My View | Justin Wilson: We need a cleaner economy in Virginia

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As the General Assembly began its 2020 session, I, like many Virginians, was excited to see history unfold. I was especially proud to watch Alexandria’s own Delegate Charniele Herring elected as the first woman and first African-American majority leader in the House of Delegates.

The Alexandria City Council has adopted an aggressive legislative package to ensure that our voice is heard during this session. There are so many issues that the General Assembly must tackle over the next two months, but one in particular stands out – combatting the threat of climate change.

There’s no doubt that climate change poses a threat to our planet, to our children’s future and to humanity itself. You don’t have to look any further than the flooding we experience in Old Town and impacts of severe storm events to see that we’re already feeling the effects right here in Virginia. We need to act, and we need to act quickly. Unfortunately, when it comes to climate change, Washington is failing us, so it falls to leaders in Virginia and in cities across the country to lead.

Our leaders in Richmond have an opportunity and a responsibility to lead, and in the process, they can put Virginia on the cutting edge when it comes to taking on climate change at the state level by passing the Virginia Clean Economy Act. This bill, if it becomes law, will require that 100 percent of Virginia’s electricity come from clean sources by 2050, eliminate all pollution from our utilities and achieve those goals in a way that will create tens of thousands of jobs and protect ratepayers in the process.

Here in Alexandria, we’re working to do our part to combat climate change. Just last year, we adopted our updated Environmental Action Plan 2040. If we succeed, Alexandria will reduce and eventually eliminate our community greenhouse gas emissions, purchase 100 percent of our power from clean energy sources, make our buildings more energy efficient and clean up transportation in our city.

But we cannot do it alone. In addition to tackling climate change at the state level, the Virginia Clean Economy Act will help Alexandria achieve our climate goals in several ways.

First, the bill will help local governments like ours purchase clean electricity through power purchasing agreements. Alexandria is committed to making the electricity we purchase 100 percent clean, and an agreement like this could be a powerful tool to help us achieve that.

Next, the bill opens up solar power to more residents, not only by reducing barriers homeowners face when they want to install rooftop solar, but also by creating shared solar projects that give renters and homeowners who might not be able to afford their own solar panels access to all the benefits of solar power. This will reduce our community’s greenhouse gas emissions and in many cases reduce people’s overall power bills.

Lastly, the Virginia Clean Economy act makes big investments in energy efficiency, including in public facilities. Making our public buildings more energy efficient not only reduces the amount of power we consume as a city, but also reduces the cost of running the city for taxpayers.

Our children’s future depends on our leaders in Richmond acting on climate change. I hope our leaders in Richmond, both in the General Assembly and in the administration of Gov. Ralph Northam (D), rise to the occasion and take bold and meaningful action by passing the Virginia Clean Economy Act.

The writer is mayor of the City of Alexandria.

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