LEXINGTON – Gov. Terry McAuliffe touted a wind farm proposed for Botetourt County on Wednesday as part of his vision for a new state economy powered in part by renewable energy.
Speaking at the Environment Virginia Symposium, the Democratic governor said his approach differs from that of previous Republican administrations that banned the words “climate change” in discussions by state agency officials.
“Climate change, climate change, climate change,” McAuliffe said. “I talk about it every day.”
Not only will solar and wind energy development lighten the state’s carbon footprint, it also will generate new jobs for an economy that needs to adapt to the 21st century, the governor told nearly 600 people attending the three-day symposium at Virginia Military Institute.
In the coming months, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality is expected to receive an application from Apex Clean Energy, which has selected a ridge north of Eagle Rock on which to build what could be the state’s first commercial wind farm.
The state agency is charged with evaluating the environmental consequences of 25 turbines that would tower as high as 550 feet.
Opponents say the spinning blades will kill birds and bats, and that building an industrial-scale utility on top of North Mountain will cause erosion, contaminate steam water, create noise pollution and spoil scenic views.
McAuliffe stressed that no decision has been made.
“I don’t tell my regulatory agencies what to do,” he said. “But let’s make a decision, let’s do it right, and let’s do it quickly.”
“We have plenty of wind, and we can do this in a way that protects the environment,” he added. “But we in Virginia have got to get in the game with renewable energy sources.”
Apex has said its Rocky Forge wind project will generate enough green electricity to power 20,000 homes, while also pumping tax revenue and new jobs into Botetourt County’s economy.
Although recruiting new business to Virginia has been a top priority for McAuliffe, the governor also stressed the need to preserve the state’s natural resources.
“I want Virginia to be the shining example of what we do to protect our land, air and water,” he said.
Rather than rely on measures such as extending tax credits for the coal industry – which McAuliffe vetoed during the recent General Assembly session – Virginia needs to find more innovative ways to expand its sources of energy production, he said.
“I think solar is probably the hottest thing going today” when it comes to renewable energy, he said, noting that capacity in Virginia is on track to grow tenfold during his administration.
McAuliffe cited rising sea levels in Norfolk and a spate of rare February tornadoes as evidence that climate change poses an immediate threat.
“This is happening. It’s real,” he said. “People like to pretend this is not a real issue.”
McAuliffe’s speech Wednesday kicked off an annual conference that for 27 years has brought together government officials, the private sector, nonprofit organizations, academia and other voices to discuss the state’s most pressing environmental issues.
Scheduled to speak Thursday is Marc Edwards, a Virginia Tech professor who led a team of researchers that has been credited with uncovering unsafe levels of lead in the drinking water of Flint, Michigan.
Edwards, a municipal water expert and professor of civil engineering, traveled to Flint last year with his team to conduct tests of the city’s water supply. He has since become an active voice in a national discussion of how city and environmental officials handled the crisis.
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