The Virginia legislature this week passed a sweeping carbon reduction and renewable energy plan. The legislation will make Virginia a leader among US states when it comes to addressing the risks posed by an overheating planet. The Washington Post reports that the Clean Economy Act will create many new employment opportunities in wind and solar industries as the state’s utility companies are now mandated to use only carbon-free electricity by 2050.
“It’s a terrific day for Virginia,” said representative Richard Sullivan Jr., who sponsored the House version of the bill. The legislation now goes to Gov. Ralph Northam, who is expected to sign it. “The governor is thrilled to see transformative clean energy legislation pass the General Assembly,” a spokesperson for Northam said.
The Southern Environmental Law Center praised the landmark legislation. “This is a major step forward for Virginia, a state that has been reluctant in past years to let go of dirty coal plants and embrace a more modern, clean-energy future,” said senior attorney Will Cleveland. “It’s not a stretch to say this is probably the most forward-thinking energy bill to come out of any southern state’s legislature in history. This is a bold step forward for Virginia’s energy future that was even a few years ago unimaginable,” he added. “The ultimate winners are the state’s power customers who will benefit from lower costs. And just as important, this will go a long way to cleaning our air and water and reducing Virginia’s contribution to climate change.”
The legislative package requires Dominion Energy and Appalachian Power company, the state’s two largest utilities, to retire nearly all of their coal and oil burning thermal generating plants by 2024 and comply with mandatory energy-efficiency standards by 2025. It also seeks to end electricity generation from burning wood pellets by 2028. Going forward, the state’s Department of Environmental Quality will finalize regulations that will eliminate all in-state carbon emissions from power plants by 2050.
The Clean Economy Act will give a boost to rooftop solar by making it easier for homeowners to install solar panels on their roof using financing plans that do not require up-front installation costs.
Holding Dominion’s Feet To The Fire
A large part of getting the bill passed was getting Dominion Energy on board. Virginia’s largest utility company, Dominion has earned a reputation for being less than thrilled with the transition to clean energy, especially rooftop solar. In particular, the tech companies setting up data centers in Virginia have criticized Dominion for its inability or unwillingness to provide them with electricity from renewable sources.
As The Washington Post points out, the passage of the Clean Economy legislation marks the first time in a long time that the Virginia legislature has passed anything that did not have the full endorsement of Dominion. In particular, the new law gives the State Corporation Commission more authority to regulate how Dominion writes down its coal fired generating plants that are being retired early. “The utility has an obligation to its shareholders. We have an obligation to the ratepayers,” said state senator Richard Stuart.
Senator Jennifer McClellan, who sponsored the Senate version, said the urgency of climate change dictates that “we couldn’t afford to wait” to take action. “If we see that consumer protections in there now aren’t sufficient,” she said, “we can fix that” in future legislative sessions.
Advanced Energy Economy is a non-profit organization of businesses that uses policy advocacy, analysis, and education to promote a prosperous economy based on secure, clean, affordable energy. In an e-mail to CleanTechnica, Harry Godfrey, director of AEE, wrote, “We applaud House leaders for passage of this historic legislation, which puts Virginia on a path to 100% clean energy with energy efficiency, solar and wind energy resources. These and other measures will reduce the state’s carbon emissions, drive economic growth, and create tens of thousands of in-state jobs, all while reducing monthly electric bills for customers.”
With Virginia leading the way, perhaps other states will feel more inclined to climb on the clean energy bandwagon in pursuit of lower emissions for their inhabitants.