Virginia Environmental News Roundup for November 2020

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 November 2020

Energy

Advocacy group Generation 180 is promoting solar on schools in Virginia. Several Southwest Virginia school systems want solar panels but face obstaclesFairfax County has contracted with multiple companies to provide solar on several government facilities. Danville’s municipal electric utility added more solar to its grid, and a Big Stone Gap business went solar. Several other localities, including Front RoyalPittsylvania CountyCulpeper CountyPulaski CountyAmherst County, and Rockingham County have considered or are considering applications for large solar farms. Dominion Energy says it’s the country’s third‑largest solar-owning utility. A Virginia solar company will build a large solar facility in Orangeburg, South Carolina.

Virginia joined its northern and southern neighboring states in a program to spur off‑shore wind development, although a Tangier family of conch fishermen says Dominion’s off-shore wind farm threatens its livelihood. The Botetourt County on-shore wind farm received a “final” approval, but the FAA said, “not so fast”.

A UVA professor says Virginia can de-carbonize by 2050. Virginia is defending a lawsuit challenging the state’s joining the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a regional carbon “cap‑and-invest” program. Solar World touted the passage of the Virginia Clean Economy Act (VCEA). Appalachian Power said it would comply with the VCEA and become “carbon free by 2050.” Several lawmakers told the State Corporation Commission that proposed energy storage rules violate the VCEA. Dominion will provide E-buses to Chesterfield County schools.

The Mountain Valley Pipeline project continues to face legal challenges and public opposition, including long-time tree sitters.

Climate and Environment

Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) reported five “wins”Fewer Bay “dead zones” is another good signHopewell and CBF partnered to plant trees as a riparian buffer near the James and Appomattox Rivers. Several restoration projects, and litigation, concern oyster and shrimp (Elizabeth RiverHampton RoadsVirginia BeachBay tributariesChesapeake Bay) and underwater vegetation (Eastern Shore, Virginia BeachEastern Seaboard). The Chesapeake Bay Commission monitors the Bay’s status. Climate change will make cleanup efforts harder. Plastic is imperiling sea turtles and marine mammals.

derailed coal train spilled coal into the Roanoke River, requiring water testing. Although state environmental funding was supposed to be at record levels in 2020, that’s no longer expected. A new environmental justice study calls for ‘a cultural shift’ at the Department of Environmental Quality.

Virginia Beach ranked 72 of 100 cities in the “2020 City Clean Energy Scorecard.” Sea level rise remains a challenge despite efforts to mitigate it. Virginia is losing salt marshes. Buckingham County residents dodged the Atlantic Coast Pipeline but face open-pit gold mining.

The Blue Ridge Discovery Center will receive DEQ grant money to help transform two brownfields “into a unique Southwest Virginia destination.” Virginians are informed about the climate crisis and have opinions on the need to act. Two Virginia Tech professors are researching the climate change implications for mountainous regions and coastal living. Shenandoah County wants the state to designate part of the North Fork of the Shenandoah River as “scenic.” A new report underscores the economic importance of outdoor recreation to states in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. And the Virginia Coalfield Economic Development Authority set up a $1 million Renewable Energy Fund.

Also of note:

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

Virginia Environmental News Roundup for October 2020

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

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


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

Statewide Environmental News Roundup for October 2020

Energy

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) approved a two-year extension for completing the Mountain Valley Pipeline’s (MVP), as MVP owners are seeking FERC permission to resume construction. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reissued three permits for an MVP “path across nearly 1,000 streams and wetlands.” Environmental groups have sued over a U.S. Fish & Wildlife service “biological opinion” concerning MVP construction’s impact on endangered species. Previously, FERC approved a 75‑mile MVP extension into North Carolina. It recently denied a request for a re-hearing by pipeline opponents on that approval.

President Trump announced extension of the ban on off-shore drilling along Virginia’s coast through 2032. The Virginia Manufacturer’s Association has sued to keep the state from joining the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative’s carbon market.

Gov Northam signed legislation funding Virginia’s first zero-emission electric buses in Hampton Roads, while a partnership between Fairfax County & Dominion Energy has created “Virginia’s first publicly funded autonomous electric shuttle pilot project.”

