tree Identification by Season: Fall – Tuesday evening, October 25, 7:00 to 8:30 p.m. Register here. Presenter will be Tree Steward Emily Ferguson for a tour of our fall color palette treat spanning from green through red and discover tips and tricks to help identify common native trees.
  • Virginians for High Speed Rail’s Transforming (Intercity & Commuter) Rail Across Virginia – Nov. 1, 1 pm.  Learn about the future of rail transportation in Virginia. Register here.
  • The state Forestry Department’s online seedling store.
  • This guide to finding apples, pumpkins, and corn mazes this fall.
  • This article explaining how “xeriscaping” can help you “turn your lawn into a sustainable oasis.”
  • Hiking in Roanoke’s Read Mountain preserve, with its recently acquired 56 acres.

Why not… 

The Climate Action Alliance of the Valley (CAAV) is a non-profit, grassroots group in the Central Shenandoah Valley that educates legislators and the public about the implications of the Earth’s worsening climate crisis.

Climate and Energy News Roundup 10/11/2022

“Like other countries, the United States needs to embark on a decades-long course of cutting its [greenhouse gas] emissions. And no matter how much help comes from Washington, much of the work will need to be done by state and local communities.” –Hal Harvey and Justin Gills, The Big Fix: Seven Practical Steps to Save Our Planet

Our Climate Crisis

After pummeling Cuba, Hurricane Ian was among the most powerful and devastating hurricanes to make landfall in the US. The destruction of property alone appears to be among the worst recorded. According to Michael Wehner at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, “Climate change didn’t cause the storm but it did cause it to be wetter.” Warming oceans caused it to absorb and dump 10% more water than it otherwise would have, creating a significant multiplying effect.

According to a recent scientific report, global warming above 1.5 degrees Celsius will most likely set off several climate “tipping points.” This includes the collapse of the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets, abrupt thawing of Arctic permafrost, the loss of mountain glaciers, and the collapse of ocean currents in the North Atlantic. This will have long-term effects such as unrelenting sea level rise, the release of more heat-trapping gasses in the atmosphere, and more extreme weather.

South Asia’s monsoon, which brings life-giving water to nearly a quarter of humanity, is becoming more extreme. This includes erratic periods of drought punctuated by heavy rainfall events. Climate change induced warmer air holds more moisture, which can stay in the atmosphere for longer periods and then dump it in a short period of time.  A normal week’s or month’s rainfall can fall in a few hours to a few days, creating severe flooding as recently experienced in Pakistan.

Politics and Policy

Environmentalists fear that the side deal on federal energy permitting reform that majority leader Chuck Schumer agreed to with Sen. Joe Manchin could be a giveaway to the fossil fuel industry. Others see it as necessary for building out necessary clean energy infrastructure. Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine sharply criticized such permitting reform if it is used to force completion of the controversial Mountain Valley Pipeline, saying that “it could open the door to serious abuse and even corruption.”

Chevron is exploiting a news desert created by the closure of local newspapers to serve up a mixture of local news and energy propaganda in Texas. This copies the tactics of right-wing operatives who used a sprawling network of 28 fake news sites to publish almost 5,000 articles about teaching critical race theory in schools to influence the Virginia governor’s race in 2021.

Sixty-one Virginia Democrats signed onto a letter opposing Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s proposed regulatory route to remove Virginia from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). The letter states that participation in RGGI is mandated by law, making it a decision for the General Assembly. This makes Gov. Youngkin’s proposed regulatory route improper and illegal. Even so, Youngkin says he supports flood mitigation even though RGGI funds are used for this purpose.

Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s Virginia Energy Plan takes an all-of-the-above approach to energy and regulatory reform. It calls for looking beyond solar- and wind-powered generation of electricity by supporting the development of hydrogen fuel, geothermal energy, small modular nuclear reactors, and carbon sequestration. It also seeks to roll back aspects of the Virginia Clean Economy Act. Climate activists are concerned about its reliance on unproven technologies and fear that it is little more than a thinly veiled attempt to support the fossil fuel industry while obstructing our transition to a clean energy economy.

Current Virginia laws regulating electric utilities hinder an affordable and equitable clean energy transition in Virginia. The regulatory system rewards utilities for capital-intensive investments rather than cost-saving measures for customers. Additionally, they’re able to pass along 100% of fuel costs to customers, incentivizing them to sell as much energy as possible instead of prioritizing energy efficiency, which saves money and reduces pollution.

Energy

There’s a surge in electric vehicles in India but not necessarily electric cars. Instead, electric powered mopeds and three-wheeled rickshaw taxis that sell for as little as $1,000 are zipping along India’s congested urban streets. This is providing a template for how developing countries can get rid of combustion engines and combat climate change as well as urban smog.

Renewable energy (including wind, hydropower, solar, biomass and geothermal) now powers 24.8% of U.S. electricity generation, leap frogging past coal last year. Natural gas remains the leading fuel for electricity, with 37.9% of the country’s total; coal contributes 18.5%; and nuclear, 17.9%. It will be a while until renewables dethrone natural gas, but that day is coming.

The notion that switching to clean energy sources will be expensive has been stood on its head by rising fossil fuel prices and the dropping costs of wind and solar energy. An Oxford University study shows that switching from fossil fuels to renewable energy could save the world as much as $12 trillion by 2050.

Building large-scale, high-power EV charging centers across the U.S. is rapidly moving forward. The startup company Terawatt Infrastructure has raised $1 billion to roll out charging depots for electric cars and trucks. To date, more than $6.4 billion toward this effort has been raised by equity and debt financing through various private-sector efforts. In a related development, U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg announced the approval of the first 35 states to build out EV charging infrastructure across 53,000 miles of highway. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law makes $5 billion available for this effort over five years.

The Inflation Reduction Act will make clean energy much more competitive in the next decade according to analysis from ICF Climate Center, a global consulting firm. The cost of solar energy could fall 20 to 35% and the cost of wind energy could fall 38 to 49%. The cost of green hydrogen could fall a whopping 52 to 67% and become cost-competitive with new natural-gas-powered facilities by 2030.

The nations of the world recently committed to drastically lower greenhouse gas emissions from the world’s airplanes in an effort to reach net zero by 2050. Airline companies have previously relied on offsetting aviation’s emissions growth through tree-planting programs or through investing in yet unproven technology to pull carbon dioxide out of the air. Reaching net zero will, however, require them to invest hundreds of billions of dollars in increasingly efficient planes and cleaner fuels to sharply reduce emissions from air travel.

The United States now gets about 40% of its electricity from carbon-free sources and researchers have a pretty good idea of how to cost-effectively get to about 90%. But there’s little agreement about how to get to the last 10%. Some researchers say we can do it with wind and solar power along with battery storage. Others think it will take options like nuclear and hydrogen, with perhaps fossil fuels connected to carbon capture.

The US Department of Defense is the single largest institutional fossil fuel user in the world, being responsible for 77 to 80% of federal energy consumption. While the Pentagon looks at the world in terms of threats, it fails to see its own role in increasing greenhouse gas emissions as part of a massive global threat.

Climate Justice

Some $60 billion in environmental spending recently passed by Congress has been earmarked for environmental justice. Robert Bullard, a scholar at Texas Southern University known as the father of environmental justice, sees this as a reason for celebration, but also caution. Never before has so much been at stake. Too often, federal money and relief funds are “doled out inequitably by state and local governments, and away from people of color and poor communities, who are the most afflicted by pollution and most vulnerable to climate change.”

