Do Virginians care about where their energy comes from and are they concerned about dangerous pollution from power plants?
You bet: a survey released this week shows that Virginians overwhelmingly support limits on those emissions and also prefer more investment in energy efficiency and renewable resources like wind and solar - instead of fossil fuels -- to generate their electricity.
And with a huge majority (72 percent) viewing air pollution as a "serious problem," Virginians want action on the pollutants belching from their power plants.
And that includes taking action on the biggest cause of pollution that causes climate change: carbon. The poll of 500 demographically diverse Old Dominion residents shows a whopping 7 in 10 support the first-ever limits on dangerous power plant carbon pollution, as proposed in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Clean Power Plan. Just as importantly, almost half of Virginians polled agree that government enforcement of environmental laws is "not tough enough," while only 18 percent say the government is too harsh.
Electric power plants are the largest source of that dangerous carbon pollution driving climate change, the sea level rise in Hampton Roads, and related extreme weather like Hurricane Sandy. Virginia's power plants are part of this costly pollution problem: they released almost 25 million tons of carbon pollution in 2012 from burning dirty fossil fuels to keep the lights on and Virginians cool.
Thankfully, it will be easy to reduce that huge amount of emissions by deploying technologies that the poll shows are favored by most Virginians.
Virginians Want Cleaner Energy
The poll, conducted in Virginia and four other states last month on behalf of NRDC by Hart Research Associates and American Viewpoint, found that 66 percent of Virginians prefer more investment in smarter energy use and in renewable sources like wind and solar to power their homes and businesses, rather than in polluting resources like coal, oil and natural gas.
Specifically, 72 percent of those polled said it's "extremely important" to expand programs encouraging energy efficiency, such as adding insulation or optimizing the energy use of appliances, measures that not only reduce carbon pollution from power plants, but which also put dollars into our pockets rather than into our utility bills. When it comes to renewable energy like wind and solar, 61 percent of the respondents described such investments as "extremely important."
Virginia's resounding support for environmental action stems from the firm belief that climate change is here and jeopardizing life as we know it. Just last week, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) declared 2014 the hottest year on earth since human record-keeping began. Nearly 90 percent of Virginia residents polled believe climate change is taking place, and only 8 percent of the Virginians surveyed said they believe climate change doesn't exist.
Virginians are seeing the negative impacts of climate change, too - for example, Norfolk, Virginia's second largest city, already reroutes traffic due to sea level rise, and the Navy had to pay $60 million to rebuild piers for higher seas. And that's just a small fraction of the estimated $1 billion cost for Norfolk to fully adapt to sea level rise, or the cost of replacing the homes of over 35,000 families that may be uninhabitable by the end of the century. Virginians are already seeing health costs as well: Lyme disease cases doubled between 2006 and 2007 alone, due to rising temperatures that have increased the tick habitat in the state.
Given these direct impacts, it's not surprising that Virginians of all stripes support clean energy and reducing carbon pollution.
Clean energy is not a liberal issue, but a Virginia issue
Despite the popular notion that clean energy and climate change are "liberal" or only "Democratic" interests, the new survey shows Virginia is concerned across the political spectrum, with 44 percent of those polled labeling themselves as "very" or "somewhat" conservative, while 24 percent said they were either "very" or "somewhat" liberal." There were 29 percent defining themselves as "middle of the road" and 3 percent said they weren't sure.
Meanwhile, in his State of the Commonwealth Address last week, Governor Terry McAuliffe announced legislation to diversify the state's fuel mix through "increased utilization of zero-carbon emitting sources" like solar and wind, which he said will not only help create new jobs in Virginia, but will also help cut emissions as the state works to "mitigate the effects of global warming." In his words, "the energy sector in Virginia holds tremendous potential for economic growth and development, but this potential will be unfulfilled if we are complacent."
The Old Dominion Can Do It
Virginia is already 80 percent of the way toward meeting its climate pollution reduction target (which is to reduce pollution by 38 percent in 2030 from 2012 levels) under the EPA's proposed Clean Power Plan, and Governor McAuliffe's 2014 Virginia Energy Plan can get the state the rest of the way.
Meeting the EPA's proposed target is not just easily doable, it's economically essential. For example, the Old Dominion is poised to be the East Coast's leader in zero-carbon offshore wind power, with over 100,000 acres leased and over $50 million in funding secured, to eventually produce up to 2,000 megawatts of electricity.
In addition, a recent report showed that Virginia could cost-effectively reduce its emissions via energy efficiency by 23 percent by 2030, using currently available technology to optimize energy use.
Good for Business
In his Virginia Energy Plan, the governor clearly recognized that not only will a clean energy sector begin to avert the climate catastrophe already dulling the vibrant Hampton Roads economy, it will also usher in a new era of Virginia's competitiveness. Small business owners in Virginia get that as well.
This latest survey shows that the average Virginian is strongly behind these clean energy efforts.