Virginia General Assembly Session: Halftime Climate Update

This is going to be a long but important post. I hope you’ll read it all — and then take action!  

Today is an important day: we’re officially halfway through the Virginia legislative session. Any bill that was passed by one chamber will now “cross over” and be considered by the other chamber. The last couple weeks have been a rollercoaster, and we want you to have the inside scoop on what’s happening to push the envelope on climate. So read this update and… 

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Some background: 

The first thing to understand is the political moment we are in. Although we have narrow climate majorities in both chambers of state government, all bills passed by the chambers will land on Governor Glenn Youngkin’s desk. Governor Youngkin has made weakening or repealing major climate policies a central tenet of his environmental policy agenda, and the Governor can veto any legislation. 

That means that significant bipartisan support and stakeholder consensus must be achieved in order to put any bill in a favorable position for a signature from the Governor. So, our climate agenda this year focuses on smart policies that sit at the intersection of climate and other issues that bring lawmakers from both sides of the aisle together.  What does that look like in practice? Read on! 


Rural Electric Vehicle Charging Infrastructure 

Transportation accounts for over half of our carbon emissions, and bringing that number down to zero means phasing in electric vehicles, expanding and improving transit, and creating communities that are safe to walk and bike in. 

If you’ve read some gloomy headlines about EV sales, don’t buy it. In the fourth quarter of 2023, car sales overall increased 8% from 2022, while EV sales rose 29%. That means the EV market is growing at 363% the pace of the overall car market. 

We need to prepare our communities for EVs. Federal funding and the private market will create charging infrastructure along major highways and in some dense urban communities, but there is not currently federal or state funding set aside for rural and low-income communities. HB107 would create a program to give developers grants to put in chargers in those places. 

This is important for climate because it will make it much easier for residents in rural localities to make their next vehicle purchase an EV, and because many of our rural or low-income localities are dependent upon tourism for tax revenue that supports schools and hospitals. For example, 1.4 million people visited Shenandoah National Park in 2022, supporting 1,240 jobs in the area and causing a cumulative benefit to the local economy of $145 million. As more people drive EVs, if the surrounding area does not have sufficient charging infrastructure, they could lose out on those jobs and revenue. 

HB107 passed out of the House with strong bipartisan support, 71-27. Now, we need to make sure the bill is successful in the Senate and the program is allocated funding in the budget. 

Shared Solar

Shared solar programs, also known as community solar, are small solar arrays that people can “subscribe to” – meaning that energy produced by the panels is credited to subscribers and offsets their electricity bill. It’s designed to allow people who may not be able to obtain rooftop solar to participate in the clean energy transition and receive the financial benefits that come with low-cost renewable energy. 

The problem is that currently, Dominion’s shared solar program could actually raise your bill, not lower it – like it does in every other state. And Appalachian Power does not offer any shared solar program at all. 

This year, we are supporting two bills for shared solar. One (SB253/HB106) amends the Dominion program by a) making it larger so more people can participate, and b) ensuring that utility regulators consider both the costs and the benefits of small solar when they determine program costs. While we would prefer for the bills to definitively ensure that customers save money by participating, the new process should result in lower costs for the program. 

The second bill (SB255/HB108) creates a similar, smaller program for Appalachian Power customers, and requires that low-income customers program costs are at least 10% lower than other subscribers. Again, we would prefer for savings to be mandated for all customers, but this bill would essentially create a pilot program for shared solar in Southwest Virginia that we can continue to expand and improve in future years. The Dominion fix bill passed 23-17 in the Senate and 54-44 in the House, while the new ApCo program passed 21-16 in the Senate and 55-44 in the House. 

Solar Siting

Utility-scale solar is the lowest cost resource across the board – yes, cheaper than gas and way cheaper than coal – and will play a major part in our energy transition. We all need electricity, so every day that we wait to build clean energy is a day that we continue to burn fossil fuels. Unfortunately, a slew of localities have banned or severely restricted solar projects. While we think that communities should have input on whether particular projects are right for them, bans help no one. 

A ban means that a farmer who desperately needs an additional source of income and wants to lease some part of his land for solar panels so that he can keep his farm in the family, doesn’t even get the opportunity to bring the proposal before the local government. This is not some imagined scenario – we actually heard this exact testimony from a farmer during the shared solar committee hearings. 

And, of course, we can’t ban solar if we want to get off fossil fuels and, you know, stop catastrophic climate change.

SB697 would preserve a locality’s ability to vote on any particular project while ensuring that each project gets a fair review before the local government. This is a fairly soft touch on a major barrier to climate progress, and was passed out of the Senate with bipartisan support. Now, it will “cross over” to the House. 

