Here in Virginia, our transition to clean energy doesn’t have to come at the cost of increased blackouts and unaffordable rates, as opponents have warned. The all-the-above approach highlighted in Governor Youngkin’s energy plan offers the best solution for our energy future, stabilizing rate shocks by decreasing our reliance on out-of-state producers and helping drive economic development in regions that need it the most.
Thankfully, Virginia’s public utility companies recognize this and have taken a proactive approach to diversify their energy portfolios to protect against market fluctuations and keep rates affordable. Over the last ten years, our reliance on coal-generated electricity has steadily decreased to only four percent. Nuclear energy produced in Virginia has risen to nearly a third of the commonwealth’s total energy supply. Upon completion, Dominion Energy’s Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind (CVOW) project will further diversify Virginia’s energy portfolio and help lower ratepayers’ costs.
While increasing Virginia’s wind and solar production is essential, expanding our nuclear capability is the only way to provide emission-free baseload energy. When combined with the North Anna Nuclear Power Station, which is located at Lake Anna, and Surry Power Station, located at Hoggs Island, small modular reactors (SMRs) will allow the majority, if not all, of Virginia’s electricity generation to be free of greenhouse gases.
These clean energy solutions will be critical to our commonwealth’s economic growth. The CVOW project is estimated to bring millions in tax revenues and nearly a thousand high-paying jobs to the Hampton Roads region. It also led manufacturers and supply chain companies looking to expand their operations to choose Hampton Roads. Similarly, the opportunity for a solar park played a crucial role in Lego’s decision to locate its first U.S. factory in Chesterfield, bringing over 1,000 new jobs to the area.
In our backyard, Southwest Virginia’s metallurgical coal producers continue to deliver the highest quality product to steel manufacturers around the world, and they will play a critical role in the clean energy economy. In fact, much of what comes from our region will be increasingly used to produce steel components for wind farms, solar PV systems and energy storage facilities, not to mention steel for essential construction and transportation infrastructure.
SMRs provide the same opportunity to make a big economic impact. A feasibility study conducted on SMR deployment right here in Southwest Virginia found that they could provide up to $100 million in local tax revenue over an 18 year period. Further, nearly half of the jobs created from SMR deployment will not require a bachelor’s degree. This is exciting news for our region.
However, these projects, and the enormous upsides that come with them, are dependent upon maintaining the proper regulatory environment. Our utility companies must continue investing in our energy grid and have the resources available to commercialize emerging clean energy technologies. Continued oversight by the General Assembly and State Corporation Commission will ensure our transition to cleaner energy does not come at the cost of reliable and affordable electricity.
Our region is uniquely positioned to capitalize on all aspects of clean energy – wind, solar and nuclear. Our highly skilled workforce is far more experienced in the energy industry than the rest of the commonwealth. Legacy assets from the coal industry provide an existing power and water supply that gives our region a leg up on attracting new investments, particularly on the Energy DELTA Lab robust portfolio of reclaimed coal mine sites. And private industry and state leaders like Governor Youngkin stand ready to assist.
There is no reason Southwest Virginia can’t become the energy innovation capital of the commonwealth or even the country and be the leader in nuclear, wind and solar.
Will Payne is managing partner of Coalfield Strategies, leading business development for InvestSWVA and Energy DELTA Lab.
Duane Miller is executive director of the LENOWISCO Planning District Commission and serves on the Southwest Virginia Energy Research and Development Authority.