Africa is most disproportionally affected by the impact of climate change even though its contribution is historically negligible. Around 15% of the world’s population lives on the continent but they contribute less than 3.8% of greenhouse gas emissions responsible for global warming.

Vanessa Nakate, a 25-year-old, thoughtful, smart and quietly spoken climate activist from Uganda, comments, “Africa is on the frontlines of the climate crisis but it’s not on the front pages of the world’s newspapers. Every activist who speaks out is telling a story about themselves and their community, but if they are ignored, the world will not know what’s really happening, what solutions are working. The erasure of our voices is literally the erasure of our histories and what people hold dear to their lives.”

Rising sea levels, heatwaves, wildfires, and increasingly intense hurricanes are putting more Americans in harm’s way. People looking for places to live have flocked to areas vulnerable to such disasters, leaving some 40 million people at risk. Now local, state, and federal officials are increasingly considering managed retreat, or buyouts, as a way to get people out of such areas. But this raises questions of equality? What gets lost, and who gets left behind?

Climate Action

California’s power grid was strained to the limit by record-high demand in the beginning of September during a searing heat wave.  Californians saved the grid by responding to a call from the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services asking them to “conserve energy now to protect public health and safety.” The state should, therefore, go all in on smart thermostats, solar-charged batteries, EVs and other devices that can help shore up the grid when it is stressed.

Various ways to combine solar power with agriculture are being tested. The most common and successful combination is grazing sheep under and around solar installations. A farmer in Maine is also experimenting with growing wild blueberries under a solar installation on his farm. Researchers at the University of Vermont are successfully growing saffron between solar panels.

Virginia schools are among the top in utilizing solar energy in the US. The solar capacity of Virginia’s K-12 schools has more than doubled over the past two years, saving them millions of dollars. This progress was largely spurred by a policy change in Virginia allowing tax-exempt entities like schools and localities to use third-party power purchase agreements.

Earl Zimmerman
CAAV Steering Committee

Virginia Environmental News Roundup for September 2022

The Climate Action Alliance of the Valley is pleased to provide Harrisonburg’s The Citizen with a monthly survey of energy and environmental news stories about Virginia.

With their permission, we are re-posting these pieces here after they appear in the Citizen.


The link to this piece as first published by the Citizen is HERE.

Statewide Environmental News Roundup for September 2022

Energy

The State Corporation Commission (SCC) recently approved Dominion’s offshore wind project, with the caveat that Dominion needs to achieve the projected capacity of 42% of the “stated 2,600 megawatts of output.” There have been a number of articles and opinions about the fact that the SCC’s approval was a foregone conclusion because of the authorizing legislation, about the costs and risks to ratepayers, about data that has remained hidden, and about the benefits the project will bring, including economic ones related to jobs and Virginia’s becoming a “hub”. Dominion was not happy with the ruling, which is believes is “untenable.” It threatened to cancel the project. The SCC will “hear more arguments on … ratepayer protection.”

The Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) made the news for several reasons:

“Virginia’s largest coal mining operation is set to get even larger after Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s administration announced a deal between the state and Coronado Global Resources to expand operations and production at the company’s Buchanan Mine Complex in Buchanan County.” The expansion will produce 181 new jobs. This is the same county that has seen record flooding recently and whose “residents waiting for help to begin flood recovery: Good news may not be on the way.” “FEMA, for some reason, doesn’t want to help people who lose everything in floods.

Buckingham County residents, having successfully opposed the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, “are being forced to take on industrial metals mining.” “Who monitors Virginia gold mining? It isn’t always the state. “

“Dimension Renewable Energy has built eight solar farms and has partnered with nonprofit Community Housing Partners [CHP] to enroll those that live in CHP’s public housing into the [shared solar] renewable energy program next year. Some 450 Hopewell and Petersburg CHP residents will have the option to enroll … and benefit from lower energy bills…,” “Virginia schools [are] among [the] top in [the] U.S. to utilize solar energy.” Southside VA has lots of solar farms—more than tobacco farms. An editor explored what that can mean for the region. “Guidance on how local governments can protect themselves when utility-scale solar farms reach the end of their life is now available with the release of a report from the University of Virginia’s Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service.” Storm water runoff is one issue.

“D.C. region leaders want to halve transportation emissions by 2030 despite road widening plans. [The]

Key to reducing greenhouse gas emissions is to promote regional transit strategies.” EVs are on the rise and a company in the Roanoke Valley hopes to capitalize on that happening. “California’s 2035 ban on new gas-powered cars set to apply to Virginia. A 2021 state law linked Virginia vehicle emissions standards to California as part of efforts to combat climate change.” “GOP leaders want to untie Virginia from California EV rule.” The Governor also “opposes banning [the] sale of new gas vehicles in Virginia by 2035,” as does the House of Delegates leader.

The “Youngkin administration outline[d its] plan to withdraw Virginia from carbon market by regulation.” “61 Virginia Democrats — more than a third of the General Assembly — signed onto a letter addressed to the state’s Air Pollution Control Board opposing Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s proposed regulatory route to remove Virginia from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.” Various groups and commentators have supported this opposition:

Appalachian VoicesBuchanan County residentCAAV and other environmental groups during August 31 rallies, including in Abingdon.

Climate and Environment

“Virginia Peninsula’s coastal forests threatened by sea level rise and other risks, a new ODU study says, concluding that “unchecked sea level rise would cost Virginia $79 billion in this century.”

“Cedar Island …, a small strip of marsh and sand that shields part of the Eastern Shore from the brunt of Atlantic storms … [is] home to an unassuming nature preserve that supports the shore’s native seabird population. … Once, it was at the center of a controversial housing development that has since slipped beneath the waves. The barrier island is now at the center of a [$800,000] project by the Virginia Institute of Marine Science that hopes to preserve the island’s marshes even as the sandy shore continues to shift every year.”

The “EPA [told] 15 states they missed [an] air pollution plan deadline.”  Virginia made the list. DEQ will study air pollution in two largely Black Norfolk neighborhoods near coal terminals.

“In Portsmouth, a Superfund Site Pollutes a Creek, Threatens a Neighborhood and Defies a Quick Fix.” The EPA will remove radioactive material from the “Portsmouth property that housed [a] scrap metal facility.” A “medical sterilization facility in Henrico [was] flagged by EPA for chemical emissions.” The facility is “one of 23 such sites that decontaminate medical instruments using ethylene oxide, while also emitting the chemical as an air pollutant at rates found to be hazardous in the long term for the surrounding community.”

“Phenomena known as harmful algal blooms have led Virginia to add portions of Lake Anna and six other water bodies to its impaired waters list, an inventory of waterways that don’t meet state environmental standards. Other listed waterways include Mint Springs Lake in Albemarle County, Aquia Creek east of Stafford, Wilcox Lake south of Petersburg, Woodstock Pond in James City County, Prince Edward Lake near Farmville and an unnamed tributary of the Chickahominy River in the Richmond area.” Also on the list are several streams in the Charlottesville area. Work is underway in several Virginia counties to upgrade water systems.

Coal ash removal is controversial but feasible, an investigative report confirmed. “North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia are proving it is possible for utilities to remove massive quantities of coal ash from ponds where it endangers groundwater, placing it in safer lined landfills. This could be a model for other states, but challenges remain.” Reuse may provide one solution.

Bristol still hasn’t resolved its landfill problems; the DEQ isn’t happy.

“Tests have detected a so-called “forever chemical,” a class of hazardous substances that can remain in the environment for generations, in the water of Spring Hollow reservoir in Roanoke County.”

