Summer games, kicking the can

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Print this page by Bernie Niemeier

During summers when I was growing up, the kudzu ran rampant in the vacant lot across the street.  My early childhood was spent on West 44th Street in Richmond’s South Side. Home air conditioning and color TV were not common in our neighborhood, and computer games had yet to be invented.

After dinner, we’d play outdoor games with friends in the neighborhood.  Capture the flag was one of my favorites.  Red Rover, where we’d lock arms in teams and call for players from the other side to crash through, was deemed too dangerous by parents, but we played it anyway.  Kick the can, a version of hide and seek, was the most popular game. It ended with a chase to kick an empty #10 steel vegetable can and shout, “All ye, all ye in free!”

Virginia is a place where we take pride in tradition.  Yet things do change.  Air conditioning is nearly everywhere.  Pick-up games have largely been replaced by organized youth sports, and Xbox or Wii can fill countless idle hours.

In the summer of 2012, it’s easy to reflect upon days gone by, but probably more worthwhile to give thought to our present and future opportunities.  When it comes to energy, our cover story for this month’s issue of Virginia Business, a bright future often has been painted for Virginia.

Offshore energy has long been trumpeted as an emerging sector for economic development in the commonwealth.  Less than 10 years ago, proposals to drill off the coast for natural gas met stiff opposition from the City of Virginia Beach.

When gas prices dropped, so did the support for drilling.  During the last presidential election, the rallying cry “Drill here, drill now” led many to expect offshore oil drilling in Virginia.  After the Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico, however, all plans for oil drilling were put on indefinite hold.

More recently, the emphasis has been on offshore wind turbines. Thirty-eight other states, including nearby Pennsylvania, Maryland and West Virginia, have been able to develop land-based wind energy, but in Virginia, the promise seemed to lie offshore.

As recently as a few months ago, the promise for offshore wind seemed great.  Then the announcement came. Citing sluggish development of the U.S. market for wind power, as well as regulatory hurdles, global wind company Gamesa announced that it would build its wind turbine prototype in Spain’s Canary Islands instead of on Virginia’s Eastern Shore.

Before the Gamesa announcement, dozens of companies and state agencies were involved in the quest for offshore wind.  So many that one could rightly wonder, “How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?”

Even then, predictions said that the earliest an operational turbine might come online was 2018.  That’s two more governors’ terms away in a single-term state.  So much for Virginia becoming the energy capital of the East Coast.

It’s telling that most of the funding for these development projects would have needed to come from the private sector.  Without new revenues, the governor’s office and the General Assembly can do little more than pay lip service to such ambitions.  One has to wonder if offshore energy in Virginia is actually viable.  After all, whether it be gas, oil or wind, none of the largest global energy companies (think ExxonMobil, Royal Dutch Shell or BP), seem to be lining up to do business in Virginia.  Private capital seeks a return; election-year rhetoric just doesn’t pay the bills for the private sector.

So, while the General Assembly plays a political version of Red Rover, they’re also still kicking a can down the road on energy.  Dare I even mention transportation?  The favorite games of my youth just don’t seem as much fun anymore.  Maybe next year. 

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