Choose solar power, not corporate power

An open letter to Gov. Terry McAuliffe:

SEIA (Solar Energy Industries Association) has just revealed that solar accounted for 64 percent of new electric-generating capacity in the U.S. during the first quarter of 2016. That was more than coal, natural gas and nuclear combined. Furthermore, solar employment has grown by 123 percent in the past six years. Total employment in the solar industry will increase this year to about 239,625 workers. But less than 1 percent of those workers will be Virginians, according to

Maryland, by the end of 2015, had installed 465 megawatts of solar energy, enough to power 50,000 homes. Virginia, by the end of 2015, had only installed 22 megawatts of solar energy, just enough to power 2,200 homes. Why this disparity? The only future solar boost in Virginia had to come from outsiders like Microsoft and Amazon, who chose Virginia to build solar installations to achieve their renewable energy credits. Why can’t we have extensive home-based solar initiatives? Answer: Virginia state laws act as barriers to solar installations, laws instigated by Dominion Power and its parent, Dominion Resources.

Standby charges, possible refusal to connect to the net, and no state tax rebates have been powerful disincentives for homeowners to put solar on their roofs. Not only do our lawmakers not encourage alternative energy, they allow, even promote, fossil fuel to electrify Virginia. And they do this even while our coastal cities like Norfolk, Hampton Roads and Virginia Beach flood repeatedly due to rising ocean levels. When a heavy rain and high tide now coincide, half of Norfolk’s basements fill with water.

The fact that Dominion Power, via CEO Bob Blue and ALEC (funded by the Koch brothers), foments the dissemination of bogus climate-change denials is understandable. With their parent, Dominion Resources, the utility is actively building natural gas generating plants with 4,300 megawatts generating capacity coming online between now and 2019. And their latest resource plan calls for 9,000 megawatts more.

Meanwhile, they promise a mere 400 megawatts of solar by 2020 (according to Sure, if you own the gas, the pipeline and the utility (which, as a monopoly, guarantees captive ratepayers), nevermind climate change with its catastrophic results for life as we know it. Corporate profit should be the ultimate value, always. That’s the American way. With no limit on campaign-financing from utilities, what Dominion wants, it usually gets from legislators. View the sad fate of all the alternative energy bills in the last General Assembly session: Blocked and deferred to a “subcommittee study” and report for 2017.

The recent reversals to political establishment thinking in the surprising Trump, Sanders, Brexit events have their source in voters realizing that their elected representatives serve corporate interests, not people’s (their) interests. Voters have experienced that what’s good for corporations is not necessarily good for them, to which the widespread wealth inequality attests. (See how the 99-to-1-percent split emerged in Robert Reich’s “Beyond Outrage.”)

So, we suggest that, between now and the next General Assembly, you use your bully pulpit, Gov. McAuliffe, to make it difficult for this corporate-controlled subcommittee to stifle solar energy once again at the behest of Dominion Power. Push forward a state implementation of EPA’s Clean Power Plan that puts a firm cap on total carbon emissions from the electric sector in Virginia. Take a public stand on this most critical point.

Ivy Main has beautifully described the nature of your choice: You can choose to be a climate hero, fighting sea level rise, deadly heat waves and floods, creating tens of thousands of clean energy jobs, attracting progressive companies to the state, building your national reputation and doing what’s right for all our children and grandchildren — or you can make Dominion happy. Democracy means a government of, by, and for people, not a government serving corporate plutocracy.

Choose democracy not plutocracy. We want to love you.

Vernon Gras
Chair, Environmental and Social Justice Committee
Unitarian Universalists of the Blue Ridge (UUBRidge)

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  1. Despite the expenditure of hundreds of billions of dollars, solar power produced an embarrassingly small 1% of all US electricity produced last year. That’s right 1%. Anyone who claims that solar is cheap needs to purchase it themselves. Provide for off-grid freeloading of power by purchasing storage. Then realize that instead of buying reliable power for 11 cents/kw-hr, you are paying 35 cents for power which is always at the edge of disappearing. Do it. Learn it. Understand the LIE that is solar PV. Spend your own money. Do it.

    • @R Sweeney: You are quite correct that stand-alone home solar today is not as cheap as fossil grid power, but the gap is closing fast. I’m guessing that if you made your own stand-alone coal or gas plant for your home, that would be pretty pricy. By the way, since rooftop solar puts extra power into the grid during peak-load daytime hours, they have helped grid operators avoid additional capital investment and high spot-priced energy purchases to meet peak demand. Several independent studies (Minnesota and New York come to mind) have calculated the value of rooftop solar to the grid at 25-35¢ per kWh.

      On commercial scale, solar power is today is cheaper than fossil sources on most world markets, and far cheaper than nuclear. The cost of solar has come down 99% since the 1970s, is now just below parity by most analyses, and continues to drop. Fossil sources have been subsidized directly for over a century, and the G20 yesterday indicated they will continue fossil subsidies. Other costs of fossil fuels include medical costs of treating cardiopulmonary disease from particulate pollution. A 2011 Harvard study calculated the “externalities” of coal combustion in the United States at $500 billion per year, which works out to about $1,600 per year per person. That’s part of the cost of burning coal – and we’ve been paying it all along. True-cost (or “Full-cost”) accounting is the only reasonable way to compare the cost of different fuels. Fossil fuels carry enormous hidden costs. Taken together, they simply cannot compete with renewables.

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