Virginia Sierra Club Pushes for “Externalities” Bill


    I was perusing Facebook this morning, and I saw a posting by Eileen Levandoski of the Sierra Club on this article about rooftop solar “heating up.” Eileen commented, “Repeat after me, Virginia… RPS, RPS, RPS, RPS, RPS!” I couldn’t agree more – we badly need a strong, mandatory, renewable portfolio standard (RPS) in Virginia; the fact that we don’t have one right now is completely inexcusable (but understandable, given the total domination of powerful fossil fuel interests – and politicians who are in these industries’ pockets – in the Virginia General Assembly). Anyway, I responded to Eileen’s comment with, “Yes, RPS and also ‘decoupling,’ ASAP!  Eileen then responded, “We’re also pushing an ‘Externalities’ bill that helps to level the playing field for renewables. Talk to [VA Sierra Club Assistant Director J.R. Tolbert] for more info.”

    I found that idea fascinating, although I wasn’t sure exactly what it entailed, so I emailed J.R. Tolbert. His fascinating response is after the “fold.” In short, the “externalities” bill would “equire the State Corporation Commission to consider the health and environmental costs associated with our energy sources.” That makes a tremendous amount of sense, and I hope – although I certainly don’t expect, given the rightwing extremists controlling the House of Delegates, not to mention several pro-fossil-fuel Democrats in the State Senate, not to mention Pat Robertson’s Manchurian Candidate as governor – that it will become law in Virginia anytime soon.  The Sierra Club’s aware of this, which is why J.R. Tolbert emphasizes that the legislation is first and foremost “to educate the public and the General Assembly.” I hope it works!

    P.S. And don’t forget to support the Sierra Club’s efforts at stopping “the extreme McDonnell-Cuccinelli agenda”!

    Our focus on the 2011 legislative session could best be described as “level the playing field and incentivize.”  To do this, we’re putting in a few different bills, but not an RPS bill this year.  The brief description and a little calculus is below:

    –  Externalities – this bill would require the State Corporation Commission to consider the health and environmental costs associated with our energy sources. This typically means with fossil fuels where we know there are external costs borne through health care costs and a damaged environment. A recent National Academies report showed that the average non-climate damages for coal generated  electricity is 3.2 cents per KwH, the equivalent of 1/3 the cost per kilowatt in Virginia.  

    As for the politics – this is a bill to educate the public and the General Assembly.  We don’t necessarily believe it will pass but we also want to see coal companies or climate deniers say that cheap electricity is more important than public health. By improving public health we can make our workforce more productive  by decreasing the number of days people are out of work for their own health issues or those of their children.

    – VA Resources Authority Financing of Renewable Energy Projects – this legislation would give the VRA the authority to finance municipal renewable energy projects. The idea here is to approve the funding then run green schools and green cities efforts. Think about the support we could build for renewable energy if every school had a solar roof in a locality. Kids could learn more about renewable energy, parents could learn that it saves money and the general public would begin to realize that Virginia has abundant renewable energy resources. I actually think we can pass this bill based upon the success of adding other types of projects, including landfill gas, to the list of projects approved for VRA financing.

    Other bills are out there, but these have the most meat.


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