Green energy opportunities are going to our neighbors, passing Virginia by – The Virginian-Pilot

Virginia is lagging behind its neighbors in becoming a major player in the fast-growing field of clean energy.

That’s the somewhat surprising — and troubling — conclusion of Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2), a national nonprofit, nonpartisan group of investors and business leaders, after it analyzed how states are capitalizing on the financial incentives for clean energy development provided by the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act.

E2’s research found that Virginia has consistently trailed its Southeast neighbors in the growth of clean-energy manufacturing and jobs. The Energy News Network reported in May that according to E2’s data, companies have announced at least 305 major clean energy projects, in 40 states and Puerto Rico, through April. That means more than 105,400 jobs and more than $!23 billion in capital investment.

In the Southeast, Georgia has 27 new projects, South Carolina 24 and North Carolina 19.

Virginia has connections to only four of the nationwide new projects.

That’s worrisome, especially after developments in recent years raised hopes that Hampton Roads was a burgeoning East Coast hub of offshore wind energy.

Dominion Energy is beginning work as planned on its massive wind energy project off the coast of Virginia Beach, but there have been some disappointments, including the cancellation last fall of Siemens Gamesa’s plans to build a $200 million turbine blade finishing plant at Portsmouth Marine Terminal. Dominion said no problem; its blades will come from Seimens’ European plant.

But Hampton Roads lost an expected 310 new jobs and a boost to its position in the clean energy economy.

Zach Ammitay, Southeast advocate for E2, said that while our neighbors are using incentives and tax breaks to attract clean energy businesses, Virginia seems to be driving them away. He cited Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s denial of Ford Motor Co.’s proposal to build an electric vehicle battery plant in Pittsylvania County as an example.

Youngkin’s assertion that he opposed the deal because Ford’s decision to partner with a Chinese company posed a security risk was political posturing, Ammitay said. Concerns about Chinese influence in the U.S. could have been addressed in a more productive way.

Now the battery plant is being built in Michigan, and Ammitay said the governor’s action sent a message that Virginia isn’t welcoming to innovative energy. The Youngkin administration denies that charge, but the best way to counter criticism is to redouble efforts to attract clean energy projects without letting partisan politics get in the way.

One of the four projects Virginia has landed is in Hampton Roads, where the Dutch company Fugro is expanding production of equipment used in offshore wind projects.

Attracting more such projects will boost Virginia’s economy, but perhaps even more important is the role those projects can play in combating the climate change triggered by carbon emissions. Few places feel that need more urgently than Hampton Roads, where rising sea levels and flooding pose increasingly serious threats.

But there’s another growing impediment to the development of clean energy in Virginia:  Dominion Energy, the state’s biggest utility, is making it much more expensive for medium-size solar projects to connect to the grid. The increased fees — up by 20-40% — are causing plans to use solar power at schools, government buildings, community centers, churches and businesses to be scaled back or canceled.

Dominion says it supports clean energy and that its requirements for expensive upgrades are to guarantee safety and reliability, but critics point out that other states with less costly requirements have not had problems.

The State Corporation Commission is evaluating the requirements. While keeping safety questions in mind, the regulators should strive to rein in Dominion and make it easier for businesses and institutions to switch to clean energy.

Replacing outdated power sources with clean energy is a rapidly growing enterprise. Making Virginia more welcoming to such ventures should help the commonwealth get a bigger share of this promising sector. At the same time, attracting those businesses should be an important part of our strategy for mitigating the dangers climate changes pose to our fragile coastal communities.

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