Home Energy and Environment Bob McDonnell: Four Years of Failure (Part 1 – Energy)

Bob McDonnell: Four Years of Failure (Part 1 – Energy)

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As Gov. McDonnell’s term winds to a close, I can just hear it now from the corporate media, how McDonnell was actually a pretty good governor, other than Star Scientific, Jonnie Williams, Chefgate, etc. Except that, as is usually the case with the corporate media, that narrative will be dead wrong. In fact, on issue after issue, McDonnell was demonstrably a failure. This will be a continuing series, celebrating the end of McDonnell’s 4-year reign of error. Today, we start with energy policy. First, let’s look at the “comprehensive energy plan” Bob McDonnell outlined back in 2009 and see whether or not he fulfilled them.

1. “Explore and Drill for Oil and Natural Gas off Virginia’s Coast”

This is a really, really bad idea, for a bunch of reasons (e.g., as Chap Petersen explained back in February 2010, “the concept of Virginia receiving royalties from off-shore drilling is a fraud wrapped in a chimera concealed within a pyramid scheme.” But even putting aside the idiocy of McDonnell’s “drill baby drill” plan, the fact is that McDonnell got pretty much nowhere on it. As Rep. Scott Rigell (R) noted recently, “under the most optimistic scenario, no rig would be installed in Virginia waters for at least 10 years.” Not only does that take us past Bob McDonnell’s governorship, but also past Terry McAuliffe’s and the successor to Terry McAuliffe. In other words, not even close for Bob McDonnell.

2. “Support Virginia’s Coal and Nuclear Industries”

Corporate welfare certainly continued for Virginia’s coal and nuclear power industries. As this article explains, “the coal industry in Virginia got $37 million in subsidies in 2009,” “the net cost to Virginia that year was $22 million,” yet “subsidies not only failed to increase jobs or coal production, but both actually declined at similar or faster rates than were predicted without the tax breaks.” What a waste. As for nuclear power, the Union of Concerned Scientists states point blank that nuclear power is “not viable without subsidies.” Even worse:

…subsidies to the nuclear fuel cycle have often exceeded the value of the power produced. This means that buying power on the open

market and giving it away for free would have been less costly than subsidizing the construction and

operation of nuclear power plants.

Dumb, dumber, dumberest. Instead, we should be focusing our resources on the most cost-effective energy solutions, starting with energy efficiency (by far the biggest “bang” for the energy investment “buck”) and distributed solar power (where Virginia has completely failed in every way – but more on that later). Of course, McDonnell didn’t do any of that. #FAIL

3. “Expedite Permitting and Approval Processes for Energy Facilities”

Can anyone name one major energy facility that’s been “expedited” in terms of its permitting and approval processes since Bob McDonnell became governor? Uhhhhh…right, didn’t think so. Of course, that begs the question as to WHY we should want to “expedite permitting and approval processes for energy facilities.” What McDonnell was talking about wasn’t clean energy, but things like expediting approval of offshore oil drilling, perhaps “fracking” for natural gas in Virginia’s forests, and possibly new fossil-fuel-fired power plants. Again, why on earth would we want to be “expediting” any of that stuff? I have no idea; and I strongly doubt that Bob McDonnell can help enlighten us.

4. “Support Alternative and Renewable Forms of Energy and make Virginia a ‘Green Jobs Zone'”

McDonnell promised back in 2009 to “expand investments in renewable energy sources and incentivize green job creation so that the future of Virginia remains bright.” For once, a good idea. Except for one problem: he didn’t keep his promise. Of course, the fine folks at PolitiFiction claimed that McDonnell kept this promise, because he proposed ” a bill that would establish an annual state tax credit of $500 for every green job created, up to 350 jobs.” Well, yeah, he did, but that’s not even close to being a serious effort at expanding clean energy investment, moving Virginia off of fossil fuels, and making our state a “green jobs zone.” Sure, it may allow McDonnell to check a box off his list of promises, but other than that, it’s utterly laughable.

5. “Establish the Virginia Universities Clean Energy Development and Economic Stimulus Foundation”

This passed the General Assembly in 2010 as a toothless, unfunded joke (e.g., “No public funds shall be used for the work of theFoundation, which shall not be construed as an agency of the Commonwealth”), then quickly disappeared into oblivion. The last word I could find on it was from the Legislative Information System, which reports that the Foundation’s annual report was supposed to be turned in by 12/1/12, but was “overdue.” Probably because nothing’s happened, as a quick Google search will demonstrate. Chalk it up as yet another #FAIL for Bob McDonnell when it comes to Virginia energy policy.

6. “Leverage Tobacco Commission Funds to Transform Southside and Southwest Virginia into America’s Energy Corridor”

In 2009, Bob McDonnell promised to “make Southwest and Southside Virginia the nation’s hub for traditional and alternative energy research and development.” That certainly didn’t happen. Nor, as far as I can determine, did McDonnell fulfill his promise to have a “Virginia Energy Institute…bring together the academic research capabilities of our major research universities under one canopy to help focus efforts on developing energy technologies for the 21st century.”

