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Youngkin unveils his energy plan

Gov. Glenn Youngkin explains his energy policy at the Delta Star plant in Lynchburg.
Governor's office livestream
Gov. Glenn Youngkin explains his energy policy at the Delta Star plant in Lynchburg.

The governor chose to unveil his plan in Lynchburg where two of the nation’s top nuclear energy companies are headquartered. In it, he calls for continued reliance on nuclear energy:

“When it comes to reliability, affordability, when it comes to clean power, absolutely nothing beats nuclear energy. It is the baseload of all baseloads,” he said to a cheering crowd.

And he pledged to support what he called a moon shot for the state – development of small modular reactors that could be assembled in one place and shipped to another.

“Virginia will launch a commercial small modular reactor that will be serving customers in Southwest Virginia within the next ten years. That’s what we’re going to do.

Youngkin attacked a signature achievement of Ralph Northam’s administration – the Clean Economy Act, saying it plans too far ahead.

“We need to embrace a measure of humility to our ability to predict 30 years of energy demand, technological innovations, and the definition of what is clean energy.”

Which is why he’ll ask lawmakers to reconsider the Clean Economy Act next year and to review it every five years thereafter.

Youngkin pointed to rising energy prices and said they’d go higher if the state moved too quickly from reliance on nuclear power and methane.

“If we rely only on wind and solar, we will end up importing from other states in our region – other states all of whom will continue burning natural gas, burning coal to meet our energy needs, and prices will spike, because according to the State Corporation Commission our current path will cause energy bills for residential consumers to surge over $40 a month.”

The proposal brought an immediate response from environmentalists. At the Chesapeake Climate Action Network Mike Tidwell said Youngkin’s plan would have been fine in 1950 but has no place during this last-chance decade to solve climate change.

“I think that this document is not just disappointing but in some ways alarming given hurricanes in Florida and wildfires out west and sea level rise in Hampton Roads.”

He said small modular reactors were an unproven technology and one that would produce potentially dangerous waste.

“Whether you concentrate it in one big reactor or you distribute it in a hundred different reactors across Virginia, there is still going to be radioactive waste.”

And he thought Youngkin’s “All of the Above Energy Plan” might make political sense but was not the way Virginia should go.

“There’s only one path forward, and that is one that is carbon-free and safe and consumer friendly, and that does not involve gas!”

At the Southern Environmental Law Center, Trip Pollard faulted Youngkin’s plan for saying little about conservation and mass transit and failing to consider the plight of people who struggle to pay for energy.

“There’s next to nothing in there about energy efficiency, and there’s nothing in there about equity issues.”

He argues it would be a mistake to ditch Clean Car Standards designed to reduce tail pipe pollution and put more electric cars on the road.

“And without that we don’t see those vehicles delivered to Virginia as much. They go to other clean car states like Maryland, which is one of the reasons the Virginia Auto Dealers supported the Clean Car Standard. They don’t want to lose that business.”

Pollard said efforts to repeal the Clean Economy Act and Scrap Clean Car Standards had failed before in the General Assembly, and he hoped they would again be defeated when lawmakers meet in January.

Updated: October 3, 2022 at 8:16 PM EDT
Editor's Note: The Southern Environmental Law Center is a financial supporter of Radio IQ.
Sandy Hausman is Radio IQ's Charlottesville Bureau Chief