On May 16, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe called on state officials to reduce carbon emissions from power plants through a multi-state, market-based approach. It’s a crucial step that puts Virginia at the forefront of sub-national efforts to fight climate change and foster a clean energy economy.
Virginia has every reason in the world to lead the charge against climate change. Rising sea levels pose a clear and growing threat to the state’s coastal communities — with 400,000 homes now facing the prospect of up to $92 million in property damage from increasing storm surges.
Most of these homes are in the state’s Hampton Roads region, considered the second-most vulnerable area in the nation to rising sea levels (second only to New Orleans).Hampton Roads is also home to the world’s largest naval station, a stark reminder that unchecked climate change has dire implications for national security as well.
The good news: Virginia has already demonstrated a willingness to tackle this threat head-on. Between 2005 and 2014, carbon emissions from Virginia’s electric generators fell by 21 percent. In 2015, Governor McAuliffe announced a goal for state agencies to procure at least 8 percent of their electricity needs from renewable sources within three years. And — once again proving that clean energy is an engine of economic growth — the state’s revenue from energy efficiency businesses has increased from $300 million to $1.5 billion since 2014.
The continued growth of the clean energy markets has the potential to bring about long-term sustainable economic development. Virginia’s solar market is booming, growing from 18 megawatts of solar installed in 2014 to more than 2,600 megawatts of solar currently in service or under development. In the last year alone, the number of solar jobs in Virginia has increased by 65 percent. Energy efficiency is also a significant economic driver, employing over 75,000 individuals.
Governor McAuliffe’s recent action to reduce carbon emissions from the electric sector builds off this existing work by creating new pathways for clean energy initiatives that will create jobs in these 21st century sectors and help diversify Virginia's economy.