Climate and Energy News Roundup 1/3/2023

No matter your field of work, no matter where you live or what role you play in your home, workplace, or community, you and the people around you are interacting with nature and society and have insights into how to solve the problems associated with climate change. So that’s where we start. Climate change solutions are not waiting for us at a fancy delegation of diplomats in a foreign country. They are at our kitchen table. –Andreas Karelas

Our Climate Crisis

Wildlife is disappearing at an alarming rate around the world, in the oceans and on land. The main cause on land is because humans are taking over too much of the planet, erasing what was there before. There has been at least 33% habitat loss for wildlife since 2001. Climate change and other pressures make survival even harder. “The biodiversity crisis presents a longer-term threat to the viability of the human species,” says Katharine Hayhoe, a prominent climate change researcher who also focuses on biodiversity.  

A bit of encouraging news is research showing that polar bears are surviving in Greenland despite decreasing sea ice. They have clung on thanks to freshwater discharge from glaciers, offering hope for the species.

Our current Holocene geologic epoch began 11,700 years ago with the end of the last big ice age. Now a working panel of geologists appears to be close to recommending that we have spent the past few decades in a brand-new time unit identified as the Anthropocene, the age of humans. This new epoch is characterized by human-induced, planetary-scale changes that are unfinished but very much underway.

A recent aerial survey in Oregon found that more than a million acres of forest contain fir trees that have succumbed to stressors exacerbated by a multi-year drought and global warming. The die-off is way beyond anything seen before and scientists are dubbing it “fir-mageddon”.

Politics and Policy

American cities have way too many cars and too little affordable housing. A prime culprit is zoning laws that mandate minimum parking requirements for commercial and residential development. Climate campaigners and public transport advocates are beginning to push back and this is finally, slowly beginning to change in some cities. Reducing minimum parking requirements preserves green space, allows for denser housing, makes cities more walkable, reduces traffic, and fosters downtown renewal.

Gov. Youngkin got one step closer to his goal of withdrawing Virginia from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) when the Air Pollution Control Board voted to advance the process of pulling the state from the program. Environmental advocates for RGGI argue that this is an illegal end run around the Virginia General Assembly which passed the 2020 law requiring Virginia to participate in RGGI.

The Senate blocked Sen. Joe Manchin’s permitting reform amendment for energy infrastructure from getting onto a defense funding bill known as the National Defense Authorization Act. Environmentalist Democrats supported the reforms for clean energy infrastructure but voted against the amendment because it also streamlines the permitting process for fossil fuel projects, especially the Mountain Valley Pipeline which Manchin has been trying to get approved. Most Republicans opposed the amendment for political reasons.

Wall Street’s biggest banks and mutual funds are backing off the climate commitments they made before the COP26 climate conference last year. Bank of America and JP Morgan say they’re concerned about being held liable for accidentally running afoul of United Nations climate rules. Blackrock and Vanguard, the world’s largest asset managers, then confirmed that their net zero commitments would not preclude them from investing in fossil fuels. Vanguard later announced that it is resigning from the global net-zero initiative.

Energy

U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm hailed a major breakthrough in creating fusion nuclear energy. Scientists from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory were able to create a fusion reaction that generated more energy than it took to produce. This holds potential to provide constant energy without the pollution of fossil fuels or the radioactive risks of traditional nuclear power plants. It will, however, most likely be decades, if ever, before fusion energy can be technically and affordably used to generate electricity.

Natural gas is getting in the way of slashing carbon emissions from power plants in the U.S. Over the next few years, electric utilities are expected to build around 17 gigawatts of natural gas plants (enough to power close to 12.8 million homes). Unless those plants are closed early, they will operate for decades on an electric grid that still gets almost 60% of its power from fossil fuels.

Installing battery storage on the electrical grid increased rapidly in 2022. The federal government had estimated that 5.1 gigawatts of batteries would be added over the course of the year and it now appears that more like 5.4 gigawatts were added—about 11% of new power plant capacity. Battery manufacturers cannot keep up with the demand.

Dominion Energy demands have stalled a planned 1.2-megawatt community solar project in Augusta County. Their insistence on a high-speed fiber optic line between the solar array and the nearest substation would increase the cost by 50% and make it unaffordable. This demand,  which is inconsistent with industry standards, appears to be an effort by Dominion to restrict solar energy to its own utility solar.

Federal regulators published a draft environmental review approving Dominion Energy’s planned 176-turbine wind farm off the coast of Virginia. This approval will take the largest proposed ocean renewable energy project in the U.S. one step closer to construction, scheduled to begin in 2024.

The Department of Energy is providing funding to projects that accelerate the deployment of small- and medium-sized wind turbines across the United States. The wind turbines, designed to be used by homeowners, farmers, and small businesses, can reduce costs, increase energy production, and enhance grid reliability.

Climate Justice

The mammoth bipartisan budget bill of roughly $1.7 trillion to fund the U.S. government includes roughly only $1 billion to help poor countries transition to clean energy. This is more than 10 time less than the $11.4 billion annually that  President Biden had pledged at the COP27 climate change summit in Egypt.

Many African countries are struggling with how to reconcile their desire to strengthen energy independence, the growing awareness of the climate and ecological crisis, and their desire to be part of a just energy transition. They insist that developing countries need clean energy technology transfers from developed countries, which they say has been slow to materialize.

Wealthy countries and banks will provide $15.5 billion to help Vietnam develop clean energy and transition away from coal. The funds, which will be disbursed over the next three to five years, will help Vietnam to peak its greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 rather than 2035, as had previously been projected.

