Statewide environmental news roundup – September 2023 (Part II)

A rendering in Harrisonburg’s 2040 plan shows a possible design for a new downtown park. (Photo from the city’s 2040 plan)

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.


Social Event for us Climate Activists
Tuesday, October 24th! 
Pale Fire Brewing, Harrisonburg, 5p-?
Please come! We’d love to meet you!



The State Corporation Commission [SCC] could soon be unable to rule on cases before it for the first time in Virginia history because it has only one judge sitting on the bench. The SCC … regulates public utilities, insurance companies, banks and financial institutions…. The General Assembly failed again … [during the special session] to fill two vacant seats on the three‑member panel, and now a former commissioner who has been acting as a substitute judge will have to relinquish that role after her appointment as chair of the Virginia Parole Board by Gov. Glenn Youngkin ….”

Regulators slashed Dominion Energy’s three-year plan to make some of its most outage-prone lines less vulnerable to outages, cutting some $351 million from the company’s request to approve $508 million of work. For customers, it will mean an additional $1.38 on a benchmark 1,000 kilowatt-hour bill, which now stands at $125. If the SCC had approved all of the work, that additional cost would have been $1.88.” “According to the [SCC] announcement, Dominion had requested permission to harden 111 main feeders but the SCC only approved 44.” Nonetheless, Dominion is proceeding with a plan to bury power lines in Richmond that have the most outages.

Data Centers, Energy Storage

“The data center industry contributed $54.2 billion to Virginia’s gross domestic product from 2017 to 2021, according to a [just-released] PricewaterhouseCoopers study…. That calculation includes indirect impacts … and induced impacts…. The study … [was] commissioned by the Loudoun County-based Data Center Coalition…. More than 70% of the world’s internet traffic comes through Data Center Alley — six square miles in Loudoun’s Ashburn area…. While some communities have referred to data centers as game changers, they also are subject to criticisms for being loud, unsightly and large consumers of electricity.”

 “Data centers, some of the biggest electricity users of all, have signed agreements with Dominion Energy showing they expect to use the equivalent of 35% of the record flow of electricity the utility saw during last year’s Christmas freeze…. Dominion disclosed the agreements in a few pages of a 221-page … [SCC] filing. The utility took the unusual step of detailing customer agreements about planned data centers — the facilities that house equipment to store and move data, power apps and provide access to computer networks — in response to challenges to its long-term forecasts of electricity demand. That growth, which Dominion said would triple from recent years to hit 5% a year over the next 15 to 25 years, could mean an increase in the utility’s carbon emissions.”

“As data center developer interest spreads across the state, Caroline County is yet another community in the Fredericksburg region preparing for and dealing with proposals involving the technology that powers cloud computing. Proposals on data centers have popped up in Spotsylvania, Stafford, King George, Louisa and Fauquier counties. Caroline also has drawn interest from data center developers, and the county has proposed changes to its comprehensive plan in order to handle data centers.” “Concerns … [have surfaced] about Caroline [County] water plans {and} regional data centers.” “Caroline County is in the process of applying for a Virginia Water Protection permit from the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality [DEQ]…. “[I]t’s the anticipation of “multiple industrial facilities that will rapidly increase water demand in the county,” according to documents filed with the application. A blogger noted that one aspect of the county’s process for accessing water is controversial because Virginia is a “riparian rights” state and because of its eminent domain law (Section 11 of Article 1).

Culpeper Town Council … approved a rezoning for the development of its first proposed data center campus, slated for construction on 116 acres next to the Culpeper National Cemetery annex…. The two parcels, in proximity to the town electric plant and a housing development, were rezoned from residential to industrial…. The town in 2022 created a technology zone on its eastern edge to incentivize the data center use.”

To the southeast, a “1,200-acre data center park [is being] eyed in Hanover County.” The developer filed “a zoning request last week to create a shovel-ready development site for a future data center park…. If the zoning request is approved…, [the developer] … plans to spend more than $50 million to create the infrastructure needed for data centers to be built on the site….”

“Dominion Energy said … it has proposed to build a pilot project in Virginia to test two new energy storage technologies which could discharge power for a longer time than traditional batteries. Battery storage projects are critical for the transition towards clean energy…. Dominion said the proposed … storage project … would test … iron-air batteries … and zinc-hybrid batteries…” Dominion said it “will test [the] two new technologies as potential alternatives to traditional lithium-ion batteries, both of which could offer strengthened safety features for battery storage.” Dominion has asked the SCC to approve these and other battery storage projects.

