Sunday, February 23, 2020
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“We’re Rural, Not Stupid” Part 1

Today I begin a series of posts to Blue Virginia sharing letters from Nelsonians which outline their concerns, frustrations and determination to stop the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.  We hope from these letters, BV readers, our local, state and federal officials will begin to acknowledge and understand the validity of the arguments being made by residents of rural Nelson County. Our elected officials would allow a for-profit, privately held company, in this case Dominion Power, to encroach upon our lands and our way of life.  Nelsonians may live in a rural area, but are not stupid.  They are well-informed, knowledgeable and will not stop their efforts to shine a light on the issues that affect them.  Governor McAuliffe can hide in a restaurant rather than speak to protesters, some officials can vote against the best interests of their constituents, but Nelsonians are united in their fight.

The letter below is from Susan McSwain, who worked for Nelson County for many years as our recycling guru.  Under her leadership our recycling program was built and operates today.  She describes herself as "A dismayed, lifelong Democrat who owns 500 acres of forest and pasture, who leases land to a hunt club (Mr. Warner professes to enjoy hunting), who has worked all my life to save this planet for future generations.  NO PIPELINE!!!    NO FRACKING!!!"  Susan's letter begins with an email she sent to me regarding my resignation as chair of the Nelson Democratic Committee and continues with a letter she sent to Max at Senator Warner's campaign office in Charlottesville.  

An End to Clean Energy in Virginia???

Today's news from the Washington Post that Dominion Virginia Power and Attorney General Cuccinelli have reached an agreement on Virginia's renewable energy law, if true, could mean a dagger through the heart for Virginia's clean energy industry.

Some within the environmental community will disagree with me, and they would probably tell you the law was so bad that it should be repealed and replaced with a new more effective clean energy standard.  I would agree if that were a possibility but, it is not.

Here are a couple of the realities which come to fruition if Virginia's voluntary RPS is repealed:

First, investments in clean, renewable energy are now subject to the strictest interpretation of the Virginia State Corporation Commission.  The commission has never approved a full clean energy proposal put forward by Dominion.  It has limited the size of the utility's energy efficiency and solar programs.

Cuccinelli’s Latest Enemy: Energy Conservation

It would be nice to find one issue -- just one! -- on which Ken Cuccinelli puts the public interest ahead of his own political ambitions and the interests of his corporate donors.  Well, let's just say -- the search continues.

Here's the latest: Dominion Virginia Power, starting to get the message that it's time to clean up its act, even a little, has proposed a series of energy conservation programs that, according to the Richmond Times Dispatch "could save energy equivalent to the output of a midsize power plant." Not having to build another power plant would save everyone a lot of money -- money like the $1.8 billion Dominion is spending to build a coal-burning plant in Wise County -- and reduce the growth of emissions in the state.  

So who could be against this great idea?  You guessed it.  When Dominion spoke before the State Corporation Commission last week in favor of its energy conservation plan, Cuccinelli's office sent a paid consultant to testify against it:

Scott Norwood, an energy consultant to the state attorney general's office, testified before the commission that "there will be little or no customer benefits from proposed (demand-side management) programs over the next 15 years."

"Moreover, there is significant uncertainty in Dominion's (demand-side management) program cost estimates," Norwood said, "and the program savings estimates are similarly uncertain and overstated," not accounting for recent decreases in natural gas costs and assuming future regulations on carbon emissions.

Solar Energy Industry Slams Dominion Power for “Punitive,” “Ludicrous,” “Unlawful” Actions

It appears that the good folks at Dominion "Global Warming Starts Here" Power have really stepped in it this time. Earlier today, I was on a conference call  with the Maryland-DC-Virginia Solar Energy Industry Association (MDV-SEIA), at which several speakers from the solar and renewable energy industries slammed Dominion for its "punitive," "unlawful," "ludicrous" actions. The full press release put out by MDV-SEIA is below the "fold," but here are a few key points made in the release and/or the conference call.

*According to MDV-SEIA Director Frances Hodsoll, "Dominion's proposed charges [on solar arrays installed at a home or business] are excessive and potentially unlawful on its customers who install solar systems."
*Hodsoll adds that the charges also are "punitive to those customers who own clean renewable solar systems, actually harm all Virginians, and are the result of a misguided policy."
*Hodsoll points out that "Dominion's calculations fail to give due and equal consideration to the fact that solar power reduces operating costs and future infrastructure needs."
*According to Hodsoll, "Dominion's charges will severely dampen solar energy growth in Virginia -discouraging these clean sources of electricity and unnecessarily impeding the local job creation."
*Bottom line, according to Hodsoll: these charges are "not justified," "punitive," "discriminat[ory] against people who put solar on their rooftops," set a terrible precedent for Virginia as well as for other states, and are possibly "unlawful." Other than that, they're just peachy! :)

P.S. I'd be very curious to hear what Dominion's substantive (aka, not-Herman-Cain-like) response to all this might be.

