Virginia Environmental News Roundup for August 2021

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 2021

Energy

proposed Botetourt County wind farm in missed a deadline in the approval process; the developer appealed that determination. Offshore wind (OSW) is coming to Virginia and the State Corporation Commission has opened a docket anticipating a “coming application from Dominion Energy Virginia for its massive offshore wind proposal”; a blogger discusses pros and cons. OSW is under review for the North Carolina coastif built, some of the energy produced would be sold to the Virginia marketArea residents differ in their receptiveness to the prospect of large wind turbines offshore.

blogger discussed findings from a Wood McKenzie study giving Virginia top rankings as a “top state for new solar capacity additions,” pointing out that, nonetheless, “it’s still common to see proposed solar developments meet defeat at the local level.” A Valley farmer and solar advocates recommends “Stop whining about solar panels — we need more now.”

Solar United Neighbors intervened in a Shenandoah Valley Electric Cooperative (SVEC) Rate Increase application now pending before the State Corporation Commission (PUR-2021-00054), arguing another “20% increase … doesn’t align with members’ needs.” SVEC increased its fixed charge from $13 to $25 within the last 18 months. The SCC will hold a public hearing on October 6. Member‑owners can comment here.

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A Harrisonburg non-profit, Give Solar, has partnered with the local Habitat for Humanity affiliate to put solar on several newly constructed homes this year. The hope is to provide “a path to homeownership and sustainable energy” and to expand the model to other Habitat affiliates in the state. A well‑respected Virginia energy policy expert and blogger touted this local effort. (CAAV and other local organizations will host a benefit concert, “Songs for Solar”, to support it: September 10th, 7 – 9:30 PM, Community Mennonite Church, 70 S. High St, Harrisonburg VA 22801. All free will donations will go to GIVE SOLAR. Come and bring your mask.)

Fredericksburg’s Clean and Green Commission, partnering with Local Energy Assistance Program, launched a Solarize Fredericksburg campaign, through which “Fredericksburg [residents] and surrounding counties can sign up to receive a free solar satellite assessment and access discounted prices.”

An EPA letter to the Army Corps of Engineers recommended the Corps disapprove a water permit for the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) because “[t]he current design of the pipeline threatens a variety of water bodies across Virginia and West Virginia.” Wild Virginia agrees. Although MVP owners plan to purchase carbon offsets for the project’s projected annual 730,000 metric tons of greenhouse gases, environmentalists are unimpressedProtesters continue to raise objections to the MVP and some were arrestedDirectly affected property owners sued to prevent blasting for [the] pipeline on Bent Mountain.” The Department of Environmental Quality said it’s looking into complaints.

One legacy of the cancelled Atlantic Coast Pipeline: “A federal review of a plan to restore land disturbed by construction of the … Pipeline… recommends that some 31 miles of installed pipeline and 83 miles of trees felled … be left in place to minimize further disturbance to wildlife and vegetation.” Some of the infrastructure is on easements on privately held property. Nelson County residents want Dominion to rescind those easements; Dominion said they should stay in place until restoration is complete.

The market for coal is negative and utilities are evaluating when and how to discontinue its use. Coal’s negative environmental effects were underscored by a late July 13-car train derailment that sent coal into the James River. Charles City County residents “fended off” a proposed natural gas-fired plant.

Climate and Environment

Virginia’s Conservation and Recreation “received a $1 million grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to expand … living shorelines in Rural Coastal Virginia to reduce coastal erosion and benefit water quality in the Chesapeake Bay.” Environmental groups want the state to put one-sixth of funds due from the new American Rescue Plan to step up the pace of efforts to clean the Chesapeake Bay.” The Governor is supportive but not all General Assembly members agree. The Chesapeake Conservancy’s Conservation Innovation Center released a reportClimate Benefits of Chesapeake Bay Restoration in Virginia–examining “how efforts to improve water quality in Virginia’s portion of the Chesapeake Bay watershed have also provided a secondary benefit of helping to remove carbon from the atmosphere.” Underwater sea grass is important to a clean Bay; for the second year in a row, abundance of such grass declined, possibly affected by “impacts from extreme weather and changes in water quality.” The Virginia Living Shorelines program should flourish thanks to a $1 Million grant that will help homeowners install “natural water breaks like sand, marshes, and oyster reefs that stabilize shores and conserve habitats—to stop … erosion.”

A recent Inspector General audit found Virginia’s current decentralized approach to monitoring and addressing drinking water quality is flawedAnother IG audit concluded the state’s oversight of its conservation easement program needs improvement. Virginia’s Natural Resources Secretary concluded the program is inequitableAddressing flooding in Virginia Beach will cost millions; voters will decide whether to borrow the funds. Here are 10 “takeaways” from a recent study examining the effects of climate change on Hampton Roads.

The Center for Biological Diversity may sue the federal government “over its failure to examine how a program that encourages the use of waterways for shipping affects endangered species, including Atlantic sturgeon in Virginia’s James River.” A scientist studied the freshwater mussel and found a lot to like.

The 2021 General Assembly authorized a study on the potential impact of gold mining; the National Academies will conduct it. Several military base sites contain dangerous “forever chemicals.”

In July, UVA joined other state agencies in following Governor Northam’s March 2021 executive order to “drop all single-use plastics by 2025.” JMU announced the order in June.

