Reliable, affordable energy plays a critical role in growing Virginia’s economy and empowering our citizenry. In my former role as Secretary of Technology for the Commonwealth, I saw firsthand the key role energy plays in attracting companies from across the technology sector. I also witnessed the needs and demands of Virginians change as they adapt to an increasingly connected world. As the pace of progress accelerates, we must be sure to take key steps to ensure the growth does not come at the expense of the environment.
Environmental stewardship was one of the key issues – along with enhanced cybersecurity protections – which led me to support the Grid Transformation & Security Act (GTSA) during the 2018 General Assembly session. One of the first actions coming out of the legislation is a series of new energy efficiency programs recently filed with the State Corporation Commission. The $262 million in programs proposed by Dominion Energy would provide residential and business customers with innovative ways to control energy usage and lower monthly bills, all while helping reduce the Commonwealth’s carbon footprint.
The 11 new proposals offer customers new tools for saving energy and money, if approved by the SCC next year.
Insights into your energy usage can now be enhanced through the use of technology to help optimize energy usage or provide customized suggestions to enhance savings. Incentives would help customers recycle older, inefficient appliances including refrigerators and freezers. Rebates would make “smart” thermostats and other highly efficient appliances from an online marketplace more affordable. Small manufacturers could see improvements to critical machinery realize significant energy savings. Small office buildings would be able to optimize the use of their existing lighting, heating and cooling systems.
The simple act of swapping out an old lightbulb for a new LED bulb can have a significant impact when scaled across thousands of homes and businesses. Applying advanced solar film to windows at offices and small businesses can cut energy use, improve comfort and enhance the aesthetics of a building. Recycling a refrigerator or freezer, or upgrading to a more efficient appliance or heat pump can produce a massive reduction in overall energy use when done on a large scale.
If approved, the programs would save enough electricity over five years to power 180,000 homes for a year. In fact, energy efficiency has been described as the “invisible fuel” because of its ability to produce cost-saving and resource-conserving benefits by simply using less energy. The cheapest fuel, as many advocates have said, is the one we don’t have to produce in the first place. And while these programs may not have the same cutting-edge appeal as solar power or battery storage, they are equally critical for the Commonwealth’s energy future. Thankfully, our lawmakers, policy experts and utilities agree on its importance and are working to achieve major reductions in the amount of energy we all consume.
Another benefit of those decisions will be new jobs and economic development in Virginia. The purchase of a new energy efficient dishwasher, washer/dryer or water heater stimulates the economy. Providing home energy audits and weatherization improvements creates new job opportunities and a burgeoning cottage industry that will continue to grow well into the future.
Governor Ralph Northam recently sounded his support for energy efficiency, calling for significant reductions in energy usage in Virginia’s 2018 Energy Plan. Setting a 10% goal for energy efficiency statewide is both noteworthy and attainable in the coming years. Better yet, Virginia is “walking the walk” on energy efficiency by holding state agencies to even more stringent goals.
I’m encouraged by the way Virginia’s energy policy is creating responsible growth, and I applaud Dominion Energy for their leadership on this issue. Working together, energy companies, lawmakers, the governor, residents and businesses can help move the Commonwealth forward in a way that is sensible for the economy and the environment.
Former Secretary of Technology for the Commonwealth of Virginia (2014 – 2018)
President of Apogee Strategic Partners (2018 – present)