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.
The 2020 Virginia Clean Economy Act required the state’s utilities to move aggressively into the renewable energy arena. Virginia Business reports that “Virginia’s largest electric utilities [Dominion Energy and Appalachian Power] are deploying an array of technologies as they decarbonize, digitalize and decentralize their power grids to meet the state’s and their own clean energy goals.” An SCC hearing examiner will issue a decision on Appalachian Power’s proposals “pretty quickly.” The projected costs of the utilities’ plans are raising concerns.
Dominion’s offshore wind project is maing news:
- Dominion has been successful in keeping cost data secret.
- The Attorney General isn’t convinced the benefits from the wind project justify the costs.
- The SCC is not convinced that the project’s benefits outweigh the projected costs.
- A group of community colleges in Southwest Virginia are collaborating to train workers for wind industry jobs.
- Tidewater schools are providing needed welding and other expertise through their trades programs.
- “The Xodus Group presented its research …, commissioned by InvestSWVA to support Project Veer, … [showing] the area offered multiple advantages for companies seeking to become involved in offshore wind energy projects. Project Veer is an economic development effort designed to explore entry points for the region’s manufacturers into the offshore wind supply chain.”
- A blogger says “Keep an eye on costs but Virginia needs offshore wind.”
In 2021 Virginia produced more power from solar than from coal and “was number four in the country … in installation of solar facilities.” “Virginia solar output more than double[d] in one year,” a lot of it in Southside and most of it in utility scale facilities. Dominion will build a solar facility on 800+ acres at Dulles airport. Dominion is moving forward with its plan for a solar facility in Mecklenburg County and in Lunenburg County. Dominion wants to charge a hefty fee for shared solar, raising questions about whether such a fee would spell the end of this program, intended to help renters and low- and moderate income people to access solar energy.
Norfolk Solar is offering a program to offer churches in low- or moderate income areas the opportunity to install solar panels under an investor‑funded program offering repayment from saved energy costs. An Arlington County “church [is] ‘leading by example’ on climate action through solar [and] efficiency.” Tiger Solar installed solar panels on McDonough Toyota in Staunton. Carilion announced “the solar arrays at its … New River Valley Medical Center have generated $113,633 from the sales of solar renewable energy credits and reduced Carilion’s carbon dioxide emissions by 5,368 metric tons.” “807 utility-scale, commercial rooftop, community solar and solar storage projects have been stuck in a growing regulatory traffic jam,” [awaiting] PJM Interconnection.” PJM ”coordinates electricity transmission in 13 states [including Virginia] and the District of Columbia, [and needs] to complete the required studies that would move the projects forward.” Other solar project applications, approvals and rejections: Gloucester, Isle of Wight; Surry County; Scottsburg/Halifax County; Charlotte County; Nottoway County; Frederick and Pittsylvania Counties.
“Dominion [E]nergy promise[d] $17 Million over the next three years to help boost reliability in Alexandria. The money will fund 20 improvement projects….” Dominion agreed to study whether/how its costly Wise coal plant, which isn’t producing much electricity, should continue in operation.
The Allegheny-Blue Ridge Alliance produced a chronicle of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. Litigation continues on the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP). The 4th Circuit Appeals Court “left in place a Jan. 25 decision that invalidated federal authorizations allowing the 304-mile … Mountain Valley Pipeline to cross the Jefferson National Forest.”MVP’s owners won’t appeal an adverse ruling on its proposed Southgate Extension. Columbia Gas is seeking the okay to replace 48 miles of existing pipes in Hampton. “Virginia Natural Gas (VNG) is working with state and local governments to modernize its pipeline infrastructure and promote safe digging [b]y upgrading and replacing more than 400 miles of older pipes.” Two bloggers assessed how the Virginia Natural Gas Industry sees its future, based on new state laws.
“Dulles Airport eyes [an] all electric bus fleet.” Campbell County is “rolling out” two new electric school buses;” Waynesboro is adding six. “Virginia will receive $165.8 million in funding under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act to provide Virginians with more transportation options, ease congestion in local communities, and reduce carbon pollution.”
Climate and Environment
Bristol’s landfill problems may be on the way to resolution:
- The Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) convened a panel of experts to assess the situation. It published a “Final Report on [the] Bristol Landfill Recommendations.” It wants Bristol to close the landfill.
- Virginia Interfaith Power and Light called for closure of the landfill following a tour.
- The city selected a consultant to “carry out a comprehensive integrated solid waste facility management agreement and provide professional engineering services.”
DEQ released the 2020 TOXIC RELEASE INVENTORY REPORT showing a “slight overall increase, but individual releases to land and air continue downward trend.” Waynesboro will remake a former landfill into a “public recreational greenspace.” Some residents believe there are better uses for the money. Non-profit Sustainability Matters partnered with Shenandoah County to launch Phase II of their Making Trash Bloom project.
The Virginia Department of Energy is seeking applications for former coal mine reclamation. Waste operators will be paying higher landfill fees, based on new legislation. Falls Church’s 5₵ plastic bag tax took effect April 1.
“Lynnhaven River Now … is using recycled concrete from all over the city to lay in the Lynnhaven Inlet near the Lesner Bridge in order to rehab the oyster population. Recent legislation provided a “boost [in] spending for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Chesapeake Bay Program Office in Annapolis to $88 million this year.