Plastic recycling is back in Waynesboro, after three-year hiatus, beginning Sept. 1.” Washington and Lee University stopped selling bottled water on campus. Virginia Beach continues to struggle with a proposed plastic bag tax.

The “John Marshall Soil and Water Conservation District, a state-funded county agency that promotes farm conservation practices,” received new funding to allow the “agency to help farmers, landowners improve conservation practices.”

As part of its Bee USA on Campus efforts, VA Tech students are proposing numerous projects “to preserve pollinator biodiversity by enhancing pollinator habitat.”

Vineyards are susceptible to the invasive spotted lanternfly; they are working to get ready for their invasion.

Check out…

  • UVA Lifetime Learning Reducing Vehicle Engine Emissions session (in-person or virtual), Nov. 19. Learn what future demands and possible solutions will affect the current exhaust emissions catalytic converter systems current >99% conversion of pollutants under widely varying driving conditions. Register at this link to attend in person or receive a link to view the live stream online.
  • UVA Lifetime Learning session, Designing for Climate Resilience (in-person or virtual), Nov. 12. You may register at this link to attend in person or receive a link to view the live stream online. Learn about current innovative research on climate resilient buildings, landscapes, and communities — from the coastal landscapes of Virginia’s Eastern Shore and the Chesapeake Bay region to community development in the Arctic; from renewable biomaterials for building construction to new planning methods for restorative urbanism.
  • The newly opened Damascus Trail Center; it’s now open “to all trail hikers, bird watchers, nature enthusiasts, and tourists.”
  • This blogpost explaining why “There Has Never Been a Better Time to Fence Cattle Out of Streams.” It’s due to record funding.
  • The Shenandoah Valley scenic rail train ride, based in Staunton.
  • The best time for viewing the splendor of autumn leaves in Virginia.

Why not…

The Climate Action Alliance of the Valley (CAAV) is a non-profit, grassroots group in the Central Shenandoah Valley that educates legislators and the public about the implications of the Earth’s worsening climate crisis.

Climate and Energy News Roundup 9/7/2022

The future is a replay of the past—a combination of admirable advances and (un)avoidable setbacks. But there is something new as we look ahead, that unmistakably increasing (albeit not unanimous) conviction that, of all the risks we face, global climate change is the one that needs to be tackled most urgently and effectively. —Vaclav Smil

Our Climate Crisis

A third of Pakistan has been flooded and more than 1,000 people were killed in a “monster monsoon” that has swept away lives, homes, crops and bridges. Local climate experts are drawing a direct line to human-made climate change, saying their country has made a negligible contribution to global warming but is now suffering from its effects.

Scientists have known for some time that the Arctic is warming faster than other regions. Recent research shows that it’s occurring four times faster than average, not the two to three times that has been previously reported. One result is the even faster melting of the Greenland ice sheet, which one study shows will cause the ocean to rise about 12 inches by the end of the century even if greenhouse gas emissions were halted today.  It also influences weather, like extreme rainfall and heat waves in North America and elsewhere in the northern hemisphere.

A severe heatwave and drought has caused China to suspend production in several major manufacturing regions to conserve electricity. It is also pushing them to expand their use of coal for energy as they have had to cut back on hydroelectricity. The extreme heat and drought that has been roasting a vast swath of the country for at least 70 straight days has no parallel in modern record-keeping in China.

In the American Southwest, a climate exacerbated historic drought is forcing severe reductions in water taken from the Colorado river. Together with historic heat, drought, and flooding in other places around the world, this is making climate change a secret driver of inflation by disrupting both manufacturing supply chains and agriculture.

Drought conditions and extreme weather have wreaked havoc on agriculture across the United States, but especially in the Central and Southern Great Plains, reducing yields by as much as a third compared with last year. The poor yields are likely more than a one-year blip, as climate change alters weather patterns across the country.

Saltwater intrusion from rising sea levels is threatening coastal agriculture on the Delmarva Peninsula and in the Carolinas. Thousands of acres are already unable to be farmed and it’s projected that an additional tens of thousands of acres will be unusable within the century. The Nature Conservancy is promoting conservation easements to facilitate a transition of cropland to salt marsh, providing numerous ecosystem services and up to 90% of the market value for farms.

Politics and Policy

Democrats delivered a dramatic win in the effort to fight climate change.  The Inflation Reduction Act will accelerate U.S. emission cuts and put the country on a path to reduce greenhouse gases by 40 percent below 2005 levels by 2030.  This will significantly narrow the gap in our goal, under the Paris climate agreement, to cut emissions by at least half by that date.

The landmark Inflation Reduction Act amends the Clean Air Act by defining carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases produced by the burning of fossil fuels as “air pollutants.” This language was written specifically to address the Supreme Court’s justification for reining in the Environmental Protection Agency earlier this year by arguing that Congress had never given the E.P.A. the authority to regulate greenhouse gases.

Other states are poised to follow California’s lead in banning the sale of new gas-powered cars beginning in 2035. It will halt the sale of such vehicles in Virginia because a 2021 law, pushed through by state Democrats, links the state to vehicle emissions standards and electric car sales targets set by California. This year, Republicans tried but failed to repeal the law, which is supported by the influential Virginia Automobile Dealers Association.

A Republican led effort in the Virginia General Assembly would have prevented cities and towns from restricting access to gas utility service and propane. The bill was defeated in the House by environmentalists and Democrats because it would have stripped local governments of their ability to set climate policy.

In turn for Sen. Joe Manchin’s support for the Inflation Reduction Act, congressional Democratic leaders agreed to advance legislation to streamline the approval process for infrastructure projects such as the Mountain Valley Pipeline.  Manchin’s political maneuvers in support of the pipeline are, however, not necessarily certain to succeed. Environmental activists are committed to continuing the fight. Despite such opposition, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission recently granted the company a four-year extension to complete the pipeline.

Energy

The recently passed Inflation Reduction Act climate and health bill includes a big win for the solar industry by including a 10-year extension of the 30% investment tax credit. The tax credit had dropped to 26% this year and was going to go to 22% next year. After that, it was going to end for residential projects, and go to 10% for large-scale projects.

New York City announced a $70 million initiative that will install 30,000 electric heat pumps to bring climate-friendly comfort to residents of its aging public housing units. This is part of a broader effort by New York state and city governments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from buildings 40% by 2030.

The 835-acre solar farm that Dominion Energy plans to build at the Dulles International Airport will be the largest airport-based solar and battery development in the United States. At peak production it will provide enough energy to power about 37,000 Northern Virginia homes.

Fervo Energy, a leading geothermal energy startup, just raised $138 million to build and run a fleet of power plants fueled by the Earth’s heat. They will use the same drilling techniques as the oil and gas industry, to access geothermal resources that are otherwise too expensive or technically complex to reach. Their first commercial project now under construction will produce 5-megawatts of power to support Google’s data center operations in Nevada.

Virginia now has more acres in solar energy production than in tobacco. We’re now creating energy in Virginia that we previously had to import as fossil fuels from other places. This is a big gain to the state economy, saving electric customers close to $50 million.

Climate Justice

The recently passed Inflation Reduction Act climate and health bill includes up to $60 billion in environmental justice initiatives. These initiatives include: 1.) reducing greenhouse gas emissions in low-income and disadvantaged communities, 2.) cleaning up industrially polluted Superfund sites that disproportionately affect communities of color and low-income residents, 3.) block grants for community-led environmental and climate projects, and 4.) funds to help make affordable housing more energy efficient.

