Reform of Virginia’s renewable energy law was in the spotlight on both sides of the political spectrum in the General Assembly this year. In the end, only a few adjustments were made to the law, none of which encourage the vibrant solar and wind industries that Virginians want, nor support a market for small businesses promoting renewable technologies.
But the shortcomings of Virginia’s latest legislative session have only strengthened Appalachian Voices’ resolve to achieve a more robust renewable energy policy that actually brings clean energy and good jobs to the commonwealth.
Laws have been enacted in 38 states to encourage the development of the renewable energy industry – and they have ushered in cleaner air and job growth. In some of those states, the industry is growing exponentially, in thousands of jobs and tens of thousands of clean megawatts.
Virginia has had a renewable energy law since 2007, but utilities have purchased credits rather than investing in Virginia jobs. At times, state law has been interpreted so that utilities cannot invest in renewable energy despite the enactment of renewable energy goals.
Appalachian Voices hoped to fix that during this year’s legislative session by advocating for a requirement that Virginia utilities could only use new wind and solar power built in Virginia to satisfy the law. Instead, a law spawned by Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli simply removed financial incentives for renewable energy and ignored our fix, despite support from the utilities.
Virginia utilities will likely still meet the state’s voluntary goals by continuing to purchase out-of-state credits, although our air will continue to be soiled with coal smoke, and new job growth will continue to happen elsewhere.
Virginia legislators also voted against a law that required regulators to consider volatility of fuel costs. Natural gas and coal prices spike and dive because, regardless of new finds, the supply is limited and eventually carbon emissions will carry a cost. As energy sources, wind and sunshine are not subject to such market forces. Unfortunately, Virginia lawmakers as a whole are still beholden to the fossil fuel sector, which contributes no small amount of money for their election and re-election and re-re-election campaigns.
At Appalachian Voices, we will continue to push logic in the face of corporate contributions and control. We will not stop until Virginia adopts a comprehensive energy policy that includes renewable technologies as a viable source of energy production and economic development.