  • Wild Virginia is sponsoring a webinar on September 16, 7-8 pm, titled “The Current & Future Geography of Conservation in Virginia.” The speaker is Dr. Healy Hamilton, Chief Scientist of NatureServe. Register here.
  • Want to reduce your use of plastic? A Staunton business “refills recycled plastic containers with all‑natural products, such as dishwashing detergent, clothes washing detergent, shampoo and hand soap.” It’s expanding to Charlottesville.
  • Generation 180 published this article on the relative costs of Electric and fossil-fuel-powered Vehicles.
  • Find the latest CAAV Roundup of national and international climate-related news here.
  • CCL will host a virtual discussion about heat, one of the most severe effects of climate change. The event “The Planet Has a Fever” will be held on Tuesday, August 311 at 6:30 PM ET. Register here.
  • Appalachian Voices will host a webinar on “How Communities are Gaining Control Over HOW Power is Produced – Aug. 31, 5:30 PM ET. Register here.

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 July 2021

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 2021

Energy

Solar has been making news:

  • A Harrisonburg non-profit, Give Solar, has partnered with the local Habitat for Humanity affiliate to put solar on several newly constructed homes this year. The hope is to provide “a path to homeownership and sustainable energy” and to expand the model to other Habitat affiliates in the state.
  • An area installer has secured $25 million in financing to “develop, own and operate solar power projects in Virginia, West Virginia and North Carolina. Solar projects will include K-12 public schools, colleges and universities, hospitals and local government facilities.”
  • Large-scale solar development is underway across the state, with localities inundated with special use permit applications, some of which proposed solar as a new use for formerly industrial sites, or “brownfields.” Planning commissions and Boards of Supervisors in numerous counties have examined their zoning ordinances and listened to the public. Here are links to stories about this in a few of the many affected localities: Augusta CountyBuchanan CountyRockingham CountyHalifax CountySurry CountySouth BostonFauquier CountyMecklenburg County, and Gloucester CountyNot everyone is enamored of “utility‑scale” solar facilities.
  • With contracts signed between Appalachian Power and several southwest Virginia localities, schools there can finally move toward putting solar on their roofs.

Energy efficiency has also gotten some press:

As did off-shore wind:

court upheld Virginia’s Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), which is intended to reduce our carbon pollution from power plants. Revenue received from carbon polluters will provide funding for coastal resilience actions and energy efficiency initiatives for low income residents.

Owners of a proposed, and controversial, fracked gas plant near Charles City canceled plans to pursue the project after evidence showed DEQ could have revoked the permit it had granted. DEQ announced the Air Quality Control Board delayed consideration of a permit for the Lambert Compressor Station until September. Meanwhile, another company is exploring routes for a pipeline in Charles City, Hanover, Henrico, Louisa and New Kent counties.

EPA believes the Army Corps of Engineers should “not grant [the] Mountain Valley Pipeline stream crossing permit.” Even so, MVP owners recently purchased $150 million in carbon offsets to counter effects of its operations. Two Appalachian Voices staff members think that’s “greenwashing.”

Nelson County residents recently celebrated cancellation of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline one year ago. Berkshire Hathaway abandoned plans to purchase a gas pipeline from Dominion Energy because of “uncertainty about whether the deal could get regulatory approval.”

There is a new “state official supporting the rollout of green banks in Virginia”; green banks will help finance renewable energy projects. An analysis showed “Targeted Stimulus Investment in Advanced Energy Would Deliver Nearly $134 Billion to Virginia’s Economy.”

Climate and Environment

There have been numerous reports of sick birds in several states, including Virginia. Scientists are trying to learn why. DEQ reported a large fish kill (~8,000) in Little Creek near Bristol from a lye spill. A UVA-Wise researcher is studying amphibians in a wetlands area at the top of a mountain in southwest Virginia to find out what types of frogs and salamanders live there.

Fredericksburg is wrestling with whether, and how, to tax plastic bagsFairfax County plans to explore such a tax.

The new state park along the York River, Machicomoco, harks back to when it was the home of native people, with plentiful “tall grasslands and woods.” The only state park dedicated to indigenous tribes, its “dual purpose [is] to honor Native American tribes that trace their ancestral roots to the land and to educate nonnative visitors about the land’s importance to Indigenous people who still live in the region.”

Perhaps there will someday be a Chesapeake Bay National Recreation Area. Still, “cuts to clean water protections threaten Chesapeake Bay restoration.”

There is considerable interest in the planned Shenandoah Rail‑Trail that will link Broadway and Front Royal. The Alliance for the Shenandoah Valley is a proponent. Woodstock’s “bike and pedestrian trail [is] still on pace as [the] town nears engineering stage.”

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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 June 2021

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 June 2021

Energy

Dominion has approval to continue operating the Surry nuclear plant for another 20 years. Google’s Loudoun County data center will be powered by carbon-free energy for 10 years. The EPA awarded Virginia’s DEQ $300,000 to convert “brownfields” into sites producing renewable energySouthwest Virginia solar advocates are pleased at a new contract between Appalachian Power (ApCo) and several of its jurisdictional customers that will allow them to use Power Purchase Agreement arrangements to put solar on their schools and other facilities. Although solar energy installation slowed statewide in 2020, the industry is “on a roll” and was among the top five states for new solar capacity installed in the first quarter of this year.