Historic flooding last year in Pakistan displaced nearly 8 million people. Such displacement is generally temporary but is increasingly becoming permanent as climate induced drought and flooding makes their homes uninhabitable. The UN estimates that there will be 2 million climate refugees in Pakistan by 2050. It takes a heavy toll both economically and socially when people are forced to migrate from the places where their families have lived for generations.

Climate Action

The Inflation Reduction Act climate bill allocates billions of dollars that people can use to go green. This includes 30% tax credit of up to $2,000 for the cost to switch to an energy efficient heat pump heating system. It also includes a tax credit of up to $7,500 to buy an electric vehicle, depending on where it is manufactured. Even more significantly, it allocates a 30% tax credit with no monetary limit for installing rooftop solar.

Protecting big wild herbivores roaming natural areas helps reduce global warming in various ways. According to a 2022 scientific paper in Current Biology, these animals “help prevent fires, decrease the amount of solar heat absorbed by the Earth’s surface, and contribute a lot to the long-term storage of carbon in soil.” Elephants, wildebeests and other big plant eaters may actually be helping, not hindering, our carbon storage efforts.

Nations at the COP15 biodiversity summit in Canada made a major conservation commitment to try to halt the loss of hundreds of thousands of plants and animals. Their “30 by 30” pledge seeks to stem the loss of nature worldwide by protecting nearly a third of Earth’s land and oceans as a refuge for the planet’s remaining wild plants and animals by the end of the decade. It remains to be seen if they will follow through by funding and implementing this commitment.

About a quarter of the cars bought in China last year have been battery-powered or plug-in hybrids. No other country comes close. Chinese automakers are poised to lead the EV industry in producing affordable EVs, not just in China but globally as their offerings become available overseas. This is a win for efforts to prevent the worst consequences of climate change.

After facing fierce backlash for plans to add thousands of gas guzzlers to its fleet, the US Postal Service has shifted course with a game-changing pledge to go electric. In the effort to change out their aging fleet, they are now committed to purchasing 66,000 EVs, making up 60% of their new truck purchases. This is way more than their original stingy commitment of 10%. The new plan will be almost like shutting down a gas powered power plant each year.

The overproduction of light is another human-made problem we urgently need to take responsibility for. Light pollution upsets the natural rhythms of insects and nocturnal animals. We humans need darkness too. Natural cycles of light and dark control our hormonal systems and only at night do we find true rest. Turning down lights in our house and putting bright outside lights on motion sensors not only saves electricity—it’s good for us and our environment.  

Earl Zimmerman
CAAV Steering Committee

Virginia Environmental News Roundup for December 2022

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

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


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

Statewide Environmental News Roundup for December 2022 

Energy

Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI)

“Virginia … [began its] official withdrawal [via the regulatory process] from [the] regional carbon market [known as RGGI, although] debates over legality of [the Youngkin administration’s and the Air Quality Control Board’s] move persist.” “Virginia began participating in RGGI following passage of the … Clean Energy and Community Flood Preparedness Act of 2020…. Virginia power producers must buy allowances for each metric ton of carbon they emit, with the number of allowances available for purchase at auction declining every year.” The previous and current Attorneys General provided different opinions as to the legality of the Youngkin approach. A Southern Environmental Law Center attorney argued such action must be done legislatively. A National Resources Defense Council lawyer tweeted “Weird [that the Governor]’s budget would make taxpayers pay for VA’s exorbitant flooding & energy costs. Yet in Q4 [22] alone, under VA’s RGGI law, big polluters just paid up another $70+ million, to do exactly that….” Other opinion writers, environmental organizations, and a legislative committee echoed that sentiment questioning the logic of eliminating the RGGI funding source for community flood resilience and energy efficiency improvements for low and middle income Virginians and allowing polluters to emit CO2 while proposing budget expenditures to pay for the recurrent damages that coastal and inland flooding that the state has experienced and will continue to experience. A blogger presented details about the proceeds from the RGGI auctions, describing them as “taxes”, noting that to date they’ve totaled close to $524 million. The Acting Secretary of Virginia’s Department of Natural and Historic Resources argued that RGGI is “a bad deal.” The regulatory action to withdraw Virginia from RGGI will continue in 2023.

Solar, Wind, and Nuclear

“The Rockingham County Board of Supervisors approved a large solar farm near Port Republic …. The permit [is] for a large-scale, ground-mounted solar facility on the south side of U.S. 340, … [on] … land previously disturbed by a quarry, and [the project] would produce 50 megawatts of power, … enough electricity to power 20% of the county’s households.” Franklin County’s Board of Supervisors voted to approve a siting agreement for … the county’s first utility-scale solar facility, a … 160-acre project ….” Other localities that recently approved similar projects include Halifax County and Henry County. Not all solar facilities meet with approval; recent examples of local opposition happened in Carroll County, in Isle of Wight Countyin Bristersburg/Fauquier County, and in the town of South Boston.

A bill passed in the 2022 General Assembly called for a work group study to address solar development. That group delivered its report but achieved ”little consensus on [what new regulations should look like.] Solar developers were wary of regulation, and farm and conservation groups expressed concerns about land impacts. The report was “a 717-page document that included discussion of 41 proposals around definitions, processes and who should be involved with implementing the new regulations. The work group reached consensus on only four of those proposals and came close to consensus on 14. But on 23 — more than half of those considered — they remained deadlocked.” One opinion writer praised the bipartisan “consensus”.

