We Must Start Reducing Emissions

Daily News-Record, May 13, 2022
Letter to the Editor: Les Grady

Regarding Mona Charen’s column in the May 9 DN-R: I agree with Ms. Charen’s message that climate change “is not an extinction-level event” — for humans.

Nevertheless, the need for action is urgent.

Contrary to her statement, climate scientists know very well how much Earth will warm: Warming is directly proportional to the amount of fossil CO2 emitted to the atmosphere. This has allowed the establishment of carbon budgets. The remaining budget for a two-thirds chance of holding warming to 1.5°C “will likely be exhausted before 2030” at the current rate of CO2 emissions (IPCC, WGIII, 2022). The budget for a similar chance of holding warming to 2°C is larger, so it won’t be exhausted for 25 years at current emission rates. Either way, it is obvious that the sooner we start reducing emissions, the longer the time required to exhaust the budgets and the longer we have to solve the problem. The message — we must start now, even as we perfect our technologies.

So, who should be doing the cutting? Ms. Charen seems to be concerned about the current emission rates of China, India, etc. However, a look at history provides another perspective. From 1751 to 2020, China contributed 13.8% of the CO2 emitted and India 3.4%. The U.S., on the other hand contributed 24.4%, the largest of any nation. So rather than worrying about who will enforce current climate agreements, we should be more concerned about putting our own house in order, while improving our economy in the process.

Leslie Grady Jr.

Rockingham

Thanks To HEC For Solar Program

Daily News-Record, Apr 6, 2022
Open Forum: Doug Hendren

Congratulations to Harrisonburg Electric Commission for establishing the “Friendly City Solar Program.” You listened to customers wanting clean energy but unable to install their own. Thank you also for supporting a growing base of solar net-metering customers, enabling Harrisonburg in 2018 to become Virginia’s first city to pass 1% solar power, and now closing in on 2%. You have enabled Harrisonburg to be the birthplace of a unique “solar barn-raising” tradition and the GiveSolar model for solarizing Habitat for Humanity homes. We are fortunate to have a municipal utility — public power owned by the city. I have attended many monthly HEC meetings; the commissioners take their responsibility seriously.

Shifting to clean energy is essential. We are all aware of the growing seriousness of climate disruption, and other uncounted costs of extracting, transporting, defending and burning dirty fuels — in lives and in dollars. Local residents have worked on these issues for years through Climate Action Alliance of the Valley, 50by25, Sierra Club and EPSAC. Our City Council has stepped up as well, creating EPSAC (2017), an Environmental Action Plan and a Renewable Energy Resolution (both 2020), and an updated 2040 Vision Statement (2021).

What is the right price for solar? Residential power from Dominion’s Acorn Drive solar farm will cost 11.5 cents per kilowatt-hour of electricity. This is higher than HEC’s regular residential price of 9.9 cents (base rate of 8.48 cents plus a fuel adjustment factor, currently 1.439 cents). A fuel adjustment factor is necessary because the cost of fuel fluctuates. Increased natural gas costs last October raised HEC residential rates by about 12%. Solar power, in contrast, has no fuel but sunshine, and no fuel adjustment factor.

It may seem sensible to pay more for clean energy. HEC’s price is only a little higher than Rappahannock Electric Cooperative’s solar (10.7 cents). Other localities, however, get solar cheaper than conventional power, like Fairfax County (6.9 cents). Prices depend on who owns it.

Why are we paying more? The current price, while high, is probably the best HEC can do without our help. Why? The contract with Dominion Energy requires 100% of HEC’s power to come from Dominion. Except when instructed by Dominion, HEC cannot generate any power itself. This does not apply to “behind-the-meter” residential, commercial or school solar.

To provide more clean energy, HEC must buy it from Dominion, which will own and operate our local solar farm, selling power to HEC, who sells it to us. Dominion is an investor-owned utility, serving its shareholders. Dominion wields considerable monopoly power, holding most of the cards in any negotiation. Dominion is permitted by law to pass on all costs to ratepayers, plus a 10% profit, including “impairment costs” for stranded assets, such as early retirement of coal-burning plants. In 2021, HEC paid Dominion $7.2 million in impairment costs. Buying solar from Dominion includes paying for their old, polluting plants, coal ash liabilities, and built-in profits.

Can we do better? Maybe not until the next contract (2031). Utility contracts are typically negotiated eight years ahead. For competitively priced solar in 2031, we must negotiate for it today. One successful approach is a “carve-out” in the Dominion contract, allowing HEC to generate, say, up to 10% of its power locally.