Renewable Energy and Nuclear Power

“A more-than $500 million redevelopment project is transforming the former Lamberts Point Docks into a hub for offshore wind, shipbuilding and ship repair…. John Larson with Dominion Energy said the wind farm would generate enough energy to power 25% of the utility’s residential customers in the state. Additionally, more offshore wind sites would be opening up near Dominion’s project soon.” “Dominion Energy wants to pay Virginia Beach $19 million for roughly 4 miles of city easements to transmit energy from its offshore wind project. The power company has also agreed to provide $1.14 million to replace trees that will be razed to make room for the transmission lines and power poles…. The Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind farm will be 27 miles off the coast of Virginia Beach and will include 176 wind turbines. It will generate energy to power up to 660,000 homes, according to Dominion. Offshore construction is scheduled to begin next year.” “The federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management [BOEM] announced it has completed its environmental assessment of the project, … a little more than two years after the review began. The nearly 700-page report, … to be published September 29 in the Federal Register, starts the clock ticking on a minimum 30-day waiting period before the BOEM issues its final decision on whether to approve the project.”

Late last year “Dominion Energy … rolled out new fees and requirements for solar installers to connect to the utility’s grid, but the changes were never approved by state regulators…. [Dominion wanted] “to [require] … rooftop installations … [to pay] astronomical grid interconnection fees that [were] stifling the industry’s gains across an expansive swath of Virginia…. [Solar installers] … across Dominion’s service territory were … reassessing projects they had paused after the investor-owned utility rolled out new and expensive interconnection parameters last December for non-residential, net-metered solar projects. Dominion’s surprise rules — announced more than two years after a major Virginia law bolstered solar — could have boosted the price tag of each school project by at least $1 million … [one installer] estimated…. Regulators had not vetted the new requirements, which spelled out how solar companies would … pay to upgrade substations, cables and other hardware, as well as cover the cost of a series of studies to guarantee the new projects met safety and reliability requirements. Also, solar array recipients would be required to pay a monthly fee to Dominion to cover maintenance. [T]he utility wanted solar customers to sign what it called a “small generator interconnection agreement” so it was clear they would be the ones held liable if their array caused a grid failure.” On behalf of Virginia installers, the Virginia Distributed Solar Alliance requested injunctive relief against Dominion. The SCC acted quickly in Case No. PUR-2023-00097, granting the request from the solar industry to block Dominion from implementing certain technology requirements while the interconnection regulations are under review. The SCC now has pending a review of regulations governing the interconnection of small electric generators and storage resources. This review is pursuant to its May 2 order.

“The LENOWISCO [acronym for Lee, Wise and Scott counties and the independent city of Norton] Planning Commission is deep into the research phase investigating the possibility of Southwest Virginia becoming the home of one – or several – small modular nuclear reactors [SNR], a venture catalyzed by the governor’s energy plan…. In particular, he wants Virginia to invest in small modular reactors or SMRs – in theory, less cost-prohibitive than larger nuclear power plants. The Federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission approved a design for SMRs in the U.S. in January…. In a study funded by the Virginia Department of Energy and GO Virginia Region One, [the company selected to conduct it] assessed the feasibility of seven sites in Southwest Virginia…. All seven ended up being viable…. The commission has started a supply chain study and is about to dive into a public outreach period to gather area residents’ feedback about the sites.… [The study spokesperson] anticipates the commission will be finished with both tasks before the end of the year…. In terms of economic benefit, it’s not so much about the number of jobs the SMRs will provide as it is about the tax base they will supply, according to [the spokesperson] …. Through the Regional Industrial Facilities Authority, LENOWISCO localities can distribute the tax revenue through revenue sharing.”


“Preliminary work is set to begin this fall on a $2.3 billion rail bridge over the Potomac River — a milestone in Virginia’s ambitious plan that would expand East Coast commuter and passenger train capacity over the next decade. Virginia Passenger Rail Authority officials … warned of delays if funding isn’t secured in the coming months to close a $729 million budget gap in the state’s rail program.” Virginia’s senators “announced $100 million in federal funds … for the Virginia Passenger Rail Authority to build a rail bridge to ease congestion along a busy stretch of railway in Fairfax County. The money will [fund a] project [that] will expand service capacity and help thwart delays. CSX, Amtrak and VRE use the tracks, and construction is set to take place between 2024 and 2026. “