Energy Efficiency

The lowest-cost and lowest-pollution electricity is the electricity we don’t use. That’s why we want utilities to invest in programs that bring down our overall electricity consumption while preserving the services provided by electricity. 

Unfortunately, Dominion has failed to meet energy efficiency targets year after year. The SAVE (Savings Achieved Via Efficiency) Act, HB747/SB565, would task regulators with establishing the most ambitious and cost-effective targets possible – and cut some bureaucratic red tape that has prevented energy efficiency programs from being approved.

SAVE achieved substantial bipartisan support in the House (90-7) and also passed the Senate (21-18). With your continued advocacy, it should be smooth sailing for SAVE post crossover!


Transit is an essential tool to both reduce driving and emissions and increase quality of life for all Virginians. Unfortunately, our transportation spending often favors massive road projects at the expense of transit. Right now, the Washington Metro Area Transit Authority (WMATA) – which operates the system of trains and buses in the DC metro area, including Northern Virginia – is facing a budget shortfall of over $700 million. 

We need Virginia (and DC and Maryland) to fully fund WMATA, or we could see devastating cuts to service and fare increases that drive people into cars or limit their ability to get to work, school, and grocery stores. Virginia has pledged to join with the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority to provide $130 million, but far more is needed to prevent cuts – and we need the Governor to sign on, too. 

The budget negotiations will last until the end of session, so we’ll continue to ask you to urge lawmakers presiding over the budget to fully fund WMATA. 

State Corporation Commission

Virginia’s utilities, and numerous other corporate entities, are regulated by the State Corporation Commission (SCC), which has just three judges at the helm. CCAN and our members advocated for electing judges that we think will both hold utilities accountable to state climate laws and protect ratepayers from unnecessary rate hikes or overly expensive projects. 

The legislature listened! They chose Kelsey Bagot and Sam Towell to join Jehmal Hudson on the SCC, and we think this team is poised to be stronger on climate and ratepayer protections than any Commission in history. 

WHEW. That’s what’s moving forward in Virginia – but it’s not everything that we’ve worked on thus far in session. Both good and bad bills have died in the last few weeks.  


Defending Climate Progress 

The last two years played host to an onslaught of anti-climate legislation. While we saw several bills this year to repeal or weaken key policies like Clean Car Standards, the Virginia Clean Economy Act, and legislative vehicle enjoining Virginia to the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, our climate majorities easily dispatched with them.

That’s thanks to members like you, who have advocated for years to pass and then defend these policies.


Data Centers

Data centers are basically warehouses full of computers, and they use a LOT of electricity. While (some) data centers power services that many people want to use, they are disproportionately clustered in Northern Virginia – creating serious strain and congestion on the electric grid, and complicating our transition to clean energy. 

CCAN AF and our members supported legislation (SB192/HB116) to require data centers to meet clean energy and energy efficiency standards in order to qualify for tax credits that they already get without such standards, but sadly, the legislature has been reluctant to pass any legislation to put guardrails around the data center industry. 

This is a true shame, but it won’t be the end of our efforts to encourage large energy consumers to meet energy efficiency and clean energy standards. We’ll see these bills next year, and hope you’ll continue to advocate for them to your state lawmakers in the off season. 


Another policy area that the legislature has been hesitant to pursue is increasing competition in the clean energy generation sector. You might wonder: what does this have to do with climate policy? 

As we transition to clean energy, there is a finite amount of money that ratepayers – like myself and you – want to pay to fund that transition. If it becomes too expensive, we could see backsliding on climate policy. And a just transition means that we don’t overly burden already struggling communities with high energy bills. 

Utilities tend to build very expensive projects – more expensive than they need to be. This is because they can recoup construction costs and get a “return” on their investment – so the more they spend, the more money they make. Third party developers don’t recoup construction costs or get a rate of return; so introducing a healthy mix of third-party and utility-built infrastructure can lower our overall energy bills. 

The ARC (Affordable, Reliable, Competitive) Act, HB636/SB230, would have increased the ratio of third party to utility-built projects. It also would have increased our “distributed generation” targets, meaning small and rooftop solar arrays and small battery storage systems. Unfortunately, Dominion lobbied hard to kill these bills, and utility monopolies like Dominion still have enormous influence over our legislature. While I won’t go into detail here, there are numerous efforts to curb money in politics that have also failed over the last several weeks. 

If what you just read gets you fired up – it should! We’re working to hold corporations accountable, and we need your help. 

Don’t wait! RSVP now for our next CCAN Power Hour on Monday, Feb. 26 at 7 PM via Zoom. Come hear the latest news from our CCAN and CCAN Action Fund teams regarding current campaigns as well as how we organize people to build long-term power and win on key climate issues. SIGN UP NOW! 

In the fight against climate change, every day counts.