CAAV Mourns Loss of CST to the Pandemic

On the announcement of our downtown Court Square Theater’s need to close as of July 1, 2020, CAAV steering committee member Joni Grady let the Arts Council of the Valley know how important it has been to the work of our organization. Excerpted from Joni’s letter:

“The news of Court Square Theater (CST) closing has shocked Les and me, as it has the Climate Action Alliance of the Valley (CAAV), the Rockingham Ballet Theater (RBT), and many others. We feel as though the heart has been ripped out of the area, not just downtown Harrisonburg. CST has been so much more than just a performing arts space, although that, of course, is extremely important. It has been a space where organizations of all sizes can draw in the public in support of their causes. For example, the support CST has provided for CAAV and the whole environmental movement of the Valley is irreplaceable. This has ranged from fundraisers like the one CAAV held in January 2014 in support of the Great March for Climate Action participant Jerry Stewart that raised $2340.00 to Wild Virginia’s annual film fests and all the films and activities CAAV has put on or co-sponsored at CST over the past 12 years.”

Thank you CST and especially CST manager Mark Finks for being there for us all these years! We’ll hope you’ll be back soon.

CAAV and allies fundraiser for Jerry Stewart’s cross country Great March for Climate Action was held at Court Square Theater in January 2014. This venue has been integral to CAAV outreach efforts for many years. Photo credit: Valerie Serrels.

April Moore

April Moore presented at the CAAV steering committee meeting on September 3rd.

In a continuation of CAAV’s efforts to hear the climate positions of candidates for state office, at our steering committee meeting on September 3, 2019, we listened to April Moore, Democratic candidate for 26th District State Senator (incumbent Mark Obenshain serves on the Agriculture, Conservation, and Natural Resources Committee, and has received a lifetime score of 38% from the League of Conservation Voters.) According to Moore, climate change is THE urgent issue and changing the balance in the General Assembly is critical to the passage of any legislation to address it. For instance, joining the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative lost along party lines and now must have a 2/3 instead of simple majority to pass. She suggested all read Greta Thunberg’s newest book, No One Is Too Small to Make a Difference.

For more information on April Moore’s climate change positions see her website .

April was accompanied by Laura Crites who is a founding member of Citizens for Climate Change Solutions, along with Barbara Halperin. She suggested that to encourage a deep commitment to the issue nothing would work better than showing the film Merchants of Doubt, preferably in a movable film festival including Addicted to Plastic and Time to Choose. Her organization is looking for support in hosting an environmental film festival featuring these films.

Joni Grady, CAAV Recording Secretary

Brent Finnegan

Brent at the CAAV Steering Committee meeting with member Rosie Lynch, June 18, 2019.

Brent Finnegan, winner of the primary for the Democratic nominee for the House of Delegates 26th District, spoke to the Steering Committee on June 18, 2019. Finnegan runs a community documentary film business and is a planning commissioner for Harrisonburg.

In an informal discussion with the Steering Committee, Finnegan said that he supports a 45% reduction in carbon emissions by 2031 to ensure a sustainable future for the Shenandoah Valley. He supports state senator McClellan’s Solar Freedom Bill, which failed to advance out of the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee on January 29, 2019.

When asked about a yard waste ban at landfills, Finnegan stated that he doesn’t want policies that hurt low income families, citing that half of the 26th district is in poverty. When asked about the methane that is generated from landfills as a result of organic waste, Finnegan said that he supports community composting and educating people about the effect of organic waste on climate change.

Steering Committee members cited the survey conducted by Luntz, a Republican, the results of which indicated that 70% of Republicans 40 years old and under want the government to implement fee and dividend and 55% are angry at the GOP for not addressing climate change. They also mentioned RGGI and the Green New Deal. Finnegan responded that these are all parts of the big picture on climate change.
Finnegan said that he is talking to people about climate issues. He is also a proponent of protecting waterways.

– Michele Thomas, acting CAAV recording secretary, June 2019

Tom Benevento

tom_pic2Tom Benevento met with CAAV steering committee members on February 19, 2019.