Several local, state, and federal elected officials praised Powhatan County for its efforts to put solar on several of its schools. The superintendent noted expected savings, pointing out one school’s roof was replaced as part of the project. Officials highlighted the educational benefits and the schools’ lowered carbon footprint.

A Harrisonburg non-profit, Give Solar, has partnered with Central Valley Habitat for Humanity to install solar on Harrisonburg and Rockingham Habitat homes built starting late 2020 and continuing for 5 years. The two organizations hosted a “Solar Barnraising” on June 18. Give Solar is fundraising to establish a seed fund to eventually cover costs for future Habitat homes. The hope is to expand the project’s model to other Virginia Habitat affiliates.

ApCo customers can pay an extra $4.25/month so “all of their electricity would come from wind, water and sunlight.” But ApCo “currently gets about 80% of its electricity from power plants that burn coal and natural gas.” Because of ApCo’s offering, no other company can offer ApCo customers a real renewable energy choice. A blogger explained why “most ‘renewable energy’ options don’t add new wind and solar to the grid.” Virginia will be one of three states to decide the fate of ApCo’s West Virginia coal plants.

Energy efficiency provides “the most affordable electricity … you don’t use.” A small business owner cities a new report—“Pathways for Energy Efficiency in Virginia” — arguing Dominion should improve its current programs to boost homeowner and small business owner ability to benefit from energy savings.

A long‑planned Botetourt County wind farm continues to undergo changes in its size and scope. Off‑shore wind farms off Virginia’s coast demonstrate how challenging and complex achieving goals for this technology has been and will continue to be.

Despite 2021 legislation supporting (but not funding) conversion of the state’s school buses from diesel- to electric‑powered, advocates are seeking ways to make e-buses a reality. New River Valley localities now have rental e-bikes.

Nelson County will celebrate the Atlantic Coast Pipeline cancellation July 5. Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) protests resulted in arrests. An opinion writer disagrees with the assertion that the MVP is “critical to energy security,” citing its rising costs and long delays but omitting direct reference to the environmental damage it’s already caused.

Climate and Environment

Virginia’s climate change vulnerability points to the need for adaptation. How, how much, and when to adapt depend on the projected scenario. Land erosion and climate-change-related sea level rise are bringing contamination, flooding, and “farther‑reaching storm surges” beyond the coast into Virginia’s Historic Triangle.

Several Attorneys General urged the EPA to include “Forever chemicals”—“29 per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances” (PFAS) — in its monitoring and analysis processes. Sources of Virginia’s 2020 solid waste included 25% from outside the state. An extensive evaluation of US dams and their hazards identified 80 locations with the greatest susceptibility to contamination from dam failure. Emporia Virginia has a site—a former foundry—and an aging dam—113 years old. Virginia’s Department of Health awarded Harrisonburg’s Public Utilities and Water Treatment staff “the 2020 Silver Water Treatment Plant Performance Award for Excellence in Filtration and Backwash.”

Virginia and other Chesapeake Bay states have worked on Bay clean-up for years. Recently, the states’ governors asked for $1billion in federal funds to boost progress, given “a 2025 deadline for major pollution reductions.” Governor Northam committed to reducing polluted runoff to advance Chesapeake Bay restoration. A blogger described the role trees can play. Part of Bay pollution originates in the Shenandoah Valley; Virginia does not do an adequate job warning users of the Valley’s waterways about the contaminants they could encounter, say environmental groups. Cognizant of their county’s “impaired” waters, Loudoun Supervisors want to find out if requiring expanded buffers around some larger bodies could reduce the negative effects of the rapid development there.

Plants can suffer from pandemic diseases; Virginia Tech researchers are studying how and what can be done to prevent outbreaks.

Federal funds improve several outdoor recreation projects in Southwest Virginia. The non-profit Eastern Shore Entrepreneurship Center will “offer funding [and] services to innovative agribusinesses.” Virginia’s Department of Conservation and Recreation provided “$4.8 million in grant awards … [to] help conserve more than 6,100 acres.” The Virginia Land Grant Foundation announced its FY2022 $7,500,000 state funding grant round in five categories: farmland, forestland, and historic preservation, natural area protection, and open space/parks.

Air pollution is one consequence of transportation powered by fossil fuels. A “study estimates 485 Virginians died prematurely in 2016 as a result of transportation emissions.” A blogger bemoaned recent federal data showing atmospheric CO2 concentrations reached their highest levels since measurements began. Virginia Tech established a first‑of‑its‑kind School of Environmental Security – to help understand and manage the natural and other consequences of human activities.

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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 May 2021

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 May 2021

Energy

A Virginia energy policy expert describes whether and how the state can reach carbon-free electricity by 2035, while pointing out that Dominion and ApCo ratepayers face so-called renewable energy choices that don’t actually provide them such energy. The State Corporation Commission recently approved renewable energy plans put forward by the two large utilities to implement requirements of the 2020 Virginia Clean Economy Act (VCEA). The SCC will evaluate future plans as to how well they carry out “the [VCEA’s] RPS and carbon dioxide reduction requirements.” An ApCo rate hike, if the SCC agrees, will mean customer bills will rise $22 on average. The federal Interagency “Working Group on Coal and Power Plant Communities” found southwest Virginia to be the fourth most coal‑dependent region in the U.S.

