Virginia has become a climate leader. The Senate is right to ensure it stays that way.  

March 11, 2022 12:03 am

One of two wind turbines off the coast of Virginia Beach that comprise Dominion Energy’s Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind pilot project. The Virginia Attorney General’s Office is criticizing the massive cost estimates of a larger planned wind development in the same area. (Sarah Vogelsong/ Virginia Mercury)

By Anne Kelly

The future economy of the U.S. Southeast is being built in Virginia. In just the last two years, the commonwealth has adopted a bevy of policies that are rapidly transforming it into the region’s leader on renewable energy and the electric vehicle future.

Seizing this role was, of course, a climate imperative for Virginia, which is already facing the severe effects of carbon pollution. But Virginia leaders were equally compelled by the massive economic opportunities of the transition to clean energy and transportation.

They saw a chance to grow new industries, to spark innovation and to generate jobs — and a path for companies and households alike to more easily access the affordable renewable energy and electric vehicle options that will help them run more efficiently.

Today, more than 88,000 Virginians work in renewable energy and electric vehicle transportation, including 9,000 in rural Virginia, which is 60 percent higher than the state’s fossil fuel workforce. And at least 97 companies in Virginia have committed to powering their operations entirely on renewable energy. These figures will grow as the state’s climate policies take greater hold and attract even more business investment. That’s a big reason why such policies have been enthusiastically embraced by major companies operating in the commonwealth. They know that a clean, sustainable and resilient economy is good for business.

One policy that companies adamantly support is the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. RGGI is new to Virginia, which joined the program in 2020, but it has a proven record of success elsewhere. Since 2009, the cap-and-trade program to reduce pollution from power plants has helped East Coast states dramatically slash emissions, nearly twice as fast as the rest of the country. RGGI states, under the leadership of both Republicans and Democrats, have at the same time seen their economies grow faster than the national average and utility rates decline even as rates rise in other states.

Virginia reaps $228 million in first year of carbon market participation

RGGI is also a vital funding source to protect Virginia communities from the climate impacts that many are already experiencing firsthand. In just one year of Virginia’s participation in RGGI, its funds have already led to investments of tens of millions of dollars to help cities and towns address the threats of floods. Leaving RGGI would forfeit these funds in the future, as well as the significant economic benefits RGGI states enjoy. It would also make it significantly more difficult for Virginia to meet its legal mandate of operating on 100 percent clean electricity by 2050, resulting in more climate pollution and risking even worse long-term flooding impacts from sea level rise and extreme weather.

Leaving RGGI and rolling back other renewable energy and electric vehicle policies like the Virginia Clean Economy Act and Clean Cars Standards would be detrimental not just to the climate, but to Virginia’s economy and a key growth industry.

With so much to gain and so much at stake, it is good to see the Virginia Senate heed the call of the business community and maintain Virginia’s renewable energy and clean transportation ambitions. As the full General Assembly heads into final negotiations for this session, the Senate should know that their support has the backing of leading companies that see smart renewable energy and electric vehicles policies as critical to building a healthy business community.

As several major employers — including Mars, IKEA Retail U.S., Nestlé, Workday, and Unilever — wrote in a recent letter to the General Assembly: “Our companies are motivated to make investments in places where we can access these types of policies.” Let’s keep Virginia one of those places. 

Anne Kelly is vice president of government relations at Ceres, a sustainability nonprofit that works with companies and investors in Virginia and across the U.S. to implement sustainability practices and policies.

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