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Virginia Governor Offers Leadership on Nuclear Energy Innovation, A Balanced Approach to Decarbonization

Virginia Governor Offers Leadership on Nuclear Energy Innovation, A Balanced Approach to Decarbonization

Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin (R.) released his 2022 energy plan early last week, and it offers a refreshing vision of sobriety on energy policy.

The plan, designed to reevaluate that of his Democratic predecessor released in 2020, calls for an “all of the above” energy strategy using a variety of generation sources, from hydrogen to renewables and natural gas, rather than a renewable-only strategy. And it offers an especially full-throated support for nuclear energy.

“This plan advocates for the development of the first commercial SMR in the US in southwest Virginia and calls for developing spent nuclear fuel recycling technologies that offer the promise of a zero-carbon emission energy system with minimal waste and a closed-loop supply chain,” Youngkin said at an event unveiling the plan. “We have to be all-in in nuclear energy in Virginia. When it comes to reliability, affordability, when it comes to clean power, when it comes to the abundant nature of growing power demand, absolutely nothing beats nuclear energy. It is the baseload of all baseloads.”

The plan stands in stark contrast to the approach favored by many progressive policymakers and prominent environmental organizations, who often call for energy transition strategies solely focused on resources like wind, solar, and battery storage while calling for the rapid shuttering of fossil fuel plants.

It stands as an early roadmap for how center-right policymakers might forge a more pragmatic path to decarbonization, one that prioritizes innovation and reliability in addition to emissions reduction.

In addition to calling for a major push toward developing advanced nuclear energy, the plan calls for eliminating the state’s ties to California’s aggressive electric vehicle mandate. It also calls for increased competition in the electricity generation sector, streamlining regulatory reviews for key infrastructure projects, and increased flexibility in the deadlines set to meet emissions reductions targets.

“The plan adopted in recent years by the previous administration goes too far in establishing rigid and inflexible rules for the transition in energy generation in Virginia,” Youngkin said. “We need to recognize that a clean energy future does not have to come at the cost of a healthy, resilient, and growing economy. We first must embrace a measure of humility as to our ability to project and predict 30-years of energy demand and technological innovation. And we certainly should not make irreversible decisions today to exit critical elements of power stack.”

In other words, the plan acknowledges the need to transition to a carbon-free future, while at the same time recognizing that prescriptive strategies with myopic focus on intermittent renewables and aggressive deadlines risk making the cure worse than the disease.

States like California—which favors the traditional progressive approach to decarbonization—has experienced rolling blackouts in recent years as it continues to shut down baseload power plants and expand wind and solar installations on its quest to becoming 100% renewable. Its residents also face some of the highest electricity bills in the nation.

Colorado for its part, has begun to embark down the California path thus far. Under the tutelage of Governor Jared Polis (D.), the state now has a goal of meeting 100% of its energy through renewables by the year 2040. Never mind the fact that no jurisdiction of any reasonable size anywhere on the planet has ever done such a thing before (those that come close are blessed with abundant hydropower resources, something Colorado does not have).

Instead, the Youngkin plan and others like it offer a far more reasonable and realistic approach. By choosing to make “carbon-free” the goal—rather than arbitrarily limiting the state’s potential resources to just renewables—the state can prioritize efficiency, reliability, and abundance while also doing its part to confront climate change.

It simply doesn’t make sense to do it any other way.

Kudos to Governor Youngkin of Virginia for having the sense to recognize that Americans aren’t going to settle for renewables-driven energy austerity, no matter how much they may claim to care about climate change. Any path to decarbonization must be done with an eye toward ensuring that the citizenry isn’t made worse off. The situation in Europe has made that abundantly clear, if it wasn’t already.

Colorado policymakers are officially on notice. This is how you lead on state-level energy policy.

Jake Fogleman