Statewide environmental news roundup – April 2023 (Part II)

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 energy 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.


A facility that stores renewable energy is coming to Chesapeakebut its development has raised concern among elected officials and residents about what say the city has in the matter…. [It] will be the first of its kind in the city.… [and] will help provide emission-free renewable energy to the electrical grid as part of Virginia’s clean energy initiative. It will connect to a nearby electric substation owned by Dominion Energy, and is close to Dominion’s Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind project.” Some who reside in Virginia and North Carolina areas are concerned about adverse effects. “Offshore wind developers [are working to] boost [their] outreach to allay concerns.” A Virginia energy policy expert says “It’s time for Virginia to plan its next offshore wind farm.” “Construction is set to begin late this year on a service operations vessel (SOV) that will transport technicians and equipment to support the massive wind turbines that Siemens Gamesa Renewable Energy S.A. is installing for Dominion Energy Inc.’s $9.8 billion Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind (CVOW) project off the Virginia Beach coast.” Referred to as a “floatel,” it will be based in Hampton Roads. The Hampton Roads area has for some time been working to position itself as a hub for the off-shore wind industry. Now it’s aiming to do the same for the “green hydrogen” industry.

More news about data centers: Northern Virginia is leading the way, accounting for about two-thirds of leases nationwide. “Data center demand nationwide is at a record high.” “Stafford County weighs [a] proposal for [a] massive data center MegaCampus … to become part of the data center building boom in Virginia.” “Development on former Virginia mine land could include data centers.” A potential hitch is that, although “the developer has agreed to participate in the state’s voluntary remediation program to address any gold mining contamination that’s discovered during construction, some groups who raised initial concerns about developing land that’s likely contaminated with mercury from decades of pre‑regulations mining say that ‘voluntary’ doesn’t go far enough.” See also:

“Public schools and community colleges in seven counties and one city in Southwest Virginia are eligible to apply for a program that will offer competitive multiyear grants to fund campus solar arrays and educational opportunities in the solar field in Virginia and West Virginia. The Coalfield Solar Fund is a partnership among Intuit Inc., the nonprofit National Energy and Education Development Project and Secure Solar Futures, a Staunton-based solar developer.”

The Lynchburg Parks & Recreation D epartment … commissioned a 3.2 kW SolarEdge rooftop solar installation at a popular nature center in Ivy Creek Park. As part of an educational initiative designed to foster early interest in renewable energy amongst local children, the project is one of the first to be funded by Lynchburg City Council’s Sustainability Fund, established in 2022 to promote renewable energy adoption amongst local families and businesses…. The nature center is housed in a historic wooden cabin that has been a focal part of community life in Lynchburg for decades. The energy produced will be used to offset a percentage of the cabin’s energy use and reduce carbon emissions. Inside the cabin, an interactive, wall-mounted exhibit provides a ‘hands-on’ way for children to discover how solar energy is harnessed and converted into clean, renewable power for their homes.”

Virginia’s “Pollinator-Friendly Solar Energy Program” may be gaining some ground, but so far it’s slow progress.

There’s some activity around the Governor’s declared intent to bring small nuclear reactions to the state. “Two grants totaling $150,000 have been awarded to the LENOWISCO Planning District Commission for site and supply chain studies related to the small modular nuclear reactor proposed for Southwest Virginia.” A “Data center park [is] headed for Surry County. [The] Developer’s ultimate plan calls for [a] nuclear and hydrogen-fueled power plant.” A Southwest Virginia online newspaper editor says “The changing politics of nuclear energy are bringing some liberals and some conservatives together.” “A nationally recognized [Virginia Tech] nuclear expert says an insufficient workforce, not technological issues, will be Virginia’s biggest obstacle to developing small modular nuclear reactors.” Nonetheless, “Dominion Energy says small modular nuclear reactors could be a part of the grid in” Virginia within 10 years.

The Mountain Valley Pipeline project also made plenty of headlines:

“Charlottesville-based Community Climate Collaborative’s latest grant program is helping minority‑owned small businesses pay for energy efficient appliances and lighting.” Increasing a building’s energy efficiency is often the important first step in reducing energy bills and fossil fuel emissions.

Climate and Environment

“The city of Richmond is accepting proposals for the City Center redevelopment project, specifically asking developers to design a sustainable, resilient part of town…. Developers are asked to emphasize pedestrian and shared-use infrastructure, save space for solar panels and other renewable energy generation, and generally design a space that will adapt to an increasing number of extremely hot days and torrential downpours. Developers also are being asked to meet sustainability standards for buildings and the site as a whole.”

Because the “Hampton Roads coastline is sinking, flooding maps need to be updated.” Virginia Tech and Old Dominion University (ODU) are collaborating. Tech researchers reported “that sections of the Chesapeake Bay are sinking at rates of nearly a quarter an inch – or 7 millimeters – a year … [noting that] Up-to-date knowledge of where the ground in the Chesapeake Bay area is sinking and by how much is not included in the official planning maps that authorities use to assess the local flooding risk from rising sea levels….” Using this and other data, “ODU researchers are building a digital version of Hampton Roads to simulate the area’s flooding future. [Called a] ‘digital twin’, officials can use [it] to test different scenarios of [the area]’s future.” NASA funded the project through which researchers are “gathering real-time data to feed into the system from local flood sensors, drones and satellite imagery.” ODU’s “Institute for Coastal Adaptation and Resilience and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation announced the launch of the Resilient and Adaptable Communities Partnership … following a year’s worth of planning and $1.5 million in funding from the state.” The announcement came after “the Virginia Institute of Marine Science released a report… that stated Norfolk is experiencing the highest rate of sea level rise along the East Coast. “ “As Norfolk [weighed its] storm protection plan, Black residents [wanted] more say. The [city’s] $2.6 billion plan would shield the city from storms and hurricanes. But aspects of the plan … angered some.” Ultimately, and following revisions, the city council approved the plan.

