Climate and Energy News Roundup 7/5/2022

Whether we and our politicians know it or not, nature is party to all our deals and decisions, and she has more votes, a longer memory, and a sterner sense of justice than we do. Wendell Berry

Our Climate Crisis

Unprecedented floods in South Asia and China have forced mass evacuations and left millions miserable. In our country, the destructive flooding along the Yellowstone River in Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming was a 500-year event. At the same time, parts of Europe, Japan, China, and the US have been experiencing intense, record breaking heatwaves. Furthermore, heat and drought have contributed to devastating, widespread wildfires in Alaska and New Mexico. The wildfire in New Mexico was accidently set by a controlled burn by the Forest Service. Increased heat and a drier climate has narrowed the window of time for safely doing such burns.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reports that the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has increased again this year. “Watching these incremental but persistent increases in CO2 year-to-year is much like watching a train barrel down the track towards you in slow motion. It’s terrifying,” says climate scientist Andrea Dutton. CO2 in the atmosphere now averages 421 parts per million compared to 280 parts per million before the industrial revolution.

The Great Salt Lake has already shrunk by two-thirds and the surrounding area is facing an environmental nuclear bomb as it continues to dry up. The lake’s flies and brine shrimp are on the verge of dying off, threatening the 10 million migratory birds that stop at the lake annually to feed on the tiny creatures. Even more alarming, the dried-up lake bottom will most likely create a bowl of toxic dust that would poison the air around Salt Lake City.

Virginia could lose 42 percent of its coastal wetlands to sea level rise by 2100. These wetlands are critical ecosystems that serve as a home to an array of fish, plants, birds and other species. They also store carbon and protect communities from encroaching seas. Acting now to conserve coastal land into which these wetlands can migrate is a ‘decisive factor’ in offsetting future losses.

In many coastal cities around the world, land is subsiding, due to groundwater extraction, even faster than the sea level is rising. Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia, is sinking at an alarming rate and one-third of the city will be underwater by the middle of this century. Many other major cities, such as Manila, Tampa, and Alexandria will similarly experience coastal flooding much sooner than predicted by models of sea level rise alone.

Climate anxiety is widespread among young people. More than half of those surveyed in a recent study agreed with the statement “humanity is doomed.” Almost half said such anxiety interferes with their sleep, their ability to study, to play, and to have fun. They have grown up on a different planet with tougher choices than their parents had. Some are finding that accepting this is the first step to avoiding despair and leading productive lives.

Politics and Policy

A Supreme Court ruling last week severely limited the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to regulate climate pollution by power plants. The case was part of a coordinated strategy by Republican attorneys general, conservative legal activists, and their fossil industry funders to use the judicial system to rewrite environmental law and weaken the executive branch’s ability to tackle global warming. Even so, Biden can turn to other avenues in the effort to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

The Supreme Court ruling will most likely not greatly affect utility companies’ already considerable commitment to transition to clean energy. Furthermore, across the country, states, cities, and local governments are accelerating their efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions, even as federal climate fighting tools are being taken away.  An example of this is the City of Harrisonburg’s “Environmental Action Plan” as noted in the Climate Action section below.

Years-long waiting times and potentially project-killing upgrade costs are creating an expensive process of connecting new solar, wind and battery projects to U.S. electrical transmission grids. In response, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission recently proposed a host of major regulatory changes meant to unclog these bottlenecks to building the carbon-free electrical grid needed to forestall the most catastrophic harms of climate change.

Virginia Gov. Youngkin recently issued an executive order on curbing food waste and boosting recycling across Virginia. It might pass environmental muster, by keeping leftovers out of landfills and doubling down on composting efforts statewide, if it didn’t simultaneously get rid of the previous administration’s single-use plastics phase-out.

Climate activists and some House Democrats are urging President Biden to push for a transit fare holiday instead of a gas tax holiday if he’s serious about tackling climate change. Biden is appealing for Congress to suspend the federal gasoline and diesel tax for three months in response to rising gas and diesel prices. This will incentivize the use of fossil fuels in the transportation sector which accounted for 27% of carbon emissions in our country in 2020.

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond ruled against Mountain Valley Pipeline’s request that it draw a new three-judge panel to reconsider permits for the embattled project that have repeatedly been struck down by the present panel hearing the cases. Because of these delays, the pipeline developers then asked federal regulators for an additional four years to complete the project that is way over budget.

Energy

Solid-state sodium-sulfur batteries have recently made a leap toward mass production. They will allow EVs to run much longer on a charge than is possible with present lithium-ion batteries. Solid-state batteries also show lots of promise for long-duration energy storage in electrical grids and other applications. The advantages of solid-state batteries is that they are low cost, easy to build, have a high degree of mechanical stability and are chemically stable.

Roughly only one percent of public buses in Virginia run on electricity. Thanks to federal funding through the recently passed Infrastructure Law, that’s set to more than double this year. The challenge, moving forward, is how rapidly bus fleets can be converted to electric energy given the challenges of startup costs and needed infrastructure. Conversely, the reduced operating costs of electric buses is a huge incentive during a time of high fuel prices.

Amogy, an energy startup company, has raised $46M to develop green ammonia as a fuel to decarbonize tractors today and ocean freighters in the near future. Their goal is to develop technology to decarbonize industries that are the highest emitters of greenhouse gases but cannot run on battery power alone.

Arrays of floating solar panels on reservoirs and other large bodies of water have the potential to solve several problems plaguing conventional solar energy. Among them are limiting the use of prime land, more accessible energy distribution, and the added benefit of cutting down environmentally destructive heat buildup on large river reservoirs.

Climate Justice

Gov. Youngkin has been doing everything possible to dismantle the popular Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), which collects carbon emissions dues from power utilities and uses the millions of dollars generated to augment coastal resilience against sea-level rise and in energy efficiency home upgrades for low-income residents. Check out this inspiring article by the Southern Environmental Law Center about how the Collins family in Blacksburg was able to use RGGI funds to reduce their energy bill last winter from an average of $330 to just $112 a month.

Bringing the benefits of solar power to low and middle-income households is a matter of equity and justice. Virtual power plants, which coordinate solar power generated and stored by individual rate payers, could be part of the solution. An ambitious plan by the city of Richmond, CA,  includes a VPP that directs electric bill savings to low-income residents along with increased grid reliability, safety, and efficiency. The plan also includes energy-efficient rehabs for abandoned homes, which will be sold to low-income home buyers.

As a new hurricane season begins, Native Americans along the Louisiana coast are still struggling to recover from the devastation caused by Hurricane Ida when it roared through their communities last year. Centuries of colonization have pushed Native people into this fragile, deteriorating coastal ecosystem. The tribes most affected by Ida still do not have federal recognition, even though they have been engaged in a decades long process seeking it. This makes it difficult to get desperately needed federal disaster relief resources.

Another looming catastrophe is that some insurance companies in Louisiana have gone bankrupt from massive claims related to Hurricane Ida. Other companies are fleeing the state, leaving many homeowners without storm insurance at the beginning of another hurricane season.

Climate Action

Fed up with poor electrical utility infrastructure, residents of Puerto Rico have more than doubled the installation of rooftop solar since Hurricane Maria hit the island in 2017. They have done this without meaningful support from government or their electrical utility. It’s a bottom-up movement that’s changing Puerto Rico’s energy landscape.

Harrisonburg’s updated Environmental Action Plan prioritizes converting city vehicles to EVs because its cars, trucks and public transit make up 35% of municipal greenhouse gas emissions. Related goals include building more EV charging stations, improving traffic signals to decrease time spent waiting at stoplights, increasing the use of public transit by optimizing bus routes, and encouraging walking and biking by adding sidewalks and bike lanes.