An Augusta County solar developer is training students for careers in clean energy. The same company will install solar panels on two Bedford County schoolsIt also helped a Richmond homeless shelter reduce its energy costs by going solarVirginia Beach students created light displays “powered by solar panels and [a] wind turbine.” “More than 80 students from five public school divisions in Virginia gave topics, “including students from Augusta County.

In Virginia, shared, or community, solar allows eligible residents of multi-family buildings and those who cannot install their own solar to subscribe to utility and 3rd party developer programs. However, “Shared solar launches in Virginia but still faces an uphill battle.” “Dominion Energy is demanding that a planned 1.2-megawatt community solar project pay to install a high-speed fiber optic line between the array and the nearest substation, which the developer says will increase costs by about 50%.”

The State Corporation Commission (SCC) “effectively signed off on an agreement Dominion reached this fall with the Virginia attorney general and other parties, in which the company agreed to implement several consumer protections in connection with the Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind project.” Not everyone applauded the SCC’s action. A blogger asked “Why does Dominion fear a wind output promise?” Another argued that “Dominion’s Wind Gamble Could Cost Customers.” Another made a case that “Dominion’s Planned Offshore Wind Farm Need Not – and Must Not – Be Built Where Planned.” Dominion has filed a request with the SCC for a rate surcharge for its off-shore wind project. The federal government advanced Virginia’s off-shore wind projects. Meanwhile, “Plans for Botetourt County [on-shore] wind farm [are] moving along – although slowly.”

A Canary Media chart detailing the largest electricity source in each state showed that “In 12 U.S. states last year, the largest source of electricity generation was zero-carbon — wind, hydropower or nuclear.” Virginia was not among the 12; its largest source was fossil gas. The Governor proposed “a $10 million investment in the upcoming budget to turn Virginia into a leader in energy innovation …. [He announced] ‘With technologies like carbon capture and utilization, and resources like critical minerals, hydrogen, and nuclear, we will make Virginia the epicenter for reliable and affordable energy innovation’.”

The Governor and nuclear proponents want Southwest Virginia to be the site of a small modular nuclear reactor but critics, including area residents, want to be informed and consulted about such a project. Some experts say the project is doable with necessary approvals in place. Several start-ups are working on ways to demonstrate feasibility. A Lynchburg company started “production of a type of nuclear fuel, fuel, called TRISO, [that] will power the first micro reactor built and operated in the United States…. {The company believes such fuels will be] used for a variety of new technologies, including micro reactors that provide clean energy to remote communities, or areas recovering from natural disasters.” Virginia Tech nuclear researchers received a federal grant to “work to improve computer models that are used to study the safety of nuclear power plants.” “Dominion Energy plans to deploy small modular nuclear reactors statewide by 2032 … [and] is evaluating several sites in Southwest Virginia, including retired fossil fuel plants and former coal mines. Appalachian Power Company says it’s also looking at the new nuclear technology.” Politicallycurrent activities show that there is international interest in nuclear energy on both the right and the left.

Southwest Virginia may become a hub for numerous research and development activities and job opportunities, including “The Energy Discovery, Education, Learning & Technology Accelerator, or DELTA, Lab… in Wise County”; the “Energy Storage and Electrification Manufacturing (ESEM) jobs project” in Tazewell County; numerous projects funded by the recently passed federal 2023 funding bill; and hydrogen research, including a green hydrogen project in Buchanan County.

Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP), Biogas, and Extraction/Mining

Republican legislators introduced pipeline permitting reform bills in both houses of Congress to “create regulatory certainty for natural gas pipeline construction and approve Mountain Valley Pipeline completion.” In response, “more than 40 environmental and advocacy groups called for a “fair and open” review of the pipeline’s plan to cross the Jefferson National Forest.” Senator Manchin’s [and others’] efforts to speed up the energy permitting process (and thereby facilitate if not guarantee the completion of the MVP), will likely continue in 2023 despite the lack of success in 2022. “The U.S. Forest Service[, under a court order to produce a ‘ Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement before a final statement next summer’,] has proposed new construction guidelines that, if adhered to, would enable the 303-mile intrastate natural gas pipeline to traverse a 3.5-mile section of the Jefferson National Forest in Giles and Montgomery counties, the project’s final missing link.”

“Utility executives said they have plenty of opportunity to invest in renewable natural gas, or RNG, supply projects, even as major energy and investment companies continue to acquire RNG developers.” Dominion Energy “invested in … [RNG] projects at dairy and swine farms and sees the opportunity to add to its project pipeline.” Roanoke Gas Company seeks “to partner with a western Virginia wastewater plant to capture, treat, and deliver biogas to local customers. Environmental groups have objections to how the deal is structured ….”

“A Canadian company has bought interest in the uranium deposit in Pittsylvania County and has set its sights on overturning the state’s moratorium on uranium mining. Experts say the risks are real, but some can be mitigated with modern technology.” “Southside legislators said there’s little local enthusiasm for overturning the moratorium ….” 

“The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine is working towards the answer [to the question ‘Might there be Gold in Virginia hills’]. Virginia Tech faculty members … were part of a 13‑person technical team convened by NASEM to provide their subject‑matter expertise to produce “The Potential Impacts of Gold Mining in Virginia” report ….” Two of the conclusions:

  1. “Virginia’s laws and regulations currently … are not up to the task of minimizing the risks to Virginia’s communities and environment …. [The] report points to opportunities to strengthen these systems to minimize risk of harming water resources, ecosystems, and human health….”
  2. “The most effective way to minimize potential impacts from gold mining is to begin with a cradle‑to‑grave approach that considers all aspects of exploration, development, mining, remediation, closure and long-term monitoring from the very earliest stages and, importantly, solicits and includes input from all stakeholders involved ….”

