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October 1, 2019

Arlington’s Energy Plan to reach zero carbon emissions based mostly on hot air and platitudes

Development,environment — @ 11:17 am

Arlington County Board of Supervisors on September 21, 2019 updated its six-year old Community Energy Plan (CEP), and increased its goal from a 75-percent reduction in carbon emissions within Arlington County by 2045 to net carbon neutrality by 2050. The actual policies needed to do this will be considered in a separate implementation policy in June 2020. So for now, the CEP is merely hopes and not concrete actions to be taken.

Why did the county only approve goals but not at the same time the means to achieve these goals? The plan has no funding nor new county ordinances or requirements. The plan calls for the county government to use only renewable power within 6 years, and all residents and business to use only renewable power by 2035.

The problem with that is that Virginia today has NO commercial renewable electricity. In 2018, about 3.1 million megawatts of electricity were consumed by commerce, residents, and government in Arlington. To supply that amount of electricity would take the electricity generated from the largest wind tower farm in the world (the London array with a daily capacity of 7,120 megawatts) for the +200,000 residents of Arlington.

Dominion Energy proposes to build a large wind farm off Virginia coast by 2026 with a capacity of 2,600 megawatts daily capacity that could supply only one-third of Arlington’s electricity use today.

It can argued that the 2013 CEP failed on nearly all of its goals, although some external and market driving factors did allow county emissions to drop slightly. A large proportion of existing office space became vacant during 2007-18, and Dominion Energy began phasing out coal-fired electricity for natural gas-fired electricity which produces less carbon emissions.

During 2010-18, net carbon emissions from buildings did drop by 4 percent or very close to the 2013 target of a 5-percent drop but only because of high rates of office vacancy. The bad news and more foreboding is that carbon emissions in residences rose by 14 percent, driven in part by a 9-percent increase in county residents.

The 2013 CEP failed owing to several factors: the State of Virginia Building code for new residential units was not strengthened to require builders to achieve a 30-percent energy savings. Secondly, no cogeneration power plants were built in Arlington that would have reduced commercial use of natural gas and electricity. Third, even the LEED certified buildings added in Arlington did not achieve significant energy savings.

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