Protecting our local natural resources is a crucial part of climate action. An article by Erin Burch describes what the Alliance of the Shenandoah Valley is doing to protect our part of the Chesapeake Bay. These efforts include stream bank restoration along Mossy Creek, planting a streamside forest and initiating sustainable grazing practices along a creek that flows into the Middle River, and putting a 432-acre property along the South Fork into a conservation easement.

‘Elder power’ is becoming a force in Virginia as more retirees step up and get involved in climate action. One example is a recently formed state chapter of environmentalist Bill McKibben’s recently formed group called Third Act. They organized a two-week “Walk for Appalachia’s Future” to protest the construction of the Mountain Valley Pipeline and are pressuring big banks to shut off funding for the pipeline and other fossil fuel infrastructure.

Earl Zimmerman
CAAV Steering Committee

Virginia Environmental News Roundup for June 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 June 2022

Energy

Washington & Lee University inked a “long-term virtual power purchase agreement” with a solar developer “to purchase enough solar energy to match 100% of the university’s annual electricity consumption.” Meanwhile, the Port of Virginia says it’s ahead of schedule on its goal to be carbon neutral by 2040, and will be meeting all its electricity needs from renewable sources by 2024.

In a petition to the Federal Trade Commission, over 200 advocacy groups, including Solar United Neighbors, accused “investor-owned utilities of taking advantage of their status as regulated monopolies to uphold ‘market control’ at the expense of consumers and certain climate‑friendly policies.” Dominion Energy and Appalachian Power are investor-owned regulated monopoly utilities. A blogger said “Fuel Costs [Will] Explode on Dominion Bills in July,” pointing out that “The dramatic electricity cost projections made a few years ago when the General Assembly adopted the Virginia Clean Economy Act [VCEA] did not include these explosions in fossil fuel prices.” To meet its emissions goals under the VCEA, Appalachian Power issued a Request for Proposals for up to 100 megawatts (MW) of solar and/or wind resources via one or more long-term power purchase agreements (PPAs).

blogger wrote that Appalachian Power customers in Southwest Virginia may have to ”shoulder their ‘share’ of the cost of propping up two money-losing West Virginia coal plants.” The same blogger wrote: “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em? Dominion Energy begins selling residential solar.” A State Corporation Commission hearing “examiner recommends approval of Dominion’s relicensing plans for North Anna and Surry plants,” saying these plants “’may become more important to the transmission system’ as Virginia and the utility move to decarbonize the power grid by midcentury.”

Harrisonburg resident Alleyn Harned’s opinion piece concluded that, despite the limitations of producing hydrogen from renewable energy, [it’s] “a critical piece of the puzzle for reducing emissions.” Thanks to the Ukraine-Russia war, Virginia’s coal production is rising. A Virginia Tech professor pointed out that, “for over a century, this region has powered the country’s growth with coal, gas, and oil. But its communities have not seen the prosperity and health the fossil fuel industry continues to promise them.”

North Carolina and Virginia are getting $58 million of USDOT money for rail projects in 32 states. It will help build anticipated high-speed passenger rail service between Raleigh and Petersburg, including funds for improvements at the Ettrick Amtrak station. Virginia is also searching for funding opportunities for “a $3.7 billion passenger rail plan that depends on construction of a second two-track bridge over the Potomac River to Washington, D.C.”

 A commenter asked: “As Congress bankrolls electric conversion for bus fleets, is Virginia ready?”

“The City of Martinsville partnered with American Electric Power (AEP)” to establish a 10MW battery energy storage facility. The city will receive a percentage of the savings the facility will generate and will save money “by reducing its peaks when the electric grid needs that power the most.”

Roanoke Delegate believes “It’s not too late to call it quits on the Mountain Valley Pipeline [MVP].” MVP owners are seeking the appointment of new appellate court judges to rule on litigation. This storymap, produced by Appalachian State University, links the stories of landowners in Giles, Montgomery, and Roanoke Counties about their experiences with MVP construction.

The Institute for Local Self-Reliance Report, The State(s) of Distributed Solar — 2021 Update, shows “The U.S. electricity sector is evolving toward a clean, decentralized system at an ever‑accelerating pace.” ILSR says “Distributed solar, which can be owned by individuals, businesses, and public entities, is turning the electricity industry upside down as individuals choose to generate their own solar power.” Virginia is behind many states.

Charlotte County Supervisors postponed deciding the fate of a proposed 240MW solar faron 2,000+ acres. “Russell County … cut the ribbon on a new regional industrial park that turns an area of old coal mines into an area of potential economic development opportunities.” A Staunton solar development company created a “Solar Installer Apprenticeship Program in Southwest Virginia…. High School Students in Virginia’s Coalfield Region [Will] Install Solar on Their Own Public Schools through an Innovative Partnership Program.” A solar developer filed a notice of intent for a 15.68 MW Endless Caverns South Solar Project near New Market. “Lynchburg Parks and Recreation [celebrated} the opening of [its] new Solar Power Education Facility … [that] contains an array of features about solar…. [It’s] developing a curriculum on solar power.”

Climate and Environment

“The city of Alexandria has allowed toxic chemicals to discharge into the Potomac River for more than 45 years, and has not taken action to fix the problem, according to a new lawsuit by the Potomac Riverkeeper Network.” “Two environmental organizations that filed a citizen lawsuit … against Henrico County, alleging that the county has repeatedly violated the Clean Water Act during the past three decades, now are challenging the decision of a federal judge who ruled … that their suit could not subject Henrico to civil financial penalties because the county already was facing such penalties from the state.”

This blogger offers an example of a Louisiana approach to flood control that he believes Virginia should follow. Hampton wants public input as it looks for ways “to combat sea level rise.” The non-profit Climate Central issued results of a study that “Virginia could lose 42 percent of tidal wetlands to sea level rise by 2100. Researchers say conserving coastal land where marshes can migrate is a ‘decisive factor’ in offsetting losses. A “Hampton Roads group wants to help save historic homes from flooding — using science.”

The Army Corps of Engineers is seeking public input on ways to reduce flooding along the west bank of the Potomac River. “The proposal … follows flooding from Hurricane Isabel in 2003 — among other big named storms — which caused millions of dollars in damage to homes and businesses.” Governor Youngkin vetoed legislation to give an appointed citizen board authority over the “Virginia’s Community Flood Preparedness Fund, a pot of millions of dollars earmarked for community flood protection work across the state, [which] will remain under the oversight of the executive branch….”

Bristol Tennessee sued its sister city in Virginia “over [the latter’s] lack of action on its embattled landfill.” There was to have been a “hearing on Bristol, Tennessee’s motion for a preliminary injunction on June 21 …. On June 14 the cities reached a settlement agreement. Virginia lawmakers approved a biennial budget that includes $2 million in funding for the landfill. DEQ wants the city to come up with an action plan by July 6; as part of its agreement with DEQ, the city decided to stop accepting trash and eventually “closing and capping” the landfill. Cumberland County’s water may be in trouble similar to Flint Michigan’s, according to testimony given to the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality about a proposed mega-landfill.

From Shenandoah Valley farms to the Chesapeake Bay: ‘Historic’ cleanup proposal included in state budget deal.” There is funding for improving farming practices to reduce pesticide, herbicide, and fertilizer run-off and keep cattle out of waterways, plus money to address stormwater runoff.

“A veteran government scientist and meteorologist [has] become director of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Chesapeake Bay Program, which oversees federal and regional Bay environmental monitoring and cleanup efforts … [over] 64,000 square miles across New York, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia.” A recent University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science report gave the Bay only a C+ health score, up from a C last year. The Chesapeake Bay blue crab population is way down, concerning fishery managers because “it has been accompanied by a three-year streak of below-average reproduction.” “Virginia is proposing tighter regulations on the crab harvest after [a] survey showed the population of blue crabs in the Chesapeake Bay is the lowest in the survey’s 33-year history.”

