Statewide environmental news roundup – August 2022

The Acorn Drive Solar Farm during construction earlier this summer. File photo.

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.

ACTION ALERT

Join CAAV at 9 am on Wednesday August 31st as we send a message, along with other environmental groups, to the Virginia Air Pollution Control Board: Virginia must continue to participate in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). RGGI uses proceeds from carbon polluters to fund flood resilience programs in the state and to provide energy efficiency improvements for low and middle income residents. Help us let the Board and the Governor know they don’t have the authority to withdraw Virginia from RGGI! We are rallying at Piedmont Regional Office of the Virginia DEQ in Harrisonburg (4411 Early Rd). August 31st. Be there to say you want the reduced air pollution that RGGI is making happen.

Energy

The 2021 National Solar Jobs Census showed an overall increase of 9% nationwide, with increases in 47 states. Virginia is not among the top 10 states, but did have job growth in this sector in the 10-15% range. A Staunton solar installer recently analyzed data from some of its customers to examine if and how solar benefits utilities and their non-solar customers. In its report, Secure Futures writes that “benefits to commercial solar customers center around the reduction in peak demand billed from the utility, while non-solar participants can theoretically save money due to reduced need for higher cost peaker-plant generation. The consistency and reliability of these demand reductions benefits all stakeholders.” The same installer is teaming with a retired Augusta County educator to update its “‘Throwing Solar Shade’ program. Using her perspective as a teacher to make valuable improvements to the program, she’s now updating the lesson plans and materials for teachers to use with their students.” “Highland Springs High School … [is] the first Henrico [County] school to go solar, with more schools to follow…. This summer, there are also plans to install rooftop solar systems at Tucker High School … and the two-story Holladay Elementary School addition in Richmond.” “12 schools in Wise and Lee counties will soon be powered through solar energy, and their students are learning the trade in the process.”

Some of Dominion Energy’s Virginia customers are going solar, maybe more and faster than the company expected, as ratepayers watch their electric bills to up and determine they can save money on those bills. So, among other actions, Dominion Energy:

“The SCC approved Appalachian Power’s renewable energy plan.” Under the Virginia Clean Economy Act, ApCo will need to produce all its energy from carbon-free sources by 2050. “Doing that will cost Appalachian $32 million in the upcoming rate year…. To cover the utility’s expenses, the commission allowed a rate increase that adds another $2.37 to the monthly bill of an average residential customer.” In an opinion piece, a Virginia energy expert says: “Your electric bills are skyrocketing. Blame our [utilities’] failure to invest in renewable energy [much sooner.”

The Virginia Supreme Court overruled another SCC decision on an ApCo rate increase request related to an accounting practice. “The SCC ruled that Appalachian failed to meet its burden of establishing that was reasonable — a decision that the commission lacked the regulatory discretion to make, the Supreme Court found.” “Electricity rates for Appalachian Power Company customers are poised to go up after the Supreme Court of Virginia reversed part of a decision by state regulators that was key to keeping the utility’s rates unchanged.”

The SCC approved Dominion Energy’s plan for its $9.8 Billion Offshore wind farm. The project, located 27 miles offshore from Virginia Beach, will be paid for through the SCC-approved rate increase. “The … utility has already erected two pilot turbines for its 2.6-gigawatt Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind (CVOW) project. Installation of the wind turbines is expected to begin in 2024…. With the approval of the wind farm, the SCC also approved a revenue requirement of $78.702 million for the rate year from Sept. 1, 2022, through Aug. 31, 2023, to be recovered through rate increases to Dominion’s customers. ‘Over the projected 35-year lifetime of the project, for a residential customer using 1,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity per month … [it] is projected to result in an average monthly bill increase of $4.72 and a peak monthly bill increase of $14.22 in 2027. The rate adjustment clause is effective for usage on and after Sept. 1.’” Virginia Conservation Network reported on next steps for the project. “Sweden‑headquartered construction company Skanska … signed a $223 million contract with the Virginia Port Authority for the redevelopment of the Portsmouth Marine Terminal, which will support the 2.6 GW Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind (CVOW) project.”

Fairfax County is exploring creation of a “green bank” to help promote clean energy funding. “The U.S. Economic Development Administration awarded $11 million to the Hampton Roads Workforce Council in Norfolk to make a training network that focuses on clean energy, cybersecurity and blue economy jobs.”

