Posts Tagged ‘Virginia’

Yes, Virginia, there was a silver lining to the General Assembly

Thursday, March 19th, 2015 - posted by hannah

1506880_545692232232755_7519825862257630233_nLegislator attitudes toward the level of carbon in our atmosphere and the rate at which corporate polluters are allowed to contribute to it range widely across the Appalachian region and the country. We’ve seen members of Congress deploy all manner of stunts to display their grasp of the issue (and lack thereof), most recently Sen. James Inhofe’s show-and-tell with a snowball.

In fact politicians across the country have sought to help polluting industries keep profiting off of dumping unlimited carbon into the atmosphere by fighting the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan. Many Attorneys General—with the exception of Virginia’s Mark Herring—are planning to sue, state assemblies are considering bills to assert authority over state compliance plans or to set less stringent carbon pollution limits.

But there’s reason for hope here in Virginia.

More and more of our state legislators are beginning to accept that diversifying our energy system by investing more in clean sources is beneficial—even if the underlying motivation is to reduce carbon pollution and the standard is set at the federal level. In the General Assembly that ended earlier this month, we largely saw members opting not to support legislation that would have thwarted the EPA’s plan to cut carbon pollution. The bill, which was really just a politically divisive grandstanding bill by ultra-conservatives, failed.

That says a lot about the power of citizen engagement. An element of that legislative success was due to grassroots contact with legislators and their offices, in person, by email, and over the phone, and with a boots-on-the-ground approach by packing committee hearings and being visible and active on Capitol Grounds, repeating the facts and science for lawmakers to hear. And for that effort, we achieved a few more important victories.

Modest gains came our way as we went about tackling solar energy policies. Businesses and nonprofits with solar panels who want to sell some power back to their utility can have up to 1 megawatt versus half that before. The General Assembly established a new Virginia Solar Energy Development Authority to help the industry. The legislature also authorized the state’s largest utility, Dominion Power, to build the state’s first solar farm, up to 400 MW, and to recover costs for the facility from its customers. (However, the bill doesn’t provide for other companies to bid competitively to build a solar farm for Dominion, meaning Dominion’s cost to the customer will likely be higher than it should be.)

In addition, Virginia utilities are also now required to develop more programs to assist customers with saving energy. Ramping up clean energy sources like solar and efficiency is key for Virginia to reduce carbon pollution while growing the economy.

Virginia legislators heard testimony on EPA’s Clean Power Plan in the course of several committee hearings, starting back in November and continuing up to the midpoint of the session. The most comprehensive bill to address greenhouse gas pollution the Coastal Protection Act, was introduced this session, but didn’t make it across the finish line. Still, legislators were responsive to citizens, rejecting legislation that would have wrested power from Gov. McAuliffe’s administration to develop a state plan to comply with the EPA.

Yet, Virginia delegates and senators passed on some measures because they perceived the bills were controversial or did not understand them well enough. Making community solar possible, making third-party power sales for clean energy legal throughout the state, providing better financing for home energy-efficiency improvements, and joining a regional greenhouse gas initiative – these are all measures the General Assembly should approve in 2016

But they need to hear from you. Citizens can start educating legislators about the economic benefits of clean energy policies now.

Virginia Environmental Chief Supporting Weaker Coal Ash Rule

Wednesday, March 18th, 2015 - posted by cat

Contact:
Amy Adams, N.C. Campaign Coordinator, 828-262-1500, amy@appvoices.org
Cat McCue, Communications Director, 434-293-6373, cat@appvoices.org

The following is a statement from Amy Adams in response to testimony today by David Paylor, director of the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, to the House Subcommittee on Environment and the Economy regarding “Improving Coal Combustion Residuals Regulation Act of 2015.” Adams is the lead on Appalachian Voices’ coal ash initiative and is a former supervisor with the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

“In no way is this bill an ‘improvement’ of the new federal rule for coal ash disposal. In fact, it completely strips away health standards and public access to information, leaving citizens in the dark and vulnerable to ongoing health hazards.

“It’s beyond belief that the head of the agency charged with protecting Virginia’s environment and public welfare is up there in D.C. supporting it.

“There are people whose health is already compromised likely due to decades of coal ash pollution, yet David Paylor is supporting this bill that would shelter industry interests from accountability. As a former agency regulator myself, I can tell you this goes completely against the grain of what a public servant should do.”

