In Virginia, renewable energy already employs more workers than coal

In Virginia, renewable energy already employs more workers than coal.[1,2] Virginia has one of the nation's fastest-growing renewable energy economies. Clean energy jobs increased at a rate of more than 8 percent a year, even during the recession. Energy efficiency and renewable energy alone account for more than 11,000 jobs.[3]

Shifting to clean energy would also save money on health care costs (Virginia's air is the 12th dirtiest in the nation, and 40 percent of its pollution comes from power plants),[4] and keep the $600 million spent on importing coal in the state.[5].

According to a 2010 Duke University report, the state could meet much of its energy needs using economically available wind and solar power alone.[6] In 2009, Virginia passed a voluntary renewable portfolio standard (RPS) law that incentivized investor-owned utilities to meet renewable energy targets of 7 percent by 2016, 12 percent by 2022, and 15 percent by 2025. Utilities that can meet or exceed the incremental RPS goals will be eligible to receive a higher rate of return for their investments.[7]

Wind Energy

Developing Virginia's offshore wind resources would create roughly 10,000 jobs

In 2012 alone, 155 megawatts of onshore wind power came online in Virginia, enough to power 45,000 households.

The Virginia Beach coastline offers substantial opportunities for both pollution-free wind power and jobs. In fact, wind farms 12 nautical miles offshore could produce 3,200 megawatts of electricity -- enough to generate 10 percent of the state's annual consumption, according to the Virginia Coast Energy Research Consortium. Developing this resource would create between 9,700 and 11,600 "career-length jobs."

A coalition called Virginia for Offshore Wind (VOW) says that near-term capacity is greater than 3,000 megawatts (MW), or enough to power 800,000 homes.[8]

Solar Energy

The state offers few incentives for solar installation, and its voluntary renewable portfolio standards haven't done much to encourage growth. However, in 2012 alone, 5 megawatts of solar power are expected to come online in Virginia.

The solar array atop the Woodbridge IKEA furniture store supplies the store with enough electricity to power 55 homes. Each year, the array prevents 86 cars-worth of pollution from entering Virginia's air.

In 2011, Washington and Lee University of Lexington, VA, completed two major solar arrays adding up to 444 kilowatts of capacity -- enough to power more than 40 homes. "The overall performance of the arrays has met our expectations," said Scott Beebe, director of energy initiatives at Washington and Lee. "The system runs each day without any special attention on our part. I have been very pleased with the performance."[9]

Biomass Energy and Cellulosic Ethanol

Over the past two years emerging scientific evidence has discredited bioenergy from forests as a clean, renewable fuel. Burning whole trees to produce electricity actually increases greenhouse gas pollution for decades compared with coal and other fossil fuels. Rather than burning whole trees, electricity from biomass should be fueled predominantly by sustainably sourced short-rotation crops, wood waste and reclaimed wood, and limited amounts of timber harvest residues (tops and branches) -- all of which do not significantly increase carbon emissions or accelerate demand for forest biomass.

Richmond-based Dominion has outpaced its competitors in developing biomass energy projects. The company is currently burning biomass in its 84MW plant in Pittsylvania, Virginia -- one of the largest biomass power stations on the East Coast. In 2011, Dominion also announced plans to convert three existing coal-fired power stations into biomass-burning facilities. Slated to come online in the second and third quarters of 2013, these projects in Altavista, Hopewell, and Southampton County will each generate roughly 51 megawatts of electricity.

At the same time, Dominion also plans to co-fire up to 115MW of biomass at the 585-megawatt Virginia City Hybrid Energy Center and plans 900MW of coal retirements coming soon that could include conversions or need for more biomass. The company is now poised to generate approximately 350MW of electricity from burning biomass with potential for more in the future.[10]

Unfortunately, Dominion has no policies in place to ensure that its current sourcing of logging residuals (tops and limbs) is not making already bad logging practices even worse and cannot provide any assurances that they will not burn whole trees in the future. There is significant concern that Dominion's biomass-fueled operations will not only increase carbon dioxide emissions and air pollution, but also degrade forests and water resources in the Southeast.

Switchgrass, a drought-tolerant grass with major potential as a source for advanced biofuels, is native to Virginia. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) estimates that devoting Conservation Reserve Program lands to sustainably managed switchgrass, poplar, and willow cultivation could yield more than 500,000 dry tons of energy crops.[11] Virginia Tech researchers estimate that a local biofuels industry could support 68 small biorefineries in the state, and create 10,500 jobs.[12]

Learn More

The Database of State Incentives for Renewable Energy & Efficiency lists federal, state, local government and utility incentives for renewable energy projects in Virginia.


  1. [1] The tally of renewable energy jobs exclude hydropower, biomass and waste-to-energy job categories, which NRDC does not agree with the defining characteristics of environmental sustainability in this data source.
  2. [2] "Count on Coal" advocacy factsheet:
  3. [3]
  4. [4] NRDC (2012) Toxic Power: How Power Plants Contaminate Our Air and States,
  5. [5] Union of Concerned Scientists (2010) Burning Coal, Burning Cash, Ranking the States that Import the Most Coal,
  6. [6] Brown, M., et al (2010) Renewable Energy in the South, Duke University: Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions,
  7. [7] DSIRE (2012) Virginia Incentives/Policies for Renewable Energy. Accessed November 2012,
  8. [8] Virginia Offshore Wind Coalition,
  9. [9] Hanna, J. (Aug 15, 2012) W&L's Solar-Energy System Meets Targeted Capacities. Blog accessed November 2012,
  10. [10]
  11. [11]
  12. [12]
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