The study was done pursuant to legislation; one question is “What happens next?” Buckingham County formed a commission to recommend what its next steps will be, possibly addressing whether the county should ban gold mining there.

Transportation

“A representative state survey released last week found 55% of Virginians are likely to consider buying an electric vehicle (EV). In January, however, the key policy that gives Virginians’ more access to EVs may be in jeopardy. [An opinion writer noted that] Unfortunately, bills have been filed to repeal the Clean Car standards in the upcoming Virginia General Assembly.” However, “With higher gas prices, electric vehicles [are] surging in popularity with buyers.” The town of Stanley recently installed its first EV charging station at a local park. Loudoun County is planning to “acquire [a] low-to-zero emissions … fleet.” “As more transit agencies in Virginia roll out electric buses to reduce environmental impacts, the need to recharge those buses throughout the day remains a chief concern.”

Richmond’s Pulse has driven its way to becoming one of the most successful bus rapid transit services in the country. Now transportation leaders from as far away as Ohio, Maryland and Florida are taking notice…. [P]assengers are turning to rapid transit services due to their frequent stops and reliability compared to buses.” Blacksburg’s town council voted to provide free bus service to all riders. But the Roanoke Valley’s Metro system cannot afford to do so without “new funding or significant budget cuts.” DC eliminated Metrobus fares starting next summer, but Virginia riders from DC may continue paying them. “Virginia transit officials say state law and regulations effectively prohibit the state from eliminating Metrobus fares for riders in the commonwealth, but legislative changes could alter that.”

Climate and Environment

“An innovative new technique to assess the health of fish population that set lower triggers for catch quotas has found that menhaden — probably the most controversial catch in Virginia — are doing even better than expected. As a result, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission increased its coastwide quota for menhaden by 20%, while leaving its cap on the Chesapeake Bay catch at 51,000 metric tons.

A recent study by the Virginia Seafood Agricultural Research and Extension Center at Virginia Tech showed there is “Money in [Virginia’s] water: Virginia seafood industry [is] worth billions, supports thousands of jobs.” A recent Chesapeake Bay Foundation study reported “good news” for the Bay: “Dead zones are shrinking, but [there’s] still a long way to go.” “The Chesapeake Bay watershed in Virginia will be supported by more than $13 million in grant awards for restoration and conservation…. Awarded through the Innovative Nutrient and Sediment Reduction Grant Program (INSR) and the Small Watershed Grants (SWG) Programs, core grant programs of the federal-state Chesapeake Bay Program partnership that are administered under NFWF’s Chesapeake Bay Stewardship Fund (CBSF), the award include $15 million provided through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law funds, the first set of awards from the infrastructure funding. Funding will also be provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, U.S. Forest Service, and the Department of the Interior’s U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and private funding by Altria Group, Zoetis, and Astra Zeneca. Additional funding will come from the Bezos Earth Fund.” Total funding will be over $26 million. The Governor proposed setting “aside historic funds [$685 million in the biennial budget] for conservation and preservation … [and] for resiliency and the Chesapeake Bay.”

Thanks to “legislation passed earlier this year allowing Virginia’s state and federally recognized tribes to receive grants from VLCF, one of the state’s premier sources of conservation money, funded through the budget,” “two tribes were awarded grants directly from the … VLCF to acquire and preserve forestlands for the first time. The grants will only cover a portion of the cost of the land acquisitions and will be available to the tribes for two years.”

“Five localities receive[d] funds [from the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Office of Farmland Preservation] to place working farmlands, forests under conservation easements.” “The General Assembly’s passage of full funding for agricultural best management practices is a historic decision for farmers…. From July 1, 2022 through June 30, 2024, $295 million will be allocated in Virginia’s budget for aid farmers in implementing conservation practices.”

Check out…

Why not…

  • Sign up to lobby your legislators on Virginia Conservation Network’s Our Common Agenda this coming session? Join the Virginia Conservation Network and hundreds of fellow environmental advocates on Tuesday, January 31st, 8 am to 1 pm in Richmond for its annual Conservation Lobby Day. Register here.
  • Join Earthjustice for its Climate Action Party: Food Justice Webinar, Jan. 12, 7 pm? Learn how climate-concerned citizens can urge government leaders to help accelerate the transition to a more just and sustainable food system. The featured guest Peter Lehner will spotlight opportunities for climate activists to advocate for policymakers to use the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Farm Bill, Inflation Reduction Act, and SEC regulations to drive even faster, systemic change in the ways we produce our food. Register here.
  • Learn about three ways to receive tax credits for going green in 2023, thanks to federal funding under the Inflation Reduction Act?
  • Gain some insights into how SustainFloyd takes small steps by “Thinking Globally [and Acting Globally in Floyd Virginia”?
  • Read this story of Hog Island residents who moved to the mainland to retreat from the rising seas, only to find those seas have followed them?
  • Try washing your clothes in cold water and wash them less frequently? Doing so will increase the life of the clothes and reduce environmental harms from the washing process.
  • Learn about Mountain Lake’s “mysterious” fluctuations that result in periods of low to no water.
  • Invite Songbirds to Your Winter Garden”?
  • Visit an “International Dark Sky” state or national park? Virginia has four, three relatively near the Central Valley. West Virginia has three parks with this designation. Before you go, learn “Why we need to make the world a darker place.”

