Ken Plum: Energy sustainability, resiliency

ken plumThose who were concerned that the 2016 Energy, Sustainability and Resiliency conference sponsored by the Virginia Chamber of Commerce Foundation would be business as usual were in for a surprise. This recent conference in Richmond was about anything but holding onto the past; it was about seizing opportunities in a dynamic and exciting future whose issues of sustainability and resiliency in our energy future reign supreme.

A not-too-subtle hint that this conference was going to be different came in the exhibit area where a brand-new Tesla auto was on display. While Tesla got the spotlight, it could have as easily been the Nissan LEAF, the Chevrolet Volt or one of the European sports cars that are going electric.

The exhibit area of the conference was filled with dozens of companies whose businesses are built around the sustainability and resiliency of energy. The greatest opportunity for cost savings and a secure future in energy is with greater efficiency. There were several vendors with cost-saving replacements to the old incandescent light bulb. Not only are they brighter; they last for decades. And there are savings and efficiencies to be realized in the way we design and construct our buildings with plenty of consultants to show you how that can be done.

A frequent concern I get from constituents is the lack of evidence we can see in Virginia for the use of alternative methods for generating electricity, specifically by solar and wind power. I get excited when I see the giant wind turbines and solar farms that exist in other places. There are some realities we have to face here, however. Of the two places in Virginia where there is adequate wind to support wind turbines, one is in a jurisdiction that will not allow them. The other is offshore where prototypes are being designed and tested by the federal government that could lead to very big wind farms. Next door in West Virginia, Dominion Power of Virginia is part-owner of a wind farm that makes enough power for an estimated 66,000 households. There continues to be opposition to the use of wind for the harm it may cause to birds, but even this issue is being resolved in some locations.

Solar-generated power is happening in Virginia as it is throughout the country although it may not be at the pace many of us would like. Our incumbent electric company, Dominion, has solar facilities operating in seven states from California to Connecticut. A Dominion facility built in partnership with Amazon on the Eastern Shore of Virginia will at 80 megawatts be the largest solar facility in the mid-Atlantic region. Another solar facility in Fauquier County when approved by state regulators will have 260,000 solar panels on 125 acres of land. Three other projects pending regulatory approval will provide 56 megawatts of solar generated power.

We need a strong economy to help jobs in the Commonwealth and to support our way of life. A reliable, sustainable and resilient energy system is critical to that goal. From what I learned at the conference, we are well on our way in Virginia.





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