Thanks to efforts by volunteers to collect “millions of eelgrass seeds [as part of a restoration effort] …, an underwater eelgrass meadow near Virginia’s Barrier Islands now spans about 10,000 acres…. The underwater fields store enormous amounts of carbon dioxide in the seabed, preventing it from being released into the atmosphere where it contributes to global warming.” Scientists want to know “what feeds the fish in the Chesapeake Bay” and are “casting a wide net” to find out. This storymap “highlights Chesapeake Forest restoration during Chesapeake Bay Awareness Week, … shows how trees and forests throughout the watershed contribute to a healthy Chesapeake Bay[,] describes specific practices and strategies for restoring forests in different landscapes and contains information about the role that forest restoration can play in mitigating and adapting to climate change.” The Alliance for the Shenandoah Valley described “how we experience the Bay here in the Valley.” The description by Erin Burch, penned in honor of the Bay Awareness Week, included this wonderful map of the Shenandoah Valley’s part of the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

 “A Cape Cod science center and one of the world’s largest shipping businesses are collaborating on a project to use robotic buoys to protect a vanishing whale [right whales] from lethal collisions with ships.” One buoy will be located off the Virginia coast.

An Arlington group opposes “changes to Arlington housing policy [that] could have a cataclysmic impact on existing tree canopy in the community.” Richmond’s summer “heat and humidity are getting worse, and global warming plays a part.” The heat island effect there is becoming more and more apparent; planting more trees can help.

A Virginia Beach coalition led by Lynnhaven Now wants the city to join other Virginia localities and set a 5₵ tax on plastic bags. Wegman’s announced it will discontinue use of plastic bags in its Virginia Beach and North Carolina stores effective July 1; the company plans to eliminate plastic bag use completely by the end of 2022.

Action Alert

Check out…

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 6/6/2022

We all face real-world challenges and tough choices that complicate the effort to completely decarbonize our lives in a system that is still reliant on fossil fuel infrastructure. We must change the system. Individual efforts to reduce one’s carbon footprint are laudable. But without systemic change, we will not achieve the massive decarbonization of our economy that is necessary to avert catastrophic change. – Michael Mann

Our Climate Crisis

Thousands of firefighters in New Mexico are presently battling a colossal wildfire that has become the largest in state history. In a recent PBS interview, Michael Mann, a professor of atmospheric science at Penn State University and author of The New Climate War, says that such wildfires are a function of heat and how dry the climate has become. We need to address the problem at its core—our consumption of fossil fuels.

A World Meteorological Organization report shows global temperatures above pre-industrial levels could temporarily hit the 1.5 degrees Celsius threshold within the next five years. While a single year of temperatures above the 1.5°C threshold set by the Paris Climate Agreement does not mean we have breached the agreement, it will reveal that we are edging ever closer to a situation where it could be exceeded for an extended period.

Climate change is exacerbating rising temperatures combined with high humidity beyond levels the human body can endure. The threshold of human endurance is 95 degrees Fahrenheit combined with wet bulb or 100% humidity. The Persian Gulf, India, Pakistan, Southeast Asia, Mexico and Central America are all careening toward this threshold before the end of the century. People should be advised that any temperature above 86 degrees Fahrenheit, especially when combined with high humidity, can be dangerous and deadly.

A recent analysis finds that extreme heat that used to occur every 300 years in northwest India and Pakistan may now happen about every three years. Related news is that a recent heat wave has decimated the mango harvest in India.

Heavy pre-monsoon rains have washed away train stations, towns and villages, leaving millions of people homeless in India and Bangladesh. Both countries are particularly vulnerable to such events exacerbated by global warming because of their proximity to the warm tropical waters of the Indian Ocean and the Bay of Bengal. This extends a pattern where extreme rainfall and landslides washed away a sprawling Rohingya refugee camp overnight last year. Torrential rains submerged at least a quarter of Bangladesh in 2020.

Politics and Policy

The Climate Action Alliance of the Valley, the Shenandoah Group of the Virginia Sierra Club, and 50 by 25 Harrisonburg are proposing that the Harrisonburg City Council add the words “environmentally sustainable” to the mandate of the Harrisonburg Electric Commission, Harrisonburg’s municipal utility. They are also asking council members and candidates to publicly state their response to the proposal. A recent article in the Harrisonburg Citizen explains how this will help the city to reach its goal of having 100% renewable energy on our local electrical grid by 2035. To view the letter that was sent to the candidates, click here. To view candidate responses, click here.

Most of the past three decades have been a painful slog for Australian climate activists. The conservatives, who ran Australia under Prime Minister Scott Morrison, have unabashedly promoted the fossil fuel industry and scoffed at concerns about climate change. This has now changed dramatically when the Labor Party, led by Anthony Albanese, trounced the conservatives in the last election with the promise to make Australia a “renewable energy superpower.” While supporting renewable energy and EVs, Labor’s strategy, however, largely leaves Australia’s huge fossil fuel energy sector untouched. That makes especially significant the surge of votes for Green Party candidates and others outside the two-party system who make it a priority to combat global warming by reducing consumption of fossil fuels.

Electric heat pumps are two to four times more efficient than competing fossil fuel devices and can dramatically reduce indoor air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. A recent Senate bill, introduced by Amy Klobuchar, would incentivize manufacturers to build two-way heat pumps that both heat and cool. This has the potential to quickly cut emissions while saving consumers money. The bill has the potential of gaining needed bipartisan support in the Senate.

There is a boom in large-scale solar electric farms in Virginia.  The number of large-scale solar farms in Virginia has grown from zero in 2015 to 51 today. Furthermore, 279 applications for large-scale facilities have been, or are being, reviewed across the Commonwealth. This is pushing the need to develop comprehensive land plans governing the size, location, and environmental impact of solar farms.

A Charlottesville clean energy company has applied for a permit to build a 138-megawatt solar farm on approximately 650 acres in southeast Albemarle County. The site is on a 2,300-acre property with pine trees that have been heavily industrially timbered over the past 80 years. The installation would supply electricity to 25,000 homes in the area.  The Albemarle County Climate Action Plan supports utility scale solar energy and prioritizes placing them on roof tops, parking lots, brownfields, landfills and post-industrial or other open lands over forested or ecologically valuable lands.

New York state’s landmark 2019 Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act commits the state to reaching 100 percent zero-emissions electricity by 2040. A major obstacle is that 85% of New York City’s electricity comes from fossil fuels. State regulators accordingly recently approved two clean energy projects that will reduce the city’s reliance on fossil fuels by more than 50 percent over the next 10 years. The first project will supply the city with wind and solar power from upstate. The second, more controversial project—opposed by some environmental and community groups—will supply the city with hydro-power from Quebec, Canada.

Energy

Green hydrogen has the potential to become a key energy source—especially for heavy industry and trucks. That’s why a $9.5 billion package for the development of hydrogen as a fuel was wrapped into the 2021 federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. Alleyn Harned, the executive director of Virginia Clean Cities, is a proponent of green hydrogen. In an interview with Elizabeth McGowan, a reporter for the Energy News Network, he explains how it can benefit Virginia’s economy and environment.

A recent report by Energy Innovation demonstrates that EV models are competitive or cheaper to purchase and maintain than their gasoline-fueled equivalents over the life of a six-year auto loan. The real savings comes after the loan has been paid off. Depending on the EV model, the annual comparative savings is between $800 to $1,400.

A new generation of electric trucks is beginning to hit cost and range targets that makes them competitive for short-haul U.S. freight-moving. To facilitate the transition to electric trucks, the Port of Long Beach in California, one of our country’s busiest freight hubs, is installing 26 high-speed electric truck charging bays as part of its push to reach a zero-emissions fleet by 2030.

