A diverse group of community leaders from the academic, faith, parenting and environmental fields came together Tuesday morning for a press conference organized by the Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club to voice shared concerns about the increase in climate-changing carbon pollution proposed in Dominion Virginia Power’s Integrated Resource Plan.
The Sierra Club is participating in the State Corporation Commission’s proceedings on Dominion’s IRP. The group has submitted testimony from three expert witnesses calling into question Dominion’s demand forecast and assumptions about the complying with the Clean Power Plan and increasingly stringent carbon pollution limits.
Dominion’s IRP outlines five possible plans for future power generation. Four of Dominion’s plans would sharply increase carbon dioxide emissions from new generation while only “Plan E” would limit emissions from new and existing power plants and would still result in a 14 percent increase in carbon dioxide emissions in 2041 over 2012 levels.
“The carbon pollution increases in Dominion’s plans result from a massive build-out of fracked gas infrastructure,” Glen Besa, former director of the Sierra Club Virginia Chapter, said. “Since it is owned by a major gas company and affiliated with both the proposed $5.1 billion Atlantic Coast Pipeline and the Dominion Transmission pipeline, Dominion clearly has incentives to increase its investments in fracked gas generation and pipelines and its corresponding returns from ratepayers.”
Dominion’s IRP hearing comes at a time when both the state of Virginia, through the Governor’s Executive Order 57, and the entire nation and international community, through the Paris Climate Agreement, have made it clear that addressing climate change by reducing carbon pollution from power plants is a top priority.
“As Dominion’s proposals clearly show, an increasing reliance on gas does not lead to long term reductions in emissions,” Lorne Stockman, Research Director for Oil Change International, said. “In all of the company’s proposals, emissions increase after an initial decline.”
Oil Change International’s July 2016 report, A Bridge Too Far, used the latest Energy Information Administration projections for U.S. gas use, and found that the projected rise in fracked gas use will leave no room for emissions from other sources before 2040. According to the report, gas use alone will overshoot the US carbon budget before 2040, even if all burning of oil and coal is stopped.
“With all the discussion of carbon emissions, carbon budgets, climate negotiations, energy production and Integrated Resource Plans the human aspect, the moral aspect of climate change can sometimes get lost,” Mark Hoggard, Director of Lifelong Faith Formation at the Church of St. Therese in Chesapeake, VA, said.
During the conference, Hoggard often referenced Laudato Sí, Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical which called for a “broad cultural revolution” to confront the environmental crisis. Hoggard said these teachings need to inform our discussions as we move forward from the 2015 Paris Agreement to reduce carbon dioxide emissions over the next 50 years.
“That’s why I’m concerned with Dominion’s apparent lack of interest in investing in renewable energy resources such as wind and solar, and instead employing a ‘business as usual’ approach to meeting Virginia’s energy needs,” Hoggard said.
According to Steve Nash, author of Virginia Climate Fever, who also spoke at the conference, Norfolk has already seen nine inches of sea level rise since 1970. Nash reported that the most optimistic projection by the Virginia Institute of Marine Science is another 1.5 foot increase by 2050. But sea level rise is not the only impact of corporate polluters’ climate inaction. Nash said that temperatures are projected to increase substantially in all regions of the Commonwealth.
“For example, Richmond may see three times as many days over 90 degrees each year coming to about three months of 90 degree or more days,” Nash said. “In fact, we’re on track to have the same climate as South Carolina in another 40 years or so, and the increases continue after that.”
Nash argued that if Virginia continues with pipelines, fracking and other dirty fuel projects, “we are coming down very hard on the wrong side of history and of our own future, and giving lots of others a great excuse to continue on the wrong path, too. This fossil fuel infrastructure will last for decades.”
“It is undeniable that carbon emissions from the energy industry cause health problems for children,”Alden Cleanthes, field organizer for Mom’s Clean Air Force who spoke at the conference, said. “We must demand that as a regulated monopoly [Dominion] act in the best interest of the state, and meet the desire of the citizens of the state. We need a plan that has zero increases in carbon emissions for Virginia’s energy future.”
The Virginia State Corporation Commission will hold a public hearing on Dominion’s IRP today to hear further concerns about the company’s generation plans.