Clean Energy and Free Speech

contact Brandon at (434) 249-3312 brandoncollins@comcast.net

Dominion Power held its shareholders meeting at the Boar’s Head Inn this morning. I tagged along with various environmentalists to a demonstration sponsored by PACE (People’s Alliance for Clean Energy). The event was certainly more a “demonstration” than a “protest” in that we were there to push shareholders into supporting the call by a minority group of shareholders to move Dominion in the direction of supporting renewable energy sources in our area. The idea was to catch shareholders at the entrance to the Boar’s Head with sign waving and such, calling for no new nukes, the end of mountaintop removal, and investment of our monthly bill payments into renewable energy sources.

As rate payers (who here doesn’t pay Dominion?) I believe we all should have a say in how we consume electricity. Since public ownership of electric power was given up decades ago, we don’t have that option. As consumers we should be aware that WE are the ones that sustain Dominion’s grip on energy use in our city, and Dominion should be aware of this as well. Unfortunately, private enterprise doesn’t allow us access to our representatives at Dominion, (the share holders). We don’t even elect them, they purchase shares and automatically get to make decisions about our electric bills, our energy sources, and our ecology. We have no right to be heard as citizens the way, say, a representative democracy is supposed to work. We can purchase our way in and be part of the small minority simultaneously supporting and criticizing Dominion’s practices, or we can exercise not only our right to free speech, but our right to be heard about matters that directly affect the public. Demonstrating seems to be our only voice.

The Boar’s Head Inn apparently doesn’t see it that way. Despite being assured by VDOT that the space on the side of the road we intended to demonstrate on was completely public and available to us, security called the Albemarle County cops and they wanted us to move, citing that the Boar’s Head Inn is private property. The police also turned off the traffic light and set up a traffic cop to direct the flow of things on a very busy 250 West, made extra busy by the extra influx of cars of shareholders attending the meeting. The slowing of traffic, not caused by demonstrators, irked travelers, and was the main focus of the only news story about the event. There were demonstrators on both sides of the entrance, and the police made both groups cross the road to a much more dangerous location for both demonstrators and morning drivers. Attempts were made to convince the cops, and the management of the Boar’s Head to let us remain in the name of free speech, public use, and just friendly acceptance of another opinion. We were all threatened with arrest, some of us preferring to remain where we were as long as possible. Unfortunately, one lone demonstrator had walked far down the road out of sight, but the cops decided he too needed to move. I imagine this unfortunate fellow felt he had a right to be where he was, and that perhaps others were also being arrested, but he wound up being handcuffed all alone.

So what does this have to do with clean energy?
Simple- we have the responsibility to express, even demand, that our natural resources are not being exploited. We have the responsibility to demand that the only supplier of electricity in our area recognize that the common interest should be served, not profit making. We have the right to freedom of speech and assembly to back those responsibilities up. We should not have to purchase shares to have a voice in the use of our money (in the form of monthly bill payments) and our planet. In Charlottesville, and overwhelmingly everywhere else, people want clean energy and renewable sources of electric power. We want the existing technologies of solar, wind, and geo-thermal to be the standard, not the marginal, sources of energy in our city. We don’t want another nuclear reactor at North Anna, where the lake is already way beyond federal temperature standards, sometimes reaching as high as 105 degrees F. We don’t want more uranium mining in Virginia, we don’t want the mountains of Appalachia being blown to bits, while eliminating jobs, especially when our mountains close to home are so lovely because they are protected from MTR. We don’t want hydro-fracking, we like our drinking water flame retardant, not flammable, thank you very much. As rate payers we demand that our money stops being used to degrade our planet and state. As tax payers we are appalled by the use of public funds to subsidize, and insure dangerous practices such as nuclear power and coal mining. We assert, as so many scientists and government agencies have, that we have the technology NOW to be free of coal, gas, and nuclear power for good. All of this goes way beyond freedom of speech and into the territory of responsible public participation in the things that directly affect us.