Virginia’s off-shore wind industry could produce 5,000 jobs and $740M in economic impact over the next several years; Dominion’s newly-operational wind farm could provide 1,000 jobs and $209M. Virginia received a federal grant to “support the siting of wind energy projects across the Commonwealth.” A Danish company that supplies the wind energy sector will build a plant in Henrico County. Shenandoah County Supervisors approved a large-scale solar farm near Mt. JacksonAlbemarle Co approved its first climate action plan; supporters want action on municipal solar. A former Navy fuel yard could become the site of a 20-MW solar farm in York County. With help from an area solar developer  and a local roofer, a Waynesboro school recently installed solar panels.

Climate and Environment

Severe flooding in Hampton Roads resulted in overflow of “millions of gallons of sewage during recent heavy rain.” A U.S. Forest Service plan may threaten Lynchburg’s water supply. Staunton’s recent severe flooding didn’t merit federal disaster assistance, but the community is pulling together. Aging wastewater systems in Southwest Virginia represent large expenses for cash-strapped communities.

comparative study of how each state’s public schools science standards address climate change–“Making the Grade”—gave Virginia an “F”, but state officials disagree. A George Mason University survey of Virginia adults showed 78% want news and information about climate impacts.

Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) released its annual air quality report, saying “the state had 34 more ‘good’ air quality days this year than the previous record set in 2017.” Using federal grant money, DEQ will study the effects on air quality of coal dust in Hampton Roads.

Nelson County residents want to work with Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) project owners on environmental restoration of property disturbed by construction prior to ACP cancellation. October marked the 10th anniversary of the Smith Creek Showcase Watershed project. Its purpose: serve as a model for how stream-fencing and grass buffers can reduce run-off into Chesapeake Bay watershed waterways. In early December, Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) will sponsor three days of tree planting on a Staunton farm “to create a forested buffer.” Virginia’s 40th state park, Machicomoco State Park in York County, will open by the end of 2020.

A travel writer visited several southwest Virginia locations that reminded him of the American West. A Southern Environmental Law Center video, “Broken Ground,” tells personal stories about how sea-level rise and sinking land affect lives in coastal communities, including Hampton Roads. “One Minute for Earth” is an Earth Day Every Day video project to encourage citizens to “Vote Earth” on November 3.

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 September 2020

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

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


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

Statewide Environmental News Roundup for September 2020

Energy

Three notable solar energy stories in Virginia: Several Richmond-area Catholic churches have installed panels; Rockingham County tabled a solar farm permit application; and the insurance company Anthem has agreed to buy power from a solar energy project nearing completion in Hanover.

The Virginia Clean Economy Act officially became law when the Governor signed it in late August. The business group Virginia Advanced Energy Economy argues that the state can lead on clean energy while maintaining a reliable grid.

The Washington Metro system has installed LED-lighting in 48 stations to improve its energy efficiency. Rappahannock Electric Cooperative will install a grid-sized battery storage system. An Environment America report ranked eight Virginia universities on electric vehicle deployment; JMU came in seventh. Governor Northam signed legislation that will bring zero‑emission electric buses to Hampton Roads.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission will decide whether to extend the timeline for completing the Mountain Valley Pipeline. Dominion Energy filed a nuclear license renewal application for the North Anna Power Station. Some Virginia Democratic lawmakers want President Trump to extend a moratorium on offshore oil and gas drilling to Virginia. Meanwhile, Virginia and North Carolina have reached a settlement over the 2014 Dan River spill.

Climate and Environment

A scientific collaboration including Virginia Tech developed a workshop, “Fish and Ships,” to assist researchers worldwide in understanding marine animals and the movements of “commercial fishing vessels, two crucial drivers in the effort to maintain a healthy ocean ecosystem.” The Department of Wildlife Resources has funded six habitat projects to protect endangered species, including the rusty patched bumblebeeSmallmouth bass and menhaden populations are improving, thanks to conservation efforts. The summer brought significant algae blooms to the Chesapeake Bay. Virginia joined other states in suing the EPA over its management of the Bay’s watershed agreement. Bay cleanup efforts have long been underway; the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s history of these efforts, starting with the 1972 Clean Water Act, suggest more work is needed.

Some Virginia homeowners are taking action to protect their homes from flooding. Staunton recently experienced significant flooding, with costly results. Dorchester County, Maryland, on the Delmarva Peninsula, is sinking as Chesapeake Bay water levels are rising and flooding is increasing. County officials are considering whether buyouts of some homeowners are a good approach, in contrast to approaches in nearby Norfolk ”to invest in new infrastructure and flood prevention.” Climate Central’s interactive map shows coastal communities’ sea level rise vulnerability to. Hampton Roads’ sinking is visible from space.

