Our region of Virginia that once gave birth to the Declaration of Independence now stands poised to lead a new revolution that grants our nation energy independence. Whether one is for or against the new energy bill, most Americans are sick of going to the gas station to pour our hard-earned dollars to petro-dictators overseas instead of investing those same resources in homegrown energy and industry. Most also agree that bringing jobs back to Southside requires a major shakeup, not just business as usual. The key to that shakeup is game-changers that redefine our competitive advantage. The time has come to change our trade policy and to embrace a new energy future that transforms our rural areas into the frontlines of our struggle for energy independence. The time has come to let consumers decide how much they want to invest in America instead of dictators like Ahmadinejad.
In the spirit of this Independence Day season, I unveiled a blueprint for a new energy economy for Central and Southside Virginia in Rocky Mount last week, surrounded by small business owners and entrepreneurs from our region who are ready to be national leaders in the new energy economy. This blueprint is the product of six months of listening to leaders in Southside – elected officials, innovators, workers, and investors – to figure out how we can get ahead of the next job boom.
We are already seeing companies like Mod-u-Kraf Homes in Franklin County become a national leader in energy efficient homes. Windy Acres in Pittsylvania County and Red Birch Energy in Henry County are leading the way on bio-refineries. Several companies are leading the way on advanced battery manufacturing so that all those new hybrid batteries can be made right here in the USA.
The clean energy economy can be the next growth industry, creating millions of new jobs. Some of the biggest winners should be agricultural areas that can produce biofuels, and areas like Region 2000 that are connected to the nuclear industry, as well as former manufacturing hubs that can support the new advanced manufacturing of efficiency technology. The Fifth District is poised to be at the forefront for the growth of these new jobs because we have such strong temperate farming conditions, and the support of private and Tobacco Commission funding to reinforce our leadership.
The cheapest energy is the energy you don’t use, and Fifth District companies can produce energy efficient doors and windows for our homes, and our workforce can be trained to retrofit aging buildings to make them more energy efficient. We can also encourage the locally grown food movement, which not only provides increased nutritional benefits to consumers and an improved market for the region’s farmers, but also reduces the energy required to move farm goods.
To really meet the nation’s need for energy independence, we need to tap all of the energy sources that exist in the region. Bio-refineries and bio-power plants can be strategically located throughout the region using feedstocks grown by local farmers, many of whom are looking for a crop to replace tobacco as a sustainable source of income. Wastewater treatment plants and farms with concentrated amounts of manure—notably poultry and dairy farms—can harvest the methane produced by the waste and convert it into energy.
The new, “all-of-the-above” approach focuses on a distributed energy system, with a range of energy sources, manufactured locally. It’s about community-based energy.
Central and Southern Virginia served as the cradle of American liberty and also the economic driver of the Commonwealth for more than a century. We can be that again as we blaze a trail towards energy independence and a clean technology future. In these tough times, we must have the courage to think beyond merely surviving as a region and dare to think about how we can thrive again. The new clean energy economy is the answer.
Please feel free to contact me to share your concerns and ideas. You may call 888.4.TOM4US (888.486.6487); write to 1520 Longworth House Office Building, Washington, D.C. 20515; or visit www.perriello.house.gov to sign up for my weekly e-newsletter.
Tom Perriello represents the Fifth District in the United States House of Representatives.