“Legislation aimed at increasing tree canopies across Virginia passed both chambers of the General Assembly (GA) after legislators compromised on removing language around equity.” Senators Kaine and Warner are “leading an effort to create a Shenandoah Mountain National scenic Area.” A federal district court challenge to the National Forest Service Trump-era regulations expanding “a categorical exclusion to forest management activities including logging in national forests” failed but is on appeal. The Biden administration’s currently proposed regulatory revisions to the same regulations do not “restore the bar” in effect prior to the 2020 changes. The “broad coalition of Appalachian environmental groups, including four Virginia organizations … [that] sued the agency … [believe] the 2020 exclusions would ‘cause significant harm to publicly owned national forests across the country and to members of the public who use those lands.’”
The 2022 GA’s legislative record was mixed in terms of environmental protections. Shellfish growers in the state considered the session successful because no harm was done to the industry.
Charlottesville has made headway on its plan to reduce carbon emissions and is seeking citizen input through two surveys. The UVA Environmental Resilience Institute reported its optimism that the state can meet its net-zero carbon emissions goal by 2050, though more cuts are needed. The American West’s megadrought will be felt in Virginia’s grocery stores, as food prices increase, according to this blogger.
The Virginia Foundation for Independent Colleges’ heat-mapping study found “major temperature swings within Virginia localities.” DEQ will be monitoring air pollution from coal facilities in Hampton Roads. In contrast to Maryland and North Carolina, Virginia missed an EPA deadline for submitting its air quality report. Even so, the American Lung Association said “Virginia cities have some of the cleanest air in the country”—including Harrisonburg, Roanoke, Staunton and Richmond.
Flooding events throughout Virginia will continue and, according to climate advocates, “there is not nearly enough funding from the state to support current flood survivors and invest in mitigation project.”
“Eastern Mennonite University’s Earthkeepers club and Sustainable Food Initiative (SFI) presented at the first annual Student Sustainability Summit on April 9 at the Staunton Innovation Hub. … [T]he event, which included 10 research and project presentations, … was co-hosted by Sustainable Shenandoah Valley (SSV) and Net Impact, with the goal of bringing together networks of undergraduate students and community organizations who work in similar areas of impact relating to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.” JMU students celebrated Earth Week with a variety of events, and a JMU student made a case that “Climate change is affecting Harrisonburg.”
- Donate to the Shenandoah Valley Black Heritage Project’s Energy Efficiency and Solar Effort. CAAV supports helping SVBHP reduce its energy costs; we hope you will too.
- Give VDOT your views on its proposed project that “widens I-81 northbound and southbound to three lanes between exit 221 (I-64 interchange) and exit 225 (Route 262/Woodrow Wilson Parkway).” VDOT will hold an open forum public hearing from 4 to 7 p.m. on Tuesday, May 24, in the VDOT Staunton District office auditorium, 811 Commerce Road, Staunton.
- Drive an EV, a hybrid, or other fuel-efficient vehicle and don’t pile up the miles? You now pay a flat highway use fee, regardless of how many miles you drive it. Effective July 1, you’ll have the option to choose another payment method. Find out how.
- Cville100 Climate Coalition Special Meeting: “Virginia’s Proposal to Leave the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI).” Speaker: Prof. Cale Jaffe, Univ. VA School of Law, 6:30 P.M. Tuesday, May 10, 2022. Zoom link at www.cville100-climate.org. For more information, contact Tom Olivier.
- Shenandoah Valley blogpost about the American chestnut.
- Profile of Dante, Virginia, “an ex-coalmining town [that] is turning to ecotourism to rebuild its economy.”
- Assessments of the extent to which rural Virginia areas can “and should shoulder the load for energy production” and whether “Virginia is at a solar crossroad.”
- Virginia Department of Forestry’s 50% cost-share program to support treatment of ash trees damaged by the Emerald Ash Borer. It’s accepting applications through June 17. “Landowners with ash trees on their property should consider treatment or removal performed by a qualified arborist. If you are not sure if your tree is an ash, see VDOF’s online resources or contact your local VDOF forester for assistance.”
Why not …
- Attend these on-line workshops on invasive plants sponsored by Blue PRISM:
- On May 10 from 1 to 3 pm learn how to confidently identify different species in the summer season. Register here. Price is $10.
- On May 12 find out how to best manage invasive plants during the summer season and receive instruction on using manual & /or chemical control methods, the proper use of herbicides and ways to minimize it, and planning a work schedule with best timings for multiple plants. Register here. Price is $10. OR
- Attend this in-person session on May 22 at Charlottesville’s Pen Park from 12:30 to 3:30 pm. This event will cover the above topics including herbicide safety, using hand tools and power tools safely, and identification of specific invasive shrubs and vines. There will also be a short plant walk in the park. Register here. Price is $25.
- Learn how oyster reefs in the Virginia Coastal Reserve are helping the Chesapeake Bay eco-system.
- Find out how and why Virginia Tech is pursuing Bee Campus USA certification as part of its Climate Action Commitment.
- Watch this story about the “state of litter” in Virginia during this Earth Day month.
- Hike or mountain bike the Henry County’s now‑open trail along the Mayo River, near the not-yet-open 600+-acre Mayo River State Park.
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.