by A Siegel
For decades, people have been working on and considering how to get Virginia on the path toward a clean energy future. And, with plunging prices for clean energy paths (solar, wind, storage (batteries), efficiency (think LED lights), electric transportation, etc) with increasing climate impacts and understanding of climate risks along with increased business pressure for and actions to advance clean energy along with incoming full Democratic control of the Virginia government, the stage is more than set for moving from considerations and working on to making serious moves to achieve that prosperous, resilient, and secure clean energy future for the Commonwealth and all Virginians.
Looking back a decade, then-gubernatorial-candidate Terry McAuliffe developed a significant amount of material in his “Business Plan for Virginia.” The initial release was “Chapter 1: A Comprehensive Long-Term Plan for Virginia’s Energy Future.” Looking at this for the first time in over a decade, while the issues identified then (such as exaggeration of Virginia’s tidal/wave resource potential) remain, I am struck by how much resonates today.
For example, 2009 candidate McAuliffe (but sadly, not really Governor McAulifre 2014-2018) called for a serious renewable power standard (RPS) which, at that time, would have put the Commonwealth on the leading edge in the nation.
“Requiring power companies to generate 25% of their electricity from renewable energy sources by 2025.”
McAuliffe(‘s team) also saw a real potential for offshore wind, calling for serious work to position Virginia to secure economic gains (industry in Hampton Roads area) by seizing a leading position in this emerging renewable energy realm. Intriguingly, candidate McAuliffe suggested that a significant portion of Virginia’s energy needs could be met from offshore wind:
“By some estimates, anywhere from 20 percent to all of Virginia’s electricity demand could be met by off-shore wind projects because of the prevalence of Class 5 or greater winds that are found in waters less than 30 meters deep”
Reading through this rich document is painful when one considers where Virginia is now. Back in 2009, Candidate McAuliffe laid down two big challenges:
Sadly, when considering the past decade in the light of McAuliffe’s “challenges,” it has mainly been a lost decade as Virginia has fallen behind other states “leaping forward on developing renewable energy, investing in energy efficiency, combating climate change.” And no, the Commonwealth unfortunately did not “maximize opportunities [then] available to invest in a sustainable energy future.”
A decade later, McAuliffe’s challenge remains highly relevant. In fact, a decade later, the situation has changed significantly to both enable and to create an even greater imperative for Virginia to meet McAuliffe’s challenge:
- The climate crisis has worsened, with growing and disturbing impacts near daily, with a mounting imperative for serious, aggressive, rapid action to reduce emissions while improving resiliency against future climate change impacts.
- Advances in technology options and sharply lower renewable energy prices have made it both technically easier and much more clearly economically beneficial to move to clean energy options.
- Clean energy announcements and projects (such as major businesses wanting clean electrons, Dominion announcing major offshore wind and solar projects, local governments putting up solar projects) have created a momentum to build on for serious, aggressive, and rapid moves to a 100% clean Virginia economy (within the next 10-15 years).
- Democratic Party control, with strong voter support for clean energy action, removes the climate-science-denial Virginia GOP’s veto over serious climate action.
As we contemplate “how” to move Virginia forward, it is worth taking a moment to look back at past roadmaps toward a Virginia clean economy, while leveraging that work in creating our path forward. Terry McAuliffe’s Comprehensive Long-Term Plan for Virginia’s Energy Future isn’t a bad place to start.