Governor Northam wants to study whether Virginia should continue to landfill so much out-of-state trash. He also wants to spend more money rehabilitating aging dams threatened by increased precipitation due to climate change. Two area entities recently won the Governor’s Environmental Excellence Award: the Harrisonburg‑Rockingham Sewer Authority and Virginia Clean Cities.

A writer who explores Virginia’s waterways wrote about paddling the Appomattox River, offering a fascinating history and describing many creatures in and around the river. And a local writer says the “Growing Climate Solutions Act gives farmers a seat at the carbon market table.”

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 August 2020

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 2020

Renewables and Energy Efficiency

Now that Virginia’s first offshore wind is in operation, a group in Hampton Roads is working to make that area a hub for the east coast wind industry’s supply chain. The idea is to ”position Hampton Roads as a destination for offshore wind companies to invest … creating new economic prospects for existing businesses, attracting new investments to the region and sparking new permanent job creation.” A longtime wind advocate believes “Workforce investment [is] key to wind power project’s success.” Virginia’s offshore wind projects were highlighted in a recent Siemens Gamesa update, and progress continues on a wind project in Botetourt County.

The Port of Virginia will electrify cargo-handling equipment at its facility in Richmond.

There are multiple efforts to bring large-scale solar to different sites in the state, including Culpepersouthwest VirginiaSurry County, and Orange County.

Presidential candidate Joe Biden’s climate plan calling for 100% clean energy by 2035 prompted The Washington Post to analyze how much work remains to meet that goal – including in Virginia, despite recent clean energy legislation and use of nuclear energy.

Pipelines, Coal Mines, Gas Plants, and Utilities

There are concerns that the coal industry’s decline will saddle states like Virginia with massive cleanup costs. The state’s longstanding ban on uranium mining was upheld.

The cancellation of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) was a thrilling outcome for those who worked for years to oppose it. Here are a slideshow highlighting their efforts and a recording of the online party; you might recognize some of the faces! It includes the popular song by area singer-songwriters Robin and Linda Williams, with a new final verse acknowledging the outcome. The Southern Environmental Law Center, which filed many legal actions opposing the pipeline, issued a thank-you to those who assisted their efforts. There are concerns about Dominion’s land acquisition for the ACP and what will happen to the land and landowners. Two bloggers have decidedly differing opinions. “A $350 million gas project spanning much of eastern Virginia has been put on hold, in part due to environmental justice concerns.” Questions have arisen about the Mountain Valley Pipeline and its planned extension from Virginia into North Carolina. Will it go forward or not? Virginia legislators are interested in reforming the federal pipeline approval process.

There is controversy about a proposed rate increase for Appalachian Power Co (ApCo) customers in Southwest Virginia. There’s interest in ApCo’s allowing solar installation on schools in that area. Dominion asked the SCC for “interim storage targets” as it moves to implement requirements of the VA Clean Economy Act passed earlier this year as well as its latest Integrated Resource Plan.

Environment

Many Virginians are thrilled with the passage of the Great American Outdoors Act, which the President signed on August 4. The bipartisan bill will provide long-needed funding for national parks in Virginia and elsewhere across the country. Representative Ben Cline voted against the bill. A recent study showed folks are increasingly turning to public parks “for health and recreation” during the pandemic.

Along Virginia’s coast, flooding is widespread and frequent, even occurring on sunny days. The rate of this “nuisance flooding” is accelerating and damaging roads, buildings, and croplands. Tidewater isn’t the only part of the state experiencing flooding. Recent rains have negatively affected Northern Virginia as well as Staunton. A recent study found that “Rising Seas Could Menace Millions Beyond Shorelines”—including here in Virginia.

In our second perspectives piece, we described efforts to save migrating birds after their traditional nesting sites were destroyed because of road construction. It appears those efforts were successful. In that same piece, we noted that the state is focusing on menhaden. These efforts include some by conservation groups as well as the Atlantic Menhaden Advisory Board. Officials are hopeful Virginia’s Wildlife Corridor Plan will reduce risks to humans and animals.

Concerns about air pollution motivated 20 states, including Virginia, to sue the EPA over its easing of mercury pollution standards. Most states—again including Virginia—have “reduced their carbon emissions while growing their economies.” Analysis of all states’ progress in emissions reduction showed Virginia has room for improvement. Staff shortages resulting from a budget shortfall “are making it harder for agencies to respond to sea level rise and other climate change-related issues.”

