Front Porch Blog

Engaged activists get bipartisan wins in 2024 General Assembly session

Photo by Yoksel Zok via

This is the time of year when the days are getting longer, winter coats are being left in the closet, birds are chirping, daffodils are popping up with bursts of color and we put on our gloves to start tending the garden. It’s also the time of year when Virginia legislators, having met in person at the new General Assembly building for the last couple of months, have wrapped up their session and are heading back to districts.

And just like in the garden, Virginia legislators left us with some daffodils to brighten our days, but also a few weeds that will need to be tended to and cleaned up so that the benefits of these bills go to Virginia communities instead of energy companies.

First, the daffodils of the session.

Engaged activists: This session saw folks from all across Virginia calling, emailing and talking to legislators about bills that would impact you and your communities. Activists responded to Appalachian Voices alerts by sending more than 2,000 emails to legislators over the course of the session. It also brought an incredible contingent of Southwest Virginia residents to Richmond for several days of in-person meetings with their legislators. These residents drove roughly six hours to champion for shared solar bills among other priorities! (Some residents of Southwest Virginia live closer to NINE other state capitals than Richmond.)

Volunteers and Appalachian Voices staff pause for a photo in front of the Virginia State Capitol. Photo by Jen Lawhorne

Cyanide Prohibition (HB 85 Simonds): After several years of efforts by Del. Shelly Simonds and the Press Pause Coalition, cyanide and cyanide compounds are now prohibited in mineral mining operations in Virginia! This bill passed with unanimous support and will go a long way in protecting Virginia’s drinking water, public health and the environment.

“The public deserves prevention of a major threat to their water — cyanide contamination — and we are thankful for this protective legislation,” said Jessica Sims, Appalachian Voices’ Virginia Field Coordinator. “The leadership and hard work of Del. Simonds and the Press Pause Coalition to prohibit cyanide will help protect the James River watershed and downstream communities.”

Shared Solar (HB 106 Sullivan / SB 253 Surovell and HB 108 Sullivan / SB 255 Surovell): These bills expand access to shared or community solar programs in Virginia. Shared solar is where homeowners, renters and businesses can buy into a subscription for solar energy and derive the benefits of clean energy, even if they can’t put solar on their homes or businesses. The bills expand and improve shared solar programs for Dominion Energy customers and create a shared solar program for the first time for Appalachian Power customers.

“After many years of hard work, communities in Southwest Virginia will now have access to the benefits of shared solar,” said Robert Kell, Appalachian Voices’ New Economy Program Manager. “Residents and community leaders have bold ideas of how to reduce their energy burdens and deploy renewable energy in the region, and shared solar is a great tool that will help them.”

Utility Disconnections (HB 906 Shin / SB 480 Aird): The result of another multi-year effort championed by Del. Irene Shin and Sen. Lashrecse Aird and a coalition of organizations including Appalachian Voices, these bills protect vulnerable Virginians from losing essential and life-saving water and power services during times of extreme temperatures and states of emergency. These common sense bills received bipartisan support — but only after several years of dedicated action that made it happen!

RGGI in the Budget: The General Assembly passed a budget that included language requiring Virginia to immediately take the necessary steps to rejoin the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. This 11-state regional program has cut carbon pollution from Virginia power plants approximately 22% since 2021, and it has provided over $827 million dollars for energy efficiency and flood mitigation programs in Virginia communities.

Participation in RGGI is one of several issues on which the governor and legislature could not agree. As budget negotiations continue, policymakers should remember that the commonwealth’s participation in RGGI is a proven and commonsense solution. The program reduces air pollution, helps low-income homeowners save money on their energy bills and funds investments that make Virginia more resilient to severe storms and flooding. The governor has called a special session to commence on May 13, with an expected vote on a renegotiated budget on May 15. Stay tuned for ways to engage and encourage our elected officials to get Virginia back into RGGI. UPDATE: The measure requiring Virginia to rejoin RGGI was not included in a budget compromise reached between the General Assembly and Gov. Youngkin.

Volunteers and Appalachian Voices staff meeting with Del. Sam Rasoul. Photo by Jen Lawhorne

Protect Virginia Clean Economy Act: A bill (HB 397 Griffin) that was quickly squashed in committee would have repealed several Virginia Clean Economy Act provisions, including items requiring the State Air Pollution Control Board to adopt regulations to reduce carbon emissions from electricity production.

It also would have ended the board’s ability to manage greenhouse gas pollution through RGGI, and would have rescinded the General Assembly’s declaration under the VCEA that wind, solar and battery storage facilities are in the public interest, essentially saying that these clean energy technologies should no longer be policy priorities in Virginia.

Virginia Brownfield and Coal Mine Renewable Energy Grant Fund (HB 199 Krizek / SB 25 Hackworth): This set of bills removed language that prevented any money other than federal funds from going to the Brownfield and Coal Mine Renewable Energy Grant Fund and Program and is a big win for Southwest Virginia communities that are dealing with abandoned coal mines. This could provide a funding mechanism to develop these sites for clean energy production.

Appalachian Voices works year round on Virginia energy and environmental policy. We meet with community members, coalition groups, government representatives and staff, to help ensure that our policies work fairly for everyone and that the voices of Appalachia are heard. Stay up to date with our work by signing up for our email newsletter.

The weeds of the session

Paying for Small Modular Nuclear Reactor Pre-development (HB 1491 O’Quinn and SB 454 Marsden): These bills allow Dominion Energy and Appalachian Power to seek to raise our electricity bills so that they can conduct development work for a potential small modular nuclear reactor (commonly referred to as SMRs). Normally we don’t allow power companies to charge us for costs related to new power plants until they are built and producing electricity (other than interest on loans). Residents of South Carolina learned this the hard way when their utilities were allowed to raise customers’ rates and ultimately canceled construction of a new nuclear reactor. Customers collectively paid $9 billion without receiving any electricity. While amendments to these bills limiting the financial risks were adopted, the core concern remains: our bills could go up while we get nothing of value for it.

Utility Bills (HB 638 Sullivan / SB 230 Hashmi): This pair of bills known as the ARC Act (Affordable, Reliable, Competitive) would have helped make the clean energy transition cheaper. The VCEA requires Dominion and Appalachian Power to propose significant investments in wind, solar, and battery storage—and that’s a good thing! But these resources always cost customers more when owned by the utilities. That’s because they are allowed to charge us a 9-10% margin on capital investments. By contrast, when generation resources are owned by third parties, utilities buying and distributing their power are not allowed to add that markup to our bills. The ARC Act would have ensured that a minimum of 35% of the clean energy projects developed under the VCEA are owned by third parties. These bills also would have required the State Corporation Commission to implement the VCEA at the lowest reasonable cost. Unfortunately, the ARC Act did not move forward. Appalachian Voices will continue working to help bring about clean, affordable energy programs like the ARC Act in the 2025 session.

With the 2024 General Assembly session behind us we’re already preparing for 2025, tending the daffodils to make sure they grow stronger, planting the seeds of new legislation and working to pull some weeds. Your efforts passionately advocating, lobbying, writing letters to newspaper editors, and calling and emailing your legislators is what made these campaigns successful!

Matt joined App Voices in 2023 as the Virginia Campaign Coordinator. He grew up in rural western Pennsylvania. He attended grad school at Appalachian State University, where he earned an MS and MBA, both related to renewable energy and sustainable business.


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