Solar installations on Virginia schools continue apace. Augusta County’s project is among those featured in this item. As part of a Green Business Alliance of Charlottesville area businesses, Tiger Fuel installed solar panels and also purchased Alt Energy, an area solar installer. Applications for utilityscale solar facilities in rural localities are having mixed success: Roanoke Valley (Smith Mountain Lake area), Campbell CountyCity of Chesapeake, and Central Appalachia. Bedford’s council approved installation of solar panels on the former “Bedford Middle School building, which is being converted into apartments.” Old Dominion Electric Cooperative is seeking proposals to develop 400MW of new solar to increase solar energy onto Virginia’s electric cooperatives’ grid. This blogger argues the recent hack of the Colonial Pipeline is one reason for more decentralized distributed (rooftop) solar. One example is community or shared solar. Dominion has an installation it owns and controls community solar. Another form is when a group of individuals cooperatively produce and share solar energy. The VCEA tasked Dominion with developing a prototype of the latter model. Dominion wants to assess a minimum $75 fee for shared solar; not everyone is in favor.

new training program, part of Virginia’s plan to make the state a hub for offshore wind services, is off to a good start.

Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality established a new Environmental Justice Office to assist in decision making involving social justice considerations. DEQ is proposing a reduction in currently allowed “hazardous waste that’s incinerated in an open burning ground at the Radford Army Ammunition Plant.” Opponents of the Chickahominy Power Plant want DEQ to reopen the “air permit issued to Chickahominy Power in 2019 for a proposed natural gas plant in Charles City County” because of inadequacies in the environmental justice analysis. Virginia’s Air Pollution Control Board has other controversial permits to consider, including one related to the Mountain Valley Pipeline. North Carolina’s DEQ recently denied for a second time a water permit for MVP Southgate extension , which would run from Virginia into North Carolina. Two MVP protesters were arrested for trying to stop a truck carrying pipeline materials. Project delays are one result of litigation and protests.

Blacksburg Transit has its first five electric buses—part of a plan to convert its bus fleet over the next 10 years. Negotiations with CSX are underway as part of the planning for passenger service rail expansion into the New River Valley. Norfolk Southern Railway has reached agreement to provide such service under the “Western Rail Initiative.” Northern Virginia will see more rail service also.

A northern Virginia condo-owner association approved a member’s request to install Tesla chargers at his two basement parking spaces; Virginia law allowed the change but the condo board needed convincing—and educating. Electricity demand will grow as Virginia sees more data centers and Virginians buy more EVs.

Climate and Environment

This article describes regenerative agriculture efforts in southwest Virginia. Opponents of the state’s plan to establish a seabird sanctuary on Fort Wool argue that it lacks “a balance between cultural and natural resources.” Seagrasses off Virginia’s coast absorb carbon? They do more than that.

A state delegate introduced a bill “to break down barriers for farmers, ranchers, and foresters interested in participating in carbon markets.” On May 1 the state began levying a litter tax on “manufacturers, wholesalers, distributors, and/or retailers of groceries, soft drinks, carbonated water, beer and other malt beverages” with penalties for late payments.

An National Park Service environmental assessment done as part of a proposal to restore Shenandoah National Park’s Meadow Run watershed found there would be no significant impact from the two alternative actions. The US Forest Service has done prescribed burns in areas of the Jefferson and George Washington National Forests to open up the tree canopy and allow greater plant diversity—part of an Appalachian forest regeneration effort. The Alliance for the Shenandoah Valley recently named Professor Charles Ziegenfus its 2021 Valley Treasure for his longtime efforts to study and protect wild birds.

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 “Extra” for April and May 2021

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 “Extra” for April and May 2021

Energy

Pipeline controversies continue. What should happen after cancellation of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) to property seized under eminent domain and through agreements with landowners? The same question pertains to land seized for the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP). Two Roanoke landowners sued for just compensation and received a jury award for considerably more than the MVP owners wanted to give.

President Biden’s newly created Interagency Working Group on Coal and Power Plant Communities reported that “Southwest Virginia is fourth most coal-dependent area in U.S—potentially making the region a priority for federal funding to revitalize communities as part of the transition to renewable energies.

On May 19 the Virginia Department of Mines Minerals and Energy will conduct its quarterly test of the North Anna nuclear plant “early alert” system.

Virginia will distribute $20 million from Volkswagen settlement funds to localities to purchase electric school buses. Virginia Tech is moving ahead on a “multi-modal” transportation center to allow centralizing of bus routes and routes and to serve as a local hub for “bike sharing and larger bus services” such as the Virginia Breeze that also serves Harrisonburg, Staunton, and Front Royal. Planning for expansion of rail transit in the New River Valley continues, though where the station will be is not yet clear. Planning for high speed rail service between Richmond and Union Station will be slowed to assess the effect on the project because the route passes above a “long-hidden Black cemetery” considered “a historic burial ground.”

