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Virginia to Decide on Energy Issues

Observers say Virginia is facing an energy crossroads. (Evan Hansen)
Observers say Virginia is facing an energy crossroads. (Evan Hansen)
January 18, 2016

RICHMOND, Va. - Important energy questions are facing Virginia lawmakers. Activists say the governor and General Assembly need to do more to encourage renewable power and energy efficiency.

Ivy Main, renewable-energy chair for the Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club, says the state needs to remove regulatory barriers to solar power. For instance, she says it's nearly impossible for a company other that a utility to put up solar cells and charge a consumer for the electricity, something growing fast in other states.

Main says Virginia is losing out on economic prospects, including high-tech firms that want to use clean energy.

"We saw Amazon only because it's doing it on the Maryland border," says Main. "And will be putting the power directly into the grid. So they're avoiding having to deal with Virginia rules."

Another pending question is how Virginia will implement the federal clean-power plan, the rules for how the U.S. will address climate change.

Will Cleveland, staff attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center, says the White House and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have given the states a lot of flexibility there. He says the next steps are up to Gov. Terry McAuliffe and the Department of Environmental Quality.

"We have so much potential for renewable energy and energy efficiency in the state that we are not employing, and we would love to see the governor's plan maximize energy efficiency and renewable energy," says Cleveland.

Critics of renewable energy say businesses and families would save money if the state could rely on fossil fuels, although the Sierra Club points out that renewables are becoming increasingly competitive as their prices continue to fall.

Main says Virginia can make its electrical grid more resilient with decentralized renewables and energy storage. In case of storms, or cyber or terrorist attacks, she says, that could be a big help where the power really needs to stay on.

"Fire stations, police stations, hospitals, emergency shelters, you get a sort of a built-in energy security infrastructure, that's all been paid for by the private market," Main says.

Main encourages folks to come to the General Assembly to talk about the issues on conservation lobby days, Sun., Jan. 24 and Mon., Jan. 25.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - VA