By STEVE SZKOTAK
In an era where new power plants cost billions and the huge components of offshore wind farms require an industrial base to manufacture, solar power proponent Kent Baake came to the Capitol on Thursday backing two low-key alternative energy bills.
One would create a state fund for homeowners to finance solar power installations. The other would loosen homeowner association covenants that restrict rooftop solar collection panels.
Baake said the bills’ passage would encourage more residents to try solar, and enrich the state’s economy.
“This renewable energy stuff creates jobs,” Baake said during a one-day drive by dozens of alternative energy proponents to win the support of legislators. “There are success stories out there.”
His company, Continuum Energy Solutions of Alexandria, has seen its small work force multiply by 500 percent in the past year designing and installing solar technology and other energy efficiencies. Continuum employs 25.
Baake was among the more than 40 proponents of solar, wind and biomass energy who met with legislators in what was billed the first renewable energy lobbying day at the legislature.
“We feel it is critically important that the renewable energy story be told to legislators who otherwise hear from the utilities every day,” said Glen Besa, director of the Sierra Club of Virginia. He added that Virginia leaders “need to appreciate that coal, gas and nuclear are no longer the only ways to generate electricity.”
Gov. Bob McDonnell has pushed energy to the forefront of his Republican administration, creating the climate for a robust discussion of how the state will meet its energy needs in the future. He also has been criticized by some on the alternative front for investing too much political capital in fossil fuels, such as offshore oil and gas exploration.
The Obama administration put Atlantic Coast oil and gas exploration off limits following the BP Gulf oil disaster.
Some big energy players were also among the biomass and solar proponents pitching their energy plans to legislators.
They included Robert Mitchell, acting chief executive of Atlantic Wind Connection. The company has attracted Google Inc. as an investor in its proposal to build a backbone transmission line running from the New Jersey coast down to Virginia, with the potential of delivering 6,600 megawatts of offshore wind power.
The development of wind farms off the East Coast could create more than a quarter-million jobs manufacturing the huge components of wind turbines and in related industries, Mitchell said.
“Virginia is very, very well suited to be one of the prime recipients of factories locating here,” Mitchell said. “You have what many of the other states don’t have, and that is ports that have access to the ocean without the encumbrances of bridges.”
Ocean-based wind farms rise 400 feet from the ocean floor with blades the length of football fields.
Besides job creation, wind power would have a huge reduction in carbon emissions: a reduction of 16 million tons annually, or the equivalent of taking 3 million cars off the road.
“We’ve got a great opportunity here, and besides that it’s the right thing to do,” said Robert Mathias, a member of the Virginia Offshore Wind Development Authority and assistant to the Virginia Beach city manager.
He said Hampton Roads has the potential to become the Silicon Valley of wind power.
For Baake, the bill aimed at restrictive housing covenants would mean more business for his small company, and more jobs. He left Richmond after winning over a couple legislators, he said.
“We definitely made some progress,” he said.