Governor Ralph Northam took two significant steps last week related to Virginia’s energy future. In a word, both could be summed up as “conserving.” One action of the Governor was to announce the 2018 Virginia Energy Plan. Later in the week, he announced his signing of an executive order establishing a conservation cabinet.
The Virginia Plan makes recommendations in five areas: solar, onshore and offshore wind, energy efficiency, energy storage, and electric vehicles and advanced transportation. The goals within each of these areas are ambitious, but they are essential in shifting energy use in Virginia to a more environment-friendly direction. In a press release on October 2, the Governor is quoted as saying that “the clean energy sector has the power to create new business opportunities, expand customer access to renewable energy, and spark the high-demand jobs of the 21st century.”
Among the goals of the plan are achieving at least 3,000 megawatts of solar and wind energy by 2022, expanding net metering and community solar programs, and doubling the state’s renewable energy procurement target to 16 percent by 2022. The plan recommends that the state support Dominion Energy’s planned 12-megawatt offshore wind turbine demonstration project with a target of 2,000 megawatts of offshore wind energy by 2028.
The plan also recommends that the state-sponsored efficiency programs and financing set a 16 percent renewable procurement target and a 20 percent energy efficiency target for state agencies, moving state agencies in the direction of greater efficiencies and the use of renewable energy in a lead-by-example approach. The plan seeks also to increase the annual dollars of investments by utilities in energy efficiency programs. Recommendations also call for action to promote alternative-fuel vehicles with the development of an Advanced Clean Cars program with targets for charging stations and the state’s vehicle fleet.
The Commonwealth and utilities in the state have started efforts in many of these areas as a result of legislation passed by the General Assembly earlier this year. The plan reflects an underlying goal that the strategy not unfairly impact low-income and minority communities. Review the plan at Virginia Energy Plan.
In a separate action, Governor Northam issued an Executive Order establishing the Governor’s Conservation Cabinet, a new initiative “to better protect Virginia’s vulnerable natural resources and improve environmental quality across the Commonwealth.” The Governor stated that “this effort will strengthen our inter-agency coordination and allow us to bring all of our resources to bear in addressing environmental threats and ensuring best practices across state-driven conservation initiatives.” The initiative will seek to work with state agencies, localities, nonprofit land trusts, and willing landowners as well as partners in both public and private sectors, according to the press release announcing the Governor’s action.
Members of the Conservation Cabinet include the Secretaries of Agriculture and Forestry, Commerce and Trade, Finance, Natural Resources and Transportation. The full text of the Governor’s announcement can be found at Governor’s Conservation Cabinet.
While some will criticize state government for moving too slowly and not being bold enough in the areas of energy and the environment, I am pleased that we are at least moving in the right direction as it relates to Virginia’s energy future.
While many of us express concern that we do not see as many solar collectors on Virginia roof-tops as we would like, the Commonwealth is showing significant progress on turning sunlight into electrical energy. As with any major change there are some hazy areas that need to be considered as well.
According to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) as reported in the August 2018 issue of Virginia Business magazine, Virginia currently ranks 17th nationally with 631.3 megawatts of installed solar capacity. The ranking is a significant jump from 2016 when the state ranked 29th nationally. Even with the advanced standing, only 0.59 percent of the state’s electricity comes from solar. By way of contrast, North Carolina is second in the nation in installed solar capacity with 4,412 megawatts brought about by generous tax incentives. For North Carolina that is nearly five percent of their electricity supply.
Virginia’s future with solar appears bright with 59 notices of intent with the Department of Environmental Quality to install 2,646 megawatts of solar according to the Virginia Business article. Driving the expansion of solar energy is a sharp drop in price from $96 in 1970 to 40 cents per kilowatt this year and an insistence on the part of technology giants like Amazon, Microsoft, Google and Facebook, all of whom have a presence in Virginia, that their electric power come from solar systems. The Grid Transformation and Security Act passed by the General Assembly this year requires 5,000 new megawatts of solar and wind energy to be developed. Included in that total is 500 megawatts of small, roof-top panels.
Middlesex County Public Schools opened this year with two of its three schools powered by solar energy. Although a small, rural school system, Middlesex has the largest ground-mounted solar system of any school division in the state and is expected to save over two million dollars per year. Excess electricity generated is sent to the grid for credit for any electricity the schools takes from the grid at night through a net-metering arrangement.
Some shadows along the way can be expected with such a massive shift in the way electricity is produced. It takes about eight acres of land for each megawatt produced. Solar farms take up large amounts of land. Just last week the Culpeper County Board of Supervisors voted to deny a conditional-use permit for a 178-acre utility scale solar facility in the County. The supervisors indicated that they had questions about the project for which they did not receive adequate answers. One factor is likely to have been the results of a study by the American Battlefield Trust that indicated the project would be visible from some of the half-dozen signal stations around Culpeper County that were used during the Civil War to detect troop movement. The County depends on a high level of tourism based on its Civil War battlefields and apparently does not want to jeopardize its attraction to Civil War buffs.
The clouds will pass, and Virginia is on its way to a bright future with solar energy.
Silver Line pleads guilty to falsifying concrete tests — A contractor admitted to falsifying concrete quality tests for stations on the Silver Line extension to Dulles International Airport last week. The contractor, Andrew Nolan, 28, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud and faces up to five years in prison. [The Washington Post]
LED lights the way — Fairfax County has entered into a new regional agreement with Dominion Energy that would convert existing streetlights into more energy-efficient LEDs. The company installs, owns and maintains most of the nearly 58,000 streetlights in the county. [Fairfax County Government]
Commuter alert: Lane and ramp closures — A number of lane and ramp closures are effect in Reston and surrounding areas, including Herndon Parkway, Sunrise Valley Drive and Sunset Hills Road through Aug. 11. [Dulles Corridor Metrorail Project]
Photo by Mike James
Fairfax County residents will be able to solarize their houses at discounted rate this month, thanks to Solarize NOVA.
Throughout the month of June, Solarize NOVA will provide free solar assessments to home and business owners. Reston residents have the chance to learn more at an information session Thursday, June 22 at 7:30 p.m. at the North County Governmental Center (1801 Cameron Glen Drive).
The program, sponsored by the Northern Virginia Regional Commission and the Local Energy Alliance Program, helps residents learn about solar energy and helps with the discounted installation of solar panels.
Solarize NOVA will waive permit fees for installation. Homeowners with solar panels are able to receive a 30 percent federal tax credit and a credit on real estate taxes in Fairfax County.
The free event runs from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
The fair is sponsored by the The Three Birds Foundation, a nonprofit that “develops renewable energy initiatives that engage and inspire students, thus creating a culture of curiosity and environmental stewardship.” The fair is part of the Green Apple Day of Service, a worldwide initiative that is dedicated to growing the green schools movement, says the Three Birds Foundation.
Bring a picnic lunch or purchase food from Gordon’s Grill. There will be free wagon and carousel rides all day.