Climate Justice

Climate modeling at NASA and other agencies is increasingly focusing on the impact that global warming is having on food production. It’s becoming increasingly clear that climate change is a “threat multiplier,” making hunger emergencies worse. The United Nations reports that a record number of 283 million people in 80 countries went hungry or were at high risk of going hungry last year and that this number is expected to increase in the future. Global warming is creating much more year-to-year variability in food production. A major worry is climate-induced “food shocks” in many countries.

Climate anxiety is now part of the zeitgeist, as evidenced by data from Google Trends. Stanford University researcher Britt Wray’s newly released book Generation Dread dives into the hard emotional truths of the climate crisis. It’s also about real, acute mental health impacts of disasters in frontline communities such as what’s happening to Indigenous people who live very close to the land.

The Hadza people in Tanzania, one of Africa’s last hunter-gatherer tribes, are embracing environmentalism. They are doing so by selling carbon credits generated from conserving their forests and using the revenues to employ their youth as scouts to protect their land. The Ujamaa Community Resource Team, a local NGO, has helped the Hadza secure legal title to their territories and works in concert with The Nature Conservancy to secure carbon credits to fund the effort.

Climate Action

ACTION ALERT: Many of us who live, work, or volunteer in Harrisonburg, have participated in Phase 1 in-person meetings and/or the online survey to get community input on how our city should allocate the $23.8 million it will receive in federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds in response to the Covid pandemic. We now have the opportunity to fill out a Phase 2 survey here for more targeted responses (the survey will be open for two weeks). This is a great opportunity to advocate for responding to human needs in ways that help to combat climate change and enhance our natural environment. There is more opportunity to do so in this Phase 2 survey than there was in the Phase 1 survey.

Making the transition to solar energy is easier and more affordable than ever, thanks to Solarize Virginia. Sign up through June 30 to access discounted prices and get connected with a vetted installer. Experts will be by your side to answer any questions and take the guesswork out of the process. Get started at SolarizeVA.org and find out if your home is solar-ready.

You can also register at this link for Solar United Neighbors (SUN) Ready Set Solar program, happening online on June 15 at noon. You can also attend a SUN in-person session at Massanutten Regional Library (174 S Main St, Harrisonburg) on July 17 at 6 pm. These programs are for Shenandoah Valley residents.

Community Housing Partners Energy Solutions and the Harrisonburg Electric Commission (HEC) are partnering to provide no-cost weatherization services for income-qualifying households to help lower utility bills and improve energy efficiency. The first 25 HEC customers to complete their application will receive a $100 bill credit. Click here or call 888-229-3714 to see if your household qualifies.

Donate to the Shenandoah Valley Black Heritage Project’s Energy Efficiency and Solar Effort. CAAV supports helping SVBHP reduce its energy costs; we hope you will too.

The loss of bee populations is a harbinger of the impact of climate change. The extinction rate of bees and other insects is eight times greater than that of mammals, birds and reptiles. Scientists have, therefore, begun mapping the genomes of dozens of different bees to bolster our knowledge of bee biology and behavior. They can then use this information to tackle big picture questions like how to protect bees and how they’ve evolved alongside us over time.

Dominion Energy investors recently supported a resolution calling on the utility to reevaluate its natural gas investments in response to climate change. Ruth Amundsen, a solar project financier who is a Dominion shareholder, said that “Dominion cannot keep investing in natural gas while saying they’re going for net-zero by 2050.”

Washington and Lee University is partnering with a solar energy developer to build a solar farm in North Carolina to purchase enough solar energy to match 100% of the university’s annual electricity consumption.

Earl Zimmerman
CAAV Steering Committee

Virginia Environmental News Roundup for May 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 May 2022

Energy

A joint UVA-Virginia Department of Energy solar survey revealed that “the total amount of electricity generated annually by solar in Virginia went from 30 GWh in 2015 to 3,675 GWh in 2021; [and] … identified property values, economic benefits, and the impact on farmland as topics related to solar that Virginians are most interested in.” A federal investigation of solar equipment imports may slow installations. There are concerns that predatory residential solar installation companies will “sow distrust;” advocates want “more guardrails.”

Solar farms continue to make news around the state, with voices raised for and againstCharlotte CountyFrederick CountyHalifax CountySouthsideKing William, King and Queen and New Kent CountiesHenrico CountyAlbemarle CountyWinchester, and Caroline County. There is growing interest in transforming brownfields into solar farms. EPA awarded DEQ “$2 million in brownfield grant money by the EPA, the most funding of its kind ever received by the agency.” The designated areas are “the cities of Emporia and Newport News and the towns of Appalachia and Blackstone.”

PJM, the grid operator for Virginia and other eastern states has put “1,200 Mostly Solar Projects on Hold for Two Years … [so it can] cope with the “unprecedented influx” of proposals to generate electric power. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission “released a new rule proposal that acknowledges the increasing prevalence of renewables throughout the country and seeks to address issues in the transmission of renewable energy from source to consumer.” It wants PJM and other transmission operators to look ahead and consider the effects of renewable energy on grid management. Eight Virginia organizations “have joined more than 230 consumer, environmental and public interest groups in asking the Federal Trade Commission to investigate electric industry practices that they say ‘impede renewable energy competition and harm consumer protection.’”

The potential compatibility between agriculture and solar panels is being looked at: The state promotes pollinator friendly plantings among the panels. A local solar installer developed and presented a ”Hands‑on School Curriculum on Solar Power,” illustrating that “Solar Companies Offer Both Solar Panels and Solar Education.” Virginia’s DEQ has tightened regulations to reduce stormwater runoff from solar installations; they’ll go into effect in 2023. Advocates for utility-owned “shared solar” are concerned that high utility fees will dampen or kill the market and reduce solar’s availability for multi‑family buildings. Acknowledging that Dominion customer bills could rise 12 to 20 percent because of the global energy price rises, Dominion pointed “to renewables as a long-term shield against volatility.” blogger notes that Dominion’s recent request to the SCC to raise electricity prices by about $9/month because of rising fuel costs was untimely. Another blogger reminds us: “Under Virginia state law, regulated utilities like Dominion are permitted to raise customer rates in order to recover fuel costs. Rate adjustments intended to recover fuel costs are not legally able to increase utility profits, however.” A shareholder proposal seeking a report from Dominion over its risk from “stranded natural gas assets” passed despite Dominion’s objections to the proposal that the SEC overruled.

The State Corporation Commission (SCC) is weighing the approach Appalachian Power wants to take (and charge) for meeting its renewable energy requirements under the Virginia Clean Economy Act (VCEA). If the SCC approves ApCo’s pending application to install 500 MW of solar in the next three years, Martinsville residents will see an increase in their electricity bills, even though some of it comes from its surrounding county.

Work and planning continue for the planned wind farm off Virginia’s coast. The state is behind others in its wind development. Advocates for wind energy want Dominion to hire local workers. They also want ratepayer protections from possible cost overruns and other project risks. The SCC is considering whether Dominion’s request for reimbursement for the costs of its wind projects is “reasonable and prudent.” Parties to the proceeding can’t agree on how to address ratepayer protections. Governor Youngkin has endorsed the project.

The long‑planned on-shore wind farm in Botetourt County has had its ups and downs. The developers will hold another public hearing on June 15. “Anyone interested in submitting their input on the proposed Rocky Forge Wind — which would be the first on-shore wind farm in Virginia — can [attend the hearing and] also make written comments during a 30-day period beginning May 26.”

Generation 180, based in Charlottesville, is pushing for more use of electric vehicles, including at a recent auto show in the Big Apple. Fredericksburg is now one of 24 US localities to join the Department of Energy’s Drive Clean Rural USA project, the goal of which is to include rural communities in the pursuit of a clean environment. Southern and Southwest Virginia localities are cooperating with Virginia Tech on ways to make these areas a major “nextgeneration” transportation hub. A study is underway on the feasibility of adding Amtrak service to Bristol. Thanks to “The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act” Virginia will receive billions to address, among other issues, public transit and clean drinking water. The condition of many dams, including several in Virginia, is kept secret in a Federal database. The Department of Environmental Quality awarded grants for electric school buses in several central Valley locations, including Harrisonburg, FredericksburgAlexandria, and Montgomery County.

