McAuliffe: it's Virginia's "Time to Lead" in the Clean Energy Economy

Governor Terry McAuliffe charted a clear economic course for Virginia using his strongest language yet, when he formally unveiled his State Energy Plan, acknowledging that Virginia has some catching up to do with its neighbors in creating clean energy jobs and in lowering energy bills. McAuliffe declared that in the clean energy economy, Virginia “has been following, and now it’s time to lead.”

McAuliffe clearly recognizes that not only will a clean energy economy in Virginia 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. 

And the Governor is right that Virginia has some catching up to do: not only are WV, MD, and NC far outpacing Virginia in renewable energy generation, in the single most economically-productive clean energy resource – energy efficiency – Virginia is dead last among states of the Southeast, including Alabama!

As McAuliffe stated, this lack of foresight in our energy sector affects the state’s competitiveness: solar companies, which employ more people across the country than do the mines of an antiquated fossil fuels industry, should never have to move out of Virginia just because states next door and further south are more welcoming.

Because make no mistake, Virginia currently is losing to its neighbors: wind energy, despite beating out natural gas last year as the largest share of new electric generation, makes up exactly 0% of Virginia’s energy mix, while even our coal-state neighbor West Virginia produces the most wind energy in the entire South. And while Virginia has a mere 15 MW of energy derived from solar, Georgia will add 700 MW of solar next year alone, while North Carolina has already installed 650 MW. 

The grim news in clean energy doesn’t stop there: while Dominion was ranked dead last for energy efficiency savings last year, Maryland is number nine in the country and on track to blow past their 15% energy consumption reduction goal, pumping those saved dollars right back into its own economy rather than sending them across state lines.

So McAuliffe is right to see the clean energy economy as a basic competitiveness issue, with stark consequences for Virginia’s economy, which McAuliffe rightly called the “economy of the past.”

As McAuliffe looks to the future, he should also recognize that the state’s Energy Plan also serves as the state’s Clean Power Plan, the U.S. EPA’s proposal to reduce catastrophic carbon pollution from its largest source: power plants. If the two keystones of McAuliffe’s energy plan were achieved – renewable energy and energy efficiency – Virginia’s target under the Clean Power Plan would also be achieved.

Because Virginia’s target under the EPAs proposal is very easily within reach: not only will Virginia achieve well over half of its required reductions due to already-planned changes in the energy mix, meeting the state’s renewable and efficiency goals would take the state well past the rest of its reduction requirement.

Seen in that light, McAuliffe’s trademark bullishness is logical: creating a New Virginia Economy not only makes Virginia a leader once again in the region, it would help reestablish Virginia and the United States as a global leader, under the Clean Power Plan.