RCF Connects, a nonprofit in Richmond California, restores abandoned homes and facilitates first-time home ownership among the city’s Black and brown residents. Now, working with a grant from the California Energy Commission, they are turning these houses into a source of green energy for the grid by making each house part of a “virtual power plant.” Each house will have solar panels, energy efficient appliances, and battery storage, allowing the owner to not only enjoy low energy bills but even sell energy back to the grid.

The recent catastrophic floods in eastern Kentucky, one of America’s poorest areas, have exacerbated the brutal cycle of poverty. That’s because low-income people are more likely to be located in flood zones, and less likely to access relief funds to repair the damages. People most often have no option other than rebuilding in the same flood prone area.

The Tennessee Valley Authority is trucking millions of tons of contaminated coal ash from an inactivated power plant. This involves huge dump trucks rumbling through the historically black community of south Memphis for the next 8-10 years to dump it in a nearby landfill. And residents have discovered that there is nothing they can do to stop it.

Climate Action

Former vice president Al Gore, a tireless crusader against climate change, couldn’t believe that it took Congress so long to respond to the crisis. That changed when President Biden signed the Inflation Reduction Act into law several weeks ago. Gore ecstatically exclaimed, “It will create jobs, lower costs, increase U.S. competitiveness, reduce air pollution and, of course, tackle the climate crisis. We have crossed a major threshold, and it’s going to have significant impacts on international climate action.”

Spending hours in a commercial kitchen standing over the open flame and heat of a gas-burning stove can be suffocating. That’s why chef Christopher Galarza has become such a big proponent of switching to induction electric ranges that he and a friend started a consultancy called Forward Dining Solutions. Switching to electric cuts down on fossil fuel consumption while improving the physical and mental toll of working in a commercial kitchen.

Harrisonburg recently added the first two EV cars to its fleet. The city has also secured grant funding for a pilot program for two electric school buses and infrastructure for the first 10 electric school buses. Councilwoman Laura Dent says next steps in cutting down the city’s carbon footprint includes shifting “the entire city fleet, and transit buses, and school buses” to become electric.

Moving to a four-day workweek could be a net plus for the environment by cutting down on transportation and other energy consumption but this depends on what people do during their time off work. The move to remote work also has environmental pros and cons but appears to be a net positive by cutting down on the use of fossil fuels and improving air quality.

Universal cycling could roughly erase one-fifth of CO2 emissions from using passenger cars. To do that we need to start bicycling like the Dutch. The transformation will depend on designing our communities to make it easier for people to get around by public transportation, on foot, and on bicycle.

The Virginia Clean Energy Plan, developed every four years, establishes a plan to achieve a “net-zero carbon energy economy” by 2045. Comments on what should be included in the 2022 plan are welcome through October 1, 2022.

  1. You can email your comments to: energyplan@energy.virginia.gov
  2. Or you can fill out the survey at: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/5VN2VNT)

Harrisonburg Electric Commission’s Friendly City Solar program now offers customers the opportunity to participate in a community solar partnership that supports renewable energy without the high upfront costs or ongoing maintenance of installing solar panels on their home. You can find out more here.

Earl Zimmerman
CAAV Steering Committee

Virginia Environmental News Roundup for August 2022

The Climate Action Alliance of the Valley is pleased to provide Harrisonburg’s The Citizen with a monthly survey of energy and environmental news stories about Virginia.

With their permission, we are re-posting these pieces here after they appear in the Citizen.


The link to this piece as first published by the Citizen is HERE.

Statewide Environmental News Roundup for August 2022

ACTION ALERT

Join CAAV at 9 am on Wednesday August 31st as we send a message, along with other environmental groups, to the Virginia Air Pollution Control Board: Virginia must continue to participate in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). RGGI uses proceeds from carbon polluters to fund flood resilience programs in the state and to provide energy efficiency improvements for low and middle income residents. Help us let the Board and the Governor know they don’t have the authority to withdraw Virginia from RGGI! We are rallying at Piedmont Regional Office of the Virginia DEQ in Harrisonburg (4411 Early Rd). August 31st. Be there to say you want the reduced air pollution that RGGI is making happen.

Energy

The 2021 National Solar Jobs Census showed an overall increase of 9% nationwide, with increases in 47 states. Virginia is not among the top 10 states, but did have job growth in this sector in the 10-15% range. A Staunton solar installer recently analyzed data from some of its customers to examine if and how solar benefits utilities and their non-solar customers. In its report, Secure Futures writes that “benefits to commercial solar customers center around the reduction in peak demand billed from the utility, while non-solar participants can theoretically save money due to reduced need for higher cost peaker-plant generation. The consistency and reliability of these demand reductions benefits all stakeholders.” The same installer is teaming with a retired Augusta County educator to update its “‘Throwing Solar Shade’ program. Using her perspective as a teacher to make valuable improvements to the program, she’s now updating the lesson plans and materials for teachers to use with their students.” “Highland Springs High School … [is] the first Henrico [County] school to go solar, with more schools to follow…. This summer, there are also plans to install rooftop solar systems at Tucker High School … and the two-story Holladay Elementary School addition in Richmond.” “12 schools in Wise and Lee counties will soon be powered through solar energy, and their students are learning the trade in the process.”

Some of Dominion Energy’s Virginia customers are going solar, maybe more and faster than the company expected, as ratepayers watch their electric bills to up and determine they can save money on those bills. So, among other actions, Dominion Energy:

“The SCC approved Appalachian Power’s renewable energy plan.” Under the Virginia Clean Economy Act, ApCo will need to produce all its energy from carbon-free sources by 2050. “Doing that will cost Appalachian $32 million in the upcoming rate year…. To cover the utility’s expenses, the commission allowed a rate increase that adds another $2.37 to the monthly bill of an average residential customer.” In an opinion piece, a Virginia energy expert says: “Your electric bills are skyrocketing. Blame our [utilities’] failure to invest in renewable energy [much sooner.”

The Virginia Supreme Court overruled another SCC decision on an ApCo rate increase request related to an accounting practice. “The SCC ruled that Appalachian failed to meet its burden of establishing that was reasonable — a decision that the commission lacked the regulatory discretion to make, the Supreme Court found.” “Electricity rates for Appalachian Power Company customers are poised to go up after the Supreme Court of Virginia reversed part of a decision by state regulators that was key to keeping the utility’s rates unchanged.”

The SCC approved Dominion Energy’s plan for its $9.8 Billion Offshore wind farm. The project, located 27 miles offshore from Virginia Beach, will be paid for through the SCC-approved rate increase. “The … utility has already erected two pilot turbines for its 2.6-gigawatt Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind (CVOW) project. Installation of the wind turbines is expected to begin in 2024…. With the approval of the wind farm, the SCC also approved a revenue requirement of $78.702 million for the rate year from Sept. 1, 2022, through Aug. 31, 2023, to be recovered through rate increases to Dominion’s customers. ‘Over the projected 35-year lifetime of the project, for a residential customer using 1,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity per month … [it] is projected to result in an average monthly bill increase of $4.72 and a peak monthly bill increase of $14.22 in 2027. The rate adjustment clause is effective for usage on and after Sept. 1.’” Virginia Conservation Network reported on next steps for the project. “Sweden‑headquartered construction company Skanska … signed a $223 million contract with the Virginia Port Authority for the redevelopment of the Portsmouth Marine Terminal, which will support the 2.6 GW Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind (CVOW) project.”