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

Climate and Energy News Roundup 12/5/2022

As Lao Tzu wrote in the Tao Te Ching, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” So it is with solving climate change. While transitioning to an equitable, sustainable economy powered by clean energy will be a massive undertaking, the process is made up of small steps. —Andreas Karelas

Our Climate Crisis

As more than 180 heads of state were converging in Egypt for the COP27 climate summit, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres opened the proceedings with this dire warning, “The clock is ticking. We are in the fight of our lives. And we are losing. Greenhouse gas emissions keep growing. Global temperatures keep rising. And our planet is fast approaching tipping points that will make climate chaos irreversible. We are on a highway to climate hell with our foot still on the accelerator.”

Like the rest of the Caribbean, Cuba is suffering from longer droughts, more intense storms, and higher sea levels because of climate change. This is reducing agricultural yields, and putting farmers under intense financial pressure. It is also driving people to leave the island in the highest numbers in decades. Nearly 221,000 Cuban migrants have arrived at the U.S.-Mexico border this year.

The Interior Department is giving three Native American tribal communities $25 million each to move their key buildings onto higher ground and away from rising waters, with the expectation that homes will follow. Eight more tribes will receive $5 million each to plan for relocation. This is most likely a precursor to forced relocation in response to climate change.

A century ago the residents of the town of Oyster on Hog Island off the coast of Virginia were forced to relocate their town to the mainland due to rising sea levels. Historically, the ocean has risen about a foot in a human lifetime, but estimates are that it will now increase to two or three feet because of climate change. These more rapidly rising sea levels are now challenging the relocated town to again relocate to higher ground.

Extreme weather events have caused an estimated $115 billion in insured financial losses around the world this year, which is 42% higher than the 10-year average of $81 billion. About $50 billion to $65 billion of the total losses are a result of Hurricane Ian, which pummeled Florida’s west coast in late September.

Politics and Policy

The COP27 U.N. Climate Summit in Egypt ended with a hard-fought deal to create a fund to help poor countries being battered by climate disasters. This includes  proposed reforms at the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund that could attract trillions of dollars in private capital available to developing nations to mitigate the effects of climate change. The summit, however, did little to cut the use of fossil fuels and advance efforts to keep global warming to 1.5 degrees C.

The transition to clean energy does not always follow the partisan political divide in our country. South Dakota, a solidly “red” state, has now amassed enough renewable energy to fulfill its own electricity needs and then some. The state has a built in advantage with ample hydropower but wind energy has now surpassed it in-state electricity generation.

Climate leadership and promoting policies to transition to clean energy was a political win for three Midwest governors. Democratic governors Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan, Tim Walz of Minnesota, and Tony Evers of Wisconsin won reelection, beating three Trump-backed candidates who campaigned on turning back clean energy initiatives.

Some of the biggest oil and gas producers and consumers have committed to cut their emissions of methane at the COP27 climate summit. Methane molecules do not last as long in the atmosphere as carbon dioxide but heat the planet more than 80 times more, over their 20 years lifespan. Cutting methane pollution by 45% this decade would avoid 0.3 degrees Celsius of global warming by the 2040s and can be done with existing, inexpensive technologies.

In response to a surprise environmental order from the Youngkin administration, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality is reviewing proposed stormwater regulations that would treat ground-mounted solar arrays the same as parking lots. This would likely require solar developers to acquire more land, driving up the cost of solar energy.

Energy

Green hydrogen fuel has always been the holy grail of clean energy but it has remained just beyond our reach. That may now change with the billions of dollars allotted to hydrogen research and development in the Inflation Reduction Act. This is especially important in intensive energy uses such as heavy manufacturing, long-haul trucking, international shipping, and aviation, which cannot easily be converted to electric battery power.

The US Energy Information Administration reports that nearly a quarter of the coal-fired electric plants currently operating in the US have plans to be retired by the end of 2029. Further data released by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission indicated that the use of natural gas for electric generation may have peaked.

The world’s largest floating wind farm is now producing power off the coast of Norway. When completed, the wind farm will have 11 turbines and create 88 megawatts of combined capacity—more than half of all the floating wind capacity in place today. The development of offshore wind is surging globally as costs decline and countries adopt ambitious climate change policies.

The European Union burns more than half the wood it harvests for energy and also imports massive amounts of wood pellets from the U.S. Phasing out forest biomass as ‘renewable energy’ would yield massive benefits in terms of air pollution and climate protection. The forest products industry is opposing such reforms and has the ear of key European policymakers.

Prospect Power LLC, of Austin, Texas, applied for a special-use permit for Rockingham County’s first battery energy storage facility on a 24-acre tract of land. The proposed facility will be charged with energy from, and discharged back to Virginia’s electric grid, enabling grid operators to deal with supply and demand in a revolutionary way.

Canadian Pacific’s experimental hydrogen-powered locomotive made its maiden run in Calgary, Alberta in October. This is the first step in seeing if these locomotives utilizing clean energy can replace diesel locomotives. Canadian Pacific is producing green hydrogen with solar power.

Recent Virginia legislation allows certain customers of Dominion Energy to buy solar energy from independent providers of shared solar, also known as community solar. Dominion has however used the rulemaking process and its control over project interconnection to create hurdles including high minimum bills to drive away all but the most tenacious developers. Lawmakers have, however, included a provision exempting low- to moderate-income participants from the minimum bill requirement.

