Front Porch Blog

Turning a Win-Win into a Lose-Lose: Virginia Senate Kills Renewable Energy Bill

Rather than fixing a problem, Virginia lawmakers prolonged it when they killed legislation to reform the state's renewable energy portfolio standard.

Last fall, Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli latched on to the idea that Dominion Virginia Power and Appalachian Power did not deserve huge bonuses for buying cheap renewable energy credits without actually building wind and solar projects in Virginia, and released an unsolicited report on the issue.

Appalachian Voices and our partners in the Wise Energy for Virginia Coalition have long advocated that the bonuses were failing to develop the renewable energy industry in the state and that a legislative fix is in order. The Senate Commerce & Labor Committee reached the same conclusion and tasked Cuccinelli and the utilities to work out an agreement, which they did.

The problem is that Cuccinelli, while claiming to resolve concerns from the environmental community, failed to invite us to the table. The result was a bill that simply dropped the bonuses, but did not replace those incentives with a mandate to build renewable energy in Virginia or even a preference for better quality credits.

The Wise Energy coalition worked with Senator Donald McEachin and Delegate Alfonso Lopez on legislation that requires credits purchased by utilities to be from the newest and cleanest sources of renewable energy. The proposal was carefully crafted with the singular goal of picking up where the attorney general’s bill left off, but it actually solves the problem of misplaced incentives and the lack of investment in Virginia wind and solar power.

It was a reasonable measure. However, despite strong supporting testimony from our unlikely ally — even Dominion said it was the “best solution” for solving the credits problem — it failed in a House Commerce and Labor subcommittee last week. The Republican chairman, Delegate Terry Kilgore, and his colleagues refused to address the problem.

It was a different story on Monday in the powerful Senate Commerce and Labor Committee, where the bill sailed through with a strong 11-4 vote, including the Republican chairman, Senator John Watkins, and five additional Republicans.

With only a day left to address the bill, it hit the Senate floor yesterday afternoon. Senator McEachin outlined the commonsense measure, explaining that it was not in conflict with Cuccinelli’s bill and simply fixed the credits problem, ensuring investment in clean technologies and job creation close to home.

Senator Watkins then announced that he intended to oppose the bill despite his support in committee. He and two fellow Republicans stated on the floor that renewable energy from burning wood and trash should be on par with development of much cleaner technologies like wind and solar. This position also allows continued purchases of cheap credits from incredibly old facilities located far out-of-state. It does nothing to create jobs for Virginians and nothing to develop wind and solar projects in the Commonwealth.

The floor vote was split on a partisan divide. The twenty Republican senators voted to send Senator McEachin’s bill back to committee, killing its chances of passing this year. Lt. Governor Bill Bolling sided with his fellow Republicans in his tie-breaking vote and Virginia’s opportunity for real renewable energy reform was lost for at least one more year.

Virginians want the option to buy energy that does not require blowing up our mountains and fouling our water. We want our utilities to invest in wind turbines and solar panels, and bring those rapidly expanding industries and the job growth they foster to Virginia.

Virginia lawmakers had a rare opportunity to address this problem, instead they prolonged it. Appalachian Voices and the Wise Energy coalition will highlight this lack of reform in our upcoming “Blueprint” tour and continue the campaign to bring renewable energy and jobs to Virginia.

With a degree in environmental law from Vermont Law School, Nathan lead the Rappahannock County Conservation Alliance for three years before serving as AV's Virginia Campaign Coordinator from 2012-13.


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