Greater Richmond and the Commonwealth of Virginia have made great strides in sustainability efforts. From carbon neutrality to clean energy goals, environmental sustainability is a statewide goal. Throughout the past year, the area has proven that it is not just great for business — it is also environmentally friendly.
A carbon-free Commonwealth
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam recently signed an agreement to establish a three-state collaboration, named SMART-POWER, to advance offshore wind projects in the region and promote the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic United Sates as a hub for offshore wind energy and industry. The Southeast and Mid-Atlantic Regional Transformative Partnership for Offshore Wind Energy Resources (SMART-POWER) provides a framework for the three states to cooperatively promote, develop, and expand offshore wind energy and the accompanying industry supply chain and workforce.
However, this action comes in a long line of clean energy progress for the Commonwealth. Gov. Northam had previously issued an executive order establishing statewide goals to power 30 percent of Virginia’s electric system from carbon-free sources such as wind, solar and nuclear by 2030 — and 100 percent by 2050.
Then earlier this year, Gov. Northam authorized the Virginia Clean Economy Act, making Virginia the first Southern state to join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a carbon cap-and-trade market among states in the Northeast. The Commonwealth’s sweeping legislation overhauls how utility companies generate power and sets the stage for the state to shift to renewable energy sources with a goal of going carbon-free by 2045. The outcome would dramatically reduce Virginia’s carbon footprint as well as mitigate the impacts of climate change and strengthening the state’s clean energy economy.
“We are at a pivotal moment to secure an affordable, clean energy future in Virginia,” said Gov. Northam. “Together, these pieces of legislation put the Commonwealth in position to meet the urgency of the climate crisis and lead the transition to renewable energy in a way that captures the economic, environmental, and health benefits for all Virginians.”
The Act also declares that 16,100 megawatts of solar and onshore wind, 5,200 megawatts of offshore wind, and 2,700 megawatts of energy storage are in the public interest. This provides a pathway for clean energy resources to be constructed, while ensuring that the investments are made in a cost-effective way. The Act protects customers with a program that helps reduce electricity bills and brings energy efficiency savings to low-income households.
A workforce to support clean energy
In October, the formation of Virginia’s first offshore and onshore wind workforce training collaborative, the Mid-Atlantic Wind Training Alliance, was announced. The program will offer industry required certifications that are critical to the operations and long-term maintenance of wind projects. The announcement coincided with the 2020 Offshore WINDPOWER Virtual Summit hosted by the American Wind Energy Association.
“Virginia is taking important steps forward in harnessing the significant economic and job opportunities of American wind power,” said Tom Kiernan, American Wind Energy Association CEO. “Wind turbine technicians are America’s fastest growing career and today’s foresighted move to train additional workers in this field shows that the Commonwealth continues to lead our nation toward a cleaner and more prosperous energy future.”
The U.S. wind industry supports 120,000 American jobs in 2019, according to the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA). The AWEA also estimates that the wind industry has invested more than $208 billion in wind projects across the country with the capacity to produce at least 109 gigawatts of power to date.
The Mid-Atlantic Wind Training Alliance represents an important first step in what will be a much larger workforce development effort to support the renewable energy industries in Virginia. The certified course offerings will span a wide variety of wind energy related disciplines and provide students with a customizable portfolio of training options. The Alliance plans to start offering programs in early 2021.
Companies rise to the challenge
Richmond-based Dominion Energy, the state’s biggest utility, plans to switch to renewable energy by 2045. The Fortune 500 firm previously committed to reduce methane emissions, a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, from its natural gas operations by 65 percent by 2030 and 80 percent by 2040.
“We can meet net zero by 2050,” says Robert M. Blue, Dominion’s executive vice president and co-chief operating officer. “Our response to Gov. Northam’s directive was, ‘Challenge accepted.’”
Dominion Energy’s vision is to build a clean and sustainable energy future. Part of their vision is their plan to build the largest offshore wind project in the U.S. Located 27 miles off the coast of Virginia Beach, over 220 wind turbines would supply power to 650,000 homes by 2025. Dominion Energy and Avangrid Renewables have nearly 400 offshore wind turbines under development off the coast of Virginia and North Carolina.
Along with this, Dominion has invested $1 billion in their solar fleet in Virginia and North Carolina. Already ranked among utilities with the biggest solar portfolios, Dominion Energy is aggressively striving for a 55 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2030.
Dominion’s solar effort is already in play. When Facebook announced that its Henrico County data center campus required 100 percent renewable energy, Dominion stepped in with new solar power plants as part of the social media company’s attraction deal. The six currently-planned solar projects in Virginia and North Carolina will not affect ratepayers and will sell the output exclusively to Facebook.
“Facebook has consistently supported the development of green energy around the world, and their corporate sustainability goals are a driving force in the expansion of renewable energy,” said Keith Windle, Dominion’s vice president of business development.
Sounds like a win-win for the Commonwealth and businesses alike.