100% Renewable Energy in Virginia? It Is the First Southern State to Commit
Virginia, which now has a Democrat as governor and Democrats in control of the statehouse, has followed the lead of several other blue states and committed itself to transition away from fossil fuels to a clean, renewable, carbon-free energy, as Vox reported. It makes Virginia the first state in the South to commit to 100 percent clean energy.
Last September, Gov. Ralph Northam signed an executive order for the state to run on 100 percent renewable energy completely by 2050. His order forced several state agencies to create a plan for meeting that goal and for moving 30 percent of the state's power to renewable sources in the next decade, according to PBS. The order also brought Virginia into the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a nine state carbon-trading market.
However, Republicans had control of the state house and prohibited Virginia from joining the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. Yet, in November, the balance of power shifted to Democrats. That led to last week's passage of the Virginia Clean Economy Act, as Vox reported.
Virginia now joins seven other states — California, Hawaii, Maine, Nevada, New Mexico, New York and Washington — along with Washington DC and Puerto Rico, which have passed similar legal requirements. More states, like Oregon, will have similar laws enacted soon.
The bill actually pushed Northam's mandate up five years for Dominion Energy, one of the state's two power companies. It will run on clean energy by 2045, at the latest. The other, Appalachian Power, will have to 2050 to transition.
The bill also calls for setting targets for massive investments in energy efficiency, energy storage and in-state solar and wind power, according to Green Tech Media. It also brings the state back into the RGGI carbon-trading network.
The Virginia Clean Economy Act will also hold costs down and protect low-income and vulnerable communities. It also requires the state's energy suppliers to boost power storage, increase their offshore wind energy generation and invest in rooftop solar panels, according to Vox.
"The cost of doing nothing is staggering," said State Sen. Jennifer McClellan of Richmond, as the Virginia Mercury reported. "Yes, this is a big bill, but it does some very important things that Virginia is far, far behind in doing. … Sometimes change is necessary to meet a greater good."
While the bill faced criticism from Republicans who sounded the usual dog whistle of clean energy costing jobs and being expensive, it also faced Democratic defections, mainly from delegates who believed the bill isn't strong enough.
General Assembly Delegate Ibraheem Samirah of Fairfax did not cast a vote, saying in a statement that he abstained "because the legislation fails to rise to the level of urgency needed to tackle the climate crisis," according to the Virginia Mercury.
Unlike in Oregon, where Republicans fled the state to stop the state from establishing a cap-and-trade market, Virginia Republicans do not have the option of walking out and shutting down the legislature, as Vox reported.
Virginia has two major power suppliers, Dominion Energy and Appalachian Power. The two hold enormous lobbying power and have resisted progress toward clean energy. However, a broad coalition sprouted up to support the Virginia Clean Economy Act.
As GreenBiz noted:
[A] broad coalition of clean energy businesses, environmental groups, grassroots groups and lawmakers came together to craft the bills, negotiate with the state's major utilities and shepherd them to final passage.
A number of businesses that are not tied to the energy sector also spoke up in support of these bills, helping state legislators understand that there is broad business support for decarbonizing the entire Virginia economy.
Furthermore, a study by Advanced Energy Economy concluded that the bill would lower rates, create jobs and boost the state's GDP. Advanced energy, especially efficiency, is a huge and growing source of employment in the state, according to an AEE analysis, as Vox reported.
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Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab says he believes Tuesday's explosion in Beirut could have been caused by large quantities of ammonium nitrate stored in the port.
What Is Ammonium Nitrate?<p>Ammonium nitrate is a white crystalline salt that can be fairly cheaply produced from ammonia and nitric acid. It is soluble and often used as fertilizer, as nitrogen is needed for healthy plant development.</p><p>Ammonium nitrate in its pure form is not dangerous. It is, however, heat sensitive. At 32.2 degrees Celsius (89.96 degrees Fahrenheit), ammonium nitrate changes its atomic structure, which in turn changes its chemical properties.</p><p>When large quantities of ammonium nitrate are stored in one place, heat is generated. If the amount is sufficiently vast, it can cause the chemical to ignite. Once a temperature of 170 C is reached, ammonium nitrate starts breaking down, emitting nitrous oxide, better known as laughing gas. Any sudden ignition causes ammonium nitrate to decompose directly into water, nitrogen and oxygen, which explains the enormous explosive power of the salt.</p>
Deadly Disasters<p>As ammonium nitrate is a highly explosive chemical, many countries strictly regulate its use. Over the past 100 years, there have been several disasters involving the chemical.</p><p>In 1921, for example, a massive blast occurred at a BASF chemical plant in Ludwigshafen in the German state of Rhineland-Palatinate. About 400 metric tons of a mixture of ammonium sulfate and ammonium nitrate exploded, killing 559 people and injuring 1,977. The plant was largely destroyed in the blast, which could be heard as far away as Munich, some 300 kilometers (186 miles) distant.</p><p>In 2015, explosions caused by ammonium nitrate ripped through the <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/china-convicts-dozens-for-last-years-giant-explosions-in-tianjin/a-36324321" target="_blank">Chinese port city of Tianjin</a>. Eight hundred metric tons of the chemical were said to have been stored along with other substances in a warehouse for hazardous materials. The blasts killed 173 people and destroyed an entire city district.</p><p>Two years earlier, in 2013, an ammonium nitrate explosion occurred at the West Fertilizer Company site in Texas, killing 14 people. And in 2001, 31 people died in Toulouse, France, in an explosion caused by the chemical.</p>
Terrorist Favorite<p>In Germany, the purchase and use of ammonium nitrate is regulated by the explosives act. This is because the cheap, highly explosive and relatively easily obtainable material has in the past been used by terrorists to carry out attacks.</p><p>For example, in 1995, U.S. conspiracy theorist and gun enthusiast Timothy McVeigh used a mixture of ammonium nitrate and other substances to bomb the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. Norwegian far-right extremist Anders Behring Breivik also used ammonium nitrate in a car bomb attack in Oslo in 2011.</p>
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