Climate and Environment

Virginia’s Natural Resources Conservation Service is funding a Trout Unlimited initiative “to enhance/restore native trout habitat and water quality in the Upper James, Shenandoah and Upper South Branch Potomac watersheds.” $2.9 million will aid the effort in “Rockingham, Page, Augusta, Highland, Bath, Rockbridge and Shenandoah counties.” The state’s Wildlife Resources Department will impose a ban on removing box turtles and other reptiles from the wild. The invasive, plant-eating spotted lanternfly is increasing its presence in Virginia. If you spot one, contact the local Cooperative Extension Service. Virginia’s “northern long-eared, little brown and tri-colored” bat population has been hard-hit by white-nose syndrome, a fungal disease. Efforts by engineering students at JMU may benefit the health of the Chesapeake Bay and sea turtles. They’re working on buoys to “help the Chesapeake Bay Foundation monitor the health of the bay … [and] the Brevard Zoo monitor the migration of leatherback sea turtles off the coast of Florida.”

The Southern Environmental Law Center reported that its challenges to four water permits in North Carolina yielded a requirement that large hog-farm operator “Smithfield must fix pollution, environmental injustices at hog operations producing biogas.” That biogas comes into Virginia and is used to produce electricity at a Dominion plant.

“The Virginia State Air Pollution Control Board unanimously approved a final regulation prohibiting the use of certain hydrofluorocarbons in specific end uses.” They “can have a significant impact on global warming in part due to their long presence in the atmosphere before breaking down.”

NOAA has issued new “climate normals” for “baseline data of temperature, rain, snow and other weather variables.” This graphic will let you see what’s expected for Virginia. The EPA has restored and updated it climate indicators webpage and has a map and descriptions of circumstances in specific locations. One notes earlier bloom dates for Washington, D.C.’s cherry blossoms and another, land loss along the Atlantic seaboard.

Planning continues for a Waynesboro location of the Virginia Natural History Museum housing “exhibits focusing on many of the characteristics that make the Blue Ridge and Shenandoah Valley a truly distinctive region.”

A land conservationist donated the 7,300-acre Falkland Farms in Halifax County to the state, so it can target biodiversity conservation and eventually provide public outdoor recreation opportunities” there.

Did you know that Virginia is home to a very unique, and very large fish, Walleye? “That New River strain of fish is so unique that you can’t find them anywhere else on the planet.” How big? The two largest caught were 15+ and 22+ pounds!

Upcoming Events:

Sierra Club Program on Plastic Pollution in Virginia – June 9 at 7 pm. Eye-opening program on: single-use food containers and beverage items and to large items like fiberglass boats. Learn about the new Virginia Plastic Pollution Prevention Network. Join online, free.

Ivy Creek Foundation Field Trips for Kids – Contact Catherine Boston, Director of Education for ICNA, at catherine@ivycreekfoundation.org. Or fill out this Field Trip Request Form.

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 April 2021

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 April 2021

Energy

Dominion Energy submitted its petition to the State Corporation Commission (SCC) in support of the statutorily required “triennial review”—an audit of its earnings and expenses. What is a triennial review? Here’s an explanation. The company wants higher guaranteed profits Despite excess earnings of $26 Million above its four-year target, the company does not want to provide customer rebates. An advocacy group objects, and a broader fight about utility regulation looms. After courts disapproved an already-completed Dominion transmission line project spanning the James River, a mitigation settlement resulted in Dominion’s funding “The Founders District” to attract tourism in the affected area. The SCC affirmed its prior denial of Appalachian Power’s rate increase request; ApCo appealed to the state’s Supreme Court.

Transportation planners in Virginia and Maryland are looking at how to connect rail systems in both states to enable train travel between states. The governor approved creation of the New River Valley Rail Authority to support additional rail service in that area. The Maryland-Virginia agreement may assist the New River Valley effort.  Thanks to federal funding, Virginia has finalized agreements with several railways to launch a $3.7 billion expansion and improvement of the state’s commuter and freight railroads, including in southwest Virginia. VRE has already increased rail service on weekends.

Following Blackjewel’s bankruptcy settlement, in addition to the loss of 500+ coal mining jobs in Virginia, the state now owns “mining permits that no one wants.”

All tree sitters protesting the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) were removed; denial of bond, fines and jail awaited some. The press was denied access to witness the “extractions.” A continuing issue is whether and how MVP can cross hundreds of waterways in the pipeline’s path. One aspect is Virginia DEQ’s permitting process, which is lengthy. A Virginia advocacy group provided specifics. The MVP provided $27.5 million to several Virginia conservation groups as compensation for forest fragmentation and water pollution its operations caused.

Solar projects, especially “large-scale solar farms” continue to be proposed. Recently, they have been or will be considered in these locations: Louisa CountyKing George County, and Buchanan County. Localities sometimes have concerns about potential negative effects of these projects; the Department of Environmental Quality recently fined Dominion Energy because of stormwater runoff to a creek from another Louisa project. Virginia is home to several data centers and interest in them continues. Equipment suppliers for these centers mean jobs, including in Botetourt County.

A partnership between Harrisonburg non-profit Give Solar and the local Habitat for Humanity will result in solar on new homes during 2021. Thanks to the efforts of a Norfolk resident, an energy company has “brought more than 1,000 [solar] panels to churches and businesses in low-income areas throughout Hampton Roads [and] has hit a major goal: more than $1 million worth of installations.” Virginia has a ways to go in the distributed solar market, however.

Climate and Environment

Harrisonburg Public Works received a Gold Medal in the Governor’s Environmental Excellence Awards for its Purcell Park Bioreactor Project. DEQ announced reductions in toxic pollution to air, water, and land in 2019, compared to 2018. What to do with waste? Burn it for energy or send it to a landfill? Hampton Roads’ Naval Shipyard has a dilemma.