Fairfax County is exploring creation of a “green bank” to help promote clean energy funding. “The U.S. Economic Development Administration awarded $11 million to the Hampton Roads Workforce Council in Norfolk to make a training network that focuses on clean energy, cybersecurity and blue economy jobs.”

The recently announced federal “climate deal” may help insure that the Mountain Valley Pipeline goes forward, thanks to the insistence of West Virginia Senator Manchin and Democratic leaders. A “one‑page summary of the deal … says the Biden administration and top congressional Democrats will ‘require the relevant agencies to take all necessary actions to permit the construction and operation of the Mountain Valley Pipeline and give the D.C. Circuit jurisdiction over any further litigation.’ That latter provision is important because … the pipeline has been stymied by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals; presumably the D.C. Circuit might look more favorably on the pipeline.” MVP opponents are unhappyfearing “that it may contaminate rural streams and cause erosion or even landslides”, including some West Virginia residents. MVP “opponents vow to keep up fight despite Manchin deal.” MVP developers “praised the deal.” Senator Manchin offered his own views about the agreement he reached with the President and Congressional leaders. The “Manchin deal” raised these questions (and probably others): “Permitting deal: Pipeline boom or ‘propaganda exercise?’” “Will climate bill lead to more mining in Virginia?” A respected blogger Virginia energy issues says: “Buckle up, folks: this federal climate bill is going to supercharge Virginia’s energy transition.”

“The Virginia Marine Resources Commission has unanimously approved a proposed 65-mile biogas pipeline network that would cross the Blackwater River and two swamps at seven locations in Surry, Sussex, Southampton and Isle of Wight counties.” The proposed network is “a joint venture of Dominion Energy and Smithfield Foods [and] secured approval … to build a regional processing facility [to] turn methane from hog manure, also known as biogas, into pipeline-quality natural gas.” Not everyone thinks the proposal is a good idea. A Surry County Supervisor resigned in protest over the County Board’s vote of approval. The “regional biogas facility … would be sited near his home.”

Virginia’s “Department of Energy (Virginia Energy) … received $22,790,000 in federal funding [for abandoned mine cleanup] — more than five times the usual amount — which … will significantly increase the projects and job opportunities made possible through the Abandoned Mine Land program.” “Reclamation work on mine sites [is expected] to expand across southwest Virginia over next 15 years.”

The Supreme Court’s recent ruling “sharply cut back the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to reduce the carbon output of existing power plants…. The … President … and environmentalists said it raised formidable obstacles to the United States meeting its climate goals, including the president’s goal of running the U.S. power grid on clean energy by 2035.” The decision “could have far-reaching consequences, according to legal experts….” The Court determined the EPA “lacks authority to broadly regulate greenhouse gases as pollutants” and the “ruling threatens to constrain federal climate action at a time when it should be aggressively ramping up.” The Southern Environmental Law Center believes that, because of recent legislation, “Looking ahead, Virginia’s clean energy efforts could be a model for climate action,” although these laws “face an uncertain future under the current Republican leadership in Virginia.”

Climate and Environment

Charlottesville joined Albemarle County in implementing a 5₵-per-plastic-grocery-bag tax. Albemarle County “has partnered with The Piedmont Environmental CouncilResilient Virginia, climate modeling engineering firm Sobis, and Richmond-based marketing firm Green Fin Studio to analyze the risks and vulnerabilities of climate changes within …[the] County. The study examines extreme heat, drought, flooding, fire, disease and pestilence, and the intersections of all of these hazards. It also views their impacts through the lens of people, the natural environment, our built environment and the economy.” Loudoun County supervisors recently approved its “wide-ranging” environmental plan, with the aim of making the county “greener and more energy efficient“; local environmental groups urge the supervisors to set specific goals in support of specific commitments. Rockingham County approved funds to hire a consultant to assist with development of an updated Comprehensive Plan.

King William County will see “a significant extension of sewage dumping as fertilizer on fields” because the Department of Environmental Quality approved a private company’s application notwithstanding strong public opposition.

Virginia Tech has earned a Bee Campus USA certification for commitment to sustaining native insect pollinators.” “Virginia’s Spotted Lanternfly Quarantine has expanded to include the counties of Albemarle, Augusta, Carroll, Page, Prince William, Rockbridge, Rockingham, Shenandoah, and Wythe and the cities of Buena Vista, Charlottesville, Harrisonburg, Lexington, Lynchburg, Manassas, Manassas Park, Staunton, and Waynesboro.” The purpose of the expansion is “to slow [the] spread of [the] invasive pest.” “The spotted lanternfly is a threat to wine industry” among other adverse effects. “The Virginia Department of Forestry … confirmed the presence of the emerald ash borer, an invasive tree-killing insect, in Gloucester County” and Hampton Roads. “Efforts are ramping up to root out an invasive plant that biologists say is a very bad actor — a type of water chestnut that’s been found in Northern Virginia in recent years.”

A Southwest Virginia effort to supply brewers with locally grown barley aims to limit shipping-related emissions and offer an opportunity for farmers during what’s usually the fallow season.”

“Oyster poaching [is] feared [because of a sharp decline in the oyster population in the James River’s Wreck Shoals sanctuary off Newport News, … a major nursery for oysters, a $22 million a year fishery.” The decline happened in an area closed to harvesting and with no other obvious cause.

Virginia’s barrier islands are moving toward the mainland,” based on a recent study that examined the relationship of the retreat and sea-level rise. The “Naval Weapons Station Yorktown [is] building [a] living shoreline to combat erosion [and] sea level rise…. The base is set to construct about 2,900 feet of living shoreline along the York River this summer” as a first step toward reducing its vulnerability.

Virginia Beach receive[d] $25 million for flood mitigation project in [a] national competition…. The event, hosted by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, was open to communities vulnerable to climate change and needing help with funding mitigation plans.”

Check out…

  • The Rivanna Trail Foundation’s (RTF) 30th Anniversary celebration, Loop de ‘Ville, Sept. 24 & 25. Find registration and more information here.

Saturday’s events:

  1. A hike of the main Rivanna Trail 20 mile loop (free)
  2. A guided mountain bike ride of the main Rivanna Trail 20 mile loop (free)
  3. After party at the Rivanna Roots concert—doors open at 5PM (tickets $15 or free to the first 100 people who registered for Saturday’s program)

Sunday’s events:

  1. A 5 mile “no-drop” run (free)
  2. A family-friendly walk of a short segment of the trail (free)
  3. After party at the Wool Factory—doors open at 12PM (free entry)
  4. A guided mountain bike ride of the Rivanna Trail River North section (free)
  5. This information from Blue Ridge Prism about controlling the invasive Japanese stiltgrass. Now (August) is the time to beginin the weeks just before it flowers and sets seed. In Virginia, it is present in nearly every county.
  6. ClimateXChange’s website offering data about Virginia’s Climate Policy Tracker.
  7. Legislative Scorecards issued by the Virginia League of Conservation Voters and Sierra Club’s Virginia Chapter.
  8. The Virginia Department of Forestry (VDOF) and the Virginia Cooperative Extension (VCE) Landowner Legacy Planning Workshops (online), Sept. 7,8,14, & 15. Learn how the Generation NEXT program, a collaboration between VDOF and VCE, helps Virginia landowners make plans to keep forests intact, in forest, and in family. Registration opens up six weeks prior to each workshop. Visit the VCE website for more information.
  9. The Allegheny Blue Ridge Alliance Conservation Hub, featuring “Development Projects Affecting Regional Communities and Ecosystems.”