Tom Benevento started Vine and Fig in Harrisonburg, “a program of the New Community Project (NCP), a faith-based nonprofit organization committed to the creation of sustainable systems that care for the earth, empower people most marginalized and impoverished, educate and inspire, and build the foundation for a nonviolent lifestyle.”  The program teaches people how to live a sustainable way of life.

Tom is trying to get the city of Harrisonburg more involved in developing sustainable ways of living.  He discussed environmental performance standards for the city, encouraging the city to accept a sustainability coordinator, and a greenhouse gas inventory for the city.  He stated that the city should set high targets for reduction in residential, commercial and municipal greenhouse gases with 10% reduction every 5 years.  The challenges he discussed were annual budget cycles, city ordinances, and building codes.  Building code efficiency should be encouraged with incentives.  Tom stated that greenhouse gas emissions will be decreased the most by increasing the contribution of renewable energy to the electrical grid.  Another way to reduce emissions would be to encourage the use of electric vehicles and add more charging stations in the city.

– Michele Thomas, for the CAAV Coalition-Building Committee, February 2019

Most months, Sept – May, the CAAV Coalition-Building Committee invites a community member or group to present to the CAAV steering committee about projects with which they are involved. We are grateful to be working with so many other groups and individuals passionate about creating a more resilient, healthy and just world.



Kevin Comer

Sally and Kevin, Nov 20, 2018

Climate Action Alliance of the Valley Steering Committee member Sally Newkirk invited Kevin Comer of the Antares Group to our meeting on November 20, 2018, to share about his company’s work on renewable energy projects in Virginia.

Originally from Page County, Kevin is a mechanical engineer working out of Antares’ Harrisonburg office. Started by three guys in 1992, the company has grown to have multiple offices around the country and work on large scale renewable energy projects, especially those involving wind, solar and biomass energy.

Through his work for Antares in Virginia, Kevin has helped develop solar projects for Dominion Energy of up to 150 MWs covering 1200-1500 acres of land. It is likely projects like these will keep coming as Dominion has plans to install a total of 3000 MW of solar between now and 2022. This is the equivalent of three 1 GW nuclear power plants and could power some 750,000 households.

Kevin let us know that this relative boom in solar for Dominion Energy has been largely driven by the likes of Facebook, Microsoft, Amazon, the Department of Defense and even the state of Virginia requesting the utility company to provide them with Virginia-generated solar or wind energy.

When the Merck & Co. plant near Elkton started planning a 1.5 MW solar installation in partnership with Dominion a few years ago, Rockingham County developed a large scale wind and solar ordinance to guide this and future projects like it. Kevin was among the planners of these regulations which included representatives from some 25 groups with interests and needed knowledge to create a sound and equitable ordinance.

Kevin also sits on the board of the Virginia Renewable Energy Alliance which supports and promotes renewable energy in the state by creating networking opportunities for all KC11.20.18stakeholders, education, research, and policy creation.

Many thanks to Kevin for taking the time from the valuable work he is doing to share his work and wisdom with CAAV members.

– Adrie Voors for the CAAV Coalition-Building Committee, November 2018

Most months, Sept – May, the CAAV Coalition-Building Committee invites a community member or group to present to the CAAV steering committee about projects with which they are involved. We are grateful to be working with so many other groups and individuals passionate about creating a more resilient, healthy and just world.


Chris Jones

Chris Jones1_0Running for a second consecutive term on the Harrisonburg City Council, Chris Jones spoke with CAAV steering committee members on Tuesday, October 17, 2018.

Councilman Chris Jones spoke about his plans for a sustainable future for Harrisonburg. He stated the need for people of color on committees for organizations like CAAV. If re-elected, Chris wants to create a position that addresses sustainability. He stated that a lot of people don’t have choices or don’t know their choices for sustainability. His goal is to work with groups like CAAV to educate all people about the benefits of sustainability.

Most months, Sept – May, the CAAV Coalition-Building Committee invites a community member or group to present to the CAAV steering committee about projects with which they are involved. We are grateful to be working with so many other groups and individuals passionate about creating a more resilient, healthy and just world.


