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Statewide environmental news roundup – May 2021 (Part II)

A delicate “bluet” flower on Shenandoah Mountain. File photo by Randi B. Hagi.

A contributed perspectives piece by the Climate Action Alliance of the Valley (CAAV)

Editor’s Note: This is the latest installment of a regular series of contributed news roundups about statewide environmental and news. This piece highlights, with links to further coverage in various media outlets, recent environmental news stories of significance to Virginia, with a focus on energy and the environment.

Energy

A Virginia energy policy expert describes whether and how the state can reach carbon-free electricity by 2035, while pointing out that Dominion and ApCo ratepayers face so-called renewable energy choices that don’t actually provide them such energy. The State Corporation Commission recently approved renewable energy plans put forward by the two large utilities to implement requirements of the 2020 Virginia Clean Economy Act (VCEA). The SCC will evaluate future plans as to how well they carry out “the [VCEA’s] RPS and carbon dioxide reduction requirements.” An ApCo rate hike, if the SCC agrees, will mean customer bills will rise $22 on average. The federal Interagency “Working Group on Coal and Power Plant Communities” found southwest Virginia to be the fourth most coal‑dependent region in the U.S.

Solar installations on Virginia schools continue apace. Augusta County’s project is among those featured in this item. As part of a Green Business Alliance of Charlottesville area businesses, Tiger Fuel installed solar panels and also purchased Alt Energy, an area solar installer. Applications for utilityscale solar facilities in rural localities are having mixed success: Roanoke Valley (Smith Mountain Lake area), Campbell County, City of Chesapeake, and Central Appalachia. Bedford’s council approved installation of solar panels on the former “Bedford Middle School building, which is being converted into apartments.” Old Dominion Electric Cooperative is seeking proposals to develop 400MW of new solar to increase solar energy onto Virginia’s electric cooperatives’ grid. This blogger argues the recent hack of the Colonial Pipeline is one reason for more decentralized distributed (rooftop) solar. One example is community or shared solar. Dominion has an installation it owns and controls community solar. Another form is when a group of individuals cooperatively produce and share solar energy. The VCEA tasked Dominion with developing a prototype of the latter model. Dominion wants to assess a minimum $75 fee for shared solar; not everyone is in favor.

A new training program, part of Virginia’s plan to make the state a hub for offshore wind services, is off to a good start.

Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality established a new Environmental Justice Office to assist in decision making involving social justice considerations. DEQ is proposing a reduction in currently allowed “hazardous waste that’s incinerated in an open burning ground at the Radford Army Ammunition Plant.” Opponents of the Chickahominy Power Plant want DEQ to reopen the “air permit issued to Chickahominy Power in 2019 for a proposed natural gas plant in Charles City County” because of inadequacies in the environmental justice analysis. Virginia’s Air Pollution Control Board has other controversial permits to consider, including one related to the Mountain Valley Pipeline. North Carolina’s DEQ recently denied for a second time a water permit for MVP Southgate extension , which would run from Virginia into North Carolina. Two MVP protesters were arrested for trying to stop a truck carrying pipeline materials. Project delays are one result of litigation and protests.

Blacksburg Transit has its first five electric buses—part of a plan to convert its bus fleet over the next 10 years. Negotiations with CSX are underway as part of the planning for passenger service rail expansion into the New River Valley. Norfolk Southern Railway has reached agreement to provide such service under the “Western Rail Initiative.” Northern Virginia will see more rail service also.

A northern Virginia condo-owner association approved a member’s request to install Tesla chargers at his two basement parking spaces; Virginia law allowed the change but the condo board needed convincing—and educating. Electricity demand will grow as Virginia sees more data centers and Virginians buy more EVs.

Climate and Environment

This article describes regenerative agriculture efforts in southwest Virginia. Opponents of the state’s plan to establish a seabird sanctuary on Fort Wool argue that it lacks “a balance between cultural and natural resources.” Seagrasses off Virginia’s coast absorb carbon? They do more than that.

A state delegate introduced a bill “to break down barriers for farmers, ranchers, and foresters interested in participating in carbon markets.” On May 1 the state began levying a litter tax on “manufacturers, wholesalers, distributors, and/or retailers of groceries, soft drinks, carbonated water, beer and other malt beverages” with penalties for late payments.

An National Park Service environmental assessment done as part of a proposal to restore Shenandoah National Park’s Meadow Run watershed found there would be no significant impact from the two alternative actions. The US Forest Service has done prescribed burns in areas of the Jefferson and George Washington National Forests to open up the tree canopy and allow greater plant diversity—part of an Appalachian forest regeneration effort. The Alliance for the Shenandoah Valley recently named Professor Charles Ziegenfus its 2021 Valley Treasure for his longtime efforts to study and protect wild birds.

  • Tell Harrisonburg what its downtown area should look like in 2040. Solar at the Farmer’s Market, on top of parking lots? Electric vehicle (EV) chargers, rental ebikes/escooters, driverless cars? An all‑electric bus fleet? Use this map.
  • Check out Augusta County’s three farmers markets. One of them is Project GROWS, an effort to connect youth to food production.
  • Listen to this Nature Conservancy presentation on “Tackling Climate Change in the Southern U.S.” Experts offer tips on forests/woodlands, coastal adaptation, and coastal fisheries. You’ll learn how these all contribute positively to carbon reduction if managed and used wisely.
  • Listen to “A Sedimentary Journey” by forest expert Chris Bolgiano, a Rockingham County resident.
  • A long-time Appalachian Trail hiker shares his experiences in a new book for children.
  • The Jackson River Scenic Trail near Covington, a new Rails-to-Trails project, has a lot to offer bikers.
  • The Nature Conservancy has suggestions for “Virginia Vacation Getaways,” including Ivy Creek and the SNP.
  • The Climate Action Alliance of the Valley (CAAV) is a non-profit, grassroots group in the Central Shenandoah Valley that educates legislators and the public about the implications of the Earth’s worsening climate crisis.

The Climate Action Alliance of the Valley (CAAV) is a non-profit, grassroots group in the Central Shenandoah Valley that educates legislators and the public about the implications of the Earth’s worsening climate crisis.


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