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Statewide environmental news roundup – June 2021

A mountain clematis flower prepares to open this spring 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

Dominion has approval to continue operating the Surry nuclear plant for another 20 years. Google’s Loudoun County data center will be powered by carbon-free energy for 10 years. The EPA awarded Virginia’s DEQ $300,000 to convert “brownfields” into sites producing renewable energy. Southwest Virginia solar advocates are pleased at a new contract between Appalachian Power (ApCo) and several of its jurisdictional customers that will allow them to use Power Purchase Agreement arrangements to put solar on their schools and other facilities. Although solar energy installation slowed statewide in 2020, the industry is “on a roll” and was among the top five states for new solar capacity installed in the first quarter of this year.

Several local, state, and federal elected officials praised Powhatan County for its efforts to put solar on several of its schools. The superintendent noted expected savings, pointing out one school’s roof was replaced as part of the project. Officials highlighted the educational benefits and the schools’ lowered carbon footprint.

A Harrisonburg non-profit, Give Solar, has partnered with Central Valley Habitat for Humanity to install solar on Harrisonburg and Rockingham Habitat homes built starting late 2020 and continuing for 5 years. The two organizations hosted a “Solar Barnraising” on June 18. Give Solar is fundraising to establish a seed fund to eventually cover costs for future Habitat homes. The hope is to expand the project’s model to other Virginia Habitat affiliates.

ApCo customers can pay an extra $4.25/month so “all of their electricity would come from wind, water and sunlight.” But ApCo “currently gets about 80% of its electricity from power plants that burn coal and natural gas.” Because of ApCo’s offering, no other company can offer ApCo customers a real renewable energy choice. A blogger explained why “most ‘renewable energy’ options don’t add new wind and solar to the grid.” Virginia will be one of three states to decide the fate of ApCo’s West Virginia coal plants.

Energy efficiency provides “the most affordable electricity … you don’t use.” A small business owner cities a new report—“Pathways for Energy Efficiency in Virginia” — arguing Dominion should improve its current programs to boost homeowner and small business owner ability to benefit from energy savings.

A long‑planned Botetourt County wind farm continues to undergo changes in its size and scope. Off‑shore wind farms off Virginia’s coast demonstrate how challenging and complex achieving goals for this technology has been and will continue to be.

Despite 2021 legislation supporting (but not funding) conversion of the state’s school buses from diesel- to electric‑powered, advocates are seeking ways to make e-buses a reality. New River Valley localities now have rental e-bikes.

Nelson County will celebrate the Atlantic Coast Pipeline cancellation July 5. Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) protests resulted in arrests. An opinion writer disagrees with the assertion that the MVP is “critical to energy security,” citing its rising costs and long delays but omitting direct reference to the environmental damage it’s already caused.

Climate and Environment

Virginia’s climate change vulnerability points to the need for adaptation. How, how much, and when to adapt depend on the projected scenario. Land erosion and climate-change-related sea level rise are bringing contamination, flooding, and “farther‑reaching storm surges” beyond the coast into Virginia’s Historic Triangle.

Several Attorneys General urged the EPA to include “Forever chemicals”—“29 per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances” (PFAS) — in its monitoring and analysis processes. Sources of Virginia’s 2020 solid waste included 25% from outside the state. An extensive evaluation of US dams and their hazards identified 80 locations with the greatest susceptibility to contamination from dam failure. Emporia Virginia has a site—a former foundry—and an aging dam—113 years old. Virginia’s Department of Health awarded Harrisonburg’s Public Utilities and Water Treatment staff “the 2020 Silver Water Treatment Plant Performance Award for Excellence in Filtration and Backwash.”

Virginia and other Chesapeake Bay states have worked on Bay clean-up for years. Recently, the states’ governors asked for $1billion in federal funds to boost progress, given “a 2025 deadline for major pollution reductions.” Governor Northam committed to reducing polluted runoff to advance Chesapeake Bay restoration. A blogger described the role trees can play. Part of Bay pollution originates in the Shenandoah Valley; Virginia does not do an adequate job warning users of the Valley’s waterways about the contaminants they could encounter, say environmental groups. Cognizant of their county’s “impaired” waters, Loudoun Supervisors want to find out if requiring expanded buffers around some larger bodies could reduce the negative effects of the rapid development there.

Plants can suffer from pandemic diseases; Virginia Tech researchers are studying how and what can be done to prevent outbreaks.

Federal funds improve several outdoor recreation projects in Southwest Virginia. The non-profit Eastern Shore Entrepreneurship Center will “offer funding [and] services to innovative agribusinesses.” Virginia’s Department of Conservation and Recreation provided “$4.8 million in grant awards … [to] help conserve more than 6,100 acres.” The Virginia Land Grant Foundation announced its FY2022 $7,500,000 state funding grant round in five categories: farmland, forestland, and historic preservation, natural area protection, and open space/parks.

Air pollution is one consequence of transportation powered by fossil fuels. A “study estimates 485 Virginians died prematurely in 2016 as a result of transportation emissions.” A blogger bemoaned recent federal data showing atmospheric CO2 concentrations reached their highest levels since measurements began. Virginia Tech established a first‑of‑its‑kind School of Environmental Security – to help understand and manage the natural and other consequences of human activities.

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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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