7. “Support Affordable Energy Efficient Improvements and Conservation”

A huge missed opportunity for Bob McDonnell, as energy efficiency offers by far the biggest “bang for the buck” for improving Virginia’s energy situation, not to mention its economic competitiveness and potential contributions to dealing with man-made climate change. What was required here were bold initiatives and major funding to encourage energy efficiency and conservation. For instance, Virginia could have moved to decouple Dominion Power’s profits from the amount of power it produces, and tie it much more closely to its success in terms of energy efficiency programs. That didn’t happen. Nor were there any other serious, or even half-hearted, efforts by McDonnell to make serious improvements in Virginia’s energy efficiency. Huge, huge #FAIL.

8. “Improve Energy Reliability and Affordability with SMART Grids and Buildings”

In 2009, McDonnell stated that “Virginia businesses should have a tax incentive to partner with demand response companies, use LEED standards as a model, and to build SMART buildings to reduce their energy consumption during peak times.” It’s a superb idea, but what did McDonnell actually do about it, particularly in comparison to previous governors and of course President Obama’s heavy investment in energy efficiency as part of his 2009 economic “stimulus” package?

First, let’s give credit to Gov. Tim Kaine for issuing Executive Order 48 in 2007, which made a major push for energy efficiency in Virginia state government, including a requirement that new or renovated state-owned buildings be “designed and constructed consistent with the energy performance standards at least as stringent as the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED rating system,” and also that state government agencies and institutions purchase energy efficient appliances and equipment. Gov. Kaine followed up on Executive Order 48 with Executive Order 82 in 2009, which called for the “Greening of State Government,” as well as “encourag[ing] the private sector to adopt green building standards by striving to lease facilities that meet the same standards as those required for new state construction as outlined above.”

Second, let’s give credit to President Obama and Congressional Democrats for the enormous investments they made in promoting energy efficiency across the country. That included tens of millions of dollars for Virginia, just in this one announcement.

As for the “smart grid,” this report makes clear that efforts at moving in this direction began well before Bob McDonnell became governor (e.g., “Dominion’s Powering Virginia Plan began in 2008”). Also note this article from 2008, when Tim Kaine was governor, about Dominion Power’s “plans to invest about $600 million to create a ‘smart’ electric grid that it said will produce environmental benefits while providing customers with substantial cost savings.” As Dominion President David A. Heacock noted at the time, “This plan will provide a jump-start toward meeting the 10% conservation goal enacted last year by the Virginia General Assembly and the governor, getting the Commonwealth more than one-third of the way there within five years.” Note that none of that had anything whatsoever to do with Bob McDonnell, as it happened when Tim Kaine was governor.

So, given the efforts of Gov. Kaine and President Obama to improve Virginia’s energy efficiency, increase the adoption of LEED building standards, and jump-start development of a “smart grid” in Virginia, what credit should Bob McDonnell get for his efforts in this regard? According to McDonnell, he deserves a great deal of credit for Virginia’s progress on LEED standards. He also claims credit in this 2013 article for having supposedly “created tax incentives for projects that partner with demand response companies, use LEED standards as a model and build SMART buildings that emphasize conservation and efficiency as an energy resource.” Note that the language used here is almost identical to the language used in McDonnell’s 2009 campaign? Almost like it was cut and pasted from the 2009 list of promises?  The only problem is that it’s all really vague, with no evidence provided to back up his claims of progress in this area. I’d also point out that McDonnell repeatedly, throughout his governorship, has claimed credit for things that were actually done at the federal level. For instance, in this executive order, McDonnell makes a big deal out of the fact that he’s distributing “$80,600,000 of the Qualified Energy Conservation Bonds…national bond limitation.” Note that this is a federal program enacted in October 2008 (by President Bush and a Democratic Congress) and expanded four-fold by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (passed by a Democratic Congress and signed into law by President Obama). Also note that this executive order by Gov. McDonnell mostly parroted what Tim Kaine had already done, adds essentially nothing of substance beyond that, and actually WEAKENS the building energy efficiency standards by including the industry-friendly “Green Globe” building standards alongside the tougher LEED standards. Totally lame.

Bottom line: in Bob McDonnell’s four years as governor, he almost completely failed to advance Virginia when it comes to important energy objectives. He didn’t get any offshore oil drilling going (thank goodness). He certainly didn’t make Virginia the “Energy Capital of the East Coast” (whatever that means exactly). He absolutely did NOT “Transform Southside and Southwest Virginia into America’s Energy Corridor” (again, who knows what that even means). He didn’t make Virginia a “Green Jobs Zone” (again, what does that mean exactly?). He didn’t make any significant advances when it comes to energy efficiency and renewable energy. He failed to push for important policies like net metering; a strong, mandatory Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard; incentives to promote solar power in Virginia; or (god forbid) a price on carbon or strong measures to slash Virginia’s carbon footprint. On the other hand, he DID take tons of money from fossil fuel companies in contributions to his 2009 gubernatorial campaign. Great stuff, huh? Not.