Why not…

  • Register for the Charlottesville Area Tree Stewards’ Tree Basics Classes on Zoom: Select, Plant, and Care for Trees – Tuesday, September 20, 7:00 to 9:00 p.m. Register here. Perfect timing before its October 1st tree sale to learn how to select a tree for your property that will have the best chance to survive and flourish in the place that you choose for it. Also learn about best practices for planting and show you how to care for your newly planted tree and your other landscape trees for the long term.
  • Listen to the Cville100/ PEC Meeting to discuss the new climate vulnerability and risk assessment for Albemarle County – Aug. 23, Tuesday, 6:30 p.m. The hope is that this presentation will be widely attended and will catalyze attendees to put pressure on the County to take next steps on resilience and mitigation. Learn what climate change means for your community, especially in Albemarle County. Register here. Alternative dial-in information: 470-250-9358.
  • Take your kids and join Project Grows for its open house September 16, 4 to 7 pm, at 608 Berry Farm Rd, Staunton 24401. Take a farm tour, enjoy light refreshments, join the activities, and use the “new barn facility and high tunnel to new farm areas like ‘the mountain,’ sunflower labyrinth, and bridge crossing.” Register here.
  • Read this Virginia Conservationist’s views “on the ‘fundamental conflict’ between climate and consumerism.”

The Climate Action Alliance of the Valley (CAAV) is a non-profit, grassroots group in the Central Shenandoah Valley that educates legislators and the public about the implications of the Earth’s worsening climate crisis.

Climate and Energy News Roundup 8/3/2022

Love the world as your own self; then you can truly care for all things. — Lao Tzu

Our Climate Crisis

Ancient giant sequoias in California, once considered impervious to flames, are again under threat from wildfires, this time in the Yosemite National Park. The wildfire has grown into the state’s largest of the season. Bristlecone pine trees in Death Valley, which have lived for more than 1,000 years, are likewise under threat from climate change induced drought and bark beetle infestations.

Europe experienced a bout of exceptional heat across Britain, France, Spain and Portugal that then moved east across central Europe. Temperatures surged to as high as 117 degrees Fahrenheit over the Iberian Peninsula, and the United Kingdom saw the hottest temperatures ever recorded there. People have been evacuated from their homes across southern Europe due to heat related wildfires blistering the landscape.

Deadly climate induced summer heatwaves and the war in Ukraine are pushing European countries—but also other countries like China and India—into a desperate scramble to secure energy for electricity. This is upending plans to reduce the consumption of fossil fuels. In effect, our ability to slow down climate change is being undermined by the producers of the very fossil fuels that are responsible for climate change.

Politics and Policy

President Biden has made a commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50 to 52% below 2005 levels by 2030. A study by an independent research firm, however, reveals that our country is on track to reduce emissions by only 24 to 35% below 2005 levels by 2030.  It will take substantial additional policy action to reach the goal of reducing emissions 50% by 2030.

In a fast moving story, after months of negotiations, Sen. Joe Manchin announced that he could not support climate legislation, leaving President Biden with the option of making some climate related executive actions. Then, after lots of urging from corporate CEOs, other senators, climate activists, and labor unions, Sen. Manchin announced that he and senate leader Chuck Schumer had agreed on the outline of a bill involving $369 billion in climate incentives in the newly dubbed Inflation Reduction Act, H.R. 5376 (117). If enacted into law, this promises to be a huge climate action game changer.

A conservative climate advocate says the recent Supreme Court decision in West Virginia vs. EPA demonstrates the need to further incentivize clean energy innovation rather than relying on regulations to slow greenhouse gas emissions. Empowering innovators will play to America’s comparative advantage and provide cleaner choices at lower prices.

California’s aggressive policy of cutting back on the use of fossil fuels is experiencing pushback from localities that depend heavily on tax revenue from oil, gas and coal to fund their schools, hospitals and roads. Because California is ahead of other states in the fight against climate change, this struggle portends similar future struggles across the country.

Rising temperatures in heavily populated countries like Indonesia and India are encouraging more and more people to invest in home air conditioning, which is still relatively uncommon in their countries. This creates a vicious cycle because these countries still rely largely on inefficient, carbon emitting coal-fired electric power plants, which inordinately contribute to global warming. Breaking out of this cycle will require major policy changes and clean energy investments.

Mainstream economic and political thinking assumes that social stability and rising standards of living depend on economic growth. Our pursuit of growth is, however, causing great ecological harm and incurring more costs than gains. Economist Herman Daly, therefore, advocates a steady-state economy, which forgoes the environmentally destructive drive for growth. It’s also why Virginia conservationist Brian Czech founded the Center for the Advancement of a Steady State Economy in 2003.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has received lots of public reaction against the request by Mountain Valley Pipeline to extend the project for an additional 4 years. Submissions opposing the extension include a letter from 27 Virginia state legislators, a sign-on letter by 270 participating organizations, as well as thousands of individual comments. Alternatively, it appears that Sen. Joe Manchin has received a pledge from Democratic leaders that they will support finishing this contested pipeline as part of his agreement to support the $369 billion climate bill.

The Sierra Club Virginia Chapter has given our area state legislators a failing grade on energy policies. Here’s the score: Sen. Emmett Hanger (R-24), Del. John Avoli (R-20), Del. Tony Wilt (R-26), Del. Chris Runion (R-25) and Del. Ronnie Campbell (R-24) all received an “F” rating.

Energy

A Consumer Reports survey finds that more than a third of Americans would consider buying or leasing an EV. Respondents who said they would not consider an EV, raised concerns about charging logistics, vehicle range, and the overall cost. While some of these worries are perhaps justified, they may have more to do with perception than reality.

Buying an EV is now a better deal than a comparable car that runs on gasoline, due to much lower fuel and maintenance costs. For example, comparing the numbers on a 2022 Nissan Leaf and a 2022 Nissan Sentra, the Leaf will pay for itself in 5 years even with its higher sticker price. It will pay for itself in less than one year with a $7,500 tax credit.

The fastest way to slash greenhouse gas emissions is to switch as many buildings as possible to using electricity as their sole power source for heating and cooling. The fastest way to achieve that is through installing two-way heat pumps that both heat and cool. The cost of manufacturing them is only a few hundred dollars per unit more than a central air-conditioner. We should, therefore, encourage the federal government to incentivize manufacturers to make that simple switch.

Walmart announced that they agreed to buy 4,500 electric vans from manufacturer Canoo. The vans will be used to deliver online orders in a way that’s environmentally sustainable, beginning next year.

Buoyed by stronger than expected demand, Ford has set ambitious global production targets to manufacture over two million EVs by 2026. For perspective, Tesla, the largest EV manufacturer at this time, built 936,000 EVs in 2021. Ford’s line of EVs will include cars, pickup trucks, and commercial vans.

China installed eighty percent of the world’s new offshore wind capacity last year. Even though that percentage is expected to drop significantly in the future, China is expected to dominate the sector for years to come.

President Biden’s plan to open up more than 700,000 acres in the Gulf of Mexico to commercial wind farms is receiving surprising support from the oil and gas industry in the region. That’s because they see their infrastructure and skills used for oil rigs in the Gulf as transferable to the offshore wind industry.

After intense pressure, the US Post Office has pledged to electrify at least 40% of its new delivery fleet. This is a significant change from its earlier commitment to have only 10% EV trucks in its new fleet. This reversal goes a long way toward President Biden’s goal for the entire government fleet to be EVs by 2035.