Climate Justice

U.S. climate envoy John Kerry unveiled a proposal at the COP27 climate summit for companies to buy carbon credits that fund the greening of power grids in developing countries. The proposal comes as part of the promise from rich countries to mobilize $100 billion a year in climate finance for poorer nations. Developing countries spokespersons countered that it appears to be an attempt by rich countries to avoid paying their fair share.

A recent study shows that more lower-income US households are adopting rooftop solar. Last year 22% of households installing solar systems in the U.S. could be considered low-income and an additional 21% could be considered moderate-income. This makes a total of 43% of households installing solar that, broadly speaking, fall into the lower-income category.

The Indonesia Just Energy Transition Partnership will mobilize $20 billion of public and private finance to help Indonesia transition to clean power and shut coal power plants, bringing the country’s peak emissions date forward by seven years to 2030. The international partnership “is probably the single largest climate finance transaction or partnership ever” according to a U.S. Treasury official.

Transportation pollution is the largest source of carbon emissions, which mostly affects poor communities—making it a matter of climate justice. That makes North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper’s executive order to press forward with a plan to cut pollution from medium and heavy-duty trucks across the state a big deal. While trucks are only 6.5% of the vehicles on the road in North Carolina, they contribute about 71.2% of pollution and 34.5% of greenhouse gas emissions in the transportation sector.

Climate Action

The United States Postal Service is using a hard-won $3 billion infusion from Congress to jump-start its transition to 34,000 zero-emission mail trucks beginning next year. A substantial part of the money will be used toward the build-out of EV infrastructure to support the trucks. This goes a long way toward meeting President Biden’s directive to ensure all new government-owned vehicles are EVs by 2035.

Researchers in China are working to create perennial, climate friendly rice that requires much less labor, dramatically reducing a farmer’s costs while producing about the same amount of grain. Another advantage is that its long-lived roots may deliver big environmental benefits by preserving vulnerable soil and enriching natural ecosystems. Thousands of Chinese farmers have now started to grow this remarkable new version of rice with good results.

The Covid pandemic led to a bike riding boom. The spike in people using bikes has now faltered in places that didn’t build bike-friendly infrastructure but it survives in cities that have stepped up. The city of Tucson, for example, established a “Slow Streets” walk- and bike-friendly program that restricts car traffic in some places and prioritizes walking and biking over other modes of transport.  

A Pew Research poll shows that highly religious Americans are far less likely to be concerned about global warming. The main driver of public opinion about the climate, however, is political party rather than religion and highly religious Americans are more inclined to identify with the Republican Party. What the poll does not show, according to the executive director of GreenFaith, a global multi-faith environmental organization, “is the role that religion, when utilized effectively, can play in moving people who are concerned but inactive into public action on the climate’s behalf.”

Do you know that about 90% of the energy your washing machine uses goes towards heating the water? Washing in cold water saves money (as much as 64¢ a load), saves your clothes, reduces your energy consumption, and contributes toward saving our planet. Newer detergents clean clothes just as well in cold water.

Earl Zimmerman
CAAV Steering Committee

Virginia Environmental News Roundup for November 2022

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

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


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

Statewide Environmental News Roundup for November 2022 

Energy

As noted in our last Perspectives piece, not everyone is happy with the Governor’s recently released Energy Plan. An “advanced energy advocate says … [the] plan ‘falls short’ [and is a] ‘U-turn away from a cleaner and cheaper energy future.’”

The Governor “wants Virginia to be the first state to commercialize [small nuclear reactors, SMRs]”; he wants one located in Southwest Virginia. This technology hasn’t been developed on a large-scale. The Governor said recycling nuclear waste will be a priority. He also said Southwest Virginia could become an “energy epicenter” for the state, the US, and world. An Environment and Energy reporter explained what an SMR is.

There are concerns that the efforts to bring an SMR to Virginia may also lead the state to lift its long‑standing ban on uranium mining. “A Canadian mining venture … is buying a big uranium ore deposit in Pittsylvania County despite Virginia’s 40-year moratorium on mining the radioactive metal.” “The largest uranium deposit in the United States is in Pittsylvania County at a 3,000-acre site …. [A] 1982 moratorium on uranium mining in Virginia has prevented any development of the site for 40 years. Several attempts to repeal the moratorium have been unsuccessful since then. The most recent, in 2013, was so unpopular that it was pulled before even going to committee.”

“With exploration for gold continuing in Buckingham County, a report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine found Virginia’s current system of regulating gold mining ‘is not adequate to address the potential impacts’ of commercial extraction.” Piedmont Environmental Council’s “interactive map  shows the location of former gold mine sites in Virginia, and importantly, visually displays each mine site’s ‘OLAC ranking,’ a measure of prioritization for reclamation based on site assessments and potential contamination….”

Mountain Valley Pipeline owners said they “will not rest” until the project is completed. “For the third time in six years, the U.S. Forest Service will study the environmental impact of burrowing a large natural gas pipeline through a 3.5-mile stretch of the Jefferson National Forest. The latest evaluation comes after a federal appeals court rejected two earlier approvals … [because] the Forest Service did not adequately address the erosion and sedimentation to be caused by clearing land and digging a trench for a buried pipe that will traverse steep slopes through federal woodlands in Giles and Montgomery counties.”