Dominion Virginia Power Does Something Good for a Change?!?

As you all probably know, we haven't exactly been big fans of Dominion Virginia Power here at Blue Virginia, or back on Raising Kaine/RK for that matter. In fact, we even designed a bumper sticker that reads, "Dominion: Global Warming Starts Here." So, I hope you're all sitting down as I say something good - actually two things - about Dominion! :)

First, I received an email yesterday from my friends at CCAN (Chesapeake Climate Action Network) entitled, "Dominion Virginia Power Announces Offshore Wind Transmission Study; Offshore Wind Advocates Applaud, Push for More." The full email is on the "flip," but the key point is that "Virginia's environmental groups applaud Dominion's decision to study development of an offshore wind transmission line connected to Virginia Beach." They also "encourage Dominion to swiftly move forward and develop offshore wind energy for Virginia." I completely agree, and strongly urge Dominion to follow through on this, as rapidly as possible!

Second, a bit earlier this morning, I received a press release (also see on the "flip") from Dominion Power that I thought for sure was an April Fool's joke! The title is "Dominion Virginia Power Plans to Convert Three Coal-Fired Stations to Renewable Biomass." After I realized it wasn't an April Fool's joke, visions of Dominion shutting down the Wise County coal-fired power plant started dancing through my head. But no, it couldn't be THAT good. Still, it's encouraging to see that Dominion "is planning to convert three Virginia power stations from using coal to biomass, a renewable energy source."  I'm also very happy to hear that these conversions will produce upwards of "150 megawatts of renewable energy" (relatively small, but it's an improvement), and also will "provide environmental and customer benefits and generate up to $350 million for their local economies over the next 30 years." So, with that - and also with the cavegat that we've got to see follow through, and that there's a HUGE amount more that needs to be done to clean up Dominion's act - here are some words I hope I can repeat more often here at Blue Virginia: good job, Dominion Power!

Possibility of Wind Farm to Ruin Christmas

The concerns of nearby residents are one of many things that need to be considered when deciding where to put a wind farm. But fears in Virginia's Tazewell County seem to be getting a little ... well, exaggerated. Here's a recent column from the local paper:
While Christmas stories fill the season with hope and love, there is always a story about the Grinch who stole Christmas. With Dominion Resources recent announcement that it is acquiring 100 percent ownership of a 2,600-acre tract of land on East River Mountain for the purpose of developing the proposed Bluestone River Wind Farm, the Grinch is back — at least in the opinion of area people who oppose the windmills for many reasons.
Yeah, you remember the Grinch? And that Dr. Seuss story about how he tried to build a $200 million project in Whoville that would deliver $10 million in local tax revenue & $10 million in related development? THE NERVE.

"Many reasons" looks more like reason being supplanted by the fear of something new. Residents say they worry about property value, but even the National Association of Realtors says wind farm impact on property values is minimal (if existent at all). Residents express concern about unsightliness, but take a look at how the windmills would look in these Dominion projections:

How Few Jobs Will Wise County Coal Plant Create?

Dominion Virginia Power is spending $1.8 billion dollars worth of your electric bills to build a dirty coal-fired power plant in Wise County. How many jobs will that investment of our money deliver? Shockingly few, according to the Virginia Mining Association (PDF):
At the end of July, there were about 1,800 men and women employed in the construction of the 585-megawatt power station. The work force included about 600 people from the local area, accounting for 33.4 percent of total employment. The local area is defined as being within a 50-mile radius of the town of St. Paul, with Wise, Russell and Scott counties accounted for the majority of the local hires. Additionally, the staff that will operate the power station is being formed and trained. After Oct. 4 operations employment will stand at 34 with half of those hires coming from the local area.
Well hey, that's only $106 million of our money per permanent job for local residents. What a bargain!

Meanwhile, a Virginia State Corporation Commission analyst has testified (PDF) that, because the higher rates needed to pay for it, the plant will cost Virginia 1,474 jobs.

Now, apologists for this terrible deal will say, "But they need every job they can get in Wise County!" By that rationale, why bother actually building this polluting plant? As the Chesapeake Climate Action Network has pointed out, we could pay 75 Wise County residents $100,000 per year and give the county $6 million a year for the next 133 years with the $1.8 billion it will take to build the plant. And in that scenario, we wouldn't have to deal with the 5.4 million tons of carbon dioxide, thousands of tons of other air pollutants & dozens of pounds of mercury the plant will release.

All in all, a terrible deal for Virginia's economy & environment.