FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: March 6, 2020
RICHMOND, VA — The oldest deliberative body in the Western Hemisphere made a new kind of history today. With climate change impacts growing worldwide and scientists saying we’re almost out of time, the Virginia General Assembly leaped into national leadership on climate policy with passage of the “Virginia Clean Economy Act” (SB 851).
The Virginia Clean Economy Act (VCEA) was the top legislative priority of CCAN Action Fund. It now goes to Governor Ralph Northam (D), who is expected to sign it. The bill passed with a bi-partisan majorities in the House of Delegates (51-45) and the Senate (22-17). It passed thanks to the committed leadership of dozens of legislators, especially chief patron Rip Sullivan (D-Fairfax) in the House and Jennifer McClellan (D-Richmond) in the Senate.
Harrison Wallace, Virginia Director of the CCAN Action Fund, stated:
“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 bad 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. It does this while creating real safeguards against Dominion Energy for ratepayers – 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.
This omnibus bill has scores of top-notch features (see a full list here). The Virginia Clean Economy Act follows leading states in capping the 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.
Just as important, 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.
In 18 years of campaigning, we at the Chesapeake Climate Action Network and CCAN Action Fund have never seen a coalition like the one that came together to pass the Virginia Clean Economy Act. We want to thank our many environmental partners, including 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. Many thanks also to the scores of clean energy companies who fought day in and day out, from mom-and-pop residential installers to offshore wind heavyweight Orsted. Together, with leadership from the trade group Advanced Energy Economy, and with constant involvement of literally dozens of climate-committed legislators, we were able to meet Dominion Power at the negotiating table and hammer out a bill that transforms the company and the state.
The CCAN Action Fund is the advocacy arm of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, the oldest and largest grassroots organization dedicated exclusively to raising awareness about the impacts and solutions associated with global warming in the Chesapeake Bay region. For 17 years, CCAN has been at the center of the fight for clean energy and wise climate policy in Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C.
For more information, visit www.ccanactionfund.org