As climate panel weighs in, McAuliffe stakes out solar goal

Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe makes a point while delivering his two-year budget proposal to the General Assembly's money committees at the Virginia State Capitol in Richmond, Va., Dec. 17, 2015. (P. Kevin Morley/Richmond Times-Dispatch via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Gov. Terry McAuliffe released the recommendations of a state commission on climate change Monday and set a three-year target for state government to draw 8 percent of its electricity from solar power.

The state agreement with Dominion Virginia Power calls for the development of 110 megawatts of solar power, which would produce the amount of energy used by Virginia’s community college system annually. The company would work with agencies to identify state-owned locations for solar power.

Dominion has previously announced plans to add at least 400 megawatts of solar by 2020.

McAuliffe, a Democrat, cast the move away from coal to cleaner renewable fuels as an economic issue. He said, for instance, that huge companies such as Microsoft have told him they will not consider Virginia for future expansion if they don’t have access to renewable energy.

“We need to get in the game,” McAuliffe said at a news conference.

The recommendations from the climate panel support more state reliance on renewable energy but did not recommend a specific target date.

McAuliffe resurrected the climate panel. It was created in 2008 by Democratic Gov. Tim Kaine, but its recommendations were never acted on by his successor, Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell.

As he has in the past, McAuliffe clearly staked out his administration’s view on climate change and rising seas.

“It is real. It is happening,” the governor said.

Climate scientists have long warned that rising seas pose a serious threat to the Virginia coast, in part because land is sinking around the Chesapeake Bay. Coastal cities such as Norfolk are among the most threatened in the nation.

In a report to the General Assembly, the Virginia Institute of Marine Science anticipates a sea level rise inVirginia of roughly 1.5 feet over the next 20 to 50 years. The Army Corps of Engineers has estimated Tangier Island, located in the middle of the Chesapeake Bay, could be one of the first places in the continental U.S. to be uninhabitable in 50 years.

McAuliffe also pointed to the threat of rising seas in the Hampton Roads area.

“We have the largest naval base in the world down in Hampton Roads,” McAuliffe said of Naval Base Norfolk. “If sea level is rising, that threatens that tremendous asset for Virginia.”

Members of the widely diverse commission totaling more than three dozen members strived to come up with achievable rather than aspirational goals.

Secretary of Natural Resources Molly Ward, who co-chaired the climate commission, said it was important to bring business people, legislators, academics and environmentalists to the table.

“I think the most important thing is, we brought a diverse community together and that we published a reportthat has action items in it,” she said. “I think it’s important to live in the reality of what you can accomplish.”

The top five recommendations include the creation of a clearinghouse on climate change for state and local governments, as well as practical advice for the public; the development of a renewable energy target for state government; and leveraging federal funding to develop programs to make localities more resilient toclimate change, among others.

Glen Besa, director of the Sierra Club’s Virginia chapter, called the recommendations an important first step.

“We need to get busy,” he said. “We’re hopeful this is the snowball rolling down the hill that is going to pick up speed.”


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