Fossil Fuels

“Earlier this month, Virginia’s Air Board received a report on a “controversial permit” for Dominion Energy’s proposed Chesterfield Reliability Center, a 1,000-megawatt power plant that would be used as means of generating electricity in cases of extreme weather. State law defines the project as “controversial,” requiring a public hearing and other criteria, because it is a new fossil-fuel generating facility with a capacity of 500 megawatts or more…. Climate activist groups Third Act and Chesapeake Climate Action Network say the project is more than just controversial by state law…. [A] Chesterfield County resident with Third Act said because the plant would be built adjacent to the Chesterfield Power Station by the James River, residents in the area will suffer from increased pollutants. ‘The neighborhood nearby has suffered with 80 years of coal plant emissions, and they deserve a break’….” Dominion Energy provided “Early details about the pollution impact of a proposed power plant in Eastern Chesterfield County … to the Virginia Air Pollution Control Board … [that heard a presentation] by officials from the Virginia … [DEQ]. The plant has been labeled controversial by state regulators, drawing community pushback. Dominion Energy says it’s needed to keep pace with increasing electrical demand.”

“Several environmental and civic groups are calling for a natural gas giant and federal regulators to rethink a project that could increase air pollution near one of southeast Virginia’s most vulnerable communities…. The firm behind the contentious Keystone Pipeline … wants to upgrade a compressor station near Petersburg…. The work would remove controls that currently limit the horsepower of existing equipment. …[T]he company also proposes doubling the diameter of nearly 50 miles of existing pipeline through Sussex, Surry, Southampton and Isle of Wight counties as well as the cities of Suffolk and Chesapeake. The expansion and modifications along the Columbia Gas Transmission line have generated nowhere near the amount of outcry as the Mountain Valley Pipeline [MVP] in the western part of the state. But both battles have raised environmental justice concerns over their potential impacts to nearby communities.”

“After case dismissals, work on … [the MVP in Virginia] resumed [even though the] Pipeline safety administration [PHMSA] call[ed] for further assessment of pipeline conditions following construction delays” and “additional inspections of the steel pipe before it is buried, although there has been no final action on a proposed safety order issued Aug. 11…. [C]ritics worry that while negotiations continue, sections of the 42-inch diameter pipe – which may have been compromised by exposure to the elements since 2017 – are being placed in the ground as the company rushes to complete construction by the end of the year. In an Aug. 18 letter to PHMSA, about a dozen organizations opposed to the pipeline asked the administration to work with other federal agencies and order that work be stopped until safety conditions are implemented…. [Meanwhile,] “A major leak at a Pennsylvania natural gas storage facility operated by the same company that is leading construction of the … [MVP] was caused by corrosion of a well joint.”

In late August, “opponents of the … MVP protested construction work in Montgomery County…. One protestor locked herself to construction equipment….” Subsequently, “Two [more] opponents … chained themselves to heavy equipment at a work site…. Activists are trying to delay construction of the natural gas pipeline, which they say causes environmental harm and will contribute to climate change. Since construction resumed earlier this summer, at least five people have been arrested.” MVP “is suing more than 40 people and two organizations that it says are unlawfully interfering with its efforts to complete a natural gas pipeline amid growing unrest. The company is asking a judge to issue an injunction that would prevent opponents from entering construction areas, where they have temporarily delayed work at least a dozen times since July 5.” A judge issued “temporary injunctions against 6 pipeline protestors, but questions [the MVP’s] broader request.”

Climate and Environment

Chesapeake Bay, Air, and Water

“Recently, Virginia’s Coastal Zone Management (CZM) program was highlighted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) for its $2.8 million investment in almost 100 ecotourism planning and infrastructure projects over the years, with a near 12x return on investment. CZM supports ecotourism initiatives in Virginia’s rural coastal communities. Learn more about CZM’s success from NOAA’s program highlight.” – Sept 21, 2023 DEQ newsletter

Public Works departments in Harrisonburg and Waynesboro are currently accepting comments related to their Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load action plans which serve as a roadmap for reducing pollutants in local waterways before they reach the coast….  The deadline for comments is Oct. 5. Comments can be submitted in writing to Harrisonburg Environmental and Sustainability Manager Keith Thomas at [email protected] or by mail to 320 E. Mosby Road, Harrisonburg, Va. 22801.”

“Earlier this summer, wildfire smoke lowered air quality in the Eastern U.S. to its worst levels on record. While the smoke has mostly cleared in Virginia since July, scientists are sounding the alarm that — with climate change heating up the world and creating drier conditions — smoky summers will grow increasingly common.”