Virginia Natural Gas will use drone technology to assist its pipeline inspections and problem identification issues, including methane leaks. Mountain Valley Pipeline planning, delayscosts, and litigation continue. “Equitrans, the [MVP] lead investor …, announced [in May] they will reapply for permits from the U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.” Those permits have been twice approved and twice rejected by the courts.

Some Virginia residents are facing the air pollution effects of an asphalt plant next door, while others are concerned about possible gold mining activities near their homes. A state panel is studying the “potential impact of gold mining in Virginia.” Environmental groups sued a coal company owned by the West Virginia governor for “its failure to clean up three mines in Wise County.” “A byproduct of the Roanoke Valley’s wastewater will soon be put to use as a renewable form of natural gas, the first such endeavor of its kind in the state.”

Climate and Environment

Many areas are at considerable flooding risk, especially from flash floods. Jamestown is facing disaster from chronic flooding. Chesapeake Bay states, including ours, are receiving help with Bay cleanup from Federal partners. One partner, the EPA, recently awarded Virginia $40 million. Bay-area non-profits also have a strategy for combatting climate change. “Four Virginia-based small businesses focused on coastal resiliency and flooding will receive funding to develop their products, Norfolk-based nonprofit RISE Resilience Innovations announced [May 12].”

Virginia Beach residents passed a referendum to deal with its flooding issues, but its city council has delayed a “vote to fulfill [the] flood referendum promise for fourth time.” Coastal residents are worried that a recent change in Virginia law will make it more difficult for them to develop property. The change “directed the Virginia Marine Resources Commission to approve only living shoreline designs when property owners seek permits for shore stabilization projects, ‘unless the best available science shows that such approaches are not suitable.’” A joint study by UVA and The Nature Conservancy offered the good news “that restored reefs can match natural reef oyster populations in about six years and continue to hold strong thereafter.” There’s been a significant decline in the Chesapeake Bay’s blue crab population and scientists aren’t sure why.

The Shenandoah National Park added over 200 acres through a purchase from the Wildlife Center of Virginia.

JMU researcher examined why humans want to save endangered species and found multiple reasons. Despite years of conservation efforts, poaching and development are threatening Virginia’s wood turtle population.

Action Alerts

Check out…

  • One of Virginia’s state parks designated as International Dark Sky Parks by the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) – Staunton RiverJames River, and recently added Natural Bridge and Sky Meadows.
  • Wildlife Center of Virginia’s award-winning public TV series “Untamed—Life is Wild.”
  • How a small Virginia former coal mining town “is seeking to transform itself into a hub of ecotourism by nurturing the environment around it, and bring some of the natural beauty back to the community.”
  • This “Full Disclosure” podcast on “Solar’s present and future in Virginia.”
  • These National Forest sites in Wise, Dickenson, Scott, and Lee Counties; they’re open this summer.
  • This tool to learn about changes to the Chesapeake Bay Watershed.
  • How Charlottesville businesses formed a Green Business Alliance and set themselves a goal to “cut their carbon pollution by 45% by the end of 2025.”
  • How this Franklin County farmer is improving water quality and won an award for his conservation efforts.
  • This webinar on “The Social Life of Trees”, Tuesday evening, June 14th at 7:00 – 8:30 p.m. by Zoom Register here. Find out: Do trees really communicate with one another? What is a ‘mother tree’? Can a tree do anything to repel a pest? How do trees share nutrients with one another? What is the role of mycorrhizal fungi in sharing messages and nutrients among trees? How do trees protect themselves and neighboring trees against pests? What is the value of old growth forests?

Why not 

  • Take your next trip to the DC area on the VA Breeze busesRidership has gone back up from the pandemic numbers and someone else can do the driving on I-81 and deposit you and your family in downtown DC!
  • Weigh in on the Harrisonburg-Rockingham Metropolitan Planning Organization’s study to identify transportation needs in 2045. A relatively small number of area residents responded to the Phase I survey; Phase II will begin in early summer.
  • Plan a vacation trip to Nature Conservancy preserves and public lands in Virginia.
  • Learn how a Roanoke area organization, the Harvest Collective, found grant money for a community garden to help young people learn about growing their own food.
  • Watch this news story “Birds, biology, Baltimore orioles: How a William & Mary class turns campus wildlife into a lesson.”
  • Take a look at this story about sea turtles that become hooked or ensnared in fishing lines and equipment and the efforts to help them.
  • Consider saying “Goodbye to grass”; learn why some folks are embracing “‘eco-friendly’ lawns and gardens.”
  • Use an electric lawn mower. If you want to keep your grass, and keep mowing it, you can “electrify your lawn care.”
  • Use this guide to stargazing and visit the Sky Meadows State Park.
  • Find some delicious sweet berries this summer. Virginia expects a good crop of strawberries, blackberries, and blueberries.
  • Learn about what plants to include in your garden to attract pollinators.

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.

We Must Start Reducing Emissions

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

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

Nevertheless, the need for action is urgent.

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

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

Leslie Grady Jr.

Rockingham

Climate and Energy News Roundup 5/6/2022

If we continue with more of the same, we can kiss 1.5°C goodbye. Even 2 degrees may be out of reach. And that would be catastrophe. This is madness. Addiction to fossil fuels is mutually assured destruction. — UN Secretary-General António Guterres

Our Climate Crisis

Christiana Figueres, a former UN climate chief and co-author of The Future We Choose: Surviving the Climate Crisis, says that we’re caught between joy and despair. We can be grateful that pledges by countries to reduce emissions made since the Paris agreement could keep global warming within 2°C. That is a huge improvement on where we’d be headed without these efforts but it doesn’t even come close to the 1.5°C goal and will lead to a world that will not be livable for vast swaths of humanity. Christiana comments, “So we are caught between two truths, and two deep feelings in our bones: outrage and optimism. Both are valid responses and both are necessary.”

South Asia is at the forefront of places in the world where climate change could make life become unbearable before the end of the century. Temperatures have recently soared to dangerously high levels in India and Pakistan. While this part of the world is no stranger to extreme heat, scientists say that recent heat waves have been worsened by climate change. The high temperatures are increasing the danger of fires, contributing to the predicted 20% decrease in the regional wheat harvest, and the danger of river flooding caused by rapidly melting glaciers in the Himalayas. 

A scientific study at Princeton University finds that marine life will be decimated by 2300 at the current pace of global warming. That would be on par with the mass extinction that wiped out the dinosaurs. On the other hand, if we can rein in emissions to keep within the upper limit of the Paris climate agreement, it would reduce ocean extinction risks by more than 70 percent.

Rising groundwater levels and intensifying rains, exacerbated by climate change, are creating overflowing septic tanks and back-yard drain fields. This causes smelly, unhealthy wastewater to collect in yards and back up into homes, creating vexing problems for homeowners and local governments. The problem is especially pronounced in the coastal middle peninsula of Virginia, which local people refer to as suffering from a “soggy socks” problem. In a related story, the National Trust for Historic Preservation has placed colonial Jamestown on a list of the country’s most endangered historical places because it is losing its battle with rising water levels caused by climate change.

Politics and Policy

Maryland just passed one of the most aggressive climate laws in the US. It mandates reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the state to 60 percent below 2006 levels by 2031 and sets a 2045 deadline for achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions across the state’s economy. Central to that effort will be reducing energy use in buildings, which are responsible for about 40 percent of Maryland’s carbon emissions.

California recently announced its plan to phase out all new gas-powered cars by 2035. Under the proposed plan the state will require 35 percent of new passenger vehicles sold in 2026 to be powered by batteries or hydrogen before making it mandatory for all passenger vehicles less than a decade later. If enacted, the plan will mark a big clean energy transition as 12.4% of new vehicles sold in California are currently zero-emissions.