Seven East Coast states saw their hottest July on record”. Virginia was one. Roanoke is one of 13 cities that are part of a study of urban heat islands effect.

The Chesapeake Conservancy has launched a series of podcasts—“Chesapeake Conversations”—giving information on the Bay’s status. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) built a “jewel” of a green building that produces 83% more energy than it uses. CBF worked with a Clarke County farmer to “install a rotational grazing system, leading to a more productive farm, healthier soil, and cleaner waterways.” CBF also keeps tabs on Bay health — Blue Crabs and Underwater Grasses. There is some not so good news—about PCBs. The Chesapeake Bay program recently gave Virginia mixed reviews. And then there’s the recent algae bloom.

CBF’s Communications Director described the importance of our state’s waterways to our collective health. Virginians who enjoy using the Shenandoah River will have expanded access, thanks to funding from the DuPont-Waynesboro Natural Resource Damage Assessment and Restoration settlement.

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 2020

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 2020

Renewables

Spotswood County will be the site of the largest solar project in the Eastern U.S.; Wells Fargo approved financing for the 620-megawatt project its Utah-based developer first proposed in 2018. Dominion Energy solicited proposals for “up to 1,000 megawatt hours (MWh) of solar and onshore wind generation and up to 250 megawatts of energy storage”. These are part of its latest Integrated Resource Plan (IRP), released after enactment of 2020’s Virginia Clean Economy Act, or VCEA. While the IRP sets out more ambitious targets than its 2019 IRP, critics say the 2020 plan continues to rely too much on fossil fuel sources. The IRP includes storage as well. Wells Fargo stepped up again, financing a Shell subsidiary that plans to install 150,000 MW in California and three Virginia counties.

Secure Futures, a Staunton-based solar company, will add 2 MW to the 1.8 MW of solar panels it installed on county schools in 2019. The company is also adding 2.5 MW to Orange County schools. In Southwestern Virginia, advocates are working to ensure that the 2020 VCEA’s emphasis on solar energy will bring more of it to their area, thereby addressing the urgency for a transition away from coal, as demand has plummeted. The Nature Conservancy wants to partner with someone to develop solar on 13,000 acres of cleared coal mine land in Southwestern Virginia. In the Winchester area, “Solar energy makes local car wash even ‘greener’”. Thanks to 2020 legislation, residential and business property owners have eight new ways to help them go solar. And Fredericksburg’s baseball team, a minor league affiliate of the Washington Nationals, will light their stadium using solar power.

Finally, Virginia now has offshore wind power. Governor Northam signed enabling legislation for wind turbines off the Virginia coast, and The Daily Press reports on a second offshore turbine now towering over the Atlantic. Meanwhile, a Dominion engineer discusses the company’s huge wind project.

Pipelines and Gas Plants

The biggest recent environmental news in Virginia was Dominion Energy’s decision to abandon the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP). Here is a sampling of the extensive local, state and national coverage of this announcement:

Utility Giant Kills Gas Pipeline, Sells Assets to Berkshire” [July 6]

SELC’s pipeline team reflects on the path to victory” [July 9]

 “How Buffett’s $10 Billion Pipeline Deal Is Doing Environmental Double Duty Helping Dominion Energy Turn Acres Of Manure Into Clean Power” [July 9]

Dominion’s Post-ACP Clean Energy Awakening: Fact or Fiction?” [July 14]

The Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) is not yet canceled, though its developers continue to confront legal obstacles. One in particular relates to a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ permit for waterbody crossing. An environmental hydrologist thinks the MVP permit process illustrates a nationwide failure. As a result of judicial rulings, this process, developed to streamline pipeline projects, might well threaten them.

Here are some stories about the state’s existing natural gas plants:

Two Controversial Virginia Gas Plants Face Increasing Uncertainty, Documents Show

Police academy says new gas pipeline could disrupt training, harm high-speed driving course

 “Over strong opposition, Water Control Board allows Chickahominy Power to tap into Potomac aquifer

Environment

There was good and bad news in the 2020 American Lung Association’s report on air quality for Hampton Roads. For the sixth consecutive year, it has “held firm or improved;” however, the region ranked 169th of 204 areas reporting data, indicating there remains room for improvement.

