By Brandon Martin
With the sponsorship of Appalachian Power, the Martinsville-Henry County Chamber of Commerce held a legislative update with local representatives on Dec. 18 to discuss how the area is being represented in the General Assembly.
The event featured Virginia Dels. Les Adams, R-Chatham, Charles Poindexter, R-Glade Springs, and Danny Marshall, R-Danville.
In the Labor and Commerce committee, Marshall said he fought against House Bill 77 that would seek to wean off energy creation through fossil fuel by 2045.
The practicality of the bill and the rise of electricity rates were among his chief concerns.
Marshall said that it would take “200 acres of solar” to power the Goodyear Tire plant in Danville “for one shift,” based on figures he obtained from Appalachian Power.
Based on a 2019 fact sheet by Appalachian Power, only three of the company’s 21 generating facilities use fossil fuels to create electricity. While they don’t use solar, Appalachian Power creates energy through other renewable sources, like natural gas and wind. Locally, there is a pumped storage generator in Sandy Level and regular hydropower facilities in Roanoke and Radford.
Pumped storage facilities are built to push water from a lower reservoir uphill to an elevated reservoir during times of surplus electricity, according to the National Hydropower Association.
While pumping, electric energy is converted to potential energy and stored in the form of water at an upper elevation. This creates a “water battery.”
When electricity is needed, the stored water is released back through the turbines and converted back to electricity much like a conventional hydropower facility.
Unlike pumped storage hydropower generators that use gravity to store and release power, photovoltaic (solar) panels would need an external battery to accomplish the same task.
“You’re going to have to have battery technology or something to store that, and that technology is not there,” Marshall said. “On a sunny day like today, it works wonderfully, but what about when it rains? What do you do with all those boys? Do you send them home?”
Solar panels operate on cloudy days, according to the Solar Energy Industry Association. The organization’s website states “photovoltaic panels can use direct or indirect sunlight to generate power, though they are most effective in direct sunlight.
“Solar panels will still work even when the light is reflected or partially blocked by clouds. Rain helps to keep your panels operating efficiently by washing away any dust or dirt. If you live in an area with a strong net metering policy, excess energy generated by your panels during sunny hours will offset energy that you use at night and other times when your system isn’t operating at full capacity.”
One emerging method of storing that energy is with lithium-ion batteries.
The Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy states that lithium-ion batteries are rechargeable “because their chemical reactions are reversible, allowing them to absorb power and discharge it later. Lithium-ion batteries can store a lot of energy, and they hold a charge for longer than other kinds of batteries.”
The legislators warned against regional impacts brought by more legislation on renewable energy.
Democrats are currently pushing for Virginia to enter the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) which is a mandatory market-based program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by capping emissions.
Poindexter called the initiative “a cap-and-tax scheme.
“The SCC (State Corporation Commission) estimate is each year for the next amount of unknown years, 10-15 but at least 10, your electricity rates will go up between $4-12 a month each year,” he said. “Not just one time. That’s about $22 billion coming out of our pockets just to cover this.”
Another aspect of renewable energy is where to put the equipment.
“If you go at what is going to power those electric vehicles, it would take approximately 2.3 million vehicles in the state of Virginia,” Marshall said. “It takes about 10 panels per vehicle to generate electricity for one vehicle per year. That’s approximately 15,000 acres of solar panels that we would have just to power the cars. That’s not including your house and the manufacturing plants.”
Poindexter said he introduced a bill regarding agricultural land used for the creation of renewable energy.
“They (Northern counties) want their renewable energy and we get to lose our land, productive agricultural land. It’s not just a site,” he said. “The land is out of use and they will claim a lot of benefits in terms of local revenue but when you take that amount of land out, it is estimated to be 25 percent greater than the total land mass of Fairfax County.”
His bill would require the creation of a database to help track the amount of former agricultural land being used for energy creation.
Marshall discussed the minimum wage increase that was passed earlier in the year.
“We worked hard to get that to be a regional approach,” Marshall said. “If you look at the income levels in our area, where we have a median household income in the mid-30s (30,000), that’s a heck of a lot different than in northern Virginia, where you have a household income of above $100,000. So, a $15 minimum wage is not a big deal up there, but for a lot of small businesses, it is.”
Marshall said he is hopeful the implementation will be postponed until July 2022. He said he would tie the economic impact from the coronavirus to his plea to the majority to delay the minimum wage hike.
“If you look at the amount of small businesses that have closed, this is just going to be another nail in the coffin,” Marshall said.
Adams said one of the bills that emerged from the previous session dealt with the “truth-in-sentencing” law.
The proposed bill would allow some qualifying inmates to reduce their sentences by 15 days for every 30 days served. To qualify, an inmate must not have been convicted of certain violent offenses, followed prison rules, and participated in rehabilitation and education programs. The program is tiered to allow less time to be reduced if the inmate has not properly followed the rules. Currently, inmates can only reduce their time by 4.5 days for every 30 days served.
The abolishment of parole and adoption of the current sentence credit system has paid off, according to Adams, who voiced his opposition to the change.
“One of the highlights of Virginia public policy over the last generation has been that we have one of the lowest rates of crime,” Adams said. “I think we are in the top five in low crime rate for the country. We have the number one lowest rate of recidivism, so people are committing less crime when they finish their sentence.”