The American Farm Bureau Federation, with concurrence of the Virginia Bureau, reacted favorably to an EPA report “that farmers are raising more food and fiber and producing more renewable fuels using fewer resources by utilizing smarter practices,” thus serving as carbon sequesters.

The Historic Virginia Land Conservancy recently added 2,600+ acres, across five counties, to its portfolio. The properties all represent “vital” farmland in Virginia.

Plans are underway for a biking trail from Richmond to Virginia Beach; short term plans are to extend an existing trail to Williamsburg, longer term plans would extend it to the ocean at Virginia Beach, with a possibility of a further extension through the Dismal Swamp into North Carolina.

Oystermen lost a suit seeking damages because of pollution to their harvesting grounds from a locality’s sewage treatment facility; the Virginia Supreme Court found their leases do not ensure the absence of pollution.

Coalfields and aquaculture? Who knew they’re connected?

Like other coastal communities, Mathews County wants to preserve its coastline, including both private properties and wetlands located there. Problem is, it’s hard to do both.

Like camping? Here’s are some ideal local sites. How about hiking? Check out this one along Aquia Creek.

Interested in an electric vehicle (EV)? Here is some information about EVs in Virginia.

Ever wondered about the relationship between our underground aquifers and our rivers. Here’s an explanation for the Middle River.

What’s a “green flash?” Virginia recently had one.

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 March 2021

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 March 2021

Energy

report from UVA’s Weldon Cooper Center describes ways to accelerate Virginia’s transition away from carbon-source fuels toward clean energy. Not everyone believes these are feasible solutions. Powhatan County approved a 20 MW solar farm. A Harrisonburg resident leads Give Solar, which will help Habitat for Humanity install solar on several area homes in 2021.

In its first Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) auction, Virginia netted $43+ million, part of which will fund energy efficiency programs for low income Virginians. RFFI is a multi-state coalition to reduce carbon pollution. Multiple Virginia energy groups want Congress to pass “Biden’s 100 % Clean Electricity Standard Now.” Virginia Tech’s board wants a carbon neutral campus by 2030.

Dominion faces a challenge getting onto the grid the electricity from the 188 wind turbines it’s building off Virginia’s coast. Another challenge is receiving needed approvals from the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. A for-profit school in Norfolk is training students for wind industry jobs. Virginia continues to “scope out” opportunities for becoming a player in the wind industry supply chain.

A southwest Virginia group is beginning the process of adding more residential solar in coalfield areasFive localities there are cooperating to attract more data centersNew rail service in the New River Valley may become reality after 2021 legislation to enable fundraising. A former coal mining equipment manufacturer has pivoted to energy storage, with help from a grant.

Taking its first steps to join the EV bandwagon, Virginia enacted clean car standards comparable to those in California and established an as-yet unfunded rebate process to incentivize Virginians to purchase EVs. Six utilities are cooperating to greatly expand EV charging stations throughout the southeast, mid-west, and Atlantic destinations; Dominion is one of the participants.

Dominion wants approval to continue operation of its North Anna nuclear plant for another 20 years. Opponents question its safety after the 2011 earthquake.

The Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) remains a source of news: It will be completed this year. Arguments in a court case that it’s not needed failed. Work continues while tree-sitters watchOne sitter was removedA second sitter was removed, effectively ending that protest. The Appalachian Trail Conservancy received a $19.5 million pledge from MVP, with which it signed a 2020 voluntary conservation agreement.” Owners of the Transco Pipeline filed suit against MVP owners who want to take land through eminent domain that Transco previously acquired the same way.

Pittsylvania’s NAACP asked Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality to have the Air Quality Control Board review MVP’s air permit. Builders of a proposed natural gas pipeline in Prince William County withdrew its application. Despite vocal community opposition to a Wegman’s distribution center in a wetlands area, the Virginia Water Control Board approved its construction.

Climate and Environment

Southwest Virginia has a huge gypsy moth problem but may have found a way to address it.

Northern Virginia tap water may have high levels of “forever chemicals.” The James River has a pollution problem despite past and current efforts to solve it.

Virginia saw some environmental “wins” during the 2021 General Assembly session. Prince William County is considering whether to establish a “plastic bag tax.”

Virginia Beach will restore 200+ acres of wetlands to help reduce flooding. Virginia contracted with an engineering firm to receive a “roadmap” for responding to the threats from sea level rise and coastal flooding.

Several EMU students organized a summer 2021 “Climate Ride” to “get folks interested in saving the world.” An EMU alumna is airborne to study air quality, “measuring aerosols and greenhouse gases by plane.”

Get ready for the 17-year cicadas; they’re coming our way. As you may have noticed, spring has sprung; seen any bluebirds? Encountered any black bears on your hikes? Virginia’s population is flourishing.

Some “to dos”: Thinking of taking some hikes this spring? Virginia offers some good ones.  An Amherst resident managed to complete her goal along the Appalachian Trail. Hike the newly opened Claudius Crozet Blue Ridge Tunnel Trail under Afton Mountain; and learn its history. See the importance of the “Goose Creek Watershed” from this documentary. Check out a recent “Fata Morgana” mirage over the Chesapeake Bay, and learn what it is. Tell Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance what your vision of the city’s 2040 downtown looks like.

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 – utility regulation special report

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.

