Fueling the future

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Robert C. Powell III

How much energy does Virginia need and where will it come from? That is the question facing the commonwealth at a time of growing concern about the effects of coal-fired power plants on global warming. In our cover story beginning on page 18, Richmond writer Garry Kranz reports that Dominion Virginia Power expects to need an additional 4,000 megawatts of generating capacity by 2017 to meet rising demand. But one of its proposals for meeting that demand, a “clean-coal” plant in Wise County, has provoked stiff opposition from environmental groups and some residents. The fate of the plant now depends on a decision by the state Air Pollution Control Board.

Debate over the Wise County plant reveals another dilemma about energy in the commonwealth: increased demand. The electronic gadgets that we depend on contribute to our soaring appetite for energy. Yet major resources used to produce power, such as coal and nuclear energy, produce virulent opposition. Our cover story package includes a look at Richmond-based Intrinergy Inc., which produces energy from biomass, including wood chips, forest residue and even yard clippings.

While Dominion grapples with the headaches of building new power plants, Virginia’s architects increasingly are adopting a technology that allows them to avoid construction problems. On page 34, Rab McClure, an architect who teaches in the Department of Interior Design at Virginia Commonwealth University, examines how three-dimensional models keep everyone involved in a construction project in the loop.

Dependence on technology, however, can have side effects. On page 46, Robert Burke, a Fredericksburg-based writer, explores the information overload faced by many executives. Sometimes, the experts say, the cell phone and the BlackBerry must be banished in order to regain some work/life balance.

Perhaps if more women were designing our technology, it would make more sense. In fact, Virginia engineering school officials say the profession badly needs the perspective of women. However, Clifford-based writer Heather B. Hayes reports on page 38 that most of the schools still struggle in persuading women to make engineering their career.

While Virginia schools are talking to girls in high school and middle school about engineering, many Virginia businesses are drilling further down, into preschool, to prepare the next generation of workers. Richmond writer Christina Couch looks at the goals of Success By Six chapters on page 50.

By the time these preschoolers reach college, their biggest need may not be a career mentor, but a place to hang out after class. Williamsburg-based writer Andrew Petkofsky reports on page 53 that the College of William & Mary is trying to create more of a college-town atmosphere in its hometown.

Luckily for W&M, the fuel required by college students is coffee, not coal.

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