The price gap is widening. Competitively priced solar, already cheaper than power from dirty sources, is today the power of choice for low-income residents in some markets (for example, New Orleans). According to HEC, Dominion prices are scheduled to go up on average at least 3.6% per year for every year in the next decade. The U.S. Department of Energy (google “Sunshot Initiative”) says solar prices will fall by about the same amount by 2030, to just a fraction of the cost from dirty sources. It is particularly unfair to deny low-income residents access to cheap solar power going forward.

Will more local solar reduce HEC revenues? No. With the increased electrification of homes and businesses, and electric vehicle adoption, overall grid demand will at least double between now and 2040. Rooftop solar is by comparison a drop in the bucket. Operating local HEC-owned generation could be profitable at or below HEC’s current standard rates. The higher rates from the Dominion-Acorn solar farm should not set the standard for Harrisonburg’s future. We can do better, and should insist on access to a competitively priced alternative — strengthening HEC in the process. Local generation will also strengthen our community, by keeping at home in our local economy some of the $50 million currently flowing out to Dominion every year.

Any solar that displaces fossil fuels is good. We should do what we can to ensure our community is getting it at a competitive price. Therefore, HEC should obtain a 10% carve-out in its contract with Dominion, allowing it to generate electricity from low-cost, locally owned renewable sources.

Doug Hendren lives in Harrisonburg.

Dear Valley Legislators …

Daily News-Record, March 25, 2022
Open Forum: Jo Anne St. Clair

An open letter to Valley legislators from Climate Action Alliance of the Valley:

We are writing about the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) and recent efforts of Gov. Glenn Youngkin to withdraw Virginia from RGGI. Climate Action Alliance of the Valley (CAAV), a grassroots coalition in the Shenandoah Valley, strongly supports Virginia’s continued participation in RGGI and asks you to vote against Item Number 4-5.12 #1g in Budget Amendments HB 29, SB 29, HB 30, and SB30. These amendments are emergency regulations that would initiate the process of withdrawal from RGGI.

Virginia’s entrance into RGGI in 2020 came after years of work, policy analysis and robust public engagement. The governor’s move to withdraw is a hasty decision that relies on questionable analysis and conclusions. Many Virginians struggle with high energy costs, but there are more effective ways to tackle those costs that don’t abandon our goals of decarbonization. In fact, because 50% of RGGI funds support low-income energy efficiency programs, RGGI already is a way to tackle high energy costs.

This decision to withdraw is not supported by an objective look at the public health and economic benefits of RGGI participation, particularly to low- and middle-income Virginians (to lower their energy burden) and to coastal Virginia communities (to help prepare for even more flooding than they now experience). Also, a decision to withdraw disregards the 73% of Virginians, who according to the Yale Program on Climate Change, support regulating CO2 as a pollutant.

Perhaps most importantly, the governor is ignoring the critical urgency we have to lower our emissions. Actual data demonstrates that, prior to Virginia’s participation, RGGI states significantly surpassed Virginia in this respect: Governor Youngkin’s own report shows that from 2005 to 2020, RGGI states saw their emissions drop by twice as much as Virginia — 59% in RGGI states compared to only 30% in Virginia.

Warming caused by global emissions will continue to have increasingly devastating impacts in Virginia and globally — sea level rise, drought, crop failures, heat waves, increased disease outbreak, and the economic fallout of this confluence of disasters. The most recent report from the IPCC, released just weeks ago, ends by saying, “The cumulative scientific evidence is unequivocal: Climate change is a threat to human well-being and planetary health. Any further delay … will miss a brief and rapidly closing window of opportunity to secure a livable and sustainable future for all.”

There is general consensus among economists that either a carbon tax or a cap-and-trade system, such as RGGI, is the most effective way to decrease CO2 emissions. In fact, the Climate Leadership Council, which was formed by a group of prominent Republicans, calls a price on carbon the “bipartisan climate solution.”

Governor Youngkin’s main objection to RGGI participation seems to be that Dominion lacks a strong incentive to reduce its emissions because it is permitted to pass through RGGI compliance costs to customers. On the contrary, the more solar and wind generation is used on Virginia’s electric grid, the more RGGI will give those sources the advantage to be selected by the utilities over fossil-fueled sources.

The governor’s report states that RGGI was initially “designed to return the proceeds to the ratepayers in order to offset the costs of the program to the consumer, but this was not how Virginia implemented the program.” Other states do not put the cost burden on ratepayers, but return the cost of compliance to customers via rebates. However, instead of suggesting revisions to how RGGI participation is structured, Governor Youngkin would withdraw us entirely, removing this important mechanism of reducing CO2 emissions and forfeiting the only dedicated funding source Virginia has to build flood resilience. He has not explained what, if any, funding would replace the monies lost as a consequence of our state withdrawing from RGGI.

