Fostering the Millennial workforce

Published 11:41 am Saturday, August 1, 2015

The largest generation in American history is rising through the ranks of the workforce. At 92 million strong, the Millennials will comprise 50 percent of working men and women in 2030.

These young people, who were born between 1980 and 2000, will bring their own brand of leadership to the workplace. They have grown up in a world of almost instant communications driven by the digital revolution.

They have never experienced life without computers, cellphones and the Internet. For them, a flexible work environment is paramount, and connectivity is much more than a luxury. It is a necessity for work, play and relationship-building.

But connectivity is only possible with reliable energy. To foster the Millennials’ transition from beginning workers to company CEOs — and to harness the creativity and energy they bring to their jobs — we must ensure a steady stream of dependable and affordable electricity to power the technologies that support communications and business operations.

This means Hampton Roads and other communities must take a hard look at both short-term and long-term energy policies. And we must support investments in the infrastructure that can deliver energy from where it is produced to where it is needed.

The Atlantic Coast Pipeline would transport natural gas from the Appalachian Basin and elsewhere to Hampton Roads. In doing so, it, would provide a secure and low-cost supply of energy to fulfill the ever-growing electrical needs of consumers, businesses and our future leaders.

This 550-mile pipeline would deliver about 1.5 billion cubic feet of natural gas each day to various points in Virginia and North Carolina, providing electricity for homes and businesses, while also fueling economic expansion and job opportunities.

It also could help Virginia meet the requirements of proposed federal regulations aimed at reducing carbon emissions. Under the Clean Power Plan, dozens of coal-burning power plants, which have been the mainstay of U.S. electricity generation, will be shut down.

An Institute of Energy Research study shows as much as 130 gigawatts of coal-fired electrical power will need to be replaced. That’s enough to fulfill the residential needs of more than 100 million people, including families and business-owners in the Hampton Roads area.

Renewable energy certainly has an important role in replacing the coal plants. But sun and wind power, with their intermittent supply and high costs, can’t do it alone.

Dominion Virginia Power, our local electric utility, recently filed the annual update to its 15-year plan to meet customers’ energy needs. Three of the four options lean heavily on large new wind and solar facilities, but they also require substantial new gas-fired generation to step in when the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing.

“Even with renewables,” Robert Thomas, Dominion’s director for energy market analysis, said, “you have to have natural gas as a bridge fuel.”

By delivering natural gas to Virginia, the Atlantic Coast pipeline could help the commonwealth comply with the Clean Power Plan, meet Hampton Roads’ electrical needs, and keep energy costs affordable. According to a study by ICF International, the pipeline could reduce energy costs by an estimated $377 million per year.

The Atlantic Coast Pipeline brings a double benefit to Hampton Roads. One of the other project partners is AGL Resources, the parent company of Virginia Natural Gas. Our local gas utility has contracted for much-needed supplies from the pipeline to help customers heat homes, run businesses and provide economic development opportunities that will produce new jobs.

Having the pipeline and an abundant supply of natural gas could attract new companies to our region while retaining the Millennials.

That is why the chamber is supporting EnergySure, a three-state coalition representing millions of stakeholders and businesses that support the Atlantic Coast pipeline. Here in Hampton Roads, we need both the pipeline and the Millennials to pave the way toward a vibrant and healthy economy for us all.

BRYAN K. STEPHENS is the president and CEO of the Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce. Call him at 664-2535.