Virginia Joins the 21st Century Energy Economy with its Energy Plan

In releasing his Energy Plan, Governor McAuliffe brought Virginia one step closer to joining the 21st century energy economy, or as the Governor calls it, the “New Virginia Economy”: the Plan will not only bring lasting prosperity to the Commonwealth, but will also take Virginia’s greatest step toward addressing climate change through the federal Clean Power Plan.

The Energy Plan departs the last century by placing greatest emphasis on expanding energy efficiency and renewable energy resources as the best long-term bet for lower energy prices and more durable economic prosperity.

Better yet, the Plan’s main priorities will kill two birds with one stone: in addition to reviving a flagging economy, efficiency and renewables are also Virginia’s best bet for meeting the federal Clean Power Plan to address climate change and protect public health, by limiting carbon pollution from power plants, our nation’s largest – and currently unlimited – source of climate change. These plants currently spew unchecked tons of carbon pollution into our air, despite the fact that we’ve already tackled mercury, arsenic, acid rain, and many other toxic results of burning dirty fossil fuels.

The Governor is right, then, to set the Commonwealth on a path to shed its fusty (and outdated) image as an antiquated coal state, and instead seize the opportunity of a New Virginia Economy based on the lower cost energy supplies of the 21st century.

Businesses in Virginia are ready to seize this opportunity as well: a poll last week of Virginia business owners showed that most believe the Governor should do more to make Virginia a competitor in the clean energy economy.

This good business sense of Virginia business owners is, not surprisingly, reflected in the Energy Plan’s assessments of the state economic benefits of meeting the pollution-reduction targets of the federal Clean Power Plan. The Energy Plan’s analyses show that the benefits of the Clean Power Plan in Virginia will far outweigh any costs, by lowering electricity bills, by eliminating the costly need for huge new power plants, by creating jobs, by improving health, and by reducing the massive risk of coastal destruction from already-occurring sea-level rise.

In addition to recognizing the economic benefits of meeting the Clean Power Plan, the Governor’s Energy Plan appropriately highlights the central means of doing so: by finally catching up with much of the nation in capturing energy efficiency as a valuable resource. The Governor rightly touts efficiency as the “cleanest and cheapest energy,” which will “diminish the need for new power plants.” As the Energy Plan points out, these no-brainer actions to increase the state’s productivity would add $296 million to Virginia’s GDP and increase employment by over 38,000 jobs by 2030. This is what happens in a modern, efficient “New Virginia Economy.”

By simply meeting, two years ahead of schedule as the Governor plans to do, Virginia’s already-on-the-books, commonsense energy efficiency goal of reducing unnecessary energy use by just 10%, the state would be well on its way to achieving its carbon pollution reduction target under the Clean Power Plan. Meeting that target has already been deemed achievable by the State Corporation Commission, and there is certainly plenty of low hanging fruit for the Governor’s Board on Energy Efficiency to reap: Dominion’s energy efficiency savings recently ranked dead last in the country among stockholder owned utilities.

Just as Dominion leaves many of their customers’ twenty dollar bills lying on the sidewalk in their barely-scratching-the-surface energy efficiency efforts, Dominion is similarly lackluster in renewable energy investment inside the Commonwealth.

Unlike Dominion, however, Governor McAuliffe instead gives renewable energy the single most prominent role in his Energy Plan. And how right he is to do so: not only would Virginia finally begin to catch up with neighbors West Virginia, North Carolina, and Maryland in the 21st century clean energy economy, meeting the state’s renewable energy goal, along with meeting its energy efficiency goal, would be enough to blow right past the state’s carbon pollution reduction target in the Clean Power Plan.

Bravo, Governor McAuliffe: your prescient vision of a New Virginia Economy is predicated on the cheapest, safest, and most plentiful resources available to the Commonwealth – energy efficiency and renewable energy.