The recently announced federal “climate deal” may help insure that the Mountain Valley Pipeline goes forward, thanks to the insistence of West Virginia Senator Manchin and Democratic leaders. A “one‑page summary of the deal … says the Biden administration and top congressional Democrats will ‘require the relevant agencies to take all necessary actions to permit the construction and operation of the Mountain Valley Pipeline and give the D.C. Circuit jurisdiction over any further litigation.’ That latter provision is important because … the pipeline has been stymied by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals; presumably the D.C. Circuit might look more favorably on the pipeline.” MVP opponents are unhappy; fearing “that it may contaminate rural streams and cause erosion or even landslides”, including some West Virginia residents. MVP “opponents vow to keep up fight despite Manchin deal.” MVP developers “praised the deal.” Senator Manchin offered his own views about the agreement he reached with the President and Congressional leaders. The “Manchin deal” raised these questions (and probably others): “Permitting deal: Pipeline boom or ‘propaganda exercise?’” “Will climate bill lead to more mining in Virginia?” A respected blogger Virginia energy issues says: “Buckle up, folks: this federal climate bill is going to supercharge Virginia’s energy transition.”

“The Virginia Marine Resources Commission has unanimously approved a proposed 65-mile biogas pipeline network that would cross the Blackwater River and two swamps at seven locations in Surry, Sussex, Southampton and Isle of Wight counties.” The proposed network is “a joint venture of Dominion Energy and Smithfield Foods [and] secured approval … to build a regional processing facility [to] turn methane from hog manure, also known as biogas, into pipeline-quality natural gas.” Not everyone thinks the proposal is a good idea. A Surry County Supervisor resigned in protest over the County Board’s vote of approval. The “regional biogas facility … would be sited near his home.”

Virginia’s “Department of Energy (Virginia Energy) … received $22,790,000 in federal funding [for abandoned mine cleanup] — more than five times the usual amount — which … will significantly increase the projects and job opportunities made possible through the Abandoned Mine Land program.” “Reclamation work on mine sites [is expected] to expand across southwest Virginia over next 15 years.”

The Supreme Court’s recent ruling “sharply cut back the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to reduce the carbon output of existing power plants…. The … President … and environmentalists said it raised formidable obstacles to the United States meeting its climate goals, including the president’s goal of running the U.S. power grid on clean energy by 2035.” The decision “could have far-reaching consequences, according to legal experts….” The Court determined the EPA “lacks authority to broadly regulate greenhouse gases as pollutants” and the “ruling threatens to constrain federal climate action at a time when it should be aggressively ramping up.” The Southern Environmental Law Center believes that, because of recent legislation, “Looking ahead, Virginia’s clean energy efforts could be a model for climate action,” although these laws “face an uncertain future under the current Republican leadership in Virginia.”

Climate and Environment

Charlottesville joined Albemarle County in implementing a 5₵-per-plastic-grocery-bag tax. Albemarle County “has partnered with The Piedmont Environmental Council, Resilient Virginia, climate modeling engineering firm Sobis, and Richmond-based marketing firm Green Fin Studio to analyze the risks and vulnerabilities of climate changes within …[the] County. The study examines extreme heat, drought, flooding, fire, disease and pestilence, and the intersections of all of these hazards. It also views their impacts through the lens of people, the natural environment, our built environment and the economy.” Loudoun County supervisors recently approved its “wide-ranging” environmental plan, with the aim of making the county “greener and more energy efficient“; local environmental groups urge the supervisors to set specific goals in support of specific commitments. Rockingham County approved funds to hire a consultant to assist with development of an updated Comprehensive Plan.

King William County will see “a significant extension of sewage dumping as fertilizer on fields” because the Department of Environmental Quality approved a private company’s application notwithstanding strong public opposition.

Virginia Tech has earnedBee Campus USA certification for commitment to sustaining native insect pollinators.” “Virginia’s Spotted Lanternfly Quarantine has expanded to include the counties of Albemarle, Augusta, Carroll, Page, Prince William, Rockbridge, Rockingham, Shenandoah, and Wythe and the cities of Buena Vista, Charlottesville, Harrisonburg, Lexington, Lynchburg, Manassas, Manassas Park, Staunton, and Waynesboro.” The purpose of the expansion is “to slow [the] spread of [the] invasive pest.” “The spotted lanternfly is a threat to wine industry” among other adverse effects. “The Virginia Department of Forestry … confirmed the presence of the emerald ash borer, an invasive tree-killing insect, in Gloucester County” and Hampton Roads. “Efforts are ramping up to root out an invasive plant that biologists say is a very bad actor — a type of water chestnut that’s been found in Northern Virginia in recent years.”

