With 2015 on pace to be the hottest year the planet’s ever seen, and more extreme weather events such as intense storms and flooding in Virginia, it’s becoming clearer each day that global warming isn’t just a dire prediction of the future; it’s a present reality.
The recent finalization of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan—the largest step the nation has ever taken to curb global warming pollution—therefore gives Virginians cause to celebrate. Even better news: Solar energy is poised to play a major role in the commonwealth’s implementation plan.
Science shows we must slash emissions of carbon and other greenhouse gasses and replace harmful fossil fuels with clean, renewable energy sources to avoid devastating climate impacts such as sea level rise and an increase in emergency room visits. The Clean Power Plan does just that by setting state-by-state limits on carbon pollution from power plants, the largest source of heat-trapping pollution in the country.
As we rely less and less on polluting coal and gas plants, we need other means to meet our energy needs. Solar power is ready to rise to the challenge.
Solar power capacity is already growing at a rapid pace here in Virginia. Solar capacity in the United States has tripled in two years. In Virginia solar energy can power the state 18 times over. And we’re not alone. Across the country, every 2.5 minutes another home or business goes solar. As more people adopt solar, its costs tumble; since 2010 alone, prices fell 46 percent.
Environment Virginia research shows that even if solar power grew in the commonwealth at just a fraction of its recent pace, we could easily increase solar energy by 10 percent. Nationwide we could meet half the target of the Clean Power Plan.
Solar energy doesn’t just mean cleaner air and a safer climate. It’s also a powerful economic engine. It continues to grow faster than any other sector of the economy, employing 1,800 Virginians and more than 173,000 individuals nationwide. After the initial cost of capital, consumers can reap the full benefits of 100 percent free energy from the sun every day.
Dozens of solar industry leaders in Virginia have joined more than 650 installers, manufacturers and others in the industry on a letter sent to the White House, endorsing the Clean Power Plan and calling for renewable energy to play a strong role in its implementation.
The solar industry isn’t the only one in favor of the plan. Health professionals and business leaders have joined bipartisan majorities of Virginians to support these carbon pollution limits and the transition to clean energy.
The oil, coal and gas polluters and their allies in Congress, however, are waging an intense battle against the Clean Power Plan. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R–Kentucky, has vowed to do everything in his power to block or delay it. And because his powers only go so far, he and his fossil fuel allies have turned to governors, attorneys general, and special interests from across the country to wage a comprehensive assault on the plan.
As the opposition campaign ramps up in Congress, in the courts, and in the states, some Virginian elected officials from both sides of the aisle have expressed support for the EPA’s Clean Power Plan. Our leaders have made a commitment to work quickly to shift the commonwealth from fossil fuel power to clean energy sources such as solar. For the sake of our environment, economy, and future generations, we can’t afford to wait to tackle global warming.
Walter Benda is the founder of Blue Ridge Sun, a solar energy business in Southwest Virginia. Nicole Guilfoyle is the global warming solutions organizer for Environment Virginia.