Editor’s Note: This is a special installment of the periodic contributed news roundups about statewide environmental news. This piece highlights selected utility reform bills that the Virginia General Assembly considered in 2021, with links to further coverage in various media outlets. Future perspectives will cover other important 2021 legislation, about energy, energy efficiency, and other environmental matters.

During 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic, most utility customers enjoyed a moratorium on paying utility bills. Anticipating the lifting of that moratorium, some legislators examined existing state law with a view to identifying and addressing some that favored utilities over consumer. The result was introduction of several bills that, together, would expand the State Corporation Commission’s authority to regulate Virginia’s investor-owned monopoly utilities in a more balanced manner than current law allows. All but one were filed in the House of Delegates.

Although consolidated and modified versions of these bills passed the House, all failed in the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee. Thus, the full Senate never had the opportunity to vote for or against them. The same Senate Commerce and Labor Committee also killed the one bill introduced in that chamber. Below is a table of the major bills and whether our area Delegates and State Senators supported them. Sen. Mark Obenshain (R-Harrisonburg) sits on the Commerce and Labor committee.

Bill No.PurposeDel. WiltDel. GilbertDel. RunionSen. HangerSen. Obenshain
HB 1914Give SCC discretion on counting utility costs against revenuesNoNoNoN/ANo
HB 1984Give SCC added discretion to determine fair rate of return & order rate changesNoNoNoN/ANo
HB 2049Prevent using overearnings for new projects rather than refundingNoNoNoN/ANo
HB 2200Change SCC procedures re setting fair rate of return, crediting 100% overearnings to customers, & eliminating $50M refund limit, starting 2021.YesNoNoN/ANo
HB 2160Give SCC authority to set fair rate of return & require crediting 100% overearnings to customers rather than current 70%NoNoNoN/ANo
SB 1292Require crediting 100% overearnings to customers rather than current 70%N/AN/AN/AN/ANo

As noted in the brief descriptions above, the bills were designed to lower ratepayers’ bills, return excess charges to ratepayers, and give the SCC the ability to set fair ratesAdvocates and bill sponsors, as well as those legislators who supported these bills, took note of the fact that Virginia’s largest monopoly-owned utility—Dominion Energy—had been successful in avoiding periodic SCC review since passage of a 2015 law. After that, it had become obvious that Dominion had overcharged its customers around an estimated $500 million.

A previous General Assembly restored the periodic SCC review, to occur every three years starting 2021. That review will be underway soon when Dominion files the necessary paperwork with the SCC. The promise of the above 2021 bills was to enable the SCC to ensure that such large overcharges would not recur and that any refunds it ordered would in fact go to the overcharged customers. The latter was a priority because of other prior legislation that allowed Dominion to (1) hold onto 30% of any overcharges and return only 70% and (2) make a case that it should keep all overcharges and apply them to the costs of future approved projects.

Despite strong support in the House of Delegates and strong advocacy by many individuals and groups, none of the bills became law. It is likely efforts to achieve these and similar reforms will happen for the 2022 General Assembly session. It might be useful to understand your representatives’ reasons for their votes on this year’s bills.

Virginia Environmental News Roundup for February 2021

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 February 2021

So far this year, the Virginia General Assembly has considered many energy, transportation, utility, and land and water conservation bills; the legislature’s regular session ended late last month and the special session ends shortly. CAAV has tracked several of these and will produce a summary that will appear in this space in early March.

Energy

The Mountain Valley Pipeline continues to make headlines–about water permitsopponent activitieslitigationpublic opinion surveys, and operations.

Efforts are underway to “stitch Virginia, Maryland and DC closer together” through a vision of an expanded train network. The economic development organization, GO Virginia, has awarded funding to create jobs in the Tidewater area to address seal level rise. A Virginia representative submitted proposed federal legislation to ban offshore drilling.

Automaker Tesla is moving to add three new dealerships in Virginia. A new battery electrical energy storage facility has been proposed for Southside Virginia. An electrical cooperative and a Charlottesville solar installer teamed to propose a battery storage facility and solar array near Batesville in Albemarle County. There are big plans for offshore wind along Virginia’s coast. Old Dominion Electric Cooperative, which supplies energy to many Virginia electric cooperatives, pledged to be net-zero carbon by 2050. Sigora Solar and Isle of Wight County are partnering to put solar on seven of its nine schools.

Climate and Environment

Humpback whales, and other marine creatures, face many risks as they traverse shipping lanes in and out of the Chesapeake Bay. Ongoing research aims to reduce these dangers. A Shenandoah Valley farmer employs rotational grazing, which provides benefits to her land and, because her farm is in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, also to the Bay. Ducks Unlimited will preserve 1,300 acres in the Great Dismal Swamp by restoring it to wetlands. A Harrisonburg farmer is practicing restorative farming along Blacks Run. Prince William County Supervisors recently approved rules to promote agri-tourismEelgrass is important to the Bay ecosystem; unfortunately it’s in trouble. Thanks to funding from a DuPont settlementShenandoah National Park Trust and partners acquired 900 acres of rolling woodlands in Page County. The Virginia Outdoors Foundation has awarded grants to Buena Vista and Rocky Mount to improve the towns’ parks and to Nelson County to create a new boat landing near the Rockfish River. The Joseph Pines Preserve in Sussex County expanded its conservation easement by 196 acres.

