Virginia legislature continues clean energy leadership
Virginia’s 2023 General Assembly session adjourned February 25, with lawmakers heading home to recharge or launch their next campaigns. It was a busy session, with numerous bills that would either keep the state on the path to being a clean energy leader in the South or undo recent progress. Here are some highlights from the session where SELC efforts contributed to resounding wins for clean energy.
Passage of the Affordable Energy Act
Virginia lawmakers acted in the best interest of the state’s residents this session when they approved the Affordable Energy Act, removing restrictions preventing the State Corporation Commission (SCC) from lowering electric utility rates when the SCC determines customers will be overcharged.
The move restoring the SCC’s regulatory abilities means Virginians could pay less for energy.
Following the bill’s passage, SELC Senior Attorney Will Cleveland called the move “essential” to the state’s clean energy transition and to ensuring that inflated prices are not passed on to Virginians who can afford them the least.”
Meanwhile negotiations over how to reform Virginia’s utility regulation system ran down to the wire, with a deal finally reached on the last day of session. The law passed sets Dominion’s profit margin at 9.7 percent for two years. After that, the SCC can set the profit margin.
Defending Clean Cars Standards
For the second year in a row, Virginia’s robust Clean Cars Standards came under attack in the General Assembly, with numerous bills to repeal them filed before the session started. All seven bills were ultimately defeated.
Virginia’s legislature voted to adopt the Clean Cars Standards in 2021. Starting with model year 2025, auto manufacturers will be required to provide cleaner gas-powered vehicles, as well as an increasing number of zero-emission vehicles for sale in the state.
States can either follow federal tailpipe pollution standards or adopt the more protective standards California is authorized to adopt under the Clean Air Act. Virginia cannot create its own standards.
Trip Pollard, leader of SELC’s Land and Community Program, worked closely with other organizations throughout the state and helped lead the effort to protect the standards.
“Transportation is the largest source of climate pollution, and Clean Cars is the single biggest step Virginia has taken to cut transportation pollution,” he said. “While the Clean Cars Standards are safe for now, there is still a lot of misinformation being spread and I don’t expect that to end. But these standards offer enormous environmental, health, and consumer benefits, and we will continue working to defend them.”
Staying in RGGI
This session there was only one bill attempting to pull Virginia out of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), which was swiftly defeated. The legislation would have repealed the 2020 Clean Energy and Community Flood Preparedness Act, the law that requires Virginia to participate in RGGI.
While the law remains safe for now, RGGI remains in danger as the Air Pollution Control Board has proposed to repeal the regulation that underlies Virginia’s participation in RGGI. There is currently a comment period open where citizens can weigh in on this proposed regulatory action.
Stand up for Virginia’s clean energy future.
“I hope residents are aware of how detrimental this regulatory repeal effort is and will act,” Senior Attorney Nate Benforado said. “Virginia’s participation in RGGI is already delivering results—reducing air pollution from power plants and improving air quality for Virginians—but the administration’s continued efforts to circumvent the General Assembly will derail this proven climate solution.”
After working for months with members of the Virginia Environmental Justice Collaborative to develop environmental justice legislation, SELC, along with App Voices, led an effort to bring solar to low-income Virginians with Senator Hashmi, one of the biggest environmental justice champions in the Senate. SB 1333 would have expanded the powers and duties of the Clean Energy Advisory Board, directed them to apply to the EPA for money available through the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund, and increased the maximum award available under the Low-to-Moderate Income Solar Loan and Rebate Fund from $12,000 to $18,000.
SB 1333 gained real momentum in the Senate, where it passed out of the Agriculture committee on a 13-1-1 vote and the Appropriations committee on a 15-0 vote. On the floor of the Senate, Senator Hashmi gave an impassioned speech about the importance of the bill before it was passed on a 26-13 vote. SB 1333 then headed to the House, where it passed out of the Natural Resources subcommittee on a 6-0 vote before passing out of the full Agriculture committee on a 14-6 vote. Regrettably, the bill died in the Appropriations committee on a party line vote, despite the bill having no fiscal impact.
“Unfortunately, politics won over policy, and hundreds of thousands of low-income homeowners in Virginia will not be able to access IRA money, install solar, and benefit from this important program,” said Associate Attorney Josephus Allmond. “Nevertheless, we will continue fighting for protections and development opportunities in environmental justice communities.”