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Subramanyam and Barnes: Communities facing power-plant closures deserve fair warning

Subramanyam and Barnes: Communities facing power-plant closures deserve fair warning

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To reach our climate goals, we need to start closing coal plants. Often missing from the discussion, however, is how this energy transition is impacting the communities whose economies have historically been dependent on fossil fuel resources. While these communities may be trying to prepare for the shifting economic winds, they cannot do so effectively if they don’t know when the storm will hit.

The Virginia Clean Economy Act will likely result in the closure of more than 40 carbon-emitting power plants across the Commonwealth in the next 30 years stretching from Wise to Accomack counties, including facilities in Prince William and Loudoun counties. Many will close well before the required deadline as a result of market forces and in order to meet carbon reduction requirements. While these closures mean cleaner air and water and reduced greenhouse gas emissions, they also mean lost jobs and tax revenue for the localities.

How will community leaders, workers, and the agencies that can provide economic support know when to expect closures? The state’s power plant owners must be transparent about the economic status of these power plants so that impacted local governments and workers have as much advance notice of plant closures as possible, and so that state agencies and lawmakers can direct timely aid to communities and workers.

Transparency — or lack thereof — was at issue at the State Corporation Commission during Dominion Energy’s Integrated Resource Plan proceeding last fall. Dominion fought to keep its “generation unit retirement analysis” for power plants confidential, but the commission ultimately determined, at the Attorney General’s urging, that it is necessary for this financial status information to be made public. The Attorney General’s testimony stated that Dominion “defies all logic when it asserts that [facility] analysis results... are not linked to costs that customers will pay,” and that “Dominion’s position on the Motion is essentially ‘that it’s better to keep interested stakeholders and the public in the dark because it’s for their own good.’”

Quite the contrary to Dominion’s position — the information that Dominion sought to withhold is absolutely vital to workers and state and local leaders planning for the energy transition across the Commonwealth.

Ultimately, making the analysis public revealed that seven out of 16 power plants Dominion owns in Virginia have a negative net present value, providing clues that these plants may be slated for closure earlier than the more cost-effective plants.

A recent report from the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) urged more transparency regarding the least cost-effective of Dominion’s plants, the Virginia City Hybrid Energy Center, which accounts for approximately 15-20% of the tax revenue for Wise County. IEEFA researchers found that “such transparency will be vital to ensuring that Wise County has the tools and information necessary to engage in transition planning—in partnership with Dominion—to prepare for the plant’s closure and site clean-up.”

The same is true for every locality across the state with a carbon-emitting power plant — transparency is needed from all power-plant owners. That is why we are working together this session to pass legislation, H.B. 1834, to provide advance notice of closure and facility retirement studies for carbon-emitting power plants. We urge all lawmakers to join us in supporting this effort.

We know that much more will be needed from Virginia leadership in order to ensure a just and equitable transition to clean energy, but transparency is a crucial first step in this necessary process. IEEFA’s report recommended “serious reinvestment in the local economy” to help the community surrounding the Wise County plant transition when the plant does close. And we only know that reinvestment must happen sooner rather than later because of the information made available at the Attorney General’s insistence. All impacted communities deserve and need access to that information, and ultimately, access to the reinvestment that must occur in the decades to come.

Subramanyam represents parts of Loudoun and Prince William counties in the House of Delegates. He is a Democrat. Barnes is New Economy Program Manager for Appalachian Voices. She is based in Norton.

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