north anna

North Anna nuclear power station, June 2015.

Absent any realistic federal direction on climate policy, states are coming up with their own plans. On Monday, Gov. Ralph Northam signed Executive Order 43 to address the commonwealth’s energy goals. The order lays out an ambitious agenda that includes a 2030 goal that “30 percent of Virginia’s electric system will be powered by renewable energy resources and by 2050, 100 percent of Virginia’s electricity will be produced from carbon-free sources such as wind, solar and nuclear.”

The plan calls for 3,000 megawatts worth of planned solar and onshore wind by 2022, and an additional 2,500 megawatts from offshore wind by 2026. It also sets a goal for all of the commonwealth’s agencies and executive branches to increase their energy efficiency levels and to obtain at least 30% of their energy from renewable resources by 2022.

Environmental groups were quick to respond. The Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) applauded the order. In a statement, the organization said the governor “shows real leadership on climate change in face of its absence on the federal level.”

But Stacy Lovelace of Food & Water Watch was less impressed, noting her organization is “gravely disappointed” by the plans. “This goal falls pitifully short of where Virginia needs to be,” Lovelace said, adding, “nuclear is neither a renewable nor clean source of energy.”

Yes, the governor’s goals are well-intentioned and determined. But, we wonder, is it possible for the state to become 100% reliant on renewable energy within 30 years — especially if environmentalists don’t want natural gas or nuclear to be a part of that future?

Coal’s time has passed, but natural gas still has a vital role to play. The fuel produces 50% less carbon dioxide than coal. It must continue to be used as a bridge fuel during the transition to an all-renewable, carbon-neutral energy grid to avoid power disruptions and exorbitant cost increases. According to the Institute for Energy Resources, despite a 37% increase in natural gas in the U.S. since 2005, carbon emissions declined by 14% during the same period.

And the role of nuclear energy cannot be understated. Nuclear reactors in the U.S. provide Americans with 19% of their energy. According to a study of nuclear energy by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), “The Future of Nuclear Energy in a Carbon-Constrained World,” carbon-free nuclear energy’s contributions are absolutely “essential” in meeting the energy needs of a growing world. Noting the increased safety measures and reduced pollution of modern nuclear energy plants, MIT says that without a nuclear contribution, the cost of decarbonization “increases significantly.”

Solar, wind, nuclear and natural gas all must be included in an energy portfolio capable of providing the nation with a clean, safe and uninterrupted power grid. Each of us can also do our part by practicing simple, energy-saving steps such as turning off the lights when exiting a room and turning down the heat or the A/C when we leave home.

— Robin Beres

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