Governor McAuliffe's best shot at delivering the economic growth of a clean energy economy in Virginia, while also honoring his commitment to get serious about climate change, begins in earnest this week.
The Department of Environmental Quality, charged with drafting McAuliffe's State Plan for Virginia to implement the carbon pollution goals under the federal Clean Power Plan, will convene its first stakeholder meeting in Richmond.
Since the governor has committed to doing something serious and substantive about the climate change that will, among other effects, soon swallow Tangier Island, he will have some basic threshold questions to address early on: will his State Plan be one that results in increased pollution from new natural gas plants? Or will McAuliffe's State Plan instead be a serious effort to curb pollution and grow clean energy and efficiency?
The facts are on McAuliffe's side to get serious on climate by halting carbon pollution's growth, while also delivering great economic benefit to the Commonwealth: all serious analysis shows that McAuliffe can write a "mass-based" State Plan that halts the unlimited growth of carbon pollution, simply by meeting the state's already-existing goals to grow clean energy and increase energy efficiency. Doing so is the best shot for McAuliffe to deliver new energy jobs and lower Virginia's energy bills during his single term as governor.
The best way for him to do this is through a "mass-based" plan that sets an overall limit on the growth of carbon pollution from both existing and future power plants, thus addressing the pollutuion of carbon-intensive new gas plants that have not yet been built. Such a plan is easily achievable: the EPA's own robust modeling shows that, due to an already-underway shift away from the oldest and dirtiest coal plants, Virginia will likely meet and beat these "mass-based" targets under business-as-usual changes.
Additionally, Virginia will very likely be, due to the ease with which it can meet and beat its carbon pollution targets, a net seller of the carbon allowances that are issued under a "mass-based" plan (the same type of plan which succesfully eliminated the scourge of acid rain). With the right design by McAuliffe and his team, that allowance value can be recovered for efficiency and other consumer benefits (rather than as windfall profits for generators).
However, polluters may argue for a State Plan that relies on new, higher-cost natural gas plants. Such a State Plan would be a very expensive way to do nothing about climate change: carbon pollution could grow in unlimited amounts, while also forgoing the single cheapest energy option for reducing carbon pollution, meeting demand growth, and lowering energy bills: energy efficiency.
Virginia hasn't done much in energy efficiency thus far, with the state or its utilities ranking at or near the bottom of nearly every analysis. And this energy inefficiency has glaring results: Virginia's statewide residential electric bills are the ninth highest in the nation.
So, the question is: will Governor McAuliffe stand up to polluters who want to profit from the unlimited building of higher-cost, higher-polluting natural gas plants? He can and should because he won't want to leave a massive economic growth opportunity on the table, while also forgoing his commitment to go big on addressing climate change.
Knowing that this is a Governor who is serious about climate change and is committed to growing and diversifying a clean and modern state economy, my money is on the governor writing a State Plan that is clean, not dirty, and that delivers the most economic bang for the buck by prioritizing energy efficiency, instead of building out expensive, unnecessary, and carbon-polluting new natural gas plants.
So kick it off, Governor, and let's keep it clean!