Industries

Speakers say Virginia has the potential to become a leading energy state

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Print this page by Paula C. Squires

Change is coming to the energy industry, and Virginia could emerge a leader if it builds on existing coal and nuclear assets and aggressively develops multiple sources of power. 

That includes the development of offshore wind farms and off-shore drilling for oil and natural gas.

“It’s going to take everything,” Kevin S. Crutchfield, CEO of Alpha Natural Resources told a business gathering in Richmond today. That theme was repeated by several speakers during a conference on energy issues sponsored by the Virginia Chamber of Commerce that attracted more than 200 people. 

“It’s going to take being smart about consumption and looking to renewables for the long term,” said Crutchfield.  In the meantime, “coal will remain essential for the foreseeable future,” added the executive who heads the country’s third largest coal company, based in Abingdon.

Coal currently provides fuel for 50 percent of the country’s electricity, noted Crutchfield.  However, as America continues to focus on cutting greenhouse emissions, carbon sequestration will become the “holy grail if we’re going to continue to pursue this decarbonized environment.”

With coal in the crosshairs, Alpha is so concerned about the industry’s long-term future that it became the first coal company to create a department of sustainability. Michael R. Peelish, the company’s new chief sustainability officer, says Alpha created the department about six months ago, after its merger with Foundation Coal Holdings. The company has assigned 41 people to the department and plans to spend $13 million in 2010 to explore several initiatives, including the placing of solar power and wind turbines on reclaimed mining sites and finding different ways of handling coal waste before it gets burned into the atmosphere.

Preston Bryant, Virginia’s secretary of natural resources, provided an overview of some of the energy initiatives started under Gov. Timothy M. Kaine. Bryant hopes they will be continued under Gov-elect Bob McDonnell, who takes office in January.  A lot of work has been done, Bryant said, to pave the way for commercial wind development off the shores of Virginia Beach. “The resort community is on board …It has endorsed new wind turbines going up a dozen nautical miles off shore. We have mapped the areas in the ocean, showing the greatest potential for the greatest wind and staying out of the way of the Navy and Wallops Island.”


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