Virginia To Greatly Expand Renewable Energy Under New State Law

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Virginia will close all its coal-fired power plants by 2024 and its electricity will all come from renewable sources and be 100 percent carbon-free by 2050 under a new law the Governor signed yesterday, with penalties imposed on the utilities that fail to meet these deadlines.  The state legislature passed the law with extensive stakeholder input and it incorporated environmental justice concepts in line with the Green New Deal, according to a statement by the Governor’s office — it also requires energy efficiency standards, promotes both on and offshore wind, and solar power including community-based solar.

Why This Matters:  State government elections matter too. This is the most ambitious clean energy program enacted by a Southern state (yet).  The Virginia Governor (a Democrat) pushed much of this policy through an executive but it has now been passed by the legislature with broad support.  The most innovative piece of the new law is that it ties the sale of pollution allowances (permits to emit greenhouse gasses) to the Virginia Community Flood Preparedness Fund to enhance flood prevention, protection, and coastal resilience as well as creating a low-interest loan program to help inland and coastal communities that are subject to recurrent flooding.

More Than a 2050 Target

The legislation does more than just create a big goal — it also sets interim targets for the overall electricity system: “58 percent clean power by 2030, 73 percent by 2035, 88 percent by 2040, and 100 percent by 2050.”  Last month one of the two largest utilities in the state, Dominion Energy, announced it had set itself a target of 100 percent net-zero emissions by 2050.  But the law requires Dominion to go farther and achieve zero emissions by 2045.  The law also puts a moratorium on the state utility commission from issuing any permits for fossil fuel power plants until a study on achieving net-zero by 2045 statewide has been completed,  and it mandates that utilities in the state factor in the social cost of carbon when considering new fossil fuel investments so that they include climate damages into investment considerations.

Energy Efficiency and Affordable Renewable Energy

The law also mandates that both the largest utilities in the state reduce energy consumption through efficiency programs that will help bring down energy costs for consumers, as well as protecting low-income consumers with caps on their electric costs (as a percentage of income).  It also incentivizes the implementation of renewable energy projects in low-income and frontline communities and increases clean energy job training programs in those same places so that they also share the benefits of the clean energy economy.  It also sets aggressive targets for increasing storage capacity for renewable energy, offshore and onshore wind projects and for solar projects, including rooftop solar.  And in installing these projects the utilities must prefer local workers, especially workers from frontline communities, and projects that provide the greatest economic development benefits for the state.

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