Virginia is shifting away from generating electricity by coal and towards use of natural gas - but use of renewable energy sources remains minor
Source: 2014 Virginia Energy Plan and US Energy Information Administration, Profile Overview
Virginia exports massive amounts of West Virginia coal, and some coal mined in Virginia, through the CSX terminal at Newport News and the Norfolk Southern terminal at Lamberts Point in Norfolk. Virginia coal mines in the southwestern edge of the state also send coal south by railroad for export through the port at Charleston, South Carolina.
Despite the coal production, Virginia is a net importer of energy; the state is not self-sufficient for petroleum, natural gas, uranium, or electricity:1
The state even imports coal to fuel power plants generating electricity at some industrial facilities, and to generate heat/steam (including on the campus of Virginia Tech). Much of the imported coal comes from nearby West Virginia. Low-sulfur coal is imported from as far away as the Powder River Basin in Wyoming so coal-burning facilities can meet air quality standards.
Statistics about energy are hard to comprehend and may not appear to be consistent if you confuse "energy" with "electricity." About 55% of total energy used in Virginia is imported from outside the state's borders - and most of that is gasoline/diesel used for transportation and natural gas used for heating/manufacturing/generation of electricity. Only 37% of the state's electricity is imported, in part because the state has four commercial nuclear reactors (two each at North Anna and at Surry).
According to the 2014 Virginia Energy Plan:2
Virginia exports more coal than it imports, but the state is not "energy independent."
Virginia is dependent upon other states/nations for natural gas, petroleum, nuclear fuel, and even electricity.
Source: (Figure 1.1 in 2007 Virginia Energy Plan)
Other characteristics of energy in Virginia:3
energy use by sector in Virginia
Source: 2014 Virginia Energy Plan
coal is rarely used now in the residential sector for heating, but is still used at factories for heat/steam
Source: 2014 Virginia Energy Plan
Liquid oil production in the state is very limited - there are just two tiny oil fields (Ben Hur and Rose Hill) in Lee County, plus liquids from natural gas production in the Roaring Fork field in Wise County. Oil production is too small to justify a wide network of wells with pipelines connecting them. Instead, oil is pumped from underground, stored in metal tanks at each well, and collected by trucks that drive to each well.
Virginia also produces substantial amounts of natural gas, especially methane (CH4) from coal seams that are too thin/too deep to mine for the coal:4
Though coalbed methane production will increase in the Appalachian Plateau, Virginia will always be a net importer of oil and gas - as long as cars and trucks use an internal combustion engine powered by gasoline/diesel.
Virginia is also a net importer of electricity, even though that fuel is rarely used in the transportation sector. Electricity is produced in only a handful of locations in Virginia, but a complex distribution system of power lines built in the last 80 years carries it to virtually every house in the state.
Dominion Resources has announced plans to build new power plants to handle the increasing demand. The increased use per capita due to electronic equipment such as computers has been offset by increased efficiency of appliances and improved insulation of houses, but Virginia's population is steadily increasing.
high voltage transmission lines greater than 345 kilovolts carry energy from power plants west of the Blue Ridge to population centers, especially from Washington to Norfolk (note the absence of such lines on the Eastern Shore and in the Piedmont)
Source: U.S. Energy Mapping System
In Virginia, the State Corporation Commission has regulated electrical utilities since 1914. With deregulation of utilities, customers are getting to choose their energy supplier and starting to ask basic questions about the industry.5
A cursory review will show that both physics and government regulations shaped where power plants and power lines were built in Virginia. If you look at Virginia as an economic geographer, you will discover patterns of human activity and resource allocation that can be mapped or related to locations. The geography of electricity - the primary form of energy used in the state, other than for automobiles - stimulates such questions as:
Some industrial plants and large organizations co-generate steam and electricity at their facilities. Virginia Tech has used its coal-fired power plant to supply power for both the campus and local customers since 1890. A few waste-to-energy incinerators burn garbage and create electricity at the same time, such as the facility in southern Fairfax County at Lorton.
There are even a few back-to-the-earthers living in Floyd County and other rural locations in Virginia (plus off-the-grid owners of some very expensive homes in Loudoun County) who generate their own electricity through solar power or small Pelton wheels in the creeks. However, most Virginians rely upon the grid of power lines to deliver electricity generated somewhere else to their house or business.
Virginia energy use trends, 1960-2003
Source: Figure 1-4 in Virginia Energy Plan (2007)
Energy Production Estimates in Trillion BTU, Virginia, 2000-2009
Source: US Energy Information Administration, State Energy Data System - Virginia
annual energy consumption per person in Virginia is below the national average and declining as cars, appliances, and various buildings become more energy efficient
Source: Virginia Performs, Energy
dams on Carter Creek in Gloucester County have provided waterpower for mills to grind grain into flour since colonial times
Source: US Geological Survey (USGS), Clay Bank 7.5x7.5 topographic quagrangle (2010)