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VA Sierra Club Statement: “Arlington County becomes first locality in Virginia to commit to 100% clean, renewable electricity by 2035”

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From the Sierra Club, Virginia chapter; for video, see here.

Arlington County becomes first locality in Virginia to commit to 100% clean, renewable electricity by 2035

County adopts bold energy plan the week after Governor Northam announces statewide push for clean energy transition

ARLINGTON, VA — On Saturday, the Arlington County Board unanimously voted to adopt a new Community Energy Plan (CEP) after a two-year review and update process. In the 2019 CEP update, the County commits to the following primary goals: carbon neutrality by 2050, 100 percent clean, renewable electricity community-wide by 2035, and 100 percent clean, renewable electricity for government operations by 2025. 

This decision follows an executive order signed by Governor Ralph Northam on September 16 setting a goal for 100 percent of Virginia’s electricity to be produced from carbon-free sources by 2050. The vote and celebration was also the day after the largest environment and climate demonstration in history, when over 4 million people participated in the global climate strikes.

The original CEP was passed in 2013 and was groundbreaking at the time, so advocates had high expectations for the update to make critical climate and clean energy progress locally. 

Arlington acknowledged these expectations and stepped up to meet the challenge. 

County Board Chair Christian Dorsey said, “Arlington has a history of taking the lead in the Commonwealth on important issues. We did it again today, with the adoption of a Community Energy Plan that is bold, ambitious and visionary.” Dorsey also reiterated the County’s commitment to sustainability and climate action. “[The CEP was] energized by the understanding that humanity is running out of time to prevent potentially catastrophic results from climate change… Arlington intends to lead on climate change mitigation and adaptation.”

Arlington is now the 145th locality in the U.S. to make a 100 percent clean energy commitment. The County joins the growing nationwide movement for local-level clean energy progress which has grown exponentially in the face of federal inaction on climate change and rollbacks of national energy and environmental programs and regulations. Blacksburg and Floyd County Virginia previously passed resolutions committing to 100% clean renewable energy by 2050 in 2017.

The adoption of the updated Community Energy Plan is an important victory for clean energy in Virginia, and both the County and climate advocates envision the CEP as a catalyst that will spur more communities across the Commonwealth to take action, and will lead the way for others to follow. Virginia has been behind its neighbors Maryland, North Carolina, and Washington D.C. – all of which have all taken steps on clean energy this year. 

“We’re excited and inspired by this victory,” said Alice Redhead, Clean Energy Organizer for the Sierra Club Virginia Chapter. The local Ready for 100 campaign advocated for this commitment for the past two years. “This is a big moment for clean energy in Virginia. By making such an ambitious commitment, Arlington is making a strong statement to both our state government and Dominion Energy. Restrictive energy policies have long held Virginians back from reaping the benefits of the clean energy future we need. But now, with the passage of the new Community Energy Plan, these obstructions are directly preventing Arlington County from achieving its goals. This sends a powerful message to our state that these barriers must be removed, and as other localities follow Arlington’s lead, that message will only get louder.”

On Saturday, outside of the Arlington Government building where the County Board was discussing the CEP and preparing for a vote, over 50 supporters gathered. The rally was organized by the Sierra Club Virginia Chapter and featured over a dozen partner organizations to celebrate Arlington’s historic commitment to 100 percent clean electricity. 

Speakers lauded Arlington’s leadership and gave context for why the CEP goals are so  meaningful, sharing different perspectives on why a purposeful transition to clean energy is critical. Dr. Neelu Tummala with the Virginia Clinicians for Climate Action discussed the many health consequences of climate change and fossil fuel pollution. Dr. Tummala told a story of one of her first patients, a 14 year-old boy who she described as “one of the many faces of the climate crisis.” Due to worsening asthma, Michael had to give up his passion of playing soccer, and leave a team that was central to his identity and social belonging as a teenager.

“You’re trying to figure out why in the world is the NAACP talking about climate change,” Karen Nightengale, the Executive Director of the Arlington Branch NAACP, stated to the crowd. She went on to explain the urgency of environmental and climate justice: “Our current fossil fuel energy system has long represented a form of hidden violence against brown and black communities. Historically, people of color have been disproportionately impacted by air and water pollution.”

The message of the rally was looking to the future with optimism, describing Arlington’s Community Energy Plan as a big step in the right direction. “With the clean energy revolution we’re at a tipping point between old style fossil fuels and clean energy technologies” Morris Meyer, an energy software engineer and Chief Technology Officer of the non-profit Virginia Clean Energy, said, citing the opportunities presented by rapidly advancing energy technology. “The business is just waiting to come to Virginia”.

“You Arlingtonians deserve to celebrate today! You deserve to party!” said David Kepley, Presbyterian Deacon and Board Member of Faith Alliance for Climate Solutions. He noted that the County’s commitment is opening the door for further progress in the state, urging his home Fairfax County to follow Arlington’s lead. Kepley went on to acknowledge that though the crowd was celebrating the innovating Community Energy Plan, the work is far from done. “Let me quote Winston Churchill to you, who having heard the good news of the Allies’ successful invasion of North Africa said: “This is not the beginning of the end or even the beginning of the beginning of the end, but it is the end of the beginning.” 

Photos from the event can be found here.