Doug Graber Neufeld

Coalition Partner of the Month:  Doug Graber Neufeld
September 18, 2018

Doug.G.NThe Coalition Committee brought Doug Neufeld, Director of the Center for Sustainable Climate Solutions, headquartered at Eastern Mennonite University to the steering committee this month. Founded with a generous gift from a member, CSCS is a “collaborative initiative of Eastern Mennonite University, Goshen College and Mennonite Central Committee to lead Anabaptist efforts to respond to the challenges of climate change,”as described on their website here.  In this position barely more than a year, he is bringing energy, vision and far-reaching programs to life, focusing on four broad areas of development:

  • Student engagement
  • Pastoral leadership development
  • Explorations in innovative solutions
  • Leveraging global connections with climate-burdened individuals who can speak to the effects.

In student engagement, they now have three students enrolled in “climate futures” fellowships.  They propose their own issues and methodologies.  The three are all EMU graduates.  They propose year-long podcasts and photojournalism to distribute their discoveries.  The three are working in areas of Appalachia with an environmental justice focus on stories of climate change and extractive industries.  There are also undergraduate interns in several roles: One has been working in the Mennonite Central Committee office in Washington DC on an election resource for Mennonite congregations, another is working on faith outreach building networks between Mennonite institutions in Indiana.

Pastoral leadership development in this area focuses on development of a curriculum for pastors and other congregational leaders on climate change, especially theological aspects, not climate science.

Innovative solutions includes economic, technical, sociological focus, as well as theological.

The first event on global connections comes soon, with “Global South Voices” speaking at 28 venues on the east coast. The first event in this area is scheduled for September 30 at Harrisonburg Mennonite Church, 6-9pm, with speakers from Zimbabwe, El Salvador, and Nepal with stories of climate change and its effects.  It will be repeated at EMU from 10-11am October 3 in Lehman Auditorium.

The Center is developing an extensive email list, has done a broad survey of thousands of Mennonites, gathering opinions on climate change, and has a newsletter published in print and online at the website twice/year.  Daniel Bellarose who came to a CAAV steering committee about a year ago is responsible for the newsletter.   Doug sees the general mission beginning simply to get people talking about climate change, and discovering the barriers to those conversations, as well as finding “trusted voices”, those who can speak in ways that go to the heart of the problem and are remembered.

We wish them all God speed in this difficult task.

– Anne Nielsen, for the CAAV Coalition-Building Committee, September 2018

Most months, Sept – May, the CAAV Coalition-Building Committee invites a community member or group to present to the CAAV steering committee about projects with which they are involved. We are grateful to be working with so many other groups and individuals passionate about creating a more resilient, healthy and just world.


Pete Bsumek

Coalition Partner of the Month:  Pete Bsumek
May 15, 2018

Pete.5.15.18.picWe invited a long-time friend to tell the Climate Action Alliance of the Valley’s steering committee about progress in a very important and interesting volunteer effort with Renew Rocktown: Climate Action Advocacy for Harrisonburg, VA.

Pete Bsumek is Professor of Communication Studies at James Madison University; he has been involved with Renew Rocktown since it first organized in 2015.

Renew Rocktown (RR) embarked on the difficult journey of Climate Action Advocacy for Harrisonburg because:

  • It’s the right thing to do at the right time: to help bring local government into consensus with the international community in commitment toward control of greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Since the national movement toward that goal has been closed off, state and local effort is the logical transition. California is leading the way, but New York City and others are also stepping up.
  • Change is inevitable as the status quo on fossil fuel use is challenged.

Possibilities at the local level

  • Harrisonburg has a new city manager, Eric Campbell, who has worked in cities where climate policies are not unheard of and some are involved.
  • Some local support already, as from Council Member Richard Baugh.
  • The success of the Paris events at Pale Fire Brewery in 2015 and 2017.
  • The creation of the Environmental Performance Standards Advisory Committee (EPSAC) by the Harrisonburg City Council last year.

The February Meeting
Hosted by RR to develop a campaign strategy to get the city of Harrisonburg to adopt a Climate Action Plan. Meeting notes.

