Sunday, January 3, 2021

Reaching Net Zero Emissions In Virginia Could Increase State GDP More Than $3.5 Billion Per Year

When Governor Ralph Northam signed the Virginia Clean Economy Act (VCEA) into law this April, the state joined the vanguard of U.S. states enacting ambitious policy to transition from fossil fuels to a clean energy economy. But while the VCEA would significantly decarbonize Virginia’s power sector by 2050, it will still fall short of the emissions reductions needed for a safe climate future.

New modeling using the Virginia Energy Policy Simulator (EPS), developed by Energy Innovation and Rocky Mountain Institute, estimates the VCEA will reduce power sector emissions nearly 64% and cut economy-wide emissions 26% by 2050 compared to business-as-usual. While the VCEA puts Virginia on the path to significant decarbonization, it does not cover the rest of the state’s economic sectors, and falls short of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s recommended pathway to limit warming to 1.5° Celsius for a safe climate future.
[The general Energy Policy Simulator available for other regions is available at and more fully described  in a blog post at ]
Percent GDP Change in a Net Zero Scenario - U.S.
... A more ambitious policy package that implements climate policies across the transportation, buildings, industrial, land, and agricultural sectors could put Virginia on a 1.5°C pathway and generate massive economic benefits: By 2050, this scenario could achieve net-zero emissions, generate more than 12,000 job-years, and increase state GDP by more than $3.5 billion per year.

Virginia’s second-largest source of emissions is the electricity sector. Before the VCEA was enacted, the state’s power sector emissions were projected to grow from roughly 30 million metric tons of carbon dioxide-equivalent (MMT CO2e) in 2019 to about 35 MMT CO2e in 2050.

The VCEA will spur significant electricity sector emissions reductions by requiring the state’s investor-owned utilities to decarbonize, including requiring Dominion to achieve 100 percent carbon-free electricity by 2045 and Appalachian Power to achieve 100 percent carbon-free electricity by 2050. It also requires closing nearly all coal-fired power plants by 2024 and most natural gas, biomass, and petroleum-fired power plants by 2045.

The VCEA would also [increase] Virginia’s renewable energy industry with targets for 5,200 megawatts (MW) of offshore wind by 2034, 3,100 MW of energy storage capacity by 2035, and significant energy efficiency growth....Virginia currently has 2,300 MW of installed renewable energy capacity....
Transportation is the largest current source of statewide emissions, followed by industry and buildings as the third- and fourth-largest greenhouse gas contributors....

Modeling of the VCEA and 1.5°C pathway was conducted using the open-source and peer reviewed Virginia EPS computer model, which allows users to estimate climate and energy policy impacts on emissions, the economy, and public health.... 

This policy package would reduce economywide emissions 63% below 2005 levels by 2030 and achieve net-zero emissions before 2050.... In addition to the economic benefits, the scenario would reduce harmful air pollution, creating health benefits for Virginians.

... The Virginia EPS ... [requires] all new passenger cars sold to be electric by 2035, and all new trucks to be electric by 2045. This standard aligns with California’s transportation sector policies and the multi-state Memorandum of Understanding on moving to zero emissions medium and heavy duty vehicles that 17 states follow. The scenario also includes investing in alternatives to passenger car travel, with supportive land use and transportation policies that empower people to use public transit or walk and bike, resulting in a 20% passenger car travel reduction by 2050.

In the buildings sector, a sales standard requiring all newly sold building equipment to be electric by 2030 would shift gas space and water heating systems to all-electric heat pumps, which are already commercially available and common in many parts of the U.S. Strong efficiency standards (potentially state standards on new equipment sales, a utility rebate program, or a statewide energy efficiency resource standard) further improve the efficiency of newly sold building equipment.

The Virginia EPS 1.5°C pathway ...covers the entire electricity sector (including municipal and cooperative utilities) and targets 100% clean power [earlier], by 2035. The VCEA’s offshore wind, energy storage, and power plant closure requirements are also included along with additional policies to expand the transmission system, spur demand response, and add even more storage for valuable grid flexibility.

Virginia’s industry sector emissions come from [leaks].... To reduce energy-related emissions, the scenario requires industrial facilities electrify all end-uses where possible, to switch to a zero-carbon fuel (in this case hydrogen) for all others by 2050, and for the hydrogen to be produced through the zero-carbon process known as electrolysis. Policies promoting more efficient use of industrial materials and improved industrial energy efficiency achieve additional reductions.
By 2050, this scenario would generate more than 12,000 job-years and increase Virginia’s GDP by more than $3.5 billion per year.

Moving away from fossil fuels also improves air quality by reducing particulate matter emissions and other pollutants that harm human health – [avoiding] more than 16,000 asthma attacks per year by 2050.
by Silvio Marcacci, Communications Director at Energy Innovation a nonpartisan climate policy think tank helping policymakers make informed energy policy choices and accelerate clean energy by supporting the policies that most effectively reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
December 9, 2020
Also see Greentech Media's coverage at

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