Heatwaves in Texas have broken records for energy demand at least 11 times this summer. What prevented the state from experiencing rolling blackouts is that it has nearly tripled its solar capacity in the past year.

Climate Justice

Caribbean nations are trapped between being indebted to the global financial system and a looming climate disaster. The legacy of colonialism that syphoned resources to rich countries and the post-colonial experience of being indebted to foreign banks shapes the crisis. Mia Mottley, the prime minister of Barbados, is fighting for a way out through tough negotiations with the International Monetary Fund to equitably restructure her nation’s debt. The goal is finding the necessary financial resources needed to mitigate the effects of climate change.

The Presbyterian Church USA voted to divest from five oil companies that it believes are not doing enough to address climate change. These companies join a divestment list of 85 other companies, most with ties to the military or weapons industry. A spokesman for the denomination said, “Divestment is never the goal. Corporate change is the goal.”

The climate anxiety discussion has a whiteness problem because the perspectives of  marginalized people are often not included in the conversation. Climate anxiety as a term can be very privileged. People experiencing climate induced trauma in places like the Philippines and India may not even have words for such trauma. The hope is that the conversation will evolve to include marginalized people and their experience.

Climate Action

Searing heatwaves in urban centers are an increasingly common and deadly manifestation of our warming planet. In response, the cities of Phoenix, Miami, and Los Angeles have recently hired  a “chief heat officer” to help them focus on the risks posed by sweltering temperatures and to seek opportunities for adapting.

Faith leaders in West Virginia are trying to change minds about the climate crisis by moving the conversation to a moral imperative instead of the typical political discourse. They begin small by advocating for planting native species and energy efficiency in places of worship but also recognize the importance of public advocacy.

The US Department of Energy recently hosted the Carbon Negative Shot Summit, which explored low-cost, clean and innovative ways to store huge amounts of carbon. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said that the Biden administration’s priority continues to be preventing emissions from entering the atmosphere as she insisted, “Carbon dioxide removal is key to restoring our climate.” Carbon removal technology is in its infancy and remains prohibitively expensive.

California keeps scaling up battery storage in its effort to convert to renewable energy. It now has 3,100 megawatts of utility-scale battery storage systems but this is still small compared to other energy sources. For perspective, a large coal, gas or nuclear power plant has a capacity of about 2,000 megawatts. Natural gas power plants continue to regularly provide more than 13,000 megawatts to the California grid.

A consortium of construction firms, property developers and building engineers have pledged to increase the proportion of ​“low-emissions” concrete that they use to 30% by 2025 and 50% by 2030. One way to do that is by adding aggregates such as fly-ash, slag and rice hulls to cement mixes. The bigger challenge is cutting down the emissions used to make Portland cement, which is manufactured by heating limestone to temperatures of greater than 1,400 degrees Celsius (2550°F)—a level of heat that’s hard to achieve without burning fossil fuels.

Earl Zimmerman
CAAV Steering Committee

Virginia Environmental News Roundup for July 2022

The Climate Action Alliance of the Valley is pleased to provide Harrisonburg’s The Citizen with a monthly survey of energy and environmental news stories about Virginia.

With their permission, we are re-posting these pieces here after they appear in the Citizen.


The link to this piece as first published by the Citizen is HERE.

Statewide Environmental News Roundup for July 2022

Energy

The just-issued, first‑of‑its‑kind Virginia Solar Survey aimed to collect data and information related to each county and city’s experience, readiness, efforts and needs related to solar development. This report contains a summary of results and preliminary analysis of key findings. The City of Charlottesville’s partnership with Local Energy Alliance Program (LEAP), a non-profit, hopes “to make the switch to solar energy easier and cheaper for city residents.” A new program from the Virginia Department of Energy is seeking proposals from companies “willing to finance and install solar at low- to moderate-income homes in Wise County.” Proposals for utility-scale solar farms continue to make news, with decisions for and against in Surry CountyChesterfield CountyHenry County, Fauquier CountyCharlotte County, and Pittsylvania County.

UVA will “begin multi‑year effort to find ways to create, store, and use clean energy.” The federal Department of Energy is seeking public input about its plan “to turn [abandoned’ mines into clean energy hubs…. [T]he proposal came from] the Biden administration’s Interagency Working Group on Coal and Power Plant Communities, which seeks to deliver federal investment to revitalize hard-hit energy communities…. The clean energy hubs could feature solar photovoltaic systems, microgrids, geothermal energy, direct air capture, fossil-fueled power generation with carbon capture, utilization and sequestration, energy storage, including pumped storage and compressed air, and advanced nuclear.”

Virginia fishing industries are concerned about future federal plans for more offshore wind facilities. The Governor signaled his support of offshore wind, but declined to join a federal partnership of 11 East Coast states to boost offshore wind. He warned that “potential new offshore wind sites could cause ‘millions of dollars of negative impact’ to Virginia fishing industries.” A blogger noted concerns raised by environmentalists and others about increases to Virginians’ electric bills when Dominion seeks cost recovery for its wind projects; another blogger wants Dominion to set its projections into binding promises, to lessen such impacts on its customers. Martinsville’s New College Institute developed “Virginia’s first wind technician training program certified by the Denmark-based Global Wind Organisation” so workers can receive needed safety and other training. The SCC “approved Appalachian Power Co.’s latest plan to tap more power from the sun and wind in an effort to generate all carbon-free electricity for the utility’s Virginia customers by 2050…. To cover the utility’s expenses [of doing that], the commission allowed a rate increase that adds another $2.37 to the monthly bill of an average residential customer.”

Virginia received $106.4M in federal funding to develop an electric vehicle charging network over five years, with guidance that “the ideal recipients of these funds are the existing gas stations and convenience stores that line every interstate exit in the commonwealth.” Priority locations are “federally designated ‘alternative fuel corridors,’ which in Virginia include interstates 64 and 95 … [and] interstates 66 … and 81…. [Virginia’s] initial plan will be focused on building public direct current fast chargers on the [priority] corridors … while also supporting charging in rural and disadvantaged communities.” VDOT is seeking public input on transportation needs via two surveys.

EV owners must pay an annual highway fee of $116.49 in addition to standard vehicle registration fees. Beginning July 1, 2022, EV drivers may choose to enroll in a mileage-based fee program in lieu of highway use fee.” If an EV owner “ends up driving more than they expected to, the fees can never exceed the highway use fee the driver would’ve paid if they didn’t sign up for the per-mile program.” “A new [bipartisan] state law could jump‑start the conversion of much of Virginia’s government vehicle fleet from gas-powered to electric cars by asking state officials to look at a vehicle’s lifetime costs rather than just its sticker price before buying.” Fairfax Connector, “[t]he county-run bus service[,] plans to introduce eight electric buses by December, according to a presentation to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors’ transportation committee.” Noting a SW Virginia EV plant’s addition of a new truck model, an editor argues that “the geography of the future electric vehicle industry is being drawn now” and that SW Virginia has the opportunity to have a bigger slice of that pie.

The DC area regional Transportation Planning Board voted “to adopt aggressive greenhouse gas reduction goals for the transportation sector, pledging to cut carbon emissions by 50% by 2030.” Effective July 11, “Amtrak has scheduled a second daily departure from Roanoke, offering another option for travel to Washington, D.C., and to cities in the Northeast and Southwest Virginia.” “New round trips … to Norfolk and … to Roanoke bring to eight the number of state-funded round trips from Washington. The expansion … addresses [the] growing demand for more intercity train service in the state.” “Significant ridership increase [is] predicted” in the Roanoke area. A state study requested by legislators concluded east-west passenger rail service, from “Newport News to the New River Valley,” is feasible. Suffolk residents want an Amtrak stop in their area.

