While consumers are shocked by soaring electric bills, on February 13 a Virginia Senate committee approved creating the Virginia Power Innovation Fund to develop alternate sources of energy. That bill, House Bill 2386, was filed by Del. Israel O’Quinn (R-Washington Co.) and was to promote the “research and development of innovative energy technologies including nuclear, hydrogen, geothermal, pumped storage hydropower, battery storage and manufacturing, and carbon capture and utilization.”
However, the next day, the Democrat-controlled Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee voted 10-6 to strip “nuclear” from the language. That second vote, for now at least, kills Gov. Youngkin’s plan to install at least one small modular nuclear reactor somewhere in Southwest Virginia within the next decade.
Sen. John Edwards (D-Roanoke), the last Democrat senator representing part of Southwest Virginia that was supposed to benefit from the research and development of nuclear-generated electricity, flipped by having voted Yes on February 13 but then No on the Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee.
Del. O’Quinn expressed disappointment that the bill failed in a Senate committee. “The knee-jerk opposition to nuclear innovation is very short sighted and puts Virginia behind the curve on energy diversification. Nuclear energy is inevitably going to have to be a bigger part of Virginia’s energy portfolio. It produces zero carbon and is highly reliable.”
Last October Governor Youngkin (R) asked the General Assembly to approve his “all of the above” Virginia Energy Plan in order to guarantee a reliable stream of affordable energy into the future. One part of that Plan included a request for funds to establish a Virginia Nuclear Innovation Hub.
With some neighboring states such as Tennessee and North Carolina experiencing population and economic growth that outstrips that of Virginia, the need for reliable, affordable energy is more crucial than ever.
Sen. Steve Newman (R-Bedford Co.) tried to keep support for nuclear research and development in the bill’s language. His district covers part of the Lynchburg area that already boasts a growing nuclear industry. “Virginia, as you know, is on the cusp of being the nuclear leader, from Lynchburg, where we have three companies, and Tidewater is extraordinarily important,” he explained.
There is debate as to whether nuclear energy can be considered as a kind of “Green Energy” and “Clean Energy.” On one hand, the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear plant disaster in the former USSR shows the environmental risks associated with that power source. On the other hand, nuclear energy uses no fossil fuels and emits no carbon dioxide, as explained in this energy.gov page.
Sen. Majority Leader Dick Saslaw (D-Fairfax) was the only Democrat to vote against stripping “nuclear” from the package.
However, Sen. Chap Petersen (D-Fairfax City) explained his opposition. “I look at it the other way, this is general fund money we are spending, and these are large, for-profit enterprises that have the ability to pay for this research and development. If we do use taxpayer money to pay for this fund, I think it’s important that we focus on those resources which are not just sustainable but also are environmentally friendly. Nothing against nuclear, but I think at this point we ought to keep this fund much more targeted.”
On the topics of “sustainable” and “environmentally friendly,” windmills only generate power on windy days, and as explained here, some scientists blame off-shore windmills for the recent spike in deaths of endangered Right Whales, of which only some 340 individuals are alive. Moreover, as explained here, Virginia lost about 2,000 acres of productive farmland per week in 2021. These losses stem from a variety of causes, but a growing reason is farmland being converted into sprawling solar installations, and much forested land is being cut down too to make way for solar panels. Once those huge solar arrays are installed, the valuable forests and farmland are lost forever.
With a previous Democrat-controlled General Assembly having put into motion a plan to close Virginia’s coal-burning, electricity-generating power plants, and drawbacks to solar and wind power, it is unclear how Virginians are to be guaranteed an affordable, reliable energy grid to meet all residential and business needs.
The Roanoke Star has reached out to Senators Edwards and Petersen for a statement on their votes, but none has been received as of publication time.
All 140 seats of the Virginia General Assembly will be up for election this fall.