Sen. Joe Manchin, a proponent of the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP), praised the recent Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) approval of the MVP plan to bore under streams and wetlands at 120 locations in West Virginia and Virginia after the original plan to cross these areas by open trenching had been rejected. The approval is, however, contingent on the success of other permitting processes that are being held up in court.

In another development, Sen. Manchin and Republican lawmakers have publicly denounced FERC for adopting rules requiring energy regulators to consider new gas pipelines’ effects on climate change and environmental justice. In response to the political pressure from Manchin and Republicans, FERC backtracked and voted to recategorize the policies as mere drafts that wouldn’t apply to new gas projects. Part of the reason for the new rules had been court rulings that FERC had ignored climate change and environmental justice in its approval of projects.

In an even more recent development, Sen. Manchin and several of his colleagues in Congress have begun talks to gauge bipartisan interest in a climate deal. One policy that has been repeatedly mentioned in these talks is some form of carbon pricing legislation.

The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality recently rolled out several major changes to the management of stormwater runoff from solar farms, saying prior policies may have underestimated the impact of stormwater runoff. The solar industry worries that the policy shift could dampen efforts to build renewable energy, but some local officials and environmental groups say it could help to better account for how precipitation, which is increasing in both frequency and intensity due to climate change, interacts with solar farms. 

Energy

As part of President Biden’s bipartisan infrastructure bill, Virginia will receive $31.8M this fiscal year to fund projects to cut down on carbon emissions. Executive Director of VA Clean Cities, Alleyn Harned says it’s a step in the right direction because “transportation is our leading source of greenhouse gases in the commonwealth and in the country and in Harrisonburg. And for us to be able to see some light at the end of the tunnel with a valued federal program like this really presents a lot of great opportunities.”

The sales of electric vehicles have been rising in the first quarter of this year while just about every other category is falling. This surge was enough to double EVs’ share of the market to 5.2 percent, up from 2.5 percent in the first quarter of 2021.

Virginia generated more electricity from the sun than from coal in 2021. This is a first for our state, which ranked number four in the country in solar installation last year.

A Virginia legislative bill that creates a property tax exemption for residential and mixed-use solar energy systems up to 25 kilowatts was signed into law by Gov. Glen Youngkin. The bill expands clean energy choice for consumers and promotes the local solar industry. It attracts businesses and creates jobs in our state. For some unknown reason, local state house delegates Tony Wilt and Chris Runion both voted against the bill.

In a move that runs counter to his top priority of lowering Virginian’s cost-of-living, Gov. Glen Youngkin vetoed an overwhelmingly bipartisan bill aimed at lowering the electric consumption of veterans, low-income, elderly and disabled ratepayers. The bill targets energy savings by focusing energy efficiency projects on those homes that are the most dilapidated and difficult to weatherize.

In a bid to show that it is working to increase the domestic oil supply as prices surge in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Biden administration announced plans to resume selling leases for new oil and gas drilling on public lands. This violates a signature campaign pledge made by Mr. Biden to climate activists when he was running for office.

Climate Justice

Low-income households in the US spent an average of 8.1 percent of their income on energy costs, compared to 2.3 percent for wealthier households. That’s why poor families often need to pull back on other expenses, like medicine, groceries, or childcare to cover their energy bills. One consistently overlooked aspect of our nation’s affordable housing crisis is the staggering number of homes occupied by poor families that require substantial repairs before they are eligible for federal weatherization funds. To address this, a bipartisan group of Pennsylvania state legislators is putting forward the Whole-Home Repairs Act, providing a legislative solution to the problem. It will do so by providing eligible residents with grants up to $50,000 to make needed home repairs. Small landlords could apply for the same amount in forgivable loans.

In an effort to bring down the price of gasoline, President Biden recently visited Iowa to announce his plan to accelerate the production of ethanol from corn. This is at a time when poor people around the world are suffering because the price of food grains around the world are skyrocketing because of the war in Ukraine. The amount of corn it takes to fill an SUV with ethanol could feed a person for a year.

Climate Action

Environmental activist Bill McKibben is stepping away from some of his other involvements to  help launch a new organization, called Third Act, aimed at engaging activists over age 60. He is in that age bracket himself and said that “he’s become convinced that his generation should more actively join the climate movement, following in the footsteps of a galvanized youth. He noted that Americans his age and older have a large share of the country’s financial assets and a tendency to vote in high numbers, giving them political power.”

Using commercial solar installations as pastureland for sheep is proving beneficial for farmers and solar operators, while sequestering carbon and improving soil health. Still in its infancy, such combined use of solar sites makes sense on various levels. Flocks of sheep are already grazing contentedly under and around solar panels in Virginia and other states.

Levels of methane in the atmosphere have been increasing steadily over the past 15 years. Last year they rose by a record amount over the year before for the second year in a row. Most methane spews from oil and natural gas operations, sometimes through unintentional leaks. Other sources of methane include livestock, landfills, and the natural decay of organic material in wetlands. While it is less abundant and not as long-lasting as carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, it has more potent near-term effects. That makes quickly cutting down methane emissions crucial to combating global warming.

Your household can cut down on its carbon emissions by switching from your old gas range to a new super-efficient induction electric range. You’ll be surprised by how quickly and precisely it heats—beating a gas range on both counts. It also eliminates the indoor pollution of a gas range. Click here to learn more about cooking with an induction range. Or you can ask me about how I like our induction range.

Earl Zimmerman
CAAV Steering Committee

Virginia Environmental News Roundup for April 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 April 2022

Energy

The 2020 Virginia Clean Economy Act required the state’s utilities to move aggressively into the renewable energy arena. Virginia Business reports that “Virginia’s largest electric utilities [Dominion Energy and Appalachian Power] are deploying an array of technologies as they decarbonize, digitalize and decentralize their power grids to meet the state’s and their own clean energy goals.” An SCC hearing examiner will issue a decision on Appalachian Power’s proposals “pretty quickly.” The projected costs of the utilities’ plans are raising concerns.

Dominion’s offshore wind project is maing news:

In 2021 Virginia produced more power from solar than from coal and “was number four in the country … in installation of solar facilities.” “Virginia solar output more than double[d] in one year,” a lot of it in Southside and most of it in utility scale facilities. Dominion will build a solar facility on 800+ acres at Dulles airport. Dominion is moving forward with its plan for a solar facility in Mecklenburg County and in Lunenburg CountyDominion wants to charge a hefty fee for shared solarraising questions about whether such a fee would spell the end of this program, intended to help renters and low- and moderate income people to access solar energy.

Norfolk Solar is offering a program to offer churches in low- or moderate income areas the opportunity to install solar panels under an investor‑funded program offering repayment from saved energy costs. An Arlington County “church [is] ‘leading by example’ on climate action through solar [and] efficiency.” Tiger Solar installed solar panels on McDonough Toyota in Staunton. Carilion announced “the solar arrays at its … New River Valley Medical Center have generated $113,633 from the sales of solar renewable energy credits and reduced Carilion’s carbon dioxide emissions by 5,368 metric tons.” “807 utility-scale, commercial rooftop, community solar and solar storage projects have been stuck in a growing regulatory traffic jam,” [awaiting] PJM Interconnection.” PJM ”coordinates electricity transmission in 13 states [including Virginia] and the District of Columbia, [and needs] to complete the required studies that would move the projects forward.” Other solar project applications, approvals and rejections: Gloucester, Isle of WightSurry CountyScottsburg/Halifax CountyCharlotte CountyNottoway CountyFrederick and Pittsylvania Counties.

“Dominion [E]nergy promise[d] $17 Million over the next three years to help boost reliability in Alexandria. The money will fund 20 improvement projects….” Dominion agreed to study whether/how its costly Wise coal plant, which isn’t producing much electricity, should continue in operation.