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Wise County, Va. resident joins Appalachian Voices staff

Thursday, March 12th, 2015 - posted by cat

Contact:
Cat McCue, Communications Director, 434-293-6373, cat@appvoices.org
Adam Wells, Economic Diversification Campaign Coordinator, 276-679-1691, adam@appvoices.org

adam wells_AppalachianVoicesWise County, Va. – Appalachian Voices is pleased to announce the addition of Adam Wells, a sixth generation resident of Wise County, to our team of dedicated professionals. Appalachian Voices is a nonprofit conservation organization working to protect the mountains, water and communities of the Appalachian region.

As the Economic Diversification Campaign Coordinator, Adam will focus on bringing new economic opportunities and resources to the area, with a particular focus on energy efficiency and clean energy. Adam will work to connect with local residents and a variety of organizations, civic groups, businesses and government agencies to help promote positive and diverse economic growth in coal-impacted communities throughout Southwest Virginia.

Adam attended Appalachian State University, in Boone, N.C., where he earned a B.A. in an interdisciplinary course of study he designed focused on education for social change. He partnered with Appalachian Voices as a Field Organizer, traveling the South giving presentations about Appalachia. In 2008, he returned to Southwest Virginia to work as a community organizer for citizens groups and also as a Wilderness Therapy Field Guide.

Most recently, Adam was the Guest River Coordinator for the nonprofit Upper Tennessee River Roundtable, where he was responsible for the design, outreach, execution and reporting for a program that provides more than $87,000 in assistance to homeowners who need financial help with septic repairs and maintenance. In addition to coordinating with multiple government, social service, and private business partners, Adam, a certified water quality monitor, also was responsible for sampling water quality at more than a dozen sites throughout the Guest River watershed to measure the effectiveness of improving septic systems.

“Adam’s energy, talent, and integrity are tremendous assets for working with a wide range of partners to move things forward, and it’s that collaboration that’s really important now,” says Tom Cormons, Executive Director of Appalachian Voices. “We’re so glad to be bringing him onto the team at this important time for the region.”

“As a sixth generation resident of Wise County, I understand that we are living in a time of tremendous change in the coal-bearing region,” says Adam. “This area is my heritage and my home, like so many other Appalachians. I’m eager to channel this position and the mission of Appalachian Voices to be a part of creating sustainable communities for the future.”

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Appalachian Voices is an award-winning, nonprofit organization that brings people together to protect the communities and natural resources of the Appalachian region by promoting a shift from harmful, polluting energy practices, including mountaintop removal coal mining, to a cleaner, more just and sustainable energy future. With offices in Boone and Raleigh, N.C., and Charlottesville and Wise County, Va., Appalachian Voices works at the local, state and federal level, focusing on grassroots organizing and policy reform.

WEB: www.AppalachianVoices.org
FACEBOOK: www.Facebook.com/AppalachianVoices
TWITTER: www.twitter.com/appvoices

Virginia lawmakers act on energy bills

Monday, February 23rd, 2015 - posted by hannah
There has been no shortage of activity on energy policy during Virginia’s 2015 legislative session.

There has been no shortage of activity on energy policy during Virginia’s 2015 legislative session.

As the Virginia General Assembly enters the final days of its 2015 session, we can look back on five intense weeks.

Among the many issues our lawmakers labored over, a few were explosive enough to consistently make headlines. Energy policy was one of those issues thanks largely to electric utilities’ efforts to capitalize on worries about upcoming federal rules on carbon pollution.

Here’s a recap of the drama, along with a few important policies that received less fanfare.

>> First, a measure that shocked newspaper editorial boards, dismayed consumer groups, and stunned many of us who have challenged the utilities’ business-as-usual plans, but passed the legislature easily: under SB 1349, Virginia would see a five-year period when state regulators do not review rates set by Dominion Power and Appalachian Power, likely preventing any refunds of utility over-earnings to customers. The base portion of rates will be fixed, but other charges related to fuel costs can still rise during the period.

Political dynamics and election sensitivities made this legislation especially charged, and ultimately some of our top legislative champions for advancing clean energy stepped in and saw to it that the measure includes a designation for up to 500 megawatts of solar energy to be in the public interest, thereby authorizing state regulators to approve large scale solar farms — of which there are exactly zero in Virginia right now. The champs also added provisions for utilities to pay for low-income home weatherization programs.

Gov. McAuliffe signed the bill into law on Tuesday.

