Attacks on Virginia energy continue in governor’s Energy Plan
With the recent release of his 2022 Energy Plan, Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin continued his attack on Clean Cars Standards and the state’s participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, while also stepping up his attack on the Virginia Clean Economy Act. Youngkin’s plan adopts an “all of the above” approach that relies heavily on fossil fuels and slights environmental and equity issues.
Governor Youngkin may try to take us backward, but SELC will keep working for a cleaner, equitable energy future.Trip Pollard, Senior Attorney
Virginians had a little less than a month to weigh in on what should be in the plan, and no draft plan was available for review or comment. While most recommendations in the report would require action from the General Assembly to move forward, the Energy Plan – which the General Assembly mandates be completed every four years – serves as a template for Virginia energy policy. The new plan makes clear that the Youngkin administration is set on undoing much of the progress made in recent years to combat climate change and promote clean energy and clean transportation in Virginia.
Of note, the energy plan does not mention climate change, equity, environmental justice, or alternatives to driving such as passenger rail and transit that can slash energy consumption.
“What is not mentioned in the energy plan speaks just as loudly to priorities as what is,” said Trip Pollard, leader of Southern Environmental Law Center’s Land and Community Program. “Many of the key challenges Virginia faces, and the benefits of the VCEA, RGGI, and Clean Cars Standards, are completely absent from the plan. Governor Youngkin may try to take us backward, but the Southern Environmental Law Center will keep working for a cleaner, equitable energy future.”
Virginia’s clean energy future in peril
Governor Youngkin has doubled down on his desire for Virginia to back away from the Clean Cars Standards. The energy plan reiterates his shortsighted call to repeal the 2021 Clean Cars legislation since revised standards require an increasing percentage of electric vehicle sales in Virginia over the next decade and beyond. The plan states that the Clean Cars standards “eliminate consumer choice and ban the sale of non-electric vehicles by 2035, which will put significant strains on Virginia’s grid.”
“Statements like this hide the truth about the standards and what repealing them would mean,” said Pollard. “These standards are the state’s single most significant tool to curb tailpipe emissions, the number one contributor of greenhouse gas pollution in Virginia and throughout the South.”
“The Clean Car Standards will actually improve consumer choice,” Pollard said, “making it easier for Virginians to access EVs because auto manufacturers send these vehicles to Clean Cars states first. And there will be plenty of non-electric vehicles on the road, even in 2035, since the standards do not affect used cars for sale or currently owned vehicles and allow plug-in hybrid EVs that can run on fossil fuel to still be sold.
“While EVs do rely on our grid to charge, Virginia is well-positioned to meet the needs of EV drivers. Private sector funding and an influx of federal money will increase Virginia’s charging infrastructure, and most EV drivers charge at home and at night when energy usage is lower. The switch to clean vehicles will not happen overnight—it will take years, decades in fact. We have the time to make wise decisions and ensure the grid can handle the growth of EVs.”
Virginia Clean Economy Act
In 2020, the General Assembly passed the Virginia Clean Economy Act, helping make Virginia a leader on addressing climate change. The carefully crafted pathway of the VCEA maximizes energy efficiency programs—a cheap way to reduce overall electricity needs—then invests in proven, affordable clean resources like solar, wind, and battery storage, and eventually requires the retirement of fossil fuel burning power plants in 2050. It is a flexible path that is making Virginia an attractive place to do business. LEGO, for example, announced a new facility in Chesterfield along with more than 1,700 jobs, and cited Virginia’s clean energy laws as a major factor in their siting decision.
The General Assembly owes it to residents across the state to ensure that the goals of that law are not only met, but built upon.Will Cleveland, Senior Attorney
The Governor’s energy plan, however, ignores this reality and claims the VCEA “introduced uncertainty into the Commonwealth’s energy landscape, placing additional costs on consumers and raising concerns regarding the reliability of the electrical grid, a historically strong aspect of Virginia’s energy system.” The energy plan recommends that the Virginia Clean Economy Act be reevaluated based on latest technology availability and cost assessments and reauthorized in 2023, and every five years thereafter.
While claiming the VCEA introduced “uncertainty,” the energy plan proposes significant investments in unproven, risky, and expensive technologies like carbon capture and sequestration and small modular nuclear reactors.
Will Cleveland, a senior attorney here at SELC, says, “Contrary to the misguided claims in the energy plan, the VCEA’s path is the way to go if you care about reliability and affordability.”
“Upholding and ensuring that VCEA is implemented is the state’s best tool to promote clean energy. The General Assembly owes it to residents across the state to ensure that the goals of that law are not only met, but built upon,” Cleveland said.
Cleveland did point out at least one aspect of the energy plan that aligns with SELC’s views: It recommends several reforms to monopoly utility ratemaking.
“Years of bad legislation have handcuffed the State Corporation Commission’s ability to prevent these ratepayer abuses,” Cleveland added. “We would happily work with the governor to rectify the fundamental ratemaking problems, but we cannot retreat from our clean energy transition. Proven, falling-cost resources like solar, wind, and battery storage simply do not threaten reliability or affordability, as this energy plan claims.”
“SELC and many other groups would welcome the governor’s support to fix some of the anti-customer provisions of the utility code,” Cleveland said. “While the plan unfairly demonizes clean energy, we do agree that rate reforms are needed and could actually help fix many of the problems that the governor’s plan identifies.”
RGGI was an early target for the Youngkin administration, and the energy plan continues the arguments against the program.
The idea that [RGGI] is a bad deal for residents is simply not true.Nate Benforado, Senior Attorney
“There were no surprises in the energy plan when it came to RGGI,” said Nate Benforado, a Senior Attorney in our Charlottesville office. “RGGI has a long track record of reducing air pollution from power plants, while bringing in critical revenue. The idea that it is a bad deal for residents is simply not true.”
In Virginia, RGGI funds are allowing localities throughout the state to improve energy efficiency and not only take on, but complete, resiliency projects.