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Ken Plum: Energy capital of the East Coast

The Governor’s 2011 Conference on Energy has been announced for October 17-19 at the Richmond Convention Center. Once again the logo for the conference proclaims “Virginia: Energy Capital of the East Coast.” For a state that imports nearly 20 percent of its electricity and virtually all its petroleum products and is in the lower half of the states in promoting alternative energy sources, the claim that the Governor tosses around in his speeches that Virginia is the East Coast’s energy capital hardly seems to fit reality. If the slogan is to indicate the debates that are likely to take place in the Commonwealth next year on energy issues, it might be a better fit.

The Energy Capital of the East Coast is likely to see intense debates next year on uranium mining, off-shore drilling, wind farms, fracking, and renewable energy sources. A move on the part of uranium mining interests will attempt to repeal the ban on mining uranium that has been in place for several decades. While the current focus is on mining in Southside, a repeal would affect all deposits in the state including those closer to the water supply of Northern Virginia. I and the conservation community oppose lifting the ban because of the potential risks to human health and safety.

Although the amount of oil off-shore of Virginia is debatable, the Governor continues to promote “drill, baby, drill!” as a solution to many of the state’s problems including funding transportation. There will be a move on the part of the Governor to secure leases from the federal government. Whether such leases will be available is unknown, and whether Virginia could realize any tax money from them is highly problematic. The most recent oil spill along the Gulf coast quelled much of the interest in drilling off the coast of Virginia. Of much greater interest recently has been the prospect of wind farms off the Virginia coast to generate electricity. Technical studies have found that the wind off the Virginia coast is strong and sustainable enough to support wind turbines to generate electricity. The gigantic turbines would be far enough off the coast so as to be barely visible from land. Financing of such a project seems to be the major hurdle.

Natural gas extraction in the state will be controversial as proposals are made to use fracking to free natural gas from the shale. Under this method, water and chemicals are pumped into the shale under tremendous pressure causing the shale to fracture and release the gas. The impact on the water supply of the chemicals used is open to serious discussions as there are currently claims in Pennsylvania that drinking well have been adversely affected.

With these heavyweight issues, alternative energy will not receive much attention. Maybe Virginia is the energy-debate capital of the East!

Ken Plum is a member of the Virginia House of Delegates.