  • Started with a specific proposal.
  • Designed an inside/outside strategy. Inside: EPSAC’s sustainability action plan; outside: RR grassroots action to encourage City Council to adopt the proposal.
  • Constraints:
    • Harrisonburg Electric Commission’s (HEC) contract with Dominion Power lasts until 2031. HEC is a part of a conglomerate of other municipal electric providers.
    • There is a shortage of City staff to implement a plan.


  • Promote more rooftop solar.  (This may be challenged by a large rental market for businesses and homes.)
  • Work on conservation measures.
  • Renegotiate the HEC contract with Dominion (HEC is not excited about that possibility)
  • Look for a new partner when the contract expires or a new type of contract.  Could the city commit to 100% renewables by 2035?
  • Help identify City staff capacity. Who has time for efficiency planning or working locally to conserve more?
  • Identify who can work across sectors to effect change.
  • Could we reduce energy footprint by adopting conservation and energy efficiency measures at the Council level?

Refining the Outside Ask

  • All of the above, but still must deal with HEC
  • The need for City staff capacity that can work with HEC as well as the business community, with plans from EPSAC.  Might the City environmental compliance officer be that connection?

From the Q&A Discussion 

EPSAC is expected to report to the City Council at the end of May or in June.

Harrisonburg is fast approaching the 1% cap on solar. “There is an overall cap of 1% of a utility’s peak demand that can be supplied by net metered systems (as measured at their rated capacity).” (from Ivy Main’s blogpost 7/2017)  It could be raised but HEC is not enthusiastic about that.  It will take a community effort to move the dial now, but solar on the two new schools could blow past the cap. This may be what is needed to force the issue.

A map of current solar/renewable energy installations in Harrisonburg could be helpful.  This could be used to calculate the current percentage of all power used in Harrisonburg that is derived from solar energy. Additionally the map could demonstrate all potential available solar power in Harrisonburg given existing rooftops and their orientation and sunlight exposure.

Could HEC supply the data?  Enlist journalists from the Daily News-Record (DNR) to raise interest? It has been reported in the DNR that 100 homes in Harrisonburg have rooftop solar now.  Who could help?  JMU’s ISAT faculty?  A team of students?  A senior project?  A broad coalition, perhaps public safety, transportation, sustainability?

A new comprehensive plan is underway; Renew Rocktown representatives have participated. It will have some statements on climate and greenhouse gases, but it is aspirational only, no teeth.

Pete urged everyone to engage in any public comment period on the comprehensive plan, particularly:
–what’s in it
–what should be strengthened
–what was left out.

– Anne Nielsen, with Adrie Voors, for the CAAV Coalition-Building Committee, May 2018

Most months, the CAAV Coalition-Building Committee invites a community member or group to present to the CAAV steering committee about projects with which they are involved. We are grateful to be working with so many other groups and individuals passionate about creating a more resilient, healthy and just world.

Mayor Reed on Earth Day 2018

Harrisonburg Mayor Deanna Reed was invited to say a few words at the Climate Action Alliance of the Valley-hosted Earth Day Celebration, Picnic and Tree Planting in Purcell Park on Sunday, April 22, 2018. Thank you Mayor Reed for participating in the event and sharing your heartfelt and inspiring thoughts!

Thank you so much for having me to share a few words today as we have our “picnic in the park” and honor our Mother Earth. So we all know the history of today close to 48 years ago on April 22, 1970, 20 million Americans took to the streets to demonstrate for a healthy, sustainable environment in massive rallies. Thousands of colleges and universities organized protests against the deterioration of the environment. Groups that had been fighting against oil spills, polluting factories and power plants, suddenly realized they shared common values. On this day people will march, sign petitions, meet with their elected officials, clean up their towns AND as we will do today … plant trees. It is a wonderful day of being earth conscious.

Now since I have been elected I have come to appreciate and advocate for the environmental movement. But I have to be honest and I must admit I have not always been aware. I was one who didn’t care if we recycled or about going green or about global warming. But I can say now I do care. And I especially care now that I am Mayor. I’ve learned so much since I have been elected. I’ve learned that Climate change is real! We have snow in April and summer weather in February most of the time we can’t tell what season we are in. And along with that comes climate change health risk. According to a new study by the Natural Resources Defense Council, a 48-year-old environmental organization.