In response to the Governor’s desire to withdraw Virginia from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, several Virginia organizations, including CAAV, have urged the Air Pollution Control Board not to take such action.

Writing in The Trek, an online site telling the stories of Appalachian Trail hikers, a thru-hiker issued “A Call for Thru-Hikers to Learn About the Mountain Valley Pipeline.” “A federal appeals court … turned back the latest of many attempts by Southwest Virginia landowners to keep … [the MVP off their property [through eminent domain].” A Court of Appeals denied “Mountain Valley Pipeline’s request for new judges.” MVP wants FERC to grant it a second extension, for four years, to complete the project. Another appeals court dismissed a suit against the proposed extension of the MVP (the Southgate project), although legal hurdles remain.

Climate and Environment

“Almost $400,000 in federal funding is coming to the Blue Ridge Parkway earmarked to enhance tourism, outdoor recreation and overall economic development in Virginia.” Chesapeake has a new park in a largely industrial area along the Elizabeth River, intended to preserve green space. Virginia’s Douthat State Park is one of seven state parks recommended by Blue Ridge Country magazine as worthy of “national status.” The Governor formally dedicated Seven Bends State Park, in Shenandoah County. “Virginia has 41 state parks, with at least two more on the way.” A small, 7-acre park in Alexandria “was designated a Community Forest by the Old-Growth Forest Network” because “it displays some characteristics of those important natural areas [old growth forests], as both a habitat and a place where harmful carbon is stored in the roots of aged trees. Red oaks, white oaks, chestnuts and tulip trees thrive there.”

Virginia Tech researchers are working to “measure farmto-fork food loss … [that] occurs in all phases in the supply chain—not only in processing, distribution and retail, but on-farm too.” “A flour mill in Nelson County is one of 11 recipients of state-funded grants meant to bolster the infrastructure of food and farming enterprises.”

The “national environmental nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity filed a [federal] lawsuit … against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service over its failure to determine or finalize protections for four species that have faced steep losses over the past decades.” One species, the freshwater mussel native to Southwest Virginia, is included in the suit.

The spotted lanternfly, an invasive insect, has found its way into the Valley and is being added to the quarantine in effect elsewhere in Virginia.

“As Wegmans ends use of plastic bags at Virginia Beach store, [the] city consider[ed a] 5-cent bag tax.” “VB [deferred a] vote on plastic bag tax, as some council members look[ed] to address litter on a ‘broader scale’. The Governor rolled “back plastics phase-out, seeking to … [promote] recycling” [while eliminating]“ a commitment by his predecessor to phase out single-use plastics at state agencies and universities. He delayed the “Polystyrene takeout container ban … five years.” One commenter argued the Governor’s “mixed signals on plastic bags [and] recycling indicate we should do better by our habitat.” “Warrenton restaurants [signed a] pledge to reduce single-use plastic straw waste.” Fredericksburg’s “Revenue from [its] plastic bag tax could top $40K.” Charlottesville is “considering adding a 5₵ plastic bag tax.”

The National Park Service is partnering with “states, localities, and private entities” to establish 10 “guiding principles” to guide legislation governing the proposed Chesapeake Bay National Recreation Area designation, establishing “a voluntary collection of sites that represents the nation’s largest estuary and the diverse communities, culture and history that surround it.” A surplus in Virginia’s budget resulted in record funding to support Bay cleanup efforts. The costs of those efforts are also rising, thanks to inflation. Maryland is beefing up its cleanup activities. The Bay’s crab population is way down and Virginia and Maryland have imposed stricter limits on harvests. “Low blue crab counts have led to new restrictions on harvesting male and female crustaceans that [went] into effect July 1.” The Virginia Marine Resources Commission halted Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s work on artificial oyster reefs in the Bay, citing “a substantial violation of the state code.” CBF said it’s working to correct the problems.

FEMA and VDEM awarded the town of Drakes an almost $1million grant “to acquire and demolish” several buildings severely damaged by Hurricane Michael in 2018. “Flood damage in Buchanan County [following recent heavy rainfall has been] called ‘apocalyptic’ … [with] a long cleanup ahead.”

Check out…

The Climate Action Alliance of the Valley (CAAV) is a non-profit, grassroots group in the Central Shenandoah Valley that educates legislators and the public about the implications of the Earth’s worsening climate crisis.

SVEC Board Candidate Questionnaire

The Shenandoah Valley Electric Cooperative (SVEC) is currently holding an election for three seats on their Board of Directors. Only the seat for the Southern District is being contested, with three candidates: incumbent Brent Arbogast, Eric Beck, and Charlie King.

To learn more about these candidates’ views on how SVEC can be instrumental in efforts to curb fossil fuel emissions that are causing global climate changes, members of the Climate Action Alliance of the Valley’s steering committee have requested their opinions through the questionnaire below:

Hello Candidates for SVEC Southern District,

We hope this email finds you well. This request is being sent out on behalf of the Steering Committee of the Climate Action Alliance of the Valley (CAAV). We hope to elicit responses, either in written or video form, from you all regarding the following questions so that we may share the information with our members on our social media.

Our questions are as follows:

1. What is your vision for how SVEC might become more environmentally sustainable?
2. Do you have ideas for how SVEC ratepayers can be protected from the rising price of fuel used to generate electricity?
3. What are your ideas for how SVEC might rely more heavily on renewable energy?

We request that your responses be submitted back to us by July 19 at 12 noon at the latest.

We truly appreciate your time, and we look forward to hearing back from you.

-Steering Committee of the Climate Action Alliance of the Valley


From SVEC Board candidate Eric Beck:

1. What is your vision for how SVEC might become more environmentally sustainable?  As an electric provider, I tend to orient my thinking in lines of sources of electricity.  ODEC is the not for profit electric generation company, who have been more focused on fossil fuels as a source for energy.  I would like SVEC to engage in exploration of alternative renewable sources of energy, or encourage ODEC to develop more sustainable sources.  The Member Owner model also could be deployed in a way to leverage the customer/owners to use distributed solar on their properties to create additional sources, i.e. acres of poultry buildings, factories, and so forth.

2. Do you have ideas for how SVEC ratepayers can be protected from the rising price of fuel used to generate electricity?  Having diversity in fuel sources is key.  Currently the cost of electricity produced by solar is less expensive.  Additionally, distributed energy with more widely distributed solar production can be used to minimize the vast loss of electricity thru miles of transmission.  I think solar, though consistently growing, is still a long ways off of being in balance with the use of coal or fossil fuels.

3. What are your ideas for how SVEC might rely more heavily on renewable energy?  To be honest, the utility industry is complex and I will have much to learn about large scale development of renewable energy.  It is a different “animal” from smaller residential or light commercial deployment of renewable energy.  SVEC has been somewhat opaque in its higher level decisions or board deliberations.  Privacy is valued in its bylaws about board of directors abilities to share deliberations.  However, I do want to be a voice in the room to actively advocate for different considerations, options of alternative energies, pilot programs, and broader policy decisions.

Thanks for your consideration of how to support voices supporting Climate Action in SVEC.

– Eric Beck


As of July 19, neither of the other candidates has submitted responses.

The election “closes” on August 8, 2022. Members may vote by email or USPS mail.