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Systems Power: Three thoughts for Virginia’s next governor

August 17th, 2017 · No Comments

Energy and climate issues are a prominent part of Virginia’s 2017 campaign season, perhaps more than any time in the past.  From fossil-foolish pipelines to corporate donations to potential economic development opportunities, there is more energy about the discussion of energy in a Virginian election year than perhaps any time in the past.

Not surprisingly, the differences between the two candidates for governor are stark, with Republican “Enron Ed” Gillespie given minimal (at best) acknowledgment of climate change (not outright denying like so many other (Virginia) Republicans — what a low bar to reach) without any example of how he would address its risks/opportunities. While far from a passionate Climate Hawk, the Democratic Party nominee, Ralph Northam, clearly understands and respects climate science and proposes a number of policies to mitigate and adapt to climate changes realities.

While Northam discusses climate change and has proposed some steps (unlike his opponent) to help address it, clearly Ralph Northam can be more aggressive in those measures … and with steps that address climate reality while improving Virginians’ health, improving Virginia school systems’ performance, fostering job growth and the development of a stronger 21st century workforce/work environment, reducing costs (for citizens, businesses, government), boosting economic development, and improving Virginia’s image in the nation and internationally

The reality of 21st century opportunities and challenges is that they are intertwined: systems-of-systems where understanding and emphasizing those interconnections and interactions can lead to far more valuable outcomes.  Staying again, for convenience sake, solely within the campaign website, it is hard to see where or how Ralph Northam emphasizes any of this.

My top concern space is climate — and the environmental, energy, technology, societal, business practice, etc. arenas associated with it. One of the notable elements over more than a decade related to climate/environment policy/discussion are serious efforts to move past a stove-piped understanding of these issues. The simplest construct is that it is NOT environment vs. economy but Environment AND Economy.

The intertwining and reinforcing nature of linking environment AND economy  are seriously interconnected spaces, where smart policies/proposals could offer serious payoffs for Virginia and, in fact, the Northam campaign’s electoral prospects.  Here are three examples of tangible examples of systems-of-systems environment/economy proposals that Ralph Northam can – and should -embrace/promote.

  • Greening Schools
    • Greening schools might be the most cost-effective path toward improving school performance. In fact, it might be the only educational achievement-enhancing path that is also “profitable” (due to energy and operational cost benefits) even without considering the secondary (job creation, student/teacher health) and tertiary (pollution levels, capacity building for energy efficiency and other ‘green’ across the country) benefits.
    • Note that:
      • A ‘greening schools’ program can fit strongly with Northam’s STEAM concepts, create jobs, help address environmental justice issues and economic disparity (with additional greening support as a path to help improve educational performance in less-wealthy districts), improve energy resiliency, improve health, reduce pollution, and save taxpayers’ money.
      • Improving K-12 educational achievement is a top-notch path for improving economic performance (from attractiveness to businesses to job creation to …) and, again, a major program to green schools could secure these payoffs even while saving money.
  • Leveraging VW settlement funds for a PHEV/EV School Bus program
    • VW’s diesel fraud led to a major settlement — which includes $87M for the Commonwealth “to fund environmental improvement and air pollution reduction projects.” That is a targeted “trust fund for use on projects to improve the environment by reducing air pollution in the transportation sector.”
    • Virginia’s school buses are an excellent target for this fund.  School buses are fuel hogs, spew diesel fumes, and worsen student/public health.  Transitioning to plug-in hybrid electric school buses and electric school buses would have tremendous payoffs in terms of reduced pollution (from cancer-causing particulates to CO2 to noise), reduced damage to student (and public) health, improved grid stability, emergency response value, and financial savings.
      • Notes:
        • Dominion Power and other Virginia electric utilities should be supportive of such a program as it translates to increased electricity demand (while reducing diesel demands)
        • A strong program could create numerous jobs: Virginia, as a driver in PHESB/ESB introduction (that would drive down prices due to economies of scale), could demand suppliers (manufacturers) have work content (set up facilities) in the Commonwealth.  And, those facilities could end up exporting buses to other states — after Virginia’s program has create enough demand to drive down costs via economies of scale.
  • Championing a major acceleration of Virginia offshore wind:
    • For those of us who closely watch the energy domain, the dramatic price falls in offshore wind have been a pleasant surprise over the past few years.
      • Seriously, I do not recall a conversation from the early 2010s that postulated any offshore wind project delivering at below 10 cents per kWh (might not have been in the right conversations but …) and, well, we are now seeing hard bids for well under that in Europe.
      • Key players in offshore wind are bidding into projects in the United States … able to take their lessons from Europe and apply them here.
    • Virginia hasn’t been the “go-to place” for offshore wind for multiple reasons:
      • cheap electricity rates;
      • lukewarm (at best) Dominion Energy engagement;
      • no mandatory Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) or carbon price; etc.
    • Virginia can/should be a lead offshore wind energy player.
      • The dramatic price drops in wind power, along with the burgeoning programs up the coast, should help to change this in terms of Virginia government priority.
      • Among other things, offshore wind power development would help secure the Tidewater region (with its excellent harbor, extensive shipbuilding/manufacturing capacity, etc …) as the nation’s (or at least the East Coast’s) leading industrial/logistical support hub for what will likely be a booming industry for years/decades to come.

These are just three examples of environment AND economy proposals, with tremendous benefits for Virginians and Virginia, that Ralph Northam can — and should — embrace. Showing that he “gets” the environment/economic interaction (rather than opposition or separation), along with substantive proposals for action in these veins is a way for Ralph Northam to generate enthusiasm in this Virginian voter, and possibly many others as well.

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Tags: PHEV