The Virginia Clean Economy Act follows other states in capping energy bills of low-income ratepayers at no more that 6% of a family’s income for electricity and 10% for gas use. It creates a “social cost of carbon” that forces regulators to fully weigh climate pollution harm when considering utility-scale energy projects in the future.
By Jake Ziller, Meteor East Coast Corespondent
March 6 1050 PM MST
With climate change impacts growing worldwide and scientists saying we’re almost out of time, the Virginia General Assembly leaped into national attention on climate policy with passage of the “Virginia Clean Economy Act” (SB 851).
On Friday the bill passed with a bi-partisan majorities in the House of Delegates (51-45) and the Senate (22-17).
Harrison Wallace, Virginia Director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network Action Fund, which had lobbied for the legislation said, “With today’s vote, Virginia has now leapt from the back of the pack to being a leading state on clean energy and carbon reduction. We are proud that this bill has gotten even stronger since being passed by the House and Senate chambers before crossover. This bill puts polluters in Virginia on notice: it’s time to stop investing in the fossil fuels that will soon become stranded assets, and start investing in a new renewable economy.”
Approved with one day left in the legislative session of 2020, the Virginia Clean Economy Act reverses decades of energy policy in Virginia. It mandates the shutdown of most of the state’s coal plants by 2030 and all the state’s fossil fuel plants for electricity – including gas plants — by 2045. It opens the gate to the biggest offshore wind farms in America and turbocharges the spread of solar rooftops and solar farms.
The legislation also puts safeguards inlace protecting ratepayers from Dominion Energy – especially for low-income families – and by mandating the use of LESS electricity statewide in the future. Indeed, most ratepayers will see no bill increases at all over time.
The legislation follows other states in capping energy bills of low-income ratepayers at no more that 6% of a family’s income for electricity and 10% for gas use. It creates a “social cost of carbon” that forces regulators to fully weigh climate pollution harm when considering utility-scale energy projects in the future. It takes a state, Virginia, with no mandatory Renewable Portfolio Standard whatsoever and moves it to 41% renewable electricity by 2030 (non-nuclear load) and 100% carbon free power by 2045. Other features…
The bill includes layers of ratepayer safeguards in the transition to clean electricity in a “vertically integrated” electricity market. Dominion Energy and Appalachian Power, as regulated monopolies, must stay under various cost caps for wind and solar projects while being additionally reviewed by the State Corporation Commission. The bill mandates that “third party” solar developers be allowed to compete for rooftop and other “distributed” generation markets. And Dominion, in developing up to 5200 megawatts of offshore wind (enough to power a million-plus homes) must include competitive bidding for construction and supply chain procurement – plus a price cap.
“Today, the Virginia General Assembly voted to unleash distributed solar into the Commonwealth and put an expiration date on dirty fossil fuels in our power grid,” said Wallace. “And now, for the first time ever, Dominion is mandated to save ratepayers money through energy efficiency.”
So how did all this happen? How did Virginia flip from one of the worst states in the country on energy efficiency and wind power into a new leader overnight? Certainly the watershed state elections in 2017 and 2019 were a key. They brought conservation-minded new majorities to the House and Senate in Virginia. Then a huge coalition of clean energy advocates rose to the moment.
After eight years of campaigning the coalition included the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, the Virginia League of Conservation Voters, the Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club, the Virginia Conservation Network, the Southern Environmental Law Center, Audubon Society, CERES, and others.