>> Last Wednesday, legislation passed both houses capping Virginia’s coal production and employment tax credits at $7.5 million annually. Appalachian Voices and other advocates have called for comprehensive study of whether such credits have their intended effects, including sustaining coal-related jobs in Southwest Virginia. A study by Downstream Strategies a few years ago suggests they do not. SB 741, which originally extended the tax credits by five years, is expected to come out of conference committee this week extending the credits for only two years while analysis is done by a reform-oriented panel.

>> On to one enormous highlight of the session: several bills containing extreme language against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed Clean Power Plan — aimed at reducing carbon pollution from power plants — never made it out of committee. One was an effort to empower the General Assembly to sue the EPA. Another bill that is still alive directs the state Department of Environmental Quality to consider concerns and take the input of legislators, and requires the General Assembly to express its approval of DEQ’s compliance plan in the form of a resolution.

>> Lastly, a bill based on a central concept of Gov. McAuliffe’s Energy Plan creates a Solar Energy Development Authority for Virginia. In spite of some legislators’ concerns about growing government, the promise of boosting job growth in the solar industry propelled this measure through both houses. A net energy metering expansion bill also still stands a good chance of passing.

With some great concepts like the Virginia Coastal Protection Act unable to find sufficient support in committee to pass this year, the work to pave the way for next year’s legislative efforts lies before us. Citizen contact with delegates and senators can continue year-round, and there are many ways to stay engage.

In addition to calling or writing your elected officials, enrolling in an energy-efficiency program offered by your power company or going solar sends a clear signal to our legislators about Virginia residents’ preferences and expectations on important energy policy issues.

Virginia Climate Fever

Wednesday, February 18th, 2015 - posted by molly

How Global Warming Will Transform Our Cities, Shorelines, and Forests

By Stephen Nash

VA-climate-fever

As visiting senior research scholar at the University of Richmond, Stephen Nash explores the stunning local aspects of climate disruption. This digestible work employs enough facts and visuals to demonstrate the amount of damage that global warming promises for the Old Dominion.

Nash, a journalist, takes the reader with him as he travels around Virginia, talking with scientists, citizens, officials and business people. Through these encounters, Nash reveals that our temperature averages will gradually rise during the next hundred years, essentially turning Virginia into present-day Alabama. Graphs show increasing numbers of days with temperatures surpassing 90 degrees, with drastic consequences for life-forms from trees to fish, and to both rural and city-dwelling humans.

Nash’s most compelling passages deal with sea level rise and the increasingly formidable threat of property destruction in the Hampton Roads region. This trend could result in climate refugees as limited financial resources cover only the costs of protecting high-value infrastructure and leave homeowners behind.

Throughout the book, Nash compares two scenarios of human response to global warming, labeled “business as usual” and “work and hope,” while maintaining that Virginians are not entirely the masters of their fate because global warming is a problem that requires a global response.

This book is fact-based and never overstated, making it mandatory reading for Virginians seeking a primer on a complex topic. — Review by Hannah Wiegard, Appalachian Voices Virginia Campaign Coordinator

The Crooked Road Drives Mountain Music into Classrooms

Tuesday, February 17th, 2015 - posted by Dac Collins

By Lorelei Goff

Virginia Highlands Community College recently announced the Crooked Road course, a hybrid course taught in-class and online, for K-12 teachers.

The Crooked Road, a living history of Appalachian mountain music, meanders through 333 miles of southwest Virginia. The tour, comprised of music venues, museums and wayside exhibits, was conceived as part of the state’s efforts to diversify economic development. It has thrived so well that it’s driving mountain music into K-12 classrooms.

The course will give teachers the knowledge and techniques to present the region’s rich musical heritage to students in a multimedia format. Teachers will use their training to educate their students about old-time string bands, a cappella gospel, blues, 300-year-old ballads, bluegrass and more through audio/visual resources, live demonstrations and field trips.

More information about the Crooked Road course can be found on the Virginia Highlands Community College website: vhcc.edu.

Looking on the bright side, states seek solar benefits

Monday, February 16th, 2015 - posted by Kimber

By Eliza Laubach

Photo courtesy O2 Energies

Photo courtesy O2 Energies

U.S. jobs grew nearly 20 times faster in the solar industry than the whole economy’s national average, reports The Solar Foundation. Recent findings by the research nonprofit project a slowdown by 2017, when a federal tax credit is scheduled to monumentally shrink. In the meantime, however, some southeastern states are catching the rays of the burgeoning industry with policies encouraging growth in both privately-owned and utility-scale solar.