Hampton Roads also scored a win for migrating birds. This happened after a chorus of Virginians cried “fowl” at the destruction of a migratory nesting site due to tunnel construction. Dogs safely helped arriving birds find their new site, “urging” them to stay away from their old one.

Hampton Roads scored another big win when the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) awarded $100M in funding to water improvement projects.

Virginia, Maryland, and Washington DC are dissatisfied with the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) oversight of the Chesapeake Bay cleanup plan and filed suit; they’re also unhappy with 2 states, New York and Pennsylvania, who aren’t meeting their commitments. The EPA Administrator isn’t “amused” at the “frivolous” lawsuit.

Virginia has taken steps to manage and save its menhaden population in the Chesapeake Bay. The fish is critical to that ecosystem and its commercial fishing industry.

A drier spring may mean that the Chesapeake Bay will have reduced “dead zones” due to, among other things, reduced agricultural runoff.

With the Covid-19 lockdowns worldwide, U.S., carbon emissions are down. Here’s a map showing how much Virginia’s have fallen.

Augusta County now has a protected conservation site, the 350-acre Lyndhurst Ponds Natural Area Preserve. The site protects sinkholes and forests, with the aim of improving water quality, plants, and animals that live there.

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 23, 2020

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 23, 2020

The VA Clean Economy Act (VCEA) passes, and the state joins the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI)

Governor Northam signed two significant environmental bills that the General Assembly passed. The scope of the VCEA is far-ranging and far-reaching. It provides a roadmap for the state and its utilities to move away from fossil-fuel-sourced energy and provides authorizations to carry out the Governor’s clean energy mandates in his September 2019 Executive Order 43. VCEA resulted from lengthy and complex negotiations among numerous stakeholders, including utilities, ratepayers, environmentalists, conservationists, economic/environmental justice advocates, business/industry representatives, and civic groups. Enacting the bill represents a breakthrough for Virginia and the South, resulting in widespread news coverage and recognition from various sources.

Major provisions of the law require the state to:

  1. Place a moratorium on the construction of new gas peaker plants until 2022.
  2. Join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), thereby incentivizing VA’s move away from fossil fuels.

The VCEA also requires the state’s investor-owned utilities to:

  • Ensure 30% of their power comes from renewables by 2030.
  • Transition to 100% renewable energy by 2045 (for Dominion Energy) or 2050 (for Appalachian Power).
  • Shutter all coal plants by 2024.
  • Close all carbon emitting power plants by 2045 (Dominion), by 2050 (Appalachian Power).
  • Bring 16 GW of solar and onshore wind, along with 3GW of battery storage, online in the next decade.

The VCEA also established a new energy efficiency standard that

  • Sets a 5% energy-savings target for Dominion and 2% target for Appalachian Power by 2025, as compared to 2019 levels.

Finally, the VCEA lifted or eased solar barriers and endorsed offshore wind; the new provisions:

  • Increase the current solar net metering cap from 1% to 6% (broken out as 1 percent for low- and moderate income customers, and 5% for everyone else).
  • Increase the allowable size of residential net metered solar arrays to 25kW.
  • Remove standby charges for residential customers with solar facilities of less than 15 kW in Dominion territory, and for all Appalachian Power or Old Dominion Power customers.
  • Allow Dominion customers to install enough solar to meet 150% of their previous year’s demand, recognizing the needs of growing families and EVs. (In Appalachian Power territory, the limit remains at 100% of the past 12 months’ demand.)
  • Permit residents of apartment buildings and condos to share the output of any onsite solar.
  • Say that HOA restrictions on solar systems cannot increase costs by more than 5%, nor reduce energy output by more than 10%.
  • Give Dominion the authority to build 3000MW of offshore wind.

In addition to the VCEA, the General Assembly passed a somewhat related bill that raises questions about Dominion’s ability to complete two proposed fossil fuel projects, the Mountain Valley and Atlantic Coast Pipelines.

Earth Day 2020 Celebrations Happened Despite the Pandemic!

April 22, 2020 marked the 50th anniversary of the first Earth Day. April 2020 saw numerous virtual celebrations; many managed to commemorate the event while socially distancing. The anniversary also produced numerous online educational and visual opportunities for observing “Earth Day Month” while obeying stay‑at-home requirements. Some JMU professors weighed in on how the current coronavirus pandemic illustrates the importance of caring for our environment.  A local blogger offered his reflections.

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.