A Southwest Virginia effort to supply brewers with locally grown barley aims to limit shipping-related emissions and offer an opportunity for farmers during what’s usually the fallow season.”

“Oyster poaching [is] feared [because of a sharp decline in the oyster population in the James River’s Wreck Shoals sanctuary off Newport News, … a major nursery for oysters, a $22 million a year fishery.” The decline happened in an area closed to harvesting and with no other obvious cause.

Virginia’s barrier islands are moving toward the mainland,based on a recent study that examined the relationship of the retreat and sea-level rise. The “Naval Weapons Station Yorktown [is] building [a] living shoreline to combat erosion [and] sea level rise…. The base is set to construct about 2,900 feet of living shoreline along the York River this summer” as a first step toward reducing its vulnerability.

Virginia Beach receive[d] $25 million for flood mitigation project in [a] national competition…. The event, hosted by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, was open to communities vulnerable to climate change and needing help with funding mitigation plans.”

Check out…

  • The Rivanna Trail Foundation’s (RTF) 30th Anniversary celebration, Loop de ‘Ville, Sept. 24 & 25. Find registration and more information here.

Saturday’s events:

  1. A hike of the main Rivanna Trail 20 mile loop (free)
  2. A guided mountain bike ride of the main Rivanna Trail 20 mile loop (free)
  3. After party at the Rivanna Roots concert—doors open at 5PM (tickets $15 or free to the first 100 people who registered for Saturday’s program)

Sunday’s events:

  1. A 5 mile “no-drop” run (free)
  2. A family-friendly walk of a short segment of the trail (free)
  3. After party at the Wool Factory—doors open at 12PM (free entry)
  4. A guided mountain bike ride of the Rivanna Trail River North section (free)
  5. This information from Blue Ridge Prism about controlling the invasive Japanese stiltgrass. Now (August) is the time to beginin the weeks just before it flowers and sets seed. In Virginia, it is present in nearly every county.
  6. ClimateXChange’s website offering data about Virginia’s Climate Policy Tracker.
  7. Legislative Scorecards issued by the Virginia League of Conservation Voters and Sierra Club’s Virginia Chapter.
  8. The Virginia Department of Forestry (VDOF) and the Virginia Cooperative Extension (VCE) Landowner Legacy Planning Workshops (online), Sept. 7,8,14, & 15. Learn how the Generation NEXT program, a collaboration between VDOF and VCE, helps Virginia landowners make plans to keep forests intact, in forest, and in family. Registration opens up six weeks prior to each workshop. Visit the VCE website for more information.
  9. The Allegheny Blue Ridge Alliance Conservation Hub, featuring “Development Projects Affecting Regional Communities and Ecosystems.”

Why not…

  • Register for the Charlottesville Area Tree Stewards’ Tree Basics Classes on Zoom: Select, Plant, and Care for Trees – Tuesday, September 20, 7:00 to 9:00 p.m. Register here. Perfect timing before its October 1st tree sale to learn how to select a tree for your property that will have the best chance to survive and flourish in the place that you choose for it. Also learn about best practices for planting and show you how to care for your newly planted tree and your other landscape trees for the long term.
  • Listen to the Cville100/ PEC Meeting to discuss the new climate vulnerability and risk assessment for Albemarle County – Aug. 23, Tuesday, 6:30 p.m. The hope is that this presentation will be widely attended and will catalyze attendees to put pressure on the County to take next steps on resilience and mitigation. Learn what climate change means for your community, especially in Albemarle County. Register here. Alternative dial-in information: 470-250-9358.
  • Take your kids and join Project Grows for its open house September 16, 4 to 7 pm, at 608 Berry Farm Rd, Staunton 24401. Take a farm tour, enjoy light refreshments, join the activities, and use the “new barn facility and high tunnel to new farm areas like ‘the mountain,’ sunflower labyrinth, and bridge crossing.” Register here.
  • Read this Virginia Conservationist’s views “on the ‘fundamental conflict’ between climate and consumerism.”

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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