Sunday, January 27, 2008
Fact: Virginia gets less than 1 percent of its electricity from "green" sources such as the wind or the sun. Fact: Virginia ranks 38th among U.S. states in energy efficiency. Fact: Climate change is real, and fossil fuel substitutes are needed, according to President Bush's State of the Union address last year. So how would Dominion Virginia Power respond to these facts?
¿ Savagely blow up entire mountains in southwest Virginia.
¿ Feed the resulting exposed coal to a proposed power plant that is unnecessary and would cost ratepayers at least $1.8 billion.
¿ Create lots more greenhouse gases in the process.
¿ Doom the good people of southwest Virginia to living with a brutal extraction industry that has no future.
Whew! Talk about getting everything wrong.
Astonishingly, Gov. Tim Kaine supports Dominion Virginia Power's controversial 585-megawatt coal plant proposed for Wise County. He supports this despite three more facts. First, a senior aide of the governor recently admitted that there's "less than 10 years' worth of commercially viable coal left in Virginia." Second, more than 200 Virginians packed a hearing room this month in Richmond to denounce the proposal being considered by the Virginia State Corporation Commission. Third, Kaine's energy plan includes passages explicitly discouraging the development of "conventional" power (i.e., fossil fuels) until the state has maximized efficiency and clean-energy development.
Virginia has one of the most bloated, inefficient electricity loads in America. Per capita use is roughly twice as high as it is in California and New York. Just phasing out inefficient light bulbs, as Congress has mandated beginning in 2012, would eliminate electricity consumption in Virginia equal to half the entire output of the Wise County plant. And using money-saving "smart grid" systems -- a technology that painlessly shuts off air conditioners for brief moments and invisibly manages other electricity use in homes -- could save the electricity equivalent of two Wise County plants. So why are we building this facility?
Thankfully, there's still time for Kaine and the legislature to kill this disastrous power plant idea and create, instead, a real and lasting energy prosperity for southwest Virginia and the rest of the state. Beyond efficiency, federal estimates show Virginia could get 12 percent of its electricity from wind farms using just a small area of land. Yet Dominion's wind-power investments equal less than 0.5 percent of its total mid-Atlantic generation capacity. And the best the state government has done on efficiency is offer a four-day tax holiday to Virginians who buy efficient bulbs and appliances.
The Clean Energy Future Act, a bill now before the Virginia General Assembly, would correct these glaring deficiencies. It would follow the lead of dozens of other states in setting robust but realistic statutory targets in clean power, efficiency and "green jobs."
Twenty five percent of the land area in beautiful Wise County, in the heart of Appalachia, has been destroyed by mountaintop removal and other mining in the past four decades. Let's save the mountains still standing and embrace durable, sustainable industries there such as cultural tourism, outdoor recreation and wind farms. Let's simultaneously retrain and support the coal miners who'd rather build solar panels and windmills anyway, if only they had a governor and legislature willing to stand up to Dominion and finally say stop!
-- Mike Tidwell
The writer is director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network.