Yesterday evening, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) hosted one of several clean power plan listening sessions in Roanoke. I attended the meeting.
It was a true listening session; the DEQ representatives did very little talking and a lot of note taking. Each person who signed up to make a comment was given five minutes to speak. One of the three DEQ representatives kept the time and gave a one minute warning when the end of the time was approaching. He was fairly lenient and allowed people to complete a train of thought, but no one tried to push the limits very far.
Approximately 20-30 people attended and perhaps 15-20 people provided a comment.
Nearly everyone in attendance spoke in opposition to the idea of replacing coal with methane (natural gas) because they had determined that it was not much of an improvement from a greenhouse gas emission perspective and because the Roanoke area is on the path of a large proposed natural gas pipeline that is generating substantial local opposition. Two of the speakers, a mother and her teenage son, own, live and work on a farm that is directly in the proposed path of the pipeline.
They have been doing their homework and understand the disruption that construction will entail and the reduction in soil productivity that is the inevitable result of digging a deep trench, burying a pipeline and then refilling the trench. They are also familiar with the environmental impacts of compressor stations and with the documented record of occasional pipeline catastrophic explosions.
Another theme running through the commentary regarding the pipeline projects cutting through the mountains and valleys of Western Virginia is the fact that people along the path of a pipeline experience all of the costs associated with hosting the disruption and the hazards yet get few of the benefits of either producing or consuming the gas. They are just the transit path.
Several of the people who spoke were in the solar installation business and advocated for such rules as net metering (buying and selling panel output at retail prices), renewable portfolio standards (a quota system that would require utilities to invest to meet certain fixed requirements) and carbon credit trading schemes. After the meeting, I overhead one of the solar experts mention that Virginia, on average throughout the year, gets 4.5 sunny hours per day. It’s not the most productive solar area in the country.
There were several people who spoke in favor of getting an increasing share of Virginia’s electricity from “renewable energy sources like wind and solar.” I suspect many of them were a bit stunned by the heart felt comments of a man who grew up in Tehachapi, California. He spoke rather late in the program, after hearing many people express their support for wind and solar. He told us that he was not sure when he arrived whether or not he would speak, but decided that he needed to share his experiences.
He was in school in the 1970s when the wind turbines first started being installed. At first, he and his family were supportive of the effort to reduce dependence on fossil fuels, but as more and more turbines were installed, they began getting more and more concerned about what was happening to their local environment. They experienced sleep disruptions from the audible noise and the below audio vibrations. Their view shed was virtually destroyed; though wind turbines might look pretty from a highway while driving through, they are not so attractive to those who live close by and have to see them in all kinds of weather and states of repair/disrepair.
The man from Tehachapi then shared his current story with regard to an effort to halt a proposed industrial wind development (he refused to label the project as a “wind farm” because he said there was nothing agricultural about it) in Botetourt County, a rural, mountainous county north of Roanoke. He advised the audience and the DEQ to be careful about the promised offered by the wind developers and asked the DEQ to set a strong standard based on some example regulations for setbacks and noise levels from European nations instead of leaving it to local planning boards. He was concerned that the planning boards don’t have the resources to keep up with the science and might be too easily influenced by high pressured sales pitches from developers.
During the meeting, I spoke for five minutes about my experiences as a clean energy professional serving as an engineering officer on nuclear powered submarines. I shared my admiration for the compact nature of the fuel source and got some gasps from the audience as they understood the tiny quantity of byproducts after 14 years of powering a large submarine and providing heat, air conditioning, refrigeration, lighting, entertainment, food preparation, fresh water and even fresh air. I told them about my current efforts to share that information as widely as possible.
I also reminded the DEQ and the audience that Dominion has been pursuing permission to build a new 1400 MWe nuclear power plant at North Anna and that final permission should be given sometime in 2016. I described the 2,000-3,000 jobs associated with plant construction and the 400 – 600 permanent jobs during operation. I also helped them understand that the plant, when completed, should be able to run at full power for 90-95% of the hours each year. I asked them to express their support for the project and to help it reach completion. There were a number of smiles and nodding heads in the audience.
After the meeting, several people asked about Atomic Insights and said they wanted to learn more. The nice lady from the farm invited me to attend an arts and music festival on Saturday Sep 26 in Roanoke to flatline the Mountain Valley Pipeline. Sounds like fun.