In somewhat stark contrast, efforts to have the General Assembly stop a proposed “mega” landfill in a community of color in Cumberland County failed. As happened in Buckingham County with the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline compressor station, the landfill owners offered relatively small amounts of money to a cash-strapped county so 3,500 tons of waste could come into the county from elsewhere daily. A study funded by the owners showed the county would receive great economic benefits.

As part of efforts to aid Southwest Virginia in its move away from coal, Virginia agencies are assisting farmers to identify and grow new crops, such as barley for craft breweries. The Department of Mines, Minerals, and Energy will use a federal grant to help restore abandoned coal mine sites and boost local economic development.

Ever heard of the Carolina Bays? They are in Virginia too. They’re a bit mysterious and may have extraterrestrial origins. Like Applejack? Distillers, including in Virginia, are bringing it back and updating it. A fascinating short film by a father and his 7 year old son, about the dangers of kayaking near a dam in the James River near Richmond, won an award at the recent RVA Environmental Film Festival. A blogger wrote about the Roanoke area’s efforts to re-brand itself as an “outdoors-friendly community.” The Virginia Department of Wildlife and Resources site, Go Outdoors Virginia, offers guidance for safe water use and gives an online way to obtain access licenses. An EMU professor produced a marvelous book, Vernal Pools of Appalachia, available as a free, downloadable e-book. The Throwing Solar Shade project offered high school students a competitive opportunity to offer suggestions for innovations in solar energy.

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 January 2021

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 January 2021

Energy

Appalachian Power wants the State Corporation Commission (SCC) to approve a rate increase to cover costs of “environmental improvements” at coal power plants. It also wants SCC approval of transmission line upgrades for five counties. The SCC did approve a service fee of $1.80/month. Dominion Energy wants the SCC to approve raising rates to pay for solar projects. The 2021 General Assembly session happening now will consider numerous energy and environmental bills. Some relate to utility reform.

The General Assembly will be voting on several clean energy and transportation bills during the current session: EVsenergy storagewildlifedata centers, so-called “advanced recycling,” and emissions standards. Local Del. Chris Runion (R-Bridgewater) has partnered with Del. Kathleen Murphy (D-McLean) on a bill to expand the definition of “small solar agricultural generator” to include wineries, cideries, and distilleriesLouisa County now has two electric school buses; Fairfax County has one. In what may be a sign of what’s to come, Giant Food announced installation of an EV charging station at its Purcellville store. Virginia is working with Norfolk Southern to expand passenger rail service in the New River Valley.

The Mountain Valley Pipeline continues to be the focus of federal and state regulators, and protestors. Its future is anybody’s guess; a recent survey indicates it does have supporters. North Carolina’s Department of Environmental Quality approved a permit so Dominion Energy and Smithfield Foods could start using hog waste to produce energy. A Dominion power plant using such material will be in Virginia. Atlantic Coast Pipeline cleanup will happen from 2021-2023 in Virginia, North Carolina, and West Virginia.

Danville’s City Council approved an energy storage project to save the city’s energy costs. Augusta County’s planning commission determined that a proposed solar farm near Stuarts Draft is inconsistent with the comprehensive plan. A guest columnist addressed whether solar panels should be put on food-production land.

Climate and Environment

Eagles are having problems with survival in Virginia; humans are causing them. Mark Viette, a horticulturist, has ideas for helping all birds. The invasive spotted lanternfly will adversely and noticeably affect Virginia agriculture.

The federal EPA continues to clean up a former titanium mine and refinery superfund site in Piney River. The Monacan Indian Nation and the James River Water Authority are working to address the former’s concerns about a controversial water project in Fluvanna County. A new report by a coalition of groups documents efforts in Central Appalachia to clean up and repurpose abandoned coal mine lands.

More than 2,500 acres in Charlotte County are now a state forest. Over 800 acres of old growth forest in Giles and Bland Counties are now protected. An additional 400 acres has been added to the Poor Mountain Natural Area Preserve near Roanoke. Reforest Richmond is a campaign to plant over 8,000 Eastern Redbud saplings to help restore tree canopy. VA GRAZ is modeling software to help Virginia farmers assess potential impacts of conservation and other practices they are considering. Farmers can complete this survey to report on their conservation management efforts. Virginia representatives have proposed that the Historic Dismal Swamp be designated a National Heritage Area. One of these representatives convened the House Chesapeake Bay Advisory Board to consider the Bay’s effects on Virginia’s coastal communities. An article discusses the challenges of protecting species diversity in national forests such as Virginia’s Jefferson because commercial use is often allowed.

Norfolk’s problems with sea level rise and sinking land necessitates planning for dealing with chronic flooding. Stormwater runoff is a big problem.

Here’s a great story about a Chesapeake Bay skipjack skipper, oysters, and history. Chesapeake Bay restoration is an ongoing effort but more progress is needed; Bay advocates hope the Biden administration will be supportive. A Virginia delegate will head the tri-state Bay Commission in 2021. This video describes an intensive job training program to support Virginia’s wind industry. This dashboard lets you monitor Virginia’s progress toward its clean energy goals. Virginia Tech researchers say one way to reduce threats from Asian carp is to eat them. A Floyd County blogger provides some history about native forest bees before honeybees were imported. Biden named the Virginia commissioner of agriculture and consumer services to serve as deputy secretary of agriculture.

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.