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Davenport: Energy and Virginia's economic present and future

Davenport: Energy and Virginia's economic present and future

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By Ben Davenport

Davenport is chairman of Davenport Energy in Chatham.

Uncertain economic times challenge us to look toward a brighter future. However, the economic future of southern and western Virginia will be much, much brighter with the completion of the Mountain Valley Pipeline.

We need to finish this project NOW!

Just over a year ago, the Commonwealth of Virginia regained its position as the best state in America for business according to CNBC. There were several factors which led to this ranking, but a hidden Ace in the Commonwealth’s economic development poker hand was its embrace of an “all of the above” energy policy.

n A burgeoning renewable energy economy was beginning to grow.

n Safe nuclear energy continued to power tens of thousands of homes and businesses.

n Domestically produced natural gas was still plentiful and affordable.

n And coal from Virginia’s southwest remained an integral part of the state’s energy mix.

Yet, in a presentation to Virginia business leaders in December, Stephen Moret, the leader of the state’s economic development efforts, cautioned against complacency when it comes to energy generation. Moret said the Commonwealth must find ways to generate even more energy in the near-term, in an economic development era increasingly defined by technology companies reliant upon large quantities of new energy.

That is why I am perplexed, and, yes, a little bit frustrated, that Virginia seems to be moving away from an “all of the above” energy policy which is serving us well.

My home county of Pittsylvania has embraced utility scale solar energy creation and I am a big supporter of those efforts. But technology companies demand redundancy as a key part of energy generation which cannot be filled by solar alone. Safe, dependable and affordable natural gas provides that energy and economic redundancy that our region needs to be a player in the technology sector economic development sweepstakes.

Some of my own employees wonder if I’ve lost my mind by supporting a natural gas pipeline which will compete directly with the energy product my own company sells.

But, there are larger issues at stake here.

Completion of the Mountain Valley Pipeline is a critical element of this region’s long-term economic development strategy. As pipeline construction is substantially completed, it makes no sense whatsoever to abandon a project which is so clearly needed to insure a brighter future for the southern and western Virginia.

Infrastructure modernization, such as the Mountain Valley Pipeline will provide, gives southern and western Virginia a much-needed boost as we compete with other states for industry and good paying jobs.

Opponents of this effort, upon realizing that common sense and good public policy are in alignment that completion of the Mountain Valley Pipeline is positive for economic growth, burden our court system with costly and unnecessary litigation.

On the one hand, as the opponents of the pipeline are leading a mad rush to retire coal-burning plants, these very same opponents object to a plan which will make cheap, plentiful and safe natural gas more available to hasten the retirement of the coal-burning facilities.

Opponents of the Mountain Valley Pipeline have chosen to burden the courts because they have lost in the court that matters most: the court of public opinion. Virginians in southern and western Virginia are tired of being left behind as the rest of the Commonwealth is booming with high technology job growth. The people who ought to count the most, our fellow citizens who are looking for a better life for themselves and their families, want to see technology jobs migrate to our part of the state.

And infrastructure improvements such as the Mountain Valley Pipeline are a big part of that.

Decades of experience has shown us what happens when we forfeit our energy independence to energy sources in places such as the Middle East and Venezuela. Even as forms of renewable energy become more cost-competitive and available every single day, we are still 25 YEARS away from a time where we can depend upon solar and wind to meet the totality of our energy needs. Natural gas will remain a fundamentally important component of our region’s energy — and economic — future for the foreseeable future.

That is why completion of the Mountain Valley Pipeline is so critically important.

There is no valid reason that we should not be able to get to the finish line quickly. Federal agencies such as the Army Corp of Engineers, the National Forest Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are on the cusp of issuing the necessary final permits to allow project completion. We need our region’s members of Congress, Reps. Riggleman, Cline and Griffith and Sens. Warner and Kaine, to work with the current administration to expedite the process.

Once finished, the energy which will flow through this pipeline will be a cornerstone of our region’s economic development efforts. The end is in sight. Let’s work together to get this done!

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