The Allegheny-Blue Ridge Alliance produced a chronicle of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. Litigation continues on the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP). The 4th Circuit Appeals Court “left in place a Jan. 25 decision that invalidated federal authorizations allowing the 304-mile … Mountain Valley Pipeline to cross the Jefferson National Forest.”MVP’s owners won’t appeal an adverse ruling on its proposed Southgate Extension. Columbia Gas is seeking the okay to replace 48 miles of existing pipes in Hampton. “Virginia Natural Gas (VNG) is working with state and local governments to modernize its pipeline infrastructure and promote safe digging [b]y upgrading and replacing more than 400 miles of older pipes.” Two bloggers assessed how the Virginia Natural Gas Industry sees its future, based on new state laws.

Dulles Airport eyes [an] all electric bus fleet.” Campbell County is “rolling out” two new electric school buses;” Waynesboro is adding six. “Virginia will receive $165.8 million in funding under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act to provide Virginians with more transportation options, ease congestion in local communities, and reduce carbon pollution.”

Climate and Environment

Bristol’s landfill problems may be on the way to resolution:

DEQ released the 2020 TOXIC RELEASE INVENTORY REPORT showing a “slight overall increase, but individual releases to land and air continue downward trend.” Waynesboro will remake a former landfill into a “public recreational greenspace.” Some residents believe there are better uses for the money. Non-profit Sustainability Matters partnered with Shenandoah County to launch Phase II of their Making Trash Bloom project.

The Virginia Department of Energy is seeking applications for former coal mine reclamationWaste operators will be paying higher landfill fees, based on new legislation. Falls Church’s 5₵ plastic bag tax took effect April 1.

Lynnhaven River Now … is using recycled concrete from all over the city to lay in the Lynnhaven Inlet near the Lesner Bridge in order to rehab the oyster population. Recent legislation provided a “boost [in] spending for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Chesapeake Bay Program Office in Annapolis to $88 million this year.

“Legislation aimed at increasing tree canopies across Virginia passed both chambers of the General Assembly (GA) after legislators compromised on removing language around equity.” Senators Kaine and Warner are “leading an effort to create a Shenandoah Mountain National scenic Area.” A federal district court challenge to the National Forest Service Trump-era regulations expanding “a categorical exclusion to forest management activities including logging in national forests” failed but is on appeal. The Biden administration’s currently proposed regulatory revisions to the same regulations do not “restore the bar” in effect prior to the 2020 changes. The “broad coalition of Appalachian environmental groups, including four Virginia organizations … [that] sued the agency … [believe] the 2020 exclusions would ‘cause significant harm to publicly owned national forests across the country and to members of the public who use those lands.’”

The 2022 GA’s legislative record was mixed in terms of environmental protections. Shellfish growers in the state considered the session successful because no harm was done to the industry.

Charlottesville has made headway on its plan to reduce carbon emissions and is seeking citizen input through two surveys. The UVA Environmental Resilience Institute reported its optimism that the state can meet its net-zero carbon emissions goal by 2050, though more cuts are needed. The American West’s megadrought will be felt in Virginia’s grocery stores, as food prices increase, according to this blogger.

The Virginia Foundation for Independent Colleges’ heat-mapping study found “major temperature swings within Virginia localities.” DEQ will be monitoring air pollution from coal facilities in Hampton Roads. In contrast to Maryland and North Carolina, Virginia missed an EPA deadline for submitting its air quality report. Even so, the American Lung Association said “Virginia cities have some of the cleanest air in the country”—including Harrisonburg, Roanoke, Staunton and Richmond.

Flooding events throughout Virginia will continue and, according to climate advocates, “there is not nearly enough funding from the state to support current flood survivors and invest in mitigation project.”

“Eastern Mennonite University’s Earthkeepers club and Sustainable Food Initiative (SFI) presented at the first annual Student Sustainability Summit on April 9 at the Staunton Innovation Hub. … [T]he event, which included 10 research and project presentations, … was co-hosted by Sustainable Shenandoah Valley (SSV) and Net Impact, with the goal of bringing together networks of undergraduate students and community organizations who work in similar areas of impact relating to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.” JMU students celebrated Earth Week with a variety of events, and a JMU student made a case that “Climate change is affecting Harrisonburg.”

Action Alerts

  • Donate to the Shenandoah Valley Black Heritage Project’s Energy Efficiency and Solar Effort. CAAV supports helping SVBHP reduce its energy costs; we hope you will too.
  • Give VDOT your views on its proposed project that “widens I-81 northbound and southbound to three lanes between exit 221 (I-64 interchange) and exit 225 (Route 262/Woodrow Wilson Parkway).” VDOT will hold an open forum public hearing from 4 to 7 p.m. on Tuesday, May 24, in the VDOT Staunton District office auditorium, 811 Commerce Road, Staunton.
  • Drive an EV, a hybrid, or other fuel-efficient vehicle and don’t pile up the miles? You now pay a flat highway use fee, regardless of how many miles you drive it. Effective July 1, you’ll have the option to choose another payment method. Find out how

Check out…

  • Cville100 Climate Coalition Special Meeting: “Virginia’s Proposal to Leave the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI).” Speaker: Prof. Cale Jaffe, Univ. VA School of Law, 6:30 P.M. Tuesday, May 10, 2022. Zoom link at www.cville100-climate.org. For more information, contact Tom Olivier.
  • Shenandoah Valley blogpost about the American chestnut.
  • Profile of Dante, Virginia, “an ex-coalmining town [that] is turning to ecotourism to rebuild its economy.”
  • Assessments of the extent to which rural Virginia areas can “and should shoulder the load for energy production” and whether “Virginia is at a solar crossroad.”
  • Virginia Department of Forestry’s 50% cost-share program to support treatment of ash trees damaged by the Emerald Ash Borer. It’s accepting applications through June 17. “Landowners with ash trees on their property should consider treatment or removal performed by a qualified arborist. If you are not sure if your tree is an ash, see VDOF’s online resources or contact your local VDOF forester for assistance.”

Why not 

  • Attend these on-line workshops on invasive plants sponsored by Blue PRISM:
  • On May 10 from 1 to 3 pm learn how to confidently identify different species in the summer season. Register here. Price is $10. 
  • On May 12 find out how to best manage invasive plants during the summer season and receive instruction on using manual & /or chemical control methods, the proper use of herbicides and ways to minimize it, and planning a work schedule with best timings for multiple plants. Register here. Price is $10.      OR
  • Attend this in-person session on May 22 at Charlottesville’s Pen Park from 12:30 to 3:30 pm. This event will cover the above topics including herbicide safety, using hand tools and power tools safely, and identification of specific invasive shrubs and vines. There will also be a short plant walk in the park. Register here. Price is $25.
  • Learn how oyster reefs in the Virginia Coastal Reserve are helping the Chesapeake Bay eco-system.
  • Find out how and why Virginia Tech is pursuing Bee Campus USA certification as part of its Climate Action Commitment.
  • Watch this story about the “state of litter” in Virginia during this Earth Day month.
  • Hike or mountain bike the Henry County’s now‑open trail along the Mayo River, near the not-yet-open 600+-acre Mayo River State Park.

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.

Thanks To HEC For Solar Program

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Doug Hendren lives in Harrisonburg.