The study, “Climate Change and Health in Virginia,” warns that as heat waves increase, the risk of heat-related illnesses and deaths in Virginia will grow. Allergy season is starting earlier and lasting longer, and asthma attacks are increasing in the southeastern United States. “Climate change is already affecting the health of Virginians, and it’s getting worse. The idea that we could be facing more intense allergy seasons is likely and that affects me personally. So how do we as a city get people like me involved about our earth. Well it starts with you. If you are here today then that shows that you are passionate and concerned about our environment. You are concerned about these issues that should be looked at. You know we need more efforts to cut carbon pollution, which drives climate change, you know we need to use wind and solar energy rather than coal, oil or natural gas. We need You to continue to educate us and be the voice for our community. I believe as a community we have made progress in our Environmental Initiatives. If you go on the city website you will see all of our initiatives, programs and organizations. However we have a lot more work to do. As Mayor, I would love to see Harrisonburg lead the way and be the example of promoting an environmentally friendly lifestyle.

So let me remind all of you that we have a very important local election coming up 2 seats for city council 3 seats for school board. We need to see where these candidates stand on sustainability. And let us continue to have community discussions so that we can progress toward a more sustainable future for Harrisonburg. And last Thank you to the Climate Action Alliance of the Valley (CAAV) for 10 years of dedication to climate change. Thank you for being the environmental compass of our community. Thank you so much for having me here today.

– Mayor Deanna Reed, April 22, 2018

Tom Benevento

CAAV Coalition Partner of the Month:  Tom Benevento 
April 17, 2018 came racing up to WVPT’s community meeting room to meet with the CAAV steering committee on his bike, just back from Dulles by air, via the Megabus. He had been in the Dominican Republic, helping with a project on food forests and tilapia farming. He was joining us to report on progress with the Sustainability Action Plan for the City of Harrisonburg, through the Environmental Performance Standards Advisory Committee (EPSAC).

It is envisioned as a holistic, integral plan, incorporating three E’s of sustainability: environmental integrity, economic vitality, and equity (social).  He would like to add reverent humility and reciprocal gratitude.

There are currently eight steps to the plan:

  1.  Getting Harrisonburg to approve some targets: visionary, but realistic in terms of the science.
  2.  Greenhouse gas inventory
  3.  Key sectors
  4.  Develop goals and strategies for accomplishing them
  5.  Prioritize targets and goals
  6.  Gain citizen feedback
  7.  Finalize the plan
  8.  Incorporate means of monitoring progress

Draft targets that are under initial review in Step 1 include hiring a sustainability coordinator and the use of “ICLEI” founded in 1990 as the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives, as an aspirational model for sustainability. ICLEI is a network of local governments with similar goals headquartered in Bonn, Germany. These initial target requests under review include a local greenhouse gas inventory (with James Madison University’s involvement), 25% renewable energy by 2025, 100% by 2045, 90% decrease in waste by 2050, and greenhouse gases at 80% of 2004 quantities by 2050.

There are seven sectors of the Action Plan under development:

  1.  Energy efficiency (buildings)
  2.  Transportation
  3.  Affordable renewable energy
  4.  Waste management and recycling
  5.  Land use planning
  6.  Stormwater management and conservation
  7.  Regional food systems and forest canopy for the city

The process of building subcommittees for each of these is under development with certain sectors given higher priority such as energy efficiency and waste and recycling. The use of the international building code, which would save 30% more energy than the current standard is not yet possible because of Virginia’s refusal to adopt it (the Dillon rule again). They have begun working on energy efficiency for schools, etc. and there is much interest in solar PV for schools. It is anticipated that there will be a May or early June meeting with City Council members and staff as the first step toward setting targets for the city.

It is clear that an awful lot of stretch and strain has been involved so far in envisioning the Action Plan, as it appears it would involve just about every facet of life in the city. We wish them every success, and sit in awe that these are all volunteers. 

– Anne Nielsen, for the CAAV Coalition-Building Committee, April 2018

Most months, the CAAV Coalition-Building Committee invites a community member or group to present to the CAAV steering committee about projects with which they are involved. We are grateful to be working with so many other groups and individuals passionate about creating a more resilient, healthy and just world.