No matter where I travel in the Fifth District, the issue of energy constantly comes up. The prevalence of the topic is not surprising. In one way or another, energy connects to almost every other issue that folks care about. Families and small businesses worry about the effect that high energy prices will have on their ability to thrive; conservationists fear that the infrastructure used to produce and transport energy will have calamitous consequences for Virginia’s natural beauty; and those in search of a good job are hopeful that the energy sector will provide the steady source of employment that it has for many of our parents and grandparents.
Today’s rigid energy grid is in many ways a relic of a 20th century framework that fails to account for the unpredictability of the modern world. I want to live in an America where everyone is able to collect, store, and sell their own energy. To get there, we must take an all-of-the-above approach towards a more agile, efficient grid that provides families and businesses the flexibility they need to grow and prosper. This transformation will not happen overnight - renewable sources accounted for only 10% of U.S. energy consumption in 2016 - but it is coming. America has led the world in innovation for over 200 years, and I am confident that we can continue to do so in the energy sector by empowering individuals and communities to meet their own energy challenges.
People Over Pipelines: Pipeline Fairness and Transparency Act
It is more important than ever that investments in natural gas pipelines are vetted with the utmost rigor to ensure they are necessary to meet our current and future energy needs. This is a salient issue for many residents of the Fifth District, particularly those in counties through which the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) and Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) would run (Nelson, Buckingham, Cumberland, Prince Edward, Brunswick, Franklin, and Pittsylvania) and those in counties where natural gas power stations are a valuable source of jobs (Fauquier, Buckingham, Fluvanna, and Brunswick).
I oppose the ACP and MVP because the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) process used to approve the pipeline was fundamentally flawed and most importantly, it entirely disregarded the Fifth District’s most valuable natural resource - its people. Due to vacancies on the five-person commission, both pipelines were approved with the votes of only two commissioners. Coupled with FERC’s history of rubber stamping interstate pipeline projects - one study found only two out of over 400 proposals have been rejected since 1999 - the imminent construction of the ACP and MVP signals the urgent need to reform FERC’s approval process.
The Pipeline Fairness and Transparency Act takes a strong step in the right direction of making the FERC’s approval process fairer and more transparent. It reiterates that eminent domain is only to be used to benefit the public good, protects national scenic trails, and ensures that public meetings be held by FERC in every county that a proposed interstate pipeline would travel through.
Protecting Funding for Vital Energy Programs
American innovation has always been the result of enterprising individuals supported by publicly funded research and development. From railroads to jet engines to personal computers and solar energy, technological progress has come when discoveries made in government and university labs are utilized by intrepid risk-takers to spark economic development and progress. Companies in the Fifth District are already leading the country in advanced energy, developing over $6.5 billion in renewable energy projects around the country.
The Administration’s proposed gutting of energy programs vital for continued innovation in the energy sector must be stopped. The Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy aims to create “a strong and prosperous America powered by clean, affordable, and secure energy.” It faces a proposed 70 percent cut in 2018. The Advanced Manufacturing Office supports research and development that will restore America’s preeminence in manufacturing. The Administration wants to cut its funding by 64 percent. The Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) was modeled on the Department of Defense agency responsible for the investments that eventually led to the Internet and is supported by Democrats and Republicans alike. The Administration wants to eliminate it.
Programs like these - with a demonstrated track record of advancing innovation and making America’s energy grid more efficient - must be maintained. Last fall, the Department of Energy announced the solar industry has achieved the 2020 utility-scale solar cost target set in 2011. Our approach is working and merits reinvestment.
Investing in Advanced Energy: The Green Bank Act
Creating a 21st century energy infrastructure grid in America is going to take large-scale investment in sustainable energy projects. These investments have the potential to spark job creation and drive economic development, so we must ensure that we are incentivizing the private sector to make them. Since 2011, six states have launched Green Banks that finance private investment in clean energy and energy efficiency projects. The results thus far have been encouraging. In Connecticut, $6 of private funding have been invested for every $1 of public funds, creating 13,000 jobs, and resulting in approximately $1 billion worth of support for modern energy infrastructure.
Communities know their energy needs best. That’s why a National Green Bank will provide financial support to regional, state, and municipal Green Banks rather than making direct investments on its own. The Green Bank will receive initial capitalization of $10 billion, and return on investment will be monitored closely to ensure that the bank becomes self-sustaining in the long term.
Energy efficiency programs sponsored by investor-owned electric utilities and member-owned electric cooperatives have the potential to create thousands of jobs in HVAC installation, home and business weatherization, building construction and renovation, and manufacturing. These are jobs that cannot be outsourced. The Fifth District currently has the most solar jobs of any congressional district in the Commonwealth, 67 percent of which don’t require a bachelor’s degree. We have a real opportunity to take a leadership role in Virginia’s transition to a 21st century energy grid and need to take advantage of it.
Private investment in rural economies requires a collaborative and innovative approach for truly sustainable partnerships. We must make a concerted effort, therefore, to ensure that Green Bank funds reach into our rural communities, where both the natural resources and strong desire for jobs in the energy sector exist. I will fight to ensure that dedicated funds are set aside explicitly for investments in rural areas.
Ensuring FERC Incentivises Investment in an Efficient, Dynamic Energy Grid
FERC is responsible for the approval of all interstate energy infrastructure projects and therefore has significant influence over the future of energy investment in America. In the past five years, FERC has typically guaranteed a return on equity (ROE) of 11-14% for natural gas pipelines – roughly 30% more than what is earned on upgrades for electric transmission infrastructure.
The reason for this discrepancy is unclear. It is important that we incentivize companies to invest in upgrades to the existing grid to make it more flexible, less wasteful, and more resilient. In Congress, I will work to ensure that FERC is creating an incentive structure that rewards individuals and companies who are innovating and creating jobs through advanced energy projects.
Preparing for Climate Disruption
When it comes to climate change, we need to be clear-eyed about the realities of the science, and we need to reject the partisan bickering in Washington that has distracted us from those realities. The fact is that our Department of Defense has identified climate change as a present security threat that poses a significant risk to U.S. interests globally. Senator John McCain was right when he said, “We stand warned by serious and credible scientists across the world that time is short and the dangers are great. The most relevant question now is whether our own government is equal to the challenge.” In Congress, I will work with any willing partner - Democrat, Republican, or Independent - to support common-sense policy options that address the impacts, causes, and challenges of our changing climate.
Defending A Diverse Economy for Southside Virginia
Dozens of local governments and organizations have passed resolutions to support Virginia’s longstanding moratorium on uranium mining in recent years. I will join with folks on both sides of the aisle in Southside who have long agreed that uranium mining is not worth the risk and would actually harm efforts to grow the economy in our region by threatening drinking water and public health.