Climate and Energy News Roundup 4/5/2022

Reversing the climate crisis cannot be done by one country, one economic sector, one industry, one culture, or one demographic. There is not going to be a magic technology that will fix it. We cannot wait to see if experts, governments, or corporations figure out how to end the crisis, because they can’t by themselves. The crisis, if it could speak, would tell us all that we have forgotten that we truly are a “we,” and nothing less than our joint effort is sufficient to reverse decades and centuries of exploiting people and the earth. Climate change and poverty have the same roots. —Paul Hawken

Our Climate Crisis

Countries racing to replace Russian oil, gas and coal with their own dirty energy are making matters worse, warns United Nations secretary general António Guterres. Continuing to rely on fossil fuels instead of pivoting to clean energy is “sleepwalking to climate catastrophe.” While we are making progress in bending the curve in emissions, they are still set to increase by 14% in the next decade. The most recent report by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change claims that it’s still possible to avoid the most catastrophic consequences of climate change if societies take immediate, drastic action. This includes slashing annual greenhouse gas emissions by almost half in the next eight years and finding a way to zero out carbon pollution by the middle of the century.

Embedded in all future calculations on climate change is the assumption that global economic activity will increase steadily throughout this century. The Covid pandemic has, however, demonstrated that a future health pandemic could dramatically curtail economic activity. Furthermore, the frightening possible escalation of the war in Ukraine (which could even go nuclear) makes global economic collapse no longer seem inconceivable. In the most extreme scenario, nuclear war could even cause extensive global cooling and create a nuclear winter.

Unusually high temperatures have recently been recorded in both Antarctica and the Arctic. The Arctic, as a whole, was 3.3°C warmer than average, while the Antarctic, as a whole, was 4.8°C warmer than average. These temperature spikes have shocked researchers, who warn that such extremes will become more common as a result of the climate crisis. In a related occurrence, a 450-square-mile ice shelf recently collapsed in the eastern part of Antarctica. This is the first observed collapse of an ice shelf in that region of the continent since satellites began observing Antarctica nearly half a century ago.

Using an “OK doomer” riff on “OK boomer,” some young climate activists are focusing on climate solutions in response to the all too common doomsday focus on how bad things are. While they do not want to minimize the climate crisis, they believe that “focusing solely on terrible climate news can sow dread and paralysis, foster inaction, and become a self-fulfilling prophecy.” Using social media, they seek to change the narrative by highlighting positive climate news as well as offer ways that people can personally become engaged in fighting the climate crisis.

Politics and Policy

Dominion Energy has received regulatory approval in Virginia for a series of solar projects expected to generate enough electricity to power 250,000 homes. This is the second batch of annual projects submitted under the 2020 Virginia Clean Economy Act, which calls for 16,100 megawatts in solar or wind energy projects to be in place or under way by 2035. Accordingly, projects of a similar scale will be submitted by Dominion every year over the next 15 years.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, recently laid out some energy policies he supports, including a tax credit for clean energy manufacturing, replacing fossil fuel generation with advanced nuclear power, developing hydrogen energy, and the development of carbon capture technology. It is reported that he is willing to negotiate on a slimmed down clean energy bill in the coming months. Because of his pivotal role in an evenly divided senate, the climate lobby and other senators are being very circumspect in criticizing him in hopes that he will support at least part of their clean energy agenda.

Now weatherization, a decades-old program, has become central to the Biden administration’s plans to cut Americans’ power bills and lower fossil fuel emissions. Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm announced roughly $3.2 billion of the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill will be used  to retrofit hundreds of thousands of homes in low-income communities. Emphasizing the potential cost savings, she noted that the program has lowered some families’ power bills by as much as 30 percent.

Energy

Data from 75 countries, which represent 93% of the global power demand, shows that clean energy—including wind, solar, hydropower, nuclear, and biofuels—accounted for a total of 38% of the world’s electricity generated in 2021. The share wind and solar has more than doubled to 10.3% from 4.6% when the Paris Climate Agreement was signed in 2015. A big part of this growth stems from advancements in technology which has cut the price of solar electricity by 89%, and the price of onshore wind by 70%.

Tony Smith, CEO of Virginia solar energy company Secure Futures, says that the best way to unhook from oil and gas wars is by rapidly transitioning to solar energy. Their company introduced the first solar Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) in Virginia, with a 104-kW rooftop solar array at Eastern Mennonite University in 2010. Today there are 700 times as many kWs of solar energy produced under solar PPAs in Virginia. Even so, natural gas still accounts for 61 percent of the electricity generation in our state. We should rapidly transition to solar, which is much cleaner, cheaper, and not tied to the volatility of global fossil fuel markets.

Efforts to electrify commercial vehicles have lagged behind EV passenger cars. That is now rapidly beginning to change. Carriers such as UPS, Amazon, and FedEx are investing billions to build out EV delivery fleets. At the same time, the US Postal Service ordered as many as 148,000 gas guzzling mail delivery trucks despite opposition from top environmental regulators and directives from the Biden administration to green the federal fleet.

Decarbonizing heavy industry such as steel manufacturing and transportation will depend on alternative fuels such as green hydrogen, which still remain prohibitively expensive. Australian researchers now claim they have made a giant technological leap in producing affordable green hydrogen. Denmark has also made a big investment in green hydrogen, including subsidies to make it commercially viable. Given the war in Ukraine, they see this as an important step in achieving independence from fossil fuels.

The United Kingdom, as an island nation, is making big investments in clean tidal energy, which is on track to be cheaper than both nuclear power and fossil fuels. While the country presently produces only 3% of its energy this way, the goal is to increase that to 10%. To help reach this goal, a North Wales firm recently secured £31m ($40.75m) in government funding to develop a tidal energy project in the Irish Sea.

Climate Justice

Internationally recognized environmental lawyer and climate negotiator, Farhana Yamin was a key architect of the Paris climate agreement who helped to secure the goal of net-zero emissions by midcentury. When Donald Trump then pulled the US out of the Paris agreement and other countries continually delayed strong action on climate, she decided “we cannot rely on lawyers and diplomats alone.” She came to see that the climate movement is fragile because it mostly relies on insider tactics and not on movement building. She, therefore, became involved with social mobilization and nonviolent action to advance the cause. More recently she has begun social organizing with frontline communities of color in Britain and is helping to mobilize more broadly with a focus on climate justice.

Climate Action

Climate change is spurring a movement to build more resilient homes. FEMA told Becky Nixon that she would receive another mobile home after her triple-wide trailer on the Florida panhandle was destroyed by hurricane Michael in 2018. She, instead, had a brand new two-bedroom home built for her in a joint effort of the Federal Alliance for Safe Homes (FLASH), Samaritan’s Purse, and donated materials. The home was built to considerably more than standard requirements for energy efficiency and hurricane ratings following guidelines advocated by the Resilient Design Institute.

Charlottesville, VA is on track to reduce carbon emissions by 45% by 2030. Overall, emissions are down 30% from 2011 even though energy use is up. Much of this progress is because of the availability of cleaner electricity. Heating and the cooling of homes consumes the largest amounts of energy in the city. Susan Kruse, the executive director of the Community Climate Collaborative, says this makes residential energy efficiency programs especially important. There has, however, been a virtually non-existent drop in emissions from vehicles. This makes weaning vehicles off of fossil fuels vital, as is getting people to use buses and public transport. Moving to a fleet of electric city buses will have an even greater impact.

The food system produces about one-third of our greenhouse emissions. This calls for making dramatic cuts to reach our goal of cutting emissions to zero by 2050 to limit global warming to 1.5°C. Furthermore, we will need to feed a population expected to approach 10 billion by 2050, meaning we’ll need to make those drastic cuts while increasing food production by more than 50 percent. This calls for huge structural changes in how we grow, process, package, and distribute food. On a personal level, changing our eating behaviors is perhaps the most impactful change we can make. Some suggested practices are:  

  • Move to a mostly plant-based diet.
  • Buy locally grown food.
  • Eat everything you buy.
  • Eat healthy amounts.

This shift will not only help combat climate change. Other environmental harms driven by the food industry include loss of biodiversity, vital forest ecosystems being destroyed for grazing and farming purposes, fertilizer runoff creating dead zones in the ocean, and the massive extinction and loss of insects due to pesticides.

Earl Zimmerman
CAAV Steering Committee

Dear Valley Legislators …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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