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Energize Virginia Democratic Governor Primary

June 8th, 2009 · 1 Comment

A positive sign of our changing time is that all four candidates (soon to be two) for Governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia have put into public serious statements about energy and environmental issues. We will put aside the “all of the above” and “drill here, drill now” fantasies of Republican Bob McDonnell to turn our eyes to the three Democratic Party candidates for Governor. Before comparing, there is something excellent to highlight here: all three candidates have real plans and each have positive elements. All three highlight the importance of energy efficiency and discuss renewable energy standards. All three call for renewable electricity standards stronger than those proposed in the Waxman-Markey American Clean Energy and Security (ACES) Act. All of this is a good sign.

In short, to summarize reviewing the candidate’s platforms, if energy and environmental issues are on the top of your plate, your vote should go to Brian Moran. Terry McAuliffe’s plan has much to assimilate and of value but is somewhat confused, even contradictory, and not as aggressively direct about the climate challenges and opportunities before the Commonwealth of Virginia. And, while Creigh Deeds concepts are much stronger than anything we’ll see from McDonnell, they pale in contrast to the urgency of the situation before us.

From another angle, however, whichever Democrat emerges from the primary as the candidate for government would be well advised to read (closely) as each of the three actually has their strengths … and weaknesses.

Let’s simply take a look at the material in their plans and on their websites.

Creigh Deeds (pdf file)

Creigh Deeds merits credit for much of his past, having been a leader in getting a land-preservation tax credit program into effect and supporting mass transit (which is far from a major player in his district). He also took the politically inexpedient position of supporting a gas tax to fund transportation improvements mainly in the Northern Virginia suburbs and Hampton Roads area. When challenged by a consituent, reportedly, Deeds said “Who do you think pays for your schools? We need to help solve their transportation problems if you want them to keep paying for our schools.”

Deeds’ Smarter Energy - Better Jobs - Greener Virginia (pdf file) provides a “comprehensive energy plan’ which has a mix of excellent, problemmatic, and confusion.

Under a call of a “mandatory renewable portfolio standard (RPS) by 2020 and 22% by 2025″, the first bullet is the investment of (hold your breath) $15 million for three biomass facilities to be built by 2020. Oh, by the way, RPS refers to the electricity supply and these three facilities are all for liquid fuel.

The next section is entitled “bio-fuel infrastructure” with the first bullet

With more alternative fuel vehicles on the road today, demand is going for fuels like natural gas …

Okay, “natural gas” (unless methane from waste or trash) is not a “bio-fuel”. And, the reference to natural gas has enough taste of T Boone Pickens’ shell game to cause concern.

Deeds has been a long time supporter of wind projects. In the section “large-scale wind projects”, after a bullet on wind farms in SW Virginia and off Virginia Beach, the plan writes that “Creigh will ensure that these farms are working by the end of 2012.” Okay, simply put, that is a promise that is difficult to believe has any substance … offshore windfarms are extremely difficult to get through the approval processes, require significant lead time for procurement and then construction. An offshore windfarm in operation by 2012? Color me skeptical.

Such problems, minor and large, are sprinkled throughout Deeds’ plan.

Should we mention Deeds’ strong statements in support of coal playing, indefinitely and inexorably, a role in Virginia’s energy future? And, his reluctance to speak out against Mountain Top Removal (even while calling for “steep slope” mining to restore contours after mining is finished)?

Sigh …

Terry McAuliffe has offered A Comprehensive, Long-Term Plan for Virginia’s Energy Future. As part of his “Business Plan for Virginia”, this heavily (and appropriately) links energy with economic opportunity. These 29 pages merit the term “comprehensive”, with much material standing out meriting praise such as

Increasing the availability of solar power by establishing a feed-in tariff program to incentivize the use of solar energy and by offering local governments loans from the state so that they can in turn offer loans to property owners who want to install solar power.

Both of these are valuable approaches, being undertaken elsewhere in the country and the globe, that will help foster greater penetration of solar power.

McAuliffe’s discussion of seeking to protect miners while seeking to avoid requirements for burning coal are, we can hope, a viable approach to convince mining communities that there are both viable and valuable options to continuing to scare their communities with mountain top removal.

At times, some of the plan’s words simply confuse. In discussing “invest in energy efficiency,” written is “change the incentives that tell utilities that more is always better.” Huh … with all the research and expert assistance, the term “profit decoupling” didn’t seem relevant? Is there some hidden meaning in that?

Or, McAuliffe’s assert that “Virginia is uniquely situated to become the East Coast center of wave energy” when Virginia’s wave resources are a shadow of Maine’s and Maine universities are already well advanced in the pursuit of developing viable ocean energy systems.

Even so, writ large, there is much of value in McAuliffe’s “Comprehensive Plan” that would move Virginia forward smartly onto a better energy path.

Brian Moran’s Green Virginia: Building the 21st Century Energy Economy (pdf) has the strongest statements of the urgency of our climate challenge

The threat of climate change is real. … These changes, if left unchecked, would devastate our environment and our economy. From agriculture to commercial fishing, these changes would lead to dramatic challenges to our economy.

And, Moran links this directly to Virginia.

Over the next century, sea levels could rise several feet, swallowing up an area of land in Virginia the size of Fairfax County, swallowing up our wetlands and more than half of our beaches and large parts of Smith and Tangier Island. This would decimate the Chesapeake Bay for sport fishing, waterfowl huting, bird watching, and commercial fishing. Much of the Hampton Roads region would be inundated, devastating this region and the economy of our entire Commonwealth.

Too few politicians are stating, directly, the facts of Global Warming and taken the step to connect those events to poeple’s backyards … and threats to those backyards.

Moran places the starkest question before voters as to the opportunities:

We must act now because America’s and the world’s energy economy is changing. The only question is whether Virginia will lead, benefitting from thousands of new jobs and investment in our economy, or be left behind.

As with McAuliffe, Moran is calling for 25 percent of Virginia’s electricity to come from renewable energy by 2025.

Moran directly calls for “incentivizing efficiency through electricity decoupling” as “there is a clear disincentive for electric utilities to become more energy efficient because theya re compensated based on the amount of energy they produce.” Electricity decoupling breaks this so that utilities are incentivized to provide energy services, which can include efficiency as a path toward greater profitability.

In conclusion …

Let us be clear. All three Democratic candidates offer a step forward from the current situation and all are clearly better on energy than Bob “Drill, Baby, Drill” McDonnell. All three of the candidates speak to renewable energy, calling for standards stronger than today’s. All three emphasize energy efficiency. And, each has elements in their plan that the eventual candidate should incorporate into their final plan.

If you place energy and environmental issues on the top of your agenda, the slate of options is first Moran, a somewhat close second McAuliffe, and a clearly third position Deeds.

Energy and environment are clearly not the only issues to consider, but are they important ones?

NOTE: Truth in blogging. Many months ago, I (mildly) came out in support of Brian Moran on the basis of the energy / environmental positions at that time. Since then, both McAuliffe and Deeds came out with plans. McAuliffe’s “comprehensive plan” makes this a much closer question of differentiation than was the case those months ago.

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