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Zero Carbon Virginia Hosts Energy Transition Summit

Zero Carbon Virginia, a citizen’s group seeking a non-partisan path toward a zero-carbon energy future, hosted the Virginia Energy Transition Summit in Richmond, Virginia, on Saturday, August 24, 2019. The educational and informational event provided a group of Virginia General Assembly members and staff the chance to discuss the opportunities and challenges of the ongoing transition to cleaner energy resources that are developing across the United States.

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State Capitol of the Commonwealth of Virginia

Now, Are We Serious About Climate Change?

Climate news in 2019 is starting off where 2018 left off. Just this past week we learned that our oceans are warming faster than expected and that US carbon emissions rose 3.2% in 2018. This rise ends three years of declining emissions and is the largest increase since 2010. In November, the Black Friday Report  showed how the impacts of climate change are already being felt across the US, including in Virginia. And, in October, we learned that aggressive reductions in carbon emissions are our only chance to avoid catastrophic temperature rise.

There is no doubt, climate change is a serious issue. Yet, as scientists sound these alarms, we are busy debating a border wall, who should run for president in 2020, troop withdrawals from Syria, and how much the Russians are influencing our elections. It is as if we are driving along a challenging roadway but cannot take our eyes off our mobile phones long enough to see the cliff that we are about to drive over.

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Governor Terry McAuliffe’s Actions on Climate Change

During his time in office, Governor Terry McAuliffe led action on climate change through a number of executive actions. These actions took steps to move Virginia forward and provide a road map for near-term to bring cleaner energy and economic growth to Virginia. Some of Governor McAuliffe’s actions are summarized below.

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Support the Renewables First Act

The majority of Virginia’s electricity is based on burning fossil fuels, mainly natural gas and coal. The effects of the resulting climate change are all around us. For example, the six hottest years recorded have occurred over the last decade. Tens of millions of dollars are spent annually to harden Virginia’s coastal military bases against sea level rise. Science tells us that we must hold global temperature increases under 2°C (3.6°F), or suffer staggering economic and social upheaval. To realize this goal, the major economies must pursue ‘deep decarbonization’, reducing carbon emissions by approximately 80% by mid-century.

In addition to producing heat-trapping gases, the burning of fossil fuels produces particulates and gases, which cause toxic ground level ozone. This is a big problem in many parts of the developed and developing world, including Virginia (The American Lung Association gives out letter grades for air quality; Loudoun County’s air gets a ‘C’, Fairfax’s an ‘F’). Public health provides a second strong incentive to reduce fossil fuel-based energy production. We all have to do our part in reducing fossil fuel emissions, including Virginia. Delay is not an option.

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Virginia Energy Plan Public Comments: A First Look

Word Art

The Virginia Energy Plan is currently being updated as required under Virginia Code § 67-201. The plan is updated every four years and covers a ten year period. The Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy (DMME) is leading the effort and has hosted a number of public input sessions and accepted written comments through Virginia Regulatory Town Hall online forum. Online, public commenting closed at 11:59 PM on Friday August 24.

A first look at what the public has to say reveals a strong push to move Virginia forward into a new, clean energy economy. A total of 697 comments are posted on Virginia Regulatory Town Hall online forum. We identify 662 unique posters (individuals, organizations, or businesses).  We also identify 145 organizations that are represented by comments made on the forum.

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A Path to Zero Carbon: Comments on the Virginia Energy Plan

The Virginia Energy Plan is currently being updated as required under Virginia Code § 67-201. The plan is updated every four years and covers a ten year period. The Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy is leading the effort and has hosted a number of public input sessions. They also are accepting written comments through Virginia Regulatory Town Hall online forum. Below are the comments made by Zero Carbon’s Dr. Harrison Crecraft at the August 16 public input session at George Mason University.

We have all heard the alarms about greenhouse gases (GHGs) and global warming. I would like to start by offering a bit of geologic perspective. Since the start of the industrial period, CO2 has soared from 290 to 410 ppm. Its timing and isotopic signature leave no question that this spike in CO2 is from burning fossil fuels. At current rates, CO2 will reach 500 ppm within 45 years.

The last time CO2 was at today’s levels was 3 million years ago. Geologically speaking, this is the recent past. At that time, according to a 2017 Yale University report, global temperatures were 4-5°F warmer; the arctic was 20° warmer; and sea levels were at least 60 feet higher. Although the precise response of elevated GHGs on climate is complex and the details are debated, there is no debate about the basic science: elevated heat-trapping gases requires higher global temperatures in order to balance the solar energy input.

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Planning for Zero Carbon 2050

The Virginia Energy Plan is currently being updated as required under Virginia Code § 67-201. The plan is updated every four years and covers a ten year period. The Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy is leading the effort and has hosted a number of public input sessions. They also are accepting written comments through Virginia Regulatory Town Hall online forum. Below is an expanded version of comments made by Zero Carbon’s Scott Emery at the August 16 public input session at George Mason University.

Over the decades, Virginia built its electric power industry following the common path of building big, centralized production facilities and expanding the electric power grid to make affordable electricity accessible to all. Abundant, energy-dense fossil fuels power most of our generation, and  have significantly shaped how our electric power industry operates. In many ways, this has been good for Virginia, but it is time for a change.

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