RICHMOND, Va. — Gov. Bob McDonnell rolled out his 2012 energy initiatives on Thursday, proposing $500,000 to promote the development of wind power off Virginia’s coast and knocking the federal government anew for blocking oil and gas development in the same waters.
McDonnell said the package will advance his goal of making Virginia the “Energy Capital of the East Coast” through policies that encourage the use of fossil fuels, including coal; help develop renewable sources such as wind and solar; and promote efficiency and conservation. The Republican governor calls his approach an “all-of-the-above” strategy.
“Only by aggressively developing all types of energy and removing bureaucratic hurdles … will we be able to meet our energy needs and reduce our nation’s dependence upon foreign sources of energy,” McDonnell said in a statement.
A leading advocate of pursuing offshore oil and gas, he said the state “continues to aggressively fight back” against the Obama administration’s decision to keep off limits until at least 2017 East Coast energy exploration in waters off Virginia.
The delay followed the Gulf of Mexico oil disaster. The April 20, 2010, explosion off Louisiana killed 11 rig workers and led to more than 200 million gallons of oil spewing from a well a mile beneath the sea.
The McDonnell administration also complained about “oppressive new and anti-competitive” federal regulatory actions that it said are blunting efforts to develop domestic energy resources.
McDonnell has argued that the U.S. Department of the Interior should at least allow exploration off Virginia to assess the potential of oil and gas deposits in coastal waters. Testing occurred decades ago, and industry officials say new technology will likely reveal more oil and gas than previously believed.
He has found bipartisan support, notably from Virginia’s Democratic U.S. senators, in his call to put the East Coast in play for oil and gas development.
Critics have said the oil and gas are not worth the environmental risk to the coast, the fishing industry and tourism.
McDonnell outlined seven legislative proposals and his own initiatives in the energy plan. The funding aimed at promoting offshore wind is for research and development to assist private development. Two or more private interests are likely to express intent in developing wind farms when the federal government opens sections of the Atlantic to leasing.
Wind energy proponents maintain the state has optimal offshore conditions for wind turbines, and some initial investment has been made by European developers of wind power in Virginia.
McDonnell also directs $300,000 in both years of his biennial budget to the Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy. The money will strengthen public oversight of what the governor’s office called an increasing number of gas and oil wells and pipelines around the state.
The seven legislative proposals highlighted by McDonnell range from natural gas to alternative fuel vehicle conversion to energy efficiency programs.
A House bill would create a fund to support the conversion of the state’s fleet to alternative-fuel vehicles. The fund would receive a small portion of federal funds provided for congestion mitigation and air quality improvements.
Reaction to McDonnell’s energy goals was primarily positive, but there was also criticism.
Columbia Gas of Virginia and Opower, an energy efficiency software company based in Arlington, had praise for it. Opower pointed to investments in alternative energy and energy-efficiency programs aimed at low-income residents and the elderly.
The National Resources Defense Council also applauded the efficiency proposals. “Energy efficiency continues to be the cheapest resource utilities can use to meet their customers’ needs while improving energy reliability and security,” the council’s Dale Bryk said in a statement.
Chesapeake Climate Action Network criticized the voluntary renewable energy initiatives and said they would only benefit power companies.
The Sierra Club, an environmental protection group, said McDonnell’s energy policy “fails to acknowledge the hard reality of a changing climate and the vulnerability of Virginia to its impacts from hurricanes and droughts to sea level rise.”
“We are pleased that the governor has allocated $500,000 devoted to supporting offshore wind power, although we note this is far less than is needed,” said Virginia director Glen Besa.