The Georgia House of Representatives is expected to pass a bill that will remove a major economic barrier to rooftop solar for homes and businesses: the lack of financing options. State law currently outlaws third-party financing, when an investor buys a solar panel and sells the electricity to the host site at a reduced rate. The bill would allow this type of solar leasing, thus eliminating the need for up-front investment when a utility customer considers buying a solar panel.

Net metering, a model that allows a rooftop solar producer to sell excess electricity back into the grid, was bolstered in South Carolina this December. Utilities agreed to compensate rooftop solar producers at the same rate they charge for electricity. The agreement also restricts utilities from levying additional fees on rooftop solar owners.

A tactic utilities say offsets their cost of connecting solar panels to the grid, standard fees discourage potential rooftop solar installations. The Virginia Utilities Commission allowed Appalachian Power Company to levy such a fee last month. Homeowner associations across Virginia also tried to block rooftop solar installation, for aesthetic reasons, despite a bill passed last June banning them from doing so.

In North Carolina, the Utilities Commission renewed an order that requires state utilities to provide standard contracts when buying electricity from independent solar installations that generate five megawatts or less. Duke Energy and Dominion Power, meanwhile, had pushed to lower that threshold to installations 100 kilowatts or less. Solar energy advocates argued that negotiating custom contracts with Duke and Dominion would cripple independent solar development in the state. Duke owns only 4 percent of the solar energy in its portfolio, according to Charlotte’s National Public Radio syndicate.

Last month, The Tennessee Valley Authority announced that it will offer its version of a standard contract for up to 100 MW of renewable energy development. Projects between 50 kilowatts and 20 megawatts are eligible, and the contracts last for 20 years. While solar energy represents only 1 percent of nationwide electricity generation, the solar installation sector is already larger than familiar fossil fuels, such as coal mining, oil and natural gas, The Solar Foundation report found.

Survey says: Virginians want clean energy

Tuesday, February 3rd, 2015 - posted by cat
While legislators in Richmond bow to Dominion, voters increasingly demand a clean energy economy.

While legislators in Richmond bow to Dominion, voters increasingly demand a clean energy economy.

An overwhelming majority of Virginians say they want the state to develop a plan that reduces carbon pollution and increases cleaner sources of energy that will help create jobs and boost the economy, according to a poll released today.

It’s good news, and it confirms what we hear almost every day in our conversations with citizens of the commonwealth. It also aligns with a growing body of public opinion research ­— Americans increasingly understand that carbon pollution harms our health and environment and is causing global warming. They also get that shifting to clean energy sources will yield not only environmental protection, but also tremendous economic benefits.

Today’s poll was conducted jointly by two national firms — one Democratic and one Republican — for the Natural Resources Defense Council. Four hundred Virginia voters were surveyed during the second week of January, just as the General Assembly was mired in a slew of industry-backed bills that would thwart efforts to move Virginia toward cleaner energy. (It never ceases to amaze how tone-deaf legislators can be when it comes to the vox populi on environmental issues.)

A few more highlights from the poll, but it’s worth taking a look at the summary:

64% of Virginians support the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s “Clean Power Plan” to reduce carbon pollution from existing power plants.
83% want Virginia in the driver’s seat in developing ways to meet EPA’s goals. Support in the Roanoke/Lynchburg area (the western-most area that was polled) is 79%.
95% of all Virginians support increased energy efficiency to meet our future needs.
88% support boosting the state’s use of renewable power, including wind and solar.
Hannah Wiegard, our Virginia Campaign Coordinator, is in Richmond today, joining our allies to ensure that our elected officials see these results as they consider key legislation.

Update from the Virginia General Assembly

Monday, February 2nd, 2015 - posted by hannah

Attacks on the EPA escalate, and rate freezes don’t consider customers.

A slew of bad bills to stymie the EPA and safeguard corporate polluters have been brought up in the first weeks of Virginia's brief legislative session.

A slew of bad bills to stymie the EPA and safeguard corporate polluters have been brought up in the first weeks of Virginia’s brief legislative session.

Virginia’s legislative session may be brief, but many bills with major implications for our future energy mix have already been acted on. Two weeks into this year’s session, here is a look at where our top issues stand.

Rate freeze controversy heats up

It’s been in the news around the state: Dominion Power has enlisted the help of utility-friendly legislators, in particular Senator Frank Wagner of Virginia Beach, in an effort to pause regulators’ scrutiny of the utility’s revenue for eight years.

