Virginia depends on reliable, safe, and economical sources of energy to power its growing transportation, residential, commercial, and industrial needs. But continued reliance on energy imports and mounting concerns over carbon-based fossil fuels present new challenges. Virginia can encourage economic growth while preserving the environment by using energy more efficiently and by harnessing clean, alternative -- but still affordable -- energy sources.
Why is This Important?
Virginia consumed over 2,356 trillion BTUs of energy in 2012, reflecting a decade-long decline in energy consumption. Since 2000, indigenous state energy resource production has decreased from 1,354 trillion BTU to 1,047 trillion BTU. As a result, the Commonwealth has been importing significant amounts of energy to meet its needs.
Investing in domestic energy production, energy efficiency and conservation practices, and clean energy sources can help close that gap and bring added economic benefits to the state. A recent study by the Amerian Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE) estimates that increasing energy efficiency can result in a nearly 2-to-1 benefit-to-cost advantage -- and that these gains also produce new jobs.
How is Virginia Doing?
Virginia's energy use fell from an annual 347 million BTUs per person in 2005 to 308 million BTUs per person by 2009, due in part to decreased economic activity. Despite a slight increase in 2010, the rate of energy consumption has been falling again -- down to 288 BTUs per person in 2012. This rate is lower than the national average of 303 million BTUs and ranked Virginia 22nd among U.S. states for energy consumption.
Virginia's per capita consumption was lower than Tennessee (325) but higher than Maryland (236) and North Carolina (255). Rhode Island again had the nation's lowest energy consumption at 173 million BTUs consumed per capita in 2012.
Clean and Renewable Energy
Virginia's electric power industry generates electricity from a variety of clean and renewable energy sources, including nuclear energy and renewables such as hydropower, biomass, and landfill gas. Renewable energy production represented 5.4 percent of all electric generation in 2013, a slight increase from a decade low in 2012, and ranked the state 35th in the nation. Virginia's rate of renewable power generation was also lower than its peer states and the nation: Tennessee generated 17.0 percent of power from renewables, Maryland 7.4 percent, and North Carolina 7.8 percent. The national rate was 12.8 percent. Idaho, which generated 76.6 percent of its power with renewables, primarily hydropower, was again the leading state.
Virginia generates a relatively low amount of energy-related greenhouse gases per capita from electrical power generation, transportation, heating/cooling, and industrial processes. Carbon dioxide constitutes over 80 percent of national greenhouse gases. In Virginia, it decreased from 16.2 metric tons per person in 2002 to 12.0 metric tons in 2011. This level was better than the national average of 17.3 metric tons per capita and ranked 12th best in the country. Virginia's per capita carbon dioxide emissions were also lower than Tennessee (16.0) and North Carolina (12.7) but higher than Maryland (10.9).
What Influences Energy Use and Composition?
Levels of energy consumption are affected by a host of factors: energy prices, climate and weather, economic activity, personal income levels, resident population characteristics such as age and household size, home size, land use development patterns, industry mix, adoption of energy efficiency measures, government regulations and taxes, technology, and cultural/lifestyle factors. Since some sectors are more energy-intensive than others, state and regional differences in energy consumption per capita may partly reflect differences in industry composition.
Patterns of reliance on clean and renewable energy sources vary over time and region based on market prices of feedstock fuels, differences in natural resource endowments, presence of nuclear power plants, technological changes, and public policies. Most states, including Virginia, have Renewable Portfolio Standards which encourage power production from renewable energy sources such as wind, solar, and biomass.
National energy policies have recently favored the adoption of renewable energy sources. One result has been the sizable growth in the solar energy industry, which in 2014 employed twice as many workers as the coal industry. However, the enormous growth in hydraulic fracturing to tap unexploited shale gas deposits has dramatically increased U.S. gas supplies, lowered natural gas prices, and spurred the construction of (or conversion to) gas-based power generation.
What is the State's Role?
Virginia plans to meet its energy needs by growing in-state energy production, increasing energy efficiencies, and expanding energy production from renewable sources. A 2014 Virginia Energy Plan outlines the state's intent to take an “all of the above” energy strategy that will promote the use and development of all available resources.
Complementing these efforts are targeted financial incentives for adopting energy efficiency improvements, such as the annual tax holiday which includes energy sales; various rebate programs run by the Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy; and the Weatherization Assistance Program.
Virginia has also committed to improving the energy efficiency of existing state government buildings and adopting energy efficiency standards in new building design. The state has created grants and incentives for growing green jobs in alternative and renewable energy sectors such as biofuels and waste-to-energy facilities and is sponsoring cutting-edge research and development in alternate transportation fuels, nuclear technology, coastal energy production, and carbon capture and storage at state universities.
What Can Citizens Do?
Virginians can make numerous consumer-choice and lifestyle changes that yield significant improvements in energy efficiency and conservation:
- Convert homes to use solar panels that work with existing electrical grids.
- Retrofit work and living spaces with more energy-efficient materials and equipment, such as attic and wall insulation, compact fluorescent or LED light bulbs, hot water tank insulation, etc. Rebates and financial assistance may be available for those who take such initiatives (see at right).
- Purchase appliances rated under the Energy Star program. Energy Star reports
that in 2013 alone, Americans bought nearly 300 million certified products across more than 70 categories -- and prevented more than 293 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions while saving over $30 billion in energy costs.
- Switch to hybrid vehicles, and consciously engage in safe and prudent driving and car maintenance practices.
- Opt to live in pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly mixed-use communities with public transportation options.
- Choose homes and automobiles that meet Energy Star, EarthCraft Home, or LEED standards.
State rankings are ordered so that #1 is understood to be the best.
Data Definitions and Sources
U.S. Energy Information Adminstration
State Energy Data System (EDS)
Net Generation by State by Type of Producer by Energy Source (EIA-906, EIA-920, and EIA-923)
Renewables include: Geothermal, hydro conventional, solar, wind, wood/wood waste, MSW biogenic/landfill gas, and other biomass
State-Level Energy-Related Carbon Dioxide Emissions, 2000-2011
U.S. Energy Information Administration. Annual Energy Outlook. www.eia.doe.gov/oiaf/aeo/index.html
2013 Annual Report (pdf)
Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy. Virginia Energy Plan.
Fortune Magazine, "In U.S., there are twice as many solar workers as coal miners"
See the Data Sources and Updates Calendar for a detailed list of the data resources used for indicator measures on Virginia Performs.