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Session urges DEQ to turn to renewable energy

Environmentalists and anti-pipeline activists urged state regulators Tuesday to turn to solar, off-shore wind and energy-efficient construction as they consider how best to meet the new carbon emission limits announced under the federal Clean Power Plan.

“We must transition as fast as possible to renewable energy and increased efficiency for strikingly obvious reasons,” said Dan Crawford, Roanoke chairman for the Sierra Club.

“Our choices should be easy,” he added, “but with big money involved, it rarely is.”

Speaker after speaker at Tuesday’s listening session – organized by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality – deplored fracking and proposals to build new natural gas pipelines across the state.

“I hope we will not see our region trade our overreliance on coal for overreliance on fracked gas,” said Hannah Wiegard, of Appalachian Voices.

Solar was perhaps the most popular alternative energy mentioned by those who stepped up to the podium at DEQ’s regional office on Peters Creek Road.

Solar’s cost-effectiveness will only continue to improve, advocates said, and it has the potential to create thousands of jobs as the industry expands.

But Virginia is lagging behind other states on the issue, they added, and major power companies are pushing laws that put solar panels at a disadvantage.

“I could go into all of these different little monkey wrenches they try to throw in for solar,” said Mark Hanson, president of the Renewable Energy and Electrical Vehicle Association.

Several people urged regulators to add a mandatory, not voluntary, renewable energy component to standards governing the state’s energy mix.

Tuesday’s forum, which was open for three hours, is part of a series of listening sessions DEQ is holding across the state as it considers how to implement the final requirements of the Clean Power Plan announced in August.

Public comments also will be accepted by mail, email or fax through Oct. 13.

Twenty-one people spoke at the session in Roanoke. Nearly all were advocating for renewable energy or opposing fracked natural gas.

Bill Van Velzer, who is part of an effort to challenge Botetourt County’s new wind turbine ordinance, voiced strong opposition to the spread of turbines, calling them “an affront.”

There are more effective ways to pursue energy sustainability, he said, and turbines harm surrounding landowners by creating noise and depressing property values.

“This is real,” he said, citing his parents’ experience with turbines in California. “… This is not tin foil hat territory.”

The Clean Power Plan sets a national goal of reducing carbon pollution from power plants by 32 percent – when compared to 2005 levels – over the next 15 years.

States are given flexibility to form their own plans to achieve their individual reduction goals. Final plans or requests for extensions are due to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in September 2016.

Additional public comment periods will be held in Virginia as the state plan takes shape.