Virginia legislature passes energy efficiency bills
In the one-day veto session yesterday, the General Assembly rejected a critical amendment from Gov. Tim Kaine on SB 1248 that would have set a voluntary goal of reducing energy use 19% by 2025, a primary recommendation of the Governor's Commission on Climate Change. The Wise Energy for Virginia coalition and other clean-energy advocates strongly criticized lawmakers for rejecting the Governor's amendment to the bill. The Senate narrowly passed the amendment by a 22-18 vote but the House rejected it by a 50-47 vote.
The coalition was encouraged that the legislature addressed energy efficiency during the 2009 legislative session, saying that the efficiency bills passed this session will further the Commonwealth's much-needed shift toward smarter, green energy. Clean energy advocates also lauded lawmakers for passing Governor Kaine's amendment to HB 2506, which encourages investments in energy efficiency.
Currently, Virginia ranks 45th in the country in percentage of utility revenues spent on efficiency – a total of just $84,000 statewide in 2006. In comparison, utilities in Alabama and Mississippi spent more than $400,000, and North Carolina energy providers spent $3.8 million.
The bills passed this session help make efficiency competitive by moving efficiency measures closer to being on a level playing field with new generation such as coal-fired power plants. They stop short of setting even a voluntary target, which clean energy advocates say is necessary to counter subsidies in Virginia for coal power.
The bills establish a framework for Virginia utilities to develop and promote cost-effective energy efficient programs and grant utilities a fair rate of return for efficiency programs. They allow utilities to propose energy efficiency programs to the State Corporation Commission, which is instructed to approve only cost-effective energy efficiency programs that are in the public interest.
The amended legislation that passed both houses yesterday – HB 2506 sponsored by Del. Albert Pollard – included the same provisions as SB 1248 except for the 19% target. During the session, this bill was changed to require the Attorney General to study the costs of energy efficiency, but not the benefits, adding unnecessary bureaucracy and distorting the true costs and benefits. Governor Kaine's amendment struck down that change. The Governor's amendment also added a provision to require the SCC to consider the goals of energy efficiency and environmental protection before allowing some industrial ratepayers to opt out of energy efficiency programs.
Energy efficiency includes measures such as weatherizing homes and buildings, improving industrial processes, and advanced heating and lighting programs. These measures reduce energy consumption, lower consumer costs and delay the need for new coal-fired power plants. Reducing electricity consumption 19% by 2025 would directly create nearly 10,000 jobs for small businesses working to improve the efficiency of homes, offices, and manufacturing facilities.
From the Wise Energy for Virginia coalition members:
“While we applaud the General Assembly for taking action this session to move energy efficiency closer to being on a par with new generation, we are disappointed that legislators passed up the chance to set a voluntary target of 19% that would have made the policy stronger,” said SELC Staff Attorney Sarah Rispin.
“The Governor's amendment would have given citizens a great opportunity to hold the utilities accountable for progress on energy efficiency initiatives, and it's too bad that they shied away from that,” said Jayme Hill with the Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club.
“The bills passed this legislative session help level the playing field for efficiency, but unfortunately do nothing to ensure that utilities will invest in energy efficiency measures. We look forward to working with the legislature next year to make real progress on reducing harmful global warming emissions and improving our economy here in the Commonwealth,” said Chelsea Harnish with the Chesapeake Climate Action Network.
“We are disappointed that some in the General Assembly chose to say “No” to the Governor's amendment to set the 19% goal. But this only means we have more work to do before next session,” said Kathy Selvage with the Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards in Wise County, which has lost over a quarter of its mountains to mountaintop removal coal mining.