The EPA (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) awarded “$4,352,000 for the Virginia … [DEQ]’s Virginia Clean Water Revolving Loan Fund. The funding … will make it possible for VDEQ to offer low-interest loans to local governments … to support efforts to address emerging contaminants that pollute the clean water supply in Virginia. The funding is awarded … [by the EPA’s] Capitalization Grants for Clean Water State Revolving Fund.”

Drought and Flooding

“A drought is worsening in parts of the [DC/VA/MD] region. The hardest-hit areas are mostly west of Fairfax and central Montgomery (Md.) counties. The lack of rain has caused crops to wither and prompted concerns about water levels on the Potomac River. Foliage concerns: It’s especially dry near the Blue Ridge Mountains and Shenandoah Valley, which could mute fall colors” In late August, the DEQ “issued a drought warning for the counties of Frederick, Clarke, Shenandoah, Warren, Page, Rockingham and Augusta….”

“The Commonwealth has been awarded $20,053,105 in disaster relief funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency [FEMA]. The funding provides relief to localities affected by the February 2021 severe winter storm and the impacts of the COVID-19 global pandemic. Administered by the Virginia Department of Emergency Management on behalf of FEMA, the funding is … 90 percent from federal funds and 10 percent state funds.”

“Over the past two years, two major deluges in the towns of Hurley and Whitewood in Southwest Virginia have caused catastrophic flooding that left dozens of homes destroyed and one woman dead.

But as the communities have struggled to rebuild, federal relief has been limited. In response, state legislators have dipped into state funds earmarked for other purposes to help with recovery. The main source of that funding is the state’s proceeds from Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative [RGGI] auctions, which Virginia law dictates must go to flood preparedness and energy efficiency programs. The diversion of nearly $30 million of those funds to post-disaster relief has put a spotlight on Virginia’s lack of a system to assist individuals recovering from storm damage…. [The] state coordinator at the Virginia Department of Emergency Management … said while the reallocation of RGGI revenues is a way to fill a gap for people impacted by the storms, there is a desire among policymakers for a dedicated state program that could provide individual assistance without waiting on the lengthy budget amendment process…. But with Gov. Glenn Youngkin moving to pull Virginia out of RGGI, that source of funding may soon disappear. And emergency planners say they are seeing increased demand for storm response and recovery.”

“Two major funding opportunities are available to increase flood resilience in the Commonwealth. A total of $103 million is available for advance projects to improve resilience to flooding through the Resilient Virginia Revolving Fund and the Virginia Community Flood Preparedness Fund…. The Resilient Virginia Revolving Fund offers $18.5 million in grants and loans…. The Community Flood Preparedness Fund offers $85 million in grants and loans. Established in 2020 and now in its fourth round … [it] empowers localities to increase capacity for flood resilience and execution of flood protection projects. It supports the implementation of the Commonwealth Resilience Planning Principles detailed in Virginia’s Coastal Resilience Master Planning Framework.”


“As critical pollinator populations decline, cities and campuses find ways to encourage bees, butterflies and bats. Cities and college campuses across the region have been certified as ‘bee-friendly.’ Their efforts include reducing the use of pesticides, allowing native species to thrive, and educating residents and students about how best to help pollinators.” Numerous Virginia cities, towns, and universities are part of “Bee City USA.” Emory and Henry College “partnered with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Canaan Valley Institute to convert 2 acres into a pollinator meadow.” “More than $2 million worth of honey is produced in Virginia annually [but a] “Virginia Tech ecology expert [advised] ‘Bees do more than just give us honey’…. Honey is also used for medicinal purposes due to its antimicrobial properties…. Along with providing food for surrounding wildlife, honeybee pollination boosts crop production … [and] about a third of the food eaten by Americans comes from crops pollinated by honeybees, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.”


  • Authors provided their views on Virginia’s withdrawal from RGGI. Data on Virginia’s RGGI auction proceeds are here.
    • A Virginia delegate argued: “Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative: Democrats’ misguided, expensive approach to energy production.” – The Hill
    • An editorial board in Tidewater noted: “There’s no plan to offset lost RGGI revenue used for flood projects.” – The Virginian-Pilot
  • Authors also offered their views on large solar projects.
    • A former Trump Administration Interior Department official and current “vice chairman of the Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District” attacks big data center companies not for their energy demand, but for anything they do to meet that demand with solar, asking “Is Amazon polluting the Chesapeake Bay?” – The Richmond Times-Dispatch
  • A Central Valley farmer and blogger wrote “Utility-scale solar is coming to a farm near you. I support big solar, but it must be done right.” – The Virginia Mercury
  • A Norfolk City Council member believes “Virginia’s climate action is on the ballot this fall.” – The Virginian-Pilot
  • A Virginia energy blogger sees “A bright spot at the intersection of farming, electric vehicles and solar energy”, [noting that] Solar is a better deal than corn for the community, since it provides tax revenue, diversifies the local economy and conserves water.” – The Virginia Mercury
  • A Frederick County resident believes “Renewable energy offers a bright future.” – The Winchester Star

