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Report: Virginia leadership can help an international agreement on climate

environment vaVirginia is gearing up to play a major role in U.S. progress to address climate change, a new report said today. In the next decade, the state will cut as much global warming pollution as 22 billion tons of coal burned annually.

The Environment Virginia Research & Policy Center report comes as pressure mounts on the U.S. to play a leading role in negotiations for an international climate agreement in Paris.

“The way forward for America to lead is by example,” said Sarah Bucci, campaign director with Environment Virginia. “With Virginia’s help, that’s just what we are doing.”

The analysis, Path to the Paris Climate Conference, documents expected carbon pollution reductions from existing state-level and federal policies by 2025, including renewable energy standards, fuel efficiency standards for cars and trucks, and regional and state-based carbon caps. Solar can power Virginia 18 times over. That resource will be expanded due to legislation passed in the 2015 General Assembly, and signed into law by Governor McAuliffe, creating the Virginia Solar Development Authority, increasing net-metering capacity for solar power and establishing 500MW of solar energy to be in the public interest.

And Virginians are taking action into their own hands by creating community solar co-op programs. Members of the “Solarize” programs go through the process of purchasing solar systems together, allowing members of the co-op to save up to 30 percent off the cost of installing a solar system and having the support of a group instead of trying to go it alone. “Solarize” groups have formed, and are forming across the commonwealth including initiatives in Blacksburg, Richmond, Charlottesville, Harrisonburg, Leesburg, Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads.

“The growth of solar co-ops throughout the Commonwealth demonstrates Virginians are using solar energy as a cost-effective way to power their homes and businesses.” said Aaron Sutch, Program Director for VA SUN. “Solar energy is helping us build a sustainable and secure future while creating local jobs.”

Blacksburg Mayor Ron Rordam was recently recognized by the U.S. Conference of Mayors as the winner of the Mayor’s Climate Protection Award for the Solarize Blacksburg program. The award recognizes mayors for “innovative programs that increase energy efficiency and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

“Blacksburg is proud to be part of a nationwide trend of localities making a difference in climate protection,” said Mayor Rordam. “Solarize Blacksburg was just such an effort. We set out as our goal to double solar energy produced in town. We quadrupled it. Not only that, but localities across Virginia have adopted this model and are finding similar results. Hopefully, mayors across the country will now look to this model.”

The biggest slice of these reductions will come from the Clean Power Plan, the proposed federal limits on carbon pollution from power plants expected to be finalized this summer. The plan requires an 38% percent cut in greenhouse gas emissions from power plants in Virginia, and compels state leaders to accelerate the transition to clean energy sources such as wind and solar.

However, fossil fuel interests and their allies in Congress are trying to block the Clean Power Plan, with the House voting as recently as last week to derail it.

“America can’t lead with polluters and climate deniers blocking the way,” said Bucci. “That’s why we’re grateful to Govenor McAuliffe for supporting the Clean Power Plan. I urge Virginia’s Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine to defend against attacks in Congress.”

To avoid devastating impacts of climate change, scientists estimate that an 80 percent cut in global warming pollution will be necessary by mid-century. As the report notes, a more rapid transition to clean energy sources, beyond those already required by existing policies, will be required to achieve these levels.

“Virginia is poised to play a major role in American progress to cut global warming pollution,” said Bucci. “We must build on that progress to ensure a better, healthier future for our climate and our children.”

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