On behalf of Our Revolution Arlington, I want to wholeheartedly support the adoption of the updated Community Energy Plan and its improved renewable energy goals. Setting goals is a good first step. However, anyone that has made a new years resolution knows that setting goals is the easy part. The hard part is in the doing. You have to look no further than the Paris Agreement, where signatories set very modest goals and not a single industrialized country is meeting them.
And even setting goals can be a tricky business. The IPCC Special Report has become something of a gold standard for goal setting, but it is indeed, like I have heard some of you remark, a political goal. The report is a political document, shaped not just on science, but political and industry pressure. The IPCC has a history of underestimating climate change and it is almost certain the latest report is another underestimation. Just this week, the BBC published an article where Sir David King, the former chief scientific advisor to the UK government stated he is “deeply scared” about the loss of land and sea ice, and believes the goal of carbon neutrality should be moved up ten years to 2040. So I implore the members of this board to educate themselves on this issue and prepare to move to even more aggressive goals in the near future.
We all know there is a massive obstacle in the way to meeting our energy goals: Dominion Energy. Let’s be frank: the executives at Dominion Energy have made it abundantly clear that they are climate change deniers. They continue to build new, carbon emitting, natural gas burning generation plants that they openly plan on using well past 2050. They are also attempting to build a huge natural gas pipeline that would more than double the amount of carbon they would emit. Dominion even lobbies against energy efficiency standards because less energy usage by consumers means less profit for them.
It is true that Dominion is regulated by the state government and it is true, that in theory, if the right people were elected, Dominion could be forced to decarbonize. But I think everyone in this room recognizes that Dominion mostly regulates itself, and the trend has been towards less regulation, not more. This theory also ignores the political reality: this is a bipartisan problem. Even if Democrats take the state house and senate, their margins will be small, and there are more than enough Dominion friendly democrats to prevent any real progress. We also have, in Ralph Northam, a governor who also supports the construction of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, and therefore cannot be trusted with climate related matters.
There is a quote from one of the authors of last year’s IPCC report that has stuck in my head. Myles Allen of Oxford said we need to “turn the world economy on a dime“. He did not just mean switching from fossil fuels to renewable energy. He meant we need to move from an economic system that prioritizes profit for shareholders to one that prioritizes the common good. The good news is that we already know how to do that. This, right here, is such a system. You here on the county board certainly did not run for office in pursuit of riches. You did it because you wanted to make Arlington County a better place. We desperately need to put democracy in charge of our energy decisions.
There is an option that would allow us to both solve the Dominion Energy problem, and make the change in economic systems described by Mr. Allen. We could bring our electrical utility under local, municipal control. It would allow us to have an electrical utility that is committed to decarbonizing in an equitable way, and would open the door to all kinds of innovative approaches such as microgrids and on-bill financing. Additionally, the press coverage would keep climate change in the minds of the public, and Dominions ability to lobby would be weakened by the loss of revenue from Arlington. It will be a challenging fight that will require political bravery, and yes, money – to win. But now is the time for radical measures, and it is a fight worth having. It is simply too late, and the stakes too high, to sit and cross our fingers and hope for solutions from a market controlled by fossil fuel interests to make the necessary changes.
Arlington County is one of the wealthiest and most privileged places on the planet. We are the sixth wealthiest county in the country and the most educated. If we are serious about equity, If we are serious about saving ourselves from the worst consequences of climate change, we cannot set a goal and dust off our hands and hope others make the changes for us. We must show leadership and throw ourselves into making the radical changes that climate scientists are begging us to make.