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BCSE In Action

Jacobson: Virginia and the Clean Power Plan

April 5, 2015, Richmond Times-Dispatch
By: Lisa Jacobson, President, Business Council for Sustainable Energy

The nation’s electricity sector is undergoing a sweeping transition that is providing consumers with far more choices in the way they buy and consume energy. Through a combination of exciting new technologies, changing consumer behavior and smart public policies, these choices not only provide more options for affordable and reliable energy, but they also help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Virginia is poised to be a leader in embracing this changing landscape. Already, the commonwealth has moved a significant portion of its traditional energy sources to cleaner-burning natural gas. It can build upon this promising start by beefing up its commitment to renewable energy and energy efficiency.

One of the policies that will help Virginia on this path is the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed Clean Power Plan, which seeks to lower carbon emissions from the electricity sector. The rule provides state-by-state reduction goals, while allowing tremendous flexibility for states and utilities to achieve these goals in ways that best fit local circumstances.

Gov. Terry McAuliffe sees Virginia as a bellwether state when it comes to clean energy. When submitting his administration’s comments on the Clean Power Plan, he indicated that he shared its “goals of reducing carbon emissions in order to combat the threat of global warming” and he intended to “continue Virginia’s position as a leader on this important issue.” He singled out conservation and renewables as the two most promising ways to “cut carbon and create jobs along the way.”

The Business Council on Sustainable Energy represents many of the Virginia companies that will provide the technology and service solutions envisioned by the governor. We are a diverse business group representing the three fastest-growing segments of the country’s energy sector — energy efficiency, natural gas and renewables — and our members recognize Virginia’s potential as a growing market for clean energy and the cost savings and jobs it brings.

To better understand that potential, the council recently commissioned Bloomberg New Energy Finance to provide us with a snapshot of Virginia’s current electricity profile, with an eye toward how the commonwealth can achieve EPA’s new rules.

This research, recently released, confirmed what we had suspected: If approached wisely, the Clean Power Plan can be an important way for the commonwealth to embrace rather than retreat from the opportunities of a dynamically shifting energy landscape.

For example, while renewables account for just a small fraction of Virginia’s power mix today, Bloomberg’s analysis suggests that several renewable technologies are already, or are on the verge of being, economically competitive in the state. Similarly, because the state’s utilities lag compared to its neighbors on energy efficiency investments, it has tremendous room for rapid growth in this area as well.

The good news is Virginia policymakers have an almost blank slate when it comes to encouraging more clean energy while saving consumers money. The even better news is that there has never been a better time to undertake this effort, given the growing choices coming into the market.

And in many cases, there is no need to reinvent the wheel. Virginia officials and utility executives can look across the United States for a variety of models that could be adapted to fit the commonwealth’s circumstances.

We are truly at an energy crossroads. Through the Clean Power Plan and other forward-looking energy policies, Virginia can lower its carbon footprint; provide residents with a more secure, affordable energy future; and reap significant economic benefits and create jobs at the same time.