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Gov-Elect McAuliffe’s opportunity to turn dirty money to good

December 5th, 2013 · 2 Comments

The fundraising for the inaugural party for the incoming Virginia Governor, Democratic Terry McAuliffe, is seeing a serious lift due to donations from fossil-fuel dependent Corporations. Most notably,

McAuliffe’s Inaugural Committee Dominion: Global Warming Starts Herehas received $25,000 from Alpha Natural Resources, an $8 billion coal company that gave $92,500 to Cuccinelli’s campaign. Dominion Resources, a Virginia-based coal, gas, and nuclear conglomerate that gave Cuccinelli $75,000, has given McAuliffe’s committee $50,000.

Yes, of the $325,000 from large contributors through 2 December, just under 25 percent comes from two firms closely associated with seeking to undermine climate science, hamper Virginia’s moves to greater energy efficiency and a cleaner electricity system, and who strongly supported the campaign of fossil-foolish climate-science denier Ken Cuccinelli.

Differences on climate science and clean energy were stark during the election campaign.  And, those differences played a significant role in McAuliffe’s election, as Virginians want to move forward to a clean-energy 21st century rather than double-down on polluting 19th century energy concepts.

As a Virginian concerned about creating a prosperous clean-energy future for my children and my fellow Virginians, that these fossil-foolish interests can (seemingly) buy a seat at the table for such relatively paltry — for them — amounts is disconcerting and raises concerns of that ‘business as usual’ New Energyprocesses of buying access and influence in Richmond will continue on their merry way.

The Governor-Elect has an opportunity before him to send a signal that my concerns are misplaced and that he will seek all reasonable paths to create the clean energy future that he has spoken about.  That opportunity is — in this case — countable to the tune of $75,000.

When it comes to questionable contributions — whether to politicians or to political activities such as the inauguration — many call for the money to be returned to the donor.  Honestly, this has always seemed counter-productive to me. While there might be some bad associated press, that donor gets (implicit) credit for having made the donation for free as they get their cash back (okay, without interest).

To me, the far more sensible question in any such circumstance is to say:  how can that dirty money be made clean?

  • If questionable comes from a drug dealer, why not donate money to drug counseling services?
  • If the dirty money is from people exploiting child labor, why not use it for building schools in economically deprived areas?
  • If the money comes from anti-science climate denying fossil fuel interests, why not invest in science education and/or clean energy programs?

In this case, Governor-Elect McAuliffe has a very interesting opportunity.

An opportunity to make truth from what he spoke about during his campaign

Candidate Terry McAuliffe, for example,

Wind is clean, wind is safe, solar is clean, solar is safe. So let’s get everything moving forward, studying all these other things, but let’s not be waiting, let’s be moving forward on the things we know work today.

Now, so as not to ‘hide’ things, candidate McAuliffe said this too about solar: “Much more difficult for solar here, obviously, because we don’t have the sun.” That “obviously” isn’t, however, so obvious when one looks at actual facts. While there are many other examples, this Virginian household gets about 80% of our electricity from rooftop solar panels.

How might Governor-Elect McAuliffe “be moving forward” both symbolically and substantively with clean and safe solar power with $75,000 of dirty money?

Why not dedicate that money to putting solar panels up — using a Virginia solar contractor — at the Governor’s mansion in Richmond?

The roughly 20 kilowatts of capacity that $75,000 might get installed would generate in the range of 25 megawatt hours of electricity per year. That would be a bit more than twice the average electricity bill for a Virginia homeowner.  Clearly, this is substance that is primarily symbolic.

With this symbolic move, the in-coming Governor would make a clear statement that he will seek reasonable opportunities to promote a clean energy future for all Virginians by “moving forward on the things we know work today.”


If you agree that Governor-Elect McAuliffe should turn dirty money into good, join the call.

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Tags: dominion virginia power · solar · Solar Energy

2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Tara Hutchinson // Dec 5, 2013 at 11:25 am

    McAuliffe believes human activity has contributed to global warming, and characterizes clean energy as a national security issue.

    “believes” is a weak term about science. I like scientist Vicky Pope’s take on this:

    When climate scientists like me explain to people what we do for a living we are increasingly asked whether we “believe in climate change”. Quite simply it is not a matter of belief. Our concerns about climate change arise from the scientific evidence that humanity’s activities are leading to changes in our climate. The scientific evidence is overwhelming.

  • 2 John Egan // Dec 6, 2013 at 1:15 am

    Your solar home is lovely and exactly what is needed. At one point we had many areas of agreement and only a few areas of disagreement.

    I support incentives rather than code requirements.

    Code requirements matter. Just as with fire safety … if there aren’t code requirements for insulation, efficiency, etc …, builders build to the minimum (almost entirely) and we will be building poor infrastructure that will last for decades to come.

    Also, want to have ‘incentives’. Incentives can come in many, many fashions. For example, we should long ago have had “PITIE” — Principal, Interest, Taxes, Insurance, Energy — within the mortgage process to make efficient (and renewable energy creating) housing more affordable.

    Retrofitting should offer significant tax write-offs ,

    Several items:

    1. We should strive to get as much done at new build as retrofit is more expensive.

    2. Not sure that I want ‘tax write-offs’ as opposed to incredibly simple/easy paths to have ‘financed’ in ways that make sense to everyone. How about very low interest rate loan that is paid back via real estate taxes that stay with house even if it is sold/transferred? And, having the loan structure done such that loan repayments are lower than the savings on energy bills? (Interesting twist, which does benefit higher-income, here is that this makes the ‘loan repayment’ tax deductible as it is a property tax payment.)

    3. And, of course, having a major program for ‘retrofitting’ creates job potential for ‘lesser skilled’ workers across the country in meaningful numbers at, it should be expected, living wages.

    not only for homeowners – but also for renters by way of writing off rental income for rental property owners.

    Absolutely agree that we need to work hard to create benefits for the good share of the population that rents and doesn’t own. The skewed incentive structures often work against us. For example, a rental property owner is better off financially (if paying utility costs) having energy inefficiency with higher utility bills rather than investing in energy efficiency because the utility bills are deductible directly against rental income while the investment in higher quality systems (whether better refrigerator, more insulation in walls, etc …) ends up going into a multiple-year depreciation schedule and the total deduction value (since this is NPV) is lower than the actual dollars put in. E.g., the utility payment is a 1-1 against rental income while the energy efficiency / renewable energy is something like 1-(1-x-p) with “x” being the time value of money and “p” the paperwork headache (a real financial cost due to time, accountant payments, etc …) of doing depreciation schedules.

    Having an energy efficient home is — all things being equal — more comfortable and healthier for the occupants. The HVAC will run less often and at lower power = less noise inside. Sealing air gaps means less leakage and more comfort. Etc … We should have policy structures (financing, taxation policy, etc …) that extend these benefits to renters. And, within those policies, paths where the renter will see at least some share of the financial benefits that accrue from lowered utility bills alongside having a more comfortable and healthier home.

    And, not a new advocacy on my part. For example, from this discussion of how to create good jobs via a stimulus package

    Greening Affordable Housing (especially rental) While the above will drive huge investments in the private sector, including in rental units, we should assure ourselves that that the poorest are not left on the side. For roughly $30 billion, affordable-housing rental units can be brought to high energy efficiency levels, reducing utility costs and improving the living conditions for those renters.