The legislative patron says his bill is necessary to keep customers from seeing rising energy costs due to the mythical high price of compliance with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s carbon pollution standard. Attorney General Mark Herring, who is tasked with looking out for ratepayers, notes that the measure would actually prevent rebates of overcharges to customers.

Anyone familiar with the system in which Virginia’s investor-owned electric providers operate will be struck by the way this would remove State Corporation Commission oversight and, with it, Dominion’s accountability to customers. In another troubling wrinkle, if cost-effective clean energy resources such as energy efficiency are deployed over this time resulting in saved energy and Dominion over-earns on its rate of return then customers are deprived of the those savings. Despite opposition from many sides, the bill has passed out of subcommittee.

Attacks on Virginia potential to achieve large-scale carbon-free power

For reasons ranging from pure political grandstanding to reactions to a perceived federal overreach in state affairs, many legislators are taking part in the rush to apply tactics pioneered by the American Legislative Exchange Council and Americans for Prosperity to stymie the implementation of the EPA’s Clean Power Plan in Virginia. One strategy is to interrupt what would be a smooth process of the Department of Environmental Quality preparing and sending Virginia’s implementation plan to the EPA. Legislation of this type gives the General Assembly a middle-man role able to approve the plan, which effectively obstructs the process and robs the executive branch of its control.

Other ways of slowing or stopping the EPA’s efforts to limit carbon pollution and drive investment in clean energy are plentiful: from Senator Wagner’s proposition prohibiting action in response to the standards until 18 criticisms of the standards are rectified, studying whether the plan on the whole benefits Virginia at all before taking action, or giving the General Assembly power to do what the Attorney General has not done: sue the EPA on behalf of Virginia.

Common-sense steps to make solar accessible and affordable for more Virginians

The main piece of legislation we’ve watched that would put an end to indiscriminate carbon pollution and lead to investments in clean energy and climate adaptation is the Virginia Coastal Protection Act. The bill did not manage to get the support it needed this year to make it out of committee.

Still, as we fight the bad bills above, we have a chance to make progress on several clean energy bills that will make a real difference to bring more renewable energy online in Virginia. Several will be heard in the House Energy Subcommittee on Tuesday, Feb. 3, be there to support solutions like community solar, larger net metering, and more!

Fracking and pipelines threaten Appalachia

Wednesday, January 14th, 2015 - posted by cat
Photo courtesy of Terry Wild Stock Photography.

Photo courtesy of Terry Wild Stock Photography.

Appalachian Voices is launching new web pages today about efforts to open North Carolina to natural gas fracking and proposals to build massive natural gas pipelines through several Appalachian states. These proposals threaten public health, local communities, and the environment, and also could dramatically impede the growing efforts to shift to cleaner energy across the region.

Over the last decade, the natural gas industry has overwhelmed scores of communities across the country, building miles of new pipelines and erecting huge drilling rigs, sucking up fresh water from creeks and aquifers, and overrunning backroads and town streets with tanker trucks hauling chemicals and waste. Local and state regulations are either nonexistent, or insufficient to cope with the impacts.

As a result, the breakneck growth in the industry poses tremendous risk to public health and the environment. And a growing reliance on natural gas, a fossil fuel, could drastically delay America’s U.S. shift to cleaner, more sustainable energy sources.

Yes, burning natural gas for electricity has lower smokestack emissions of carbon dioxide than burning coal, but it should not be forgotten that the drilling process releases huge amounts of methane, a greenhouse gas that is more than 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Experts say the rise of natural gas as utilities’ fuel of choice runs counter to the carbon reductions we must make to keep climate change in check.

We can’t afford to invest in new natural gas drilling operations, power plants, pipelines or other infrastructure that would lock us into decades of relying on this fossil fuel, while shortchanging cleaner energy. The thing is, every dollar – public or private – invested in expanding natural gas production is one less dollar invested in truly clean, less carbon-intensive sources such as energy efficiency, and wind and solar power. Not only do these energy solutions translate to cleaner air and more protections for our water resources, they create new jobs and tremendous economic opportunity.

Last year, several massive pipelines were proposed generally running from West Virginia through Virginia, and one would go on through North Carolina. Citizens are taking action to oppose the projects out of concern about the impacts to private property, water resources, and some of Virginia’s most treasured historic and natural heritage sites.

And North Carolina recently lifted its long-standing state moratorium on fracking; Under the sway of the industry and its allies, the state has developed regulations that are wholly inadequate to protect communities and the environment. In response, a grassroots movement has sprung up to protect the state’s natural resources and push lawmakers to reinstate the moratorium.