By David Hudgins, VECT Executive Director | The Free Lance-Star
The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted just how vulnerable America’s economic security and growth are to systemic risks. Now, as we look to lead our nation into a greener era, we must not lose sight of the fact that this energy future must be affordable and inclusive to all Americans.
In the American Jobs Plan, the White House has outlined ambitious energy goals to curb the effects of the climate crisis, including achieving 100 percent carbon-free electricity by 2035 and net-zero emissions by 2050.
To meet these bold goals, states like Virginia will need to follow an all-of-the-above energy strategy and ensure that this transition does not harm the economic welfare of our consumers and communities.
As executive director of the Virginia Energy Consumer Trust, I am proud to lead efforts in charting a path forward toward energy justice where the principles of affordable, secure, and sustainable energy are equally assured for all our state’s consumers.
After two decades’ experience in the energy industry, it is clearer to me—now more than ever—that reliable and low-carbon energy sources will be critical in the transition to a greener era. Companies that have powered our state and nation for generations will play a leading role in this transformation.
It is no secret that using green energy sources and powering appliances by electricity instead of natural gas increases costs for consumers. Since 2008, Virginia energy consumers have saved more than $14.2 billion thanks to natural gas investments, and in 2019, natural gas fueled 60 percent of Virginia’s electricity net generation.
It clearly will take time to fully modernize our grid and lower energy costs in our state. Approximately one-third of Virginians use natural gas to heat their homes—many of which are low-income households.
The Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy states that low-income households face “disproportionally higher” energy costs and low-income communities face more “barriers to accessing energy technologies which help make energy more affordable.”
While meeting climate goals is of the utmost importance, and investments in wind and solar must be a growing piece of this investment, we must also ensure that any transition to clean energy accounts for economic and social consequences—particularly for Virginians who have limited financial resources.
Fortunately, the progress made in carbon capture and storage (CCS) by American companies can help us do both.
CCS is one of the most vital technologies needed to meet the climate goals outlined by the Biden administration. It works by capturing carbon emitted from the burning of fossil fuels in electricity generation and other industrial uses and then injecting it deep underground for permanent storage to avoid any negative impacts to our environment.
There is no other current technology available that can decarbonize our larger emitting, but essential, industries like manufacturing, chemicals, and refining.
In Virginia, our lawmakers have recognized the value of exploring CCS. They have already passed a bill requiring our state to achieve 100 percent carbon-free power by 2045, which also includes funding to allow fossil-fuel plants to operate if they install CCS technologies.
It should be noted that as clean energy development has increased throughout Virginia and elsewhere, oil and gas companies are repositioning themselves to operate in the low-carbon space.
For example, ExxonMobil recently just unveiled plans to invest billions in CCS technology, including at the world’s largest storage hub in Houston.
The oil and gas industry isn’t resisting change. This is a complicated issue, and one where industry can serve as a critical partner. Low-carbon electricity comes from intermittent sources that need supporting power from reliable sources like natural gas to keep the lights on, heat our homes, and keep our communities running.
As we continue on the transition from fossil fuels and increasingly electrify, and as we replace traditional energy forms with renewable resources on our energy grid, we will need to be sensitive to the risks associated with full electrification and ensure decarbonization efforts are working.
While climate change is something that must be prioritized, it is important to remember that our energy supplies must remain affordable to all customers. After such a devastating pandemic, Virginia’s communities need help getting back on their feet. We cannot burden lower-income households and other residents with increased energy costs.
Instead, we need to work collaboratively to develop responsible policies that promote access to environmentally friendly, affordable and reliable energy.
David Hudgins is the executive director of the Virginia Energy Consumer Trust, which was established to represent the voice of energy consumers living and working in the Commonwealth of Virginia.