“Following William & Mary’s announcement that it plans to close its widely respected Virginia Coastal Policy Center this summer, the university … unveiled a new initiative to address sea level rise and stormwater flooding. The school has touted the new Virginia Coastal Resilience Collaborative as being part of a university-wide approach that is in line with its Vision 2026 plan to establish a greater presence in Virginia’s efforts to deal with water issues.” “Virginia communities have been deeply affected by flooding in the past and in recent years. The commonwealth has also seen an increase in risk for flash flooding and landslides. A study by researchers at Climate Central … predicted that Virginia could lose 42% of tidal wetlands to sea level rise by 2100.”

“A new Hampton program aims to help residents address shoreline erosion by allowing some funds to be provided [to them] upfront rather than … requiring them to pay for improvements themselves and then seek reimbursement. The funds are available through the state’s Virginia Conservation Assistance Program, which traditionally distributes money to multiple soil and water conservation districts — the regional divisions charged with protecting land and water.”

Tidewater isn’t the only area in Virginia with flooding issues. “To fight flooding, Arlington [county] is offering to buy homes in … [two neighborhoods] within the Spout Run watershed for flood mitigation. Since last fall, the county has notified some three dozen property owners … of its interest in buying their properties for stormwater management.” At least one property owner agreed to the proposal.

A recent commentary written for Inside Climate News noted that “Flood-Prone Communities in Virginia May Lose a Lifeline If [the] Governor Pulls State Out of Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative [RGGI].” (More details about the Governor’s actions on RGGI are in our April 20 Perspectives Piece — Part I.)

DEQ announced receipt of a NOAA grant to “further Eastern Shore marine restoration efforts and provide critical habitat for wildlife such as fish, bay scallops, and crabs. These funds … will enable Virginia CZM [Coastal Zone Management] Program and its grantee, the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS), to plant 60 acres of eelgrass and release more than 6 million bay scallops on the seaside of Virginia’s Eastern Shore.” “The Chesapeake Bay is warming, with “cascading effects” possible on marine and human life.” “Natural factors such as weather, rainfall, salinity, primary productivity of plankton, nutrient levels, and water temperature are vital to the survival and productivity of oysters in Virginia.” Interestingly, the oyster harvest has boomed recently, due to “a complex interplay of natural and human-driven factors,” …according to a Virginia Tech researcher. These ‘anthropogenic factors … [included] a labor shortage and supply chain disruptions during the pandemic, changes in regulations, harvesting closures, and increased production from aquaculture, all of which collectively reduced the pressure on the oyster stocks in the bay.”

“The Land Trust of Virginia announced … two nearly contiguous conservation easements in Rockingham and Shenandoah counties. The Rockingham County property is the first for the Land Trust of Virginia to hold an easement.” “A 390-acre farm in Northern Bedford County is one of the latest land parcels in Virginia to be protected under a conservation easement.” “Virginia’s Land Preservation Tax Credit has led to the permanent protection of more than 1 million acres of land in Virginia, Senator Emmett W. Hanger, Jr. (R-Augusta County) announced in Harrisonburg at the Virginia Land and Greenways conference Wednesday.”

DEQ [heard] concerns [from Page County residents] over impacts to [the South Fork of the Shenandoah] river at [a] hearing on [a] campground discharge permit…. 26 speakers share[d] their feelings both for and against the request submitted by Luray RV Resort and Campground.”

What YOU Can Do for the Planet …

Check out …

  • Wild Virginia’s “Window to the Wild” film screening, available from May 5, 6 pm, through 6 pm on May 7. It will include Habitat Islands from the UNTAMED film series along with several other short films highlighting rivers, streams, and forests and how to protect them. Register here to receive your viewing password.
  • How and why “Indigenous people connect with culture through heirloom seeds.”
  • The 25th annual Eagle Festival at Mason Neck State Park near Lorton on May 18. There will be bird walks, “live animal shows, hands-on educational opportunities and outdoor recreation clinics that all aim to highlight the rich natural history of Northern Virginia and foster stewardship of our environment.” There will also be storytelling and, if the weather cooperates, a “Boating Bonanza at the paddle launch where participants may use a canoe, kayak or paddle board on Belmont Bay.”
  • DEQ’s draft “of a new state air, land and water permitting process that incorporates environmental justice.” It established the new Environmental Justice Office and developed the plan “in response to a new law and historic race-based practices in Virginia … and more recent ones. DEQ will accept public comments through May 1.
  • These stunning pictures of the Aurora Borealis over the Shenandoah National Park in late March.
  • This article and this one with advice and information about buying an electric vehicle.
  • This Virginia farmer’s blogpost on Earth Day 53.
  • This WalletHub report on the 2023’s “Greenest States”; Virginia ranked 17th overall.

Why not …

  • Join the Virginia League of Conservation Voters May 31 virtual event from 6 to 7 pm to receive EPA Comment Period Training on Proposed New Carbon Rules? One of the fastest ways to fight climate change is by pushing the EPA to update rules regarding pollution so they can take stronger actions to protect our planet. Learn how exactly how the executive rulemaking process happens and draft your own comment in support of stronger regulation of carbon pollution.
  • Listen in to Wild Virginia’s webinar about Virginia’s first Wildlife Corridor Action Plan (WCAP) and learn about possible next steps now that the first WCAP has been released? It’s happening May 18 at 6:30 pm. Register here.
  • Plant a garden? Here’s guidance on how to get started. Here are some apps.

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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