Harrisonburg’s Shenandoah Valley Black Heritage Project received funding from several local non‑profits and recently celebrated its newly installed energy efficiency improvements and solar panels with a picnic. “New River Community College recently received state approval to offer a new training program for those interested in becoming a solar technician.”

“Virginia solar developers say stormwater rules could wash away their margins. The state’s Department of Environmental Quality [DEQ] is reviewing proposed stormwater regulations that would treat ground‑mounted solar arrays the same as parking lots, likely requiring developers to acquire more land.” Applications for solar installations–sometimes called solar “farms”–continue. In Pulaski County, Supervisors denied a permit. Planners in Isle of Wight County approved expansion of an existing solar farm. The Amherst County Planning Commission recommended approval of the permit to … operate a utility-scale solar generation facility on a 141-acre tract.” Cumberland County’s Planning Commission recommended approval of a large solar installation on 2,340 acres. “The Depot Solar Facility in Campbell County is the third solar project Appalachian Power has brought online in less than a year. The more‑than-50,000 solar panels produce 15 Megawatts of energy, enough electricity to power 2,600 homes.” “A new solar facility in Charles City boasting over 514,200 panels …, is expected to generate 175 Megawatts. That’s enough to power approximately 30,000 homes — over ten times the number currently in Charles City County.” “A new solar facility in Climax — set to power local homes served by Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative — is nearing the finish line…. [The] 2.8 megawatt facility will be able to supply about 2,100 meters serviced by the cooperative’s substation in Climax….”

Fairfax County’s School Board approved “a pilot rooftop solar power purchase contract at Annandale High School, the first rooftop solar program in the county school system.” “Community Housing Partners’ [CHP] 3,300-plus” apartment and townhouse dwellers [near Christiansburg] will soon be able to take advantage of Dominion Energy’s shared solar program that allows them “to buy their electricity from a solar developer.” Residents of CHP units served by Appalachian Power do not have a similar opportunity. The State Corporation Commission (SCC) is due to release a report soon that will address this disparity.

The State Corporation Commission (SCC) ruled that Dominion shareholders may need to cover costs if performance of Dominion’s offshore wind energy facility doesn’t meet what Dominion said it would deliver. Subsequently, “Dominion Energy … agreed to implement several consumer protections in connection with its massive offshore wind project under a proposed agreement with the office of the Virginia attorney general and other parties …. The proposed agreement, which includes performance reporting requirements and provisions laying out a degree of construction cost sharing, is still subject to final approval by the [SCC].” However, the agreement removes “a performance guarantee Dominion had criticized.” A blogger believes the agreement is not good for ratepayers. Another blogger argued that other East Coast wind projects are “faltering” because of economics. Canary Media reported that “Dominion Energy …agreed to protect customers if costs run over budget or performance falls short of expectations on $10B landmark offshore wind project.” The SCC conducted another hearing on the matter. Those appearing included parties to the agreement. Issues included “wind construction risk” and potential cost overruns. The SCC currently has two of its three Commissioners and one of those announced her resignation effective December 31. At least two Commissioners are needed to make decisions. The General Assembly, which did not fill the vacancy in the September special session called for that purpose, now has two to appoint.

“[Twelve] Local school systems will receive federal grants totaling nearly $11 million for the purchase of electric buses [as part of the federal] … Clean School Bus Program.” Several companies are operating electric trucks in Southwest Virginia. Advocates say states should take advantage of federal money to promote the use of EVs, Virginia included. Charge Up Fairfax is working to assist county residents overcome challenges to charging station access.

“American Climate Partners will work with Dominion to capture carbon in the soil in the company’s largest solar installation at Fort Powhatan…. Measurements of changes in soil carbon caused by the application of biochar which is created from waste wood will occur in the pilot project. Biochar will be placed under the solar panels and carbon reductions will be measure over four years in the pilot study.”

James Madison University’s Center for the Advancement of Clean Energy sponsored its second annual Rocktown Clean Energy Festival on October 29th. The Festival opened “community conversations about renewable energy.” Big Stone Gap received a $1 million grant from the “DOE’s Renewables Advancing Community Energy Resilience (RACER) Funding Program … to ‘improve energy resiliency as the country transitions to new energy technologies.’”

Climate and Environment

“Fairfax County … Board of Supervisors voted to adopt The Resilient Fairfax plan, which analyzes the impacts climate change will bring to the county in coming decades [and] lays out a roadmap to help residents and infrastructure adapt to a warmer and wetter climate.”

Buchanan County residents affected by a flash flood in July continue to experience hardships because of slow recovery efforts and FEMA’s refusal of federal aid. Virginia won’t appeal FEMA’s turndown of individual aid to flood victims. The Appalachian Regional Commission provided a $100,000 grant to pay for a new case manager to assist affected individuals. Recurrent flooding in the Hampton Roads area prompted “17 Hampton Roads cities and counties … [to] oppose [the Governor’s] proposal for Virginia to leave the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative [RGGI],” which provides funds to address flood resilience. “The Virginia Dam Safety, Flood Prevention and Protection Assistance Fund is offering $5 million in grant funding to dam owners in Virginia [for flood resilience]…. {M}ore than 2,600 regulated dam owners are eligible.”

Thanks to Appalachian Regional Commission funding of $1.5 million, “the New River Valley Regional Commission will construct or improve four public launches along the New River Water Trail, as well as expand the New River Trail website, which connects the Water Trail to existing activities and businesses in the area.” The Nature Conservancy awarded “Virginia Tech’s College of Natural Resources and Environment …$2.25 million of [a] USDA-funded [agroforestry] project to help mid-Atlantic and Appalachian farmers reduce carbon emissions, improve water quality, enhance biodiversity, and increase profitability.”