If the governor wants to prevent Dominion from passing the cost burden of RGGI to its customers, he should consider numerous reform options that exist, work with the General Assembly to deploy them, and ensure that the State Corporation Commission (SCC) has adequate tools to scrutinize Dominion’s proposals. Dominion overcharging customers is a long-standing problem that a RGGI repeal does not fix.

Participation in RGGI was an important step in Virginia’s transition to a clean energy future. We cannot afford this step backwards. Not only do we have a moral obligation to act with urgency to tackle the climate crisis, but it is in the interests of Virginians’ health and financial well-being to do so.

For these reasons, we urge you not to support the above budget provisions or any other effort that would undercut Virginia’s continued RGGI participation.

Jo Anne St. Clair, chair of Climate Action Alliance of the Valley, lives in Harrisonburg.

Electric Vehicles Should Not Be Delayed In Virginia

Daily News-Record, January 28, 2022
Open Forum: Alleyn Harned

In this General Assembly session, Del. Tony Wilt has introduced new legislation that seeks to increase consumers’ transportation costs and to maintain our dependence on foreign oil, both of which are unacceptable in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley region of Virginia that produces no oil and can benefit so greatly from access to these technologies.

On Friday, Jan. 21, Del. Wilt sent his constituents an email mentioning his 2022 legislation where he emphasized “clean and affordable energy” emphasizing an all-of-the-above energy approach, then posted House Bill 1267, which is a serious effort to increase costs for clean energy to long-halt Virginia’s clean car emissions standards.

The delegate’s attempt to delay Virginia’s modest goals for access to electric vehicles at dealerships will send consumers to neighboring states for the rest of the decade for access to many of these electric cars. This benefits Maryland and North Carolina’s economies, limits our residents’ choices, and puts Virginia at a competitive disadvantage. In the U.S., auto manufacturers send electric vehicles first to states like Virginia which have adopted regulatory standards for the technology, something that is underway with the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality and auto dealers, after being signed into law in 2021. Del. Wilt’s bill unnecessarily delays an area of agreement with government, consumers, dealers and citizens by adding years to an already slow enactment calendar for access to electric vehicles. Why delay Virginia’s progress and hold us back from future growth?

This delay will likely also serve to steeply increase costs to Virginia consumers for vehicles and keep consumers on higher-costing gasoline, which currently hovers from $ 3.25 to $ 3.50. All this posted at a time where we hear major announcements from automakers of new technology offerings ahead. We don’t want the commonwealth and its citizens to be left behind. Electric vehicles are important for jobs, consumers, and environmental opportunity since Virginia produces nearly no oil, but we produce vehicle components and lots of low cost low emission electricity. With today’s retail electricity costs, an EV is only about $1 a gallon equivalent. By delaying access this bill locks in fuel prices 200% higher, and furthers reliance on imported oil.

Transportation is Virginia’s largest home energy cost, often four times the cost of heating, cooling and electricity, and is borne greater by rural or lower-income populations. Electrification of transportation is a way to give consumers a direct raise by getting lower cost transportation energy to communities that need it the most. The benefits for electric cars are also expected to be greater in rural areas, which often require longer distance travel and have access to low cost clean electric energy. Fueleconomy. gov is a great source folks can see how much money would be saved from and electric vehicle over a traditional vehicle. There are many American- made plug- in hybrid EVs and full EVs that also have less maintenance and lower overall costs than gasoline vehicles.

This bill’s intent to delay is also harmful for human health as transportation is a key source of pollution. The Lung Association’s Road to Clean Air report found that avoided health cost benefits in 2050 will be more than $1.3 billion in Virginia if we transition to EVs. Electric transportation contributes to 115 less premature deaths by 2050, 1,783 asthma attacks avoided in 2050, and economic enhancement with 8,189 work- loss days avoided by 2050 ( equivalent of recreating 31 full- time jobs worth of labor just for allowing the technology to advance).

Members of the Virginia General Assembly should reject this legislation and any effort to decrease Virginia’s modest clean car standards. We have an opportunity for powerful economic development with electric cars in all areas of the commonwealth, to reduce energy dependence on imported oil, and to improve our position in the world.

Alleyn Harned, director of Virginia Clean Cities, is a Harrisonburg resident. Virginia Clean Cities is a statewide nonprofit organization working to reduce Virginia’s dependence on oil through transportation solutions.

