For many years, Virginia State Sen. Dick Saslaw (D- Falls Church/Fairfax/Alexandria) has been a huge fan of – and apologist for – Dominion Energy.
For instance, see here for Saslaw’s 2015 defense of Sen. Frank Wagner’s SB1349 (“Electric utility regulation; suspension of reviews of earnings”), where Saslaw laughably claimed that the whole thing was in “anticipation of” forthcoming EPA Clean Power Plan rules to reduce carbon pollution. Specifically, Saslaw claimed that Dominion would be forced to “absorb $82 million in costs” from the “potential EPA regulations.” That’s complete nonsense, of course. As long-time Virginia Sierra Club leader Glen Besa wrote at the time, “Dominion had to come up with some justification to convince Virginia’s legislators that it should pocket these overcharges, and it invented a real doozy of an excuse: Blame the Environmental Protection Agency.” And Dick Saslaw, who over the years has directly received donations of $328k from Dominion, went right out there and spread that “doozy.”
Also, see here for the January 2018 AP story about how, “When the Democratic Party of Virginia publicly criticized a Republican state senator a few years ago for being too cozy with Dominion Energy…Saslaw, one of Virginia’s most influential elected Democrats, quickly apologized and criticized the state party for not doing its ‘homework’ on ‘how generous Dominion has been to me” and others in the party.'” Sweet, huh?
The bottom line is that, over the years, Dominion has gotten (more than) its money’s worth from Saslaw, who has been ready and eager to leap to the ostensibly state-regulated monopoly utility at the drop of a hat. Or, more to the point, at the receipt of an email or phone call from the big boys at Dominion.
So now we’re in July 2018, and after many months of rumors that he’ll be facing a progressive primary challenge next year, Saslaw appears to be changing his public rhetoric a bit. For instance, see the video below from a town hall Saslaw did the other day, in which he talks extensively about Dominion and about Dominion’s Atlantic Coast Pipeline boondoggle. First, credit where credit is due; glad to hear Saslaw say the following.
- Regarding the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, Saslaw says “it’s almost going to have to be a ‘stream-by-stream’ [analysis].” (Note: Saslaw should ditch the word “almost” and just demand a stream-by-stream analysis right now)
- “They should have to meet all of the environmental considerations, including if necessary stream-by-stream analysis.” (Note: Saslaw should ditch the words “should have to” and just demand that this happen, immediately)
- “If they don’t meet [the federal requirements], it shouldn’t get built.” (Note: they also should be forced to meet VIRGINIA’s requirements, given that Virginia has a great deal of authority under Section 401 of the Clean Water Act)
- “We need to get [Dominion] away from fossil fuels and we need to start moving them in the direction of renewables” (Note: great, so what are you planning to DO about this?)
So, lots of caveats, but it’s nonetheless good to hear Saslaw apparently inching in the right direction when it comes to Virginia energy/enviro policy.
[UPDATE by BV contributor, activist and attorney Jon Sokolow: “If Saslaw is serious about wanting a stream by stream review of these pipelines, then he must also be for revoking the state permits that are allowing these projects to go forward WITHOUT a stream by stream review under state water quality standards. Revocation of those permits – known as Section 401 certifications – would require that all work stop immediately. So unless Saslaw ALSO is for stop work and revocation of the permits, then his call for a stream by stream review is empty and pandering rhetoric”]
The question, as always, will be whether Saslaw – assuming he’s reelected and becomes Senate Majority Leader – pushes hard for new policies, such as an aggressive (e.g., 80% by 2030), mandatory Renewable Portfolio Standard; a massive push for energy efficiency in Virginia (“decoupling,” anyone?); incentives for rooftop solar, community solar, etc.; a MUCH more aggressive push, such as is currently happening in NJ, RI, MA, CT, NY, etc., for big-time offshore wind power. Personally, I’m not holding my breath, but if – and it’s a BIG IF – Saslaw is serious about moving Dominion away from fossil fuels and towards clean energy, then he’s got to do those things. If not, then it was all hot air from the guy.
So that’s the relatively positive news in what Saslaw said. The bad news? Unfortunately, Saslaw continues to spew out Dominion Energy talking points, such as that the Atlantic Coast Pipeline will create jobs, bring economic benefits to Virginia, etc. I have yet to see any serious, independent evidence that this will be the case.
And Saslaw implies, weirdly, that you need “deserts” and “a lot of real estate.” to have a lot of solar power, as they do in California. Of course, you do NOT need a “desert” to have solar power, nor do you need “a lot of real estate” necessarily. What you DO need is strong, pro-solar policies.
Re: Saslaw’s point on “deserts,” check out this map of the top solar power states in America, and note that several of the big ones – North Carolina (4.4 gigawatts), New Jersey (2.5 gigawatts), Massachusetts (2.1 gigawatts), Texas (2.0 gigawatts), Florida (1.9 gigawatts), Georgia (1.6 gigawatts), New York (1.4 gigawatts), Colorado (1.0 gigawatts), Maryland (0.9 gigawatts), Hawaii (0.8 gigawatts) – are not “deserts” at all. In fact, note that several of those states that are ahead of Virginia’s 0.6 gigawatts installed solar power capacity are to the north of us (New England, New York) or just to the south of us (North Carolina). I’d also note that some of the fastest growth in solar power we’re seeing around the world right now is in places like Japan and Germany, two places not exactly known for being “deserts.”
As for supposedly needing “a lot of real estate,” I’d first note that it would only take “0.6% of the total surface area of the continental United States to power the entire country with renewable solar power.” Or, to put it another way, “Running U.S. on Solar Requires 100 Square Miles of Panels.” That’s it. And, I’d further note, if you put a lot of that solar on rooftops, integrated into buildings, etc., you don’t need ANY – or very little – new “real estate” at all. So, yet again, who knows what Saslaw’s blabbering about.
Bottom line: It seems that, under pressure of a primary challenge from his “left,” Saslaw is talking a slightly better game in public. The question is whether he will finally start “walking” a much better game in the Virginia General Assembly and in the corridors of power in Richmond. If he does, it will be pleasant surprise, let’s just put it that way.