Check out …

  • NPR’s week-long stories and conversations about the search for climate solutions that you can listen to on WMRA. “This isn’t just about “covering” the climate — it’s meant to remind everyone that you can always do something.” See highlights of specific stories at this link.
  • Blue Ridge Prism’s Three Fall Workshops to build your fundamental knowledge of invasive plants!
    • October 20 workshop, in-person hands-on training in identification and management techniques at McIntire Park Charlottesville, 10 am – 1 pm, cost $25. Register here.
    • October 24 virtual session will provide an introduction to invasive plants and focus on how to identify them in the autumn and winter, 1 to 3 pm, cost $10. Register here.
    • October 26 virtual session will cover control methods and provide tips on how best to manage these invasive plants during the fall/winter seasons, 1 to 3 pm, Cost $10. Register here.
  • UVA’s Lifelong Learning Institute and Environmental Institute’s online discussion on the seeming rise of extreme weather events and a planet living with harsh new environmental challenges by a panel of UVA experts, October 11, 2023, 2 – 3 pm. Register here.
  • Wild Virginia’s webinar, “Raising Endangered Birds for Success,” and learn about “bird behavior, breeding endangered species, and the release of these beautiful animals into the wild”, October 3, 6:30 pm. Register here.
  • This great resource from Advanced Energy United: Making the Most of the Federal Home Energy Rebates,  “Making the Most of the Federal Home Energy Rebates.” This comprehensive guide focuses on the twin Department of Energy rebate programs, HOMES and HEEHRA, which offer an exceptional opportunity to catalyze the market for residential efficiency, electrification, and distributed energy resources. Created with policymakers in mind, it offers a roadmap to making the most out of the $8.6 billion available for states. Download the toolkit here.
  • Charlottesville Area Tree Stewards’ (CATS) webinar, “Tree Identification by Season: Fall”, October 17, 7 pm. Explore the plant pigments that exhibit fall colors and see if they can aid in identification of trees. Register here.
  • UVA Environmental Institute’s talk, “Extreme Weather Events: A Changing Environment “, October 11, 2-3 pm. Register here.
  • How “Energy-Efficiency Programs Aid Virginians With High Utility Costs.” One program is available to residents of the Northern and Central Valley. Apply here.
  • This video about Why Autumn is an Important Season for Gardening.

Why not …

  • View the Dark Skies at Ivy Creek, part of Ivy Creek Foundation’s “Third Friday Under the Stars” series, 8 to 10 pm on October 20, November 17, and December 15, 2023? Details here.
  • Go to the McCormick Observatory Public Night, October 6, 2023 9 pm to 10 pm, 600 McCormick Rd, Charlottesville, VA 22904? Details here.
  • Attend the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s Defending Virginia’s Wetlands webinar, Oct. 3, 6:30–8:00 pm? Learn “how valuable wetlands are for our people, our economy, and our environment” and how they “are now at risk … in light of the recent Sackett v. EPA Supreme Court decision. Register here.
  • Respond to the Virginia Department of Forestry’s (DOF) request to Virginians to help collect acorns and nuts and drop them off to be planted at its Augusta Nursery? Through statewide collection efforts, DOF nurseries plant more trees, of more species, from varied genetics. Acorns may be dropped off at any DOF office location by Oct. 16. For more information about acorn collection, contact the Augusta Nursery at (540) 363-7000. DOF needs these species this year:
    • Black Oak, Chestnut Oak, White Oak, Northern Red Oak, Southern Red Oak, Pin Oak, Shumard Oak, Swamp Chestnut Oak, Swamp White Oak, Water Oak, Willow Oak, Black Chestnut & Chinese Chestnut
  • Join the webinar, “Stopping Utilities From Using Our Money Against Us”, October 5, 7pm? Register here. A panel discussion will describe recently passed laws to stop utilities from using ratepayer funds for lobbying, political campaign donations, and other inappropriate uses. Learn how to launch a similar effort in Virginia. Dominion Energy is one of the utilities whose ratepayers help pay for their political campaign donations.
  • Learn about Southeastern Grasslands? Did you know that “There are more types of grasslands in the Southeast than the entirety of the Great Plains and Midwestern prairies?”

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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