The Virginia “Department of Forestry [worked with The Nature Conservancy to create] … its 200th conservation easement in the Commonwealth…. With the addition of the 1,428-acre property in Wise County known as Pine Mountain, VDOF has now protected 91,597 acres of land, 84,112 acres of forest and nearly 460 miles of streams and rivers. [The easement will] help conserve more than 1,400 acres of managed forests and four miles of headwater streams.” “The Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation … awarded a record $14.9 million in grant funding … [to] help conserve 13,955 acres in the Commonwealth.”

Virginia received $22.8 million of federal money for abandoned mine land reclamation projects …, which advocates and officials say will resolve environmental hazards and create well-paying jobs along the way.” DEQ and the Western Virginia Water Authority investigated the source(s) of “forever chemical” contamination in the “South Fork Roanoke River watershed.” “They identified a plant in Elliston that services industrial water treatment equipment.” The chemical is GenX, used in “a “chemical washing process.”

“Negotiations between the city [of Bristol] and the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality on a consent order governing actions at the city landfill [were] referred to the state attorney general.” A lawsuit filed by Bristol Tennessee against its “sister city” is still pending. DEQ and the Waste Management Board issued new regulations to “tighten” rules governing landfills. “But the citizen group Virginians for Conservation and Community Rights, an organization that emerged out of local opposition to the proposed Green Ridge landfill in Cumberland County, says the regulations still fail to protect the environment and surrounding communities, particularly when it comes to groundwater contamination. Especially concerning to the group is a continued lack of protections for private wells that lie near landfills.”

“Experts from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and Virginia Institute of Marine Science concluded that hypoxic conditions in the Chesapeake Bay are better than average in 2022.” This means that the “Bay has a smaller than average dead zone this year, shortened by cool temperatures and strong winds…. A dead zone is an area of low oxygen that forms in deep Bay waters …. In such an area [are] low-oxygen, or hypoxic, conditions at the bottom of the Bay. This year’s dead zone was determined to be the 10th smallest since 1985.”

Oyster populations in the Chesapeake Bay are showing resilience; “Virginia is the largest oyster producer on the East Coast.” Efforts to restore a Bay watershed species, freshwater mussels, will move forward thanks to “grants from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation [that] will allow [projects by] the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and James River Association.” “Recreational anglers and environmentalists are ratcheting up their pressure on Virginia leaders to shut down large-scale commercial menhaden harvests in the Chesapeake Bay…. Their ire is directed at … [a] Reedville, VA-based fleet of fishing vessels, guided by spotter planes, [which] is responsible for about 70% of the East Coast menhaden harvest.” State Delegate Tim Anderson introduced a bill “for the next session of the Virginia General Assembly to place a two year moratorium on Atlantic menhaden reduction fishing in Virginia’s portion of the Chesapeake Bay.”

“Investments in agricultural best management practices have positive returns for the economy, according to a report … by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation…. The report found that for every dollar spent on farmers’ best management practices within the Chesapeake Bay watershed, $1.75 is returned through higher sales of goods and services as well as earnings. Investments are also contributing to the creation of an estimated 6,673 jobs annually between 2020 and 2025.”

Check out…

Why not…

  • Skip bagging your leaves this fall? Here’s why.
  • Enjoy some of Virginia’s ample apple harvest.
  • Learn “why Virginia oaks [are] in danger.”
  • Register for the Citizens Climate Lobby Conference – Dec. 3-4, to learn what to expect going into 2023; it’s free. There will be several seminars and sessions helpful for volunteers, including an in‑depth policy look at the Inflation Reduction Act, a workshop about diversity and inclusion outreach in your chapter, and a workshop about conservative climate pillars and volunteer outreach.

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

Climate and Energy News Roundup 11/7/2022

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

Our Climate Crisis

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

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

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

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

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

Politics and Policy

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

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

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

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

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

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

Energy

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

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

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

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

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

Climate Justice

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

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

Climate Action

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Earl Zimmerman
CAAV Steering Committee

Virginia Environmental News Roundup for October 2022 (Part II)

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

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


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

Statewide Environmental News Roundup for October 2022 (Part II)

Energy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Climate and Environment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ACTION ALERTS:

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

Check out…

Why not…

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

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

Virginia Environmental News Roundup for October 2022 (Part 1)

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

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


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

Statewide Environmental News Roundup for October 2022 (Part 1)

Energy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Climate and Environment

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

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

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

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

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

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

ACTION ALERT:

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

Check out…

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

Homegrown National Park Map

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

Why not… 

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

Climate and Energy News Roundup 10/11/2022

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

Our Climate Crisis

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

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

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

Politics and Policy

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

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

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

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

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

Energy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Climate Justice

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

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

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

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

Climate Action

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

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

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

Earl Zimmerman
CAAV Steering Committee

Virginia Environmental News Roundup for September 2022

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

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


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

Statewide Environmental News Roundup for September 2022

Energy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Climate and Environment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Check out…

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

Why not…

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

Climate and Energy News Roundup 9/7/2022

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

Our Climate Crisis

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

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

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

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

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

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

Politics and Policy

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

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

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

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

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

Energy

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

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

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

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

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

Climate Justice

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

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

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

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

Climate Action

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Earl Zimmerman
CAAV Steering Committee