Now, I am running for city council. The city has no power to directly take control of Dominion and make it a public utility as it once was (even though it used to be ours, we pay for it now, our taxes subsidize and insure it, and it is in many ways still ours). That is something the Commonwealth of Virginia could do, but not likely any time soon. WE DO HAVE SOME OPTIONS LOCALLY to approach some of the issues of transitioning to renewable energy, and even perhaps having a publicly owned and democratically controlled electric company.

First, and easiest, we look at everything the city does and resolve to limit our impact on the environment, and we look at ways to limit our involvement in Dominion Power’s disastrous business practices:

-LED lighting in every city owned light source
-Comprehensive inventory of ways to cut our electricity use
-Every new building owned by the City of Charlottesville to be built using self generated electricity, in full when possible, at the very least being built energy efficient
-Retrofit every City owned property with solar, passive solar, and geo-thermal systems
-Adjust building code to require all new buildings to be built in a sustainable manner
-Pre-approve zoning for housing and commercial use structures run on entirely self-generated electricity
-A City resolution demanding that Dominion Power invest in renewables and provide our city with at least 30% renewable energy by 2025, and to demand an end to plans for a new reactor at North Anna and an end to mountain top removal.

We have to think big on these issues, half measures are getting us nowhere, lobbying Congress has not changed anything. Remember those “green jobs” we keep hearing about? We can make it happen, we can stop waiting around for Congress to provide incentives, or relying on the “market” to make a green energy economy happen. We can do it here. It will take money, and that means it will take some political will. In the long run we wind up saving money, creating living wage jobs through the city, and doing what is right for the earth and our city:

-Consider partnering with other like minded localities to purchase a controlling share of Dominion stock, place all residents of Charlottesville in the position of having some democratic control over our energy source.
-Consider partnering with other localities (or on our own) to form an electricity co-operative not for profit, but for use. (This would require some reliance on Dominion as their infrastructure is here, doubtful they would sell it to us, but they might lease it).
-Consider zoning laws and/or building codes that limit how much wattage can be used in certain areas of town.
-Creating carbon neutral zones in Charlottesville.

All of this can tie into other parts of my platform. A massive and comprehensive approach to greening the city through the City, provides jobs, jobs that also pay a living wage. When we need to contract out we make sure those contracts use a mostly local workforce that also gets paid a living wage. We can use this type of public works project to put folks to work directly, gaining skills, and creating that green energy economy we all talk about. The expansion of public housing, using public housing residents as the workforce, would be built sustainably, the new SRO being built is great idea I say we build 3 more and use a local workforce to do it. Once a city wide project (a lengthy process) was complete we can move those workers towards other solar and geo-thermal projects city wide. The pre-approval of zoning for sustainable development will bring more jobs, all the better if we have a trained workforce ready to do it right. Pre-approval of collectively owned worker run business might even spur solar panel producers and other ecologically minded industry to come to town, as they are often a great industry to find cooperative ventures.

I believe that all people benefit from adequate electricity in their homes, it is a necessity. A necessity that we have to bring into harmony with the planet. Time could be running out, we have to get to work now. A great deal of suffering could result if we dont take steps now to provide a new way of providing electricity. In the meantime, there is already a good deal of suffering out there, we need to ensure that no resident of our city has a crucial service disconnected for non-payment. No resident should come home to have the lights off. I support finding an agreement whereby Dominion Power refers delinquent accounts to the City, through social services, and we find a way for either repayment, reduced rates, or free service.

If elected to council I will promote all of these ideas, big and small. I will not hesitate to participate in demonstrations and protests as a candidate nor as a councilor. When there are roadblocks to progress I will not simply say “we can’t do this” instead I will say “we have to do this, how do we do this here?”

Here are some local groups working on some of these issues. I welcome thoughts from anyone about any of these ideas, there are way more experts out there on the matter of renewable energy and I really want to hear from you!

People’s Alliance for Clean Energy
Transition Charlottesville/Albemarle
Appalachia Rising

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One Response to Clean Energy and Free Speech

  1. Grace Cangialosi says:

    You go, Brandon!! I don’t live in the city, but I’ll encourage folks to vote for you.

    MTR is one of my big concerns, and I’ve worked a little with Appalachian Voices, which, as you know, has offices here. We Love Mountains and the Wise Enregy Coalition are also active on this issue.

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