Virginia Should Remain In Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative

Daily News-Record, January 26, 2022
Open Forum: Jo Anne St. Clair

In December, Gov.- elect Youngkin promised to withdraw Virginia from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a cooperative effort of 11 Eastern states to limit greenhouse gas emissions. On Jan. 11, the outgoing attorney general advised that a governor doesn’t have authority to accomplish this outcome via executive order. On Jan. 15, Gov. Youngkin issued Executive Order 9 to act on his promise. Why should we care?

RGGI employs a proven, market-based cap-andinvest mechanism requiring power producers like Dominion Energy to purchase allowances for their carbon emissions, thereby accelerating the deployment of carbon-free energy production through renewable sources like wind and solar. Proceeds from these allowances are delivered proportionally to participating states. Virginia law requires that funds are spent on low-income energy efficiency programs (50%) and community flood preparedness (45%). In Virginia’s first year of participation, the commonwealth will have access to $227.6 million.

Climate Action Alliance of the Valley, a grassroots coalition in the Shenandoah Valley, opposes Gov. Youngkin’s attempt at RGGI withdrawal. He describes RGGI as a “carbon tax,” implying withdrawal will prevent utility rate increases from costing consumers. Utilities like Dominion Energy will seek to recover costs by increasing rates; the governor, however, is missing the bigger picture. Dominion Energy already passes on to ratepayers the costs of fossil fuel projects, like expensive coal plants that are no longer economically viable. We ratepayers pay for these stranded assets. We are better off paying for renewable energy projects like wind and solar as long-term investments. We agree with Mr. Youngkin’s concern about rising energy bills. The electricity burden (the percentage a household spends on electricity) is higher in Virginia than the national average and is unaffordable for 75% of households. Nonetheless, Virginia has an urgent need to fund flood preparedness and to lower energy costs. RGGI can help accomplish both.

RGGI is the only dedicated source of funding in Virginia for flood preparedness, crucial not just for coastal regions but for communities in the Shenandoah Valley. Towns like Bridgewater, Elkton and Rawley Springs have many homes with moderate to extreme risk of flooding. Republican Del. Will Morefield of Buchanan County understands this and introduced HB5, to keep the Community Flood Preparedness Fund intact regardless of Virginia’s participation in RGGI. (If Virginia withdraws, we’d have to find other funding sources.)

RGGI funds are already being used to help low-income families lower their energy use, keeping the lights and heat on for less money. It’s estimated that weatherization — sealing air leaks with insulation, weatherstripping around windows and doors, repairing duct systems, replacing outdated and unsafe heating and cooling systems — could save the average Virginia family as much as $976 every year. In total, 164,000 Virginia households pay about 31% of their income on energy costs. An additional 179,000 pay 17% of their income. Weatherization and energy efficiency are cost-effective ways to reduce disproportionate energy costs.

RGGI funds are also being used to address our shortage of affordable rental units. In the initial round of funding, the state awarded 11 affordable housing grants representing 705 energy-efficient units using RGGI funds. The money will help clear the backlog of eligible households that cannot weatherize until certain home repairs are made — like leaky roofs or faulty wiring — by funding those repairs. In a few months of operation in 2021, hundreds of home repairs and weatherization services for low-income families were completed.

We don’t have to speculate on whether RGGI is right for Virginia; we can look at how participation has already helped other states. Cutting carbon emissions also leads to reductions in other pollutants harmful to human health — mercury, nitrogen oxides, and sulfur dioxide. A 2017 analysis of RGGI’s first six years found that emission reductions led to health benefits valued at $5.7 billion in participating states by lowering rates of childhood asthma, preterm births and low birth weights. These are some of the very real externalized costs of fossil fuels rarely discussed. RGGI has also created 45,000 jobs, adding $4 billion in economic value. RGGI state economies have grown faster than non-RGGI economies by 31%. RGGI has also lowered electricity prices by 5.7% in the first nine years, in contrast to increases in non-RGGI states. Major employers in Virginia understand this; leaders from Nestlé to Unilever to Salesforce joined together to applaud lawmakers for the effort, saying RGGI would help the commonwealth “take advantage of the opportunities that accompany the transition to a low-carbon economy.”

RGGI has enormous potential to address crucial needs in Virginia, as it has done in other participating states. We strongly encourage our legislators to safeguard continued participation and tell Gov. Youngkin about the benefits RGGI brings to Virginia communities like ours.

Jo Anne St. Clair, MSW, retired, lives in Harrisonburg.