The Godawful 2016 Virginia General Assembly Session: Energy and Environment Edition

The Godawful 2016 Virginia General Assembly Session: Energy and Environment Edition

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I’m really tired of reading press releases and self-serving political blather about how, overall, the 2016 Virginia General Assembly was a success, because legislators managed to do the bare minimum and get a (barely-tolerable) budget passed (“barely-tolerable” because it STILL doesn’t expand Medicaid) and…uh, I dunno what else they accomplished. Anyway, I thought I’d counterbalance this panglossian happy talk by taking a look at some of this session’s many, many low points. We’ll start with energy and environmental issues, and a bunch of great bills that were killed, “carried over,” “left in committee,” blah blah blah. For instance.

HB 351 Virginia Alternative Energy and Coastal Protection Act: This bill, by Republican Del. Ron Villanueva — along with its companion Senate bill 571 by Donald McEachin – would have, among other things, directed the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) “to establish a carbon dioxide cap and trade program to reduce emissions released by electric generation stations.” It would also have required “the Governor to seek to join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative or other carbon trading program with an open auction of carbon allowances” and would provide “funding for energy efficiency and conservation programs; economic assistance for families and businesses in Southwest Virginia; renewable energy generation programs, and costs of administering the program.” This excellent bill, addressing the climate crisis, was “Left in [House] Commerce and Labor” wihout even a recorded vote. Massive #FAIL

HB 452 Virginia Energy Storage Consortium: A smart bill by Del. Patrick Hope (D-Arlington) have established “the Virginia Energy Storage Consortium as a political subdivision of the Commonwealth for the purpose of positioning the Commonwealth as a leader in research, development, commercialization, manufacturing, and deployment of energy storage technology.” Given that energy storage is growing by leaps and bounds, this one should have been a no-brainer. Instead it was “Continued to 2017 in Commerce and Labor by voice vote.” WTF?

HB 480 Renewable energy property; tax credit for placing into service: One of several excellent bills by Del. Rip Sullivan (D-Arlington/McLean), along with several bills aimed at promoting energy efficiency, all of which were killed one way or the other. And thus Virginia falls further and further behind in the race to grab a chunk of what is predicted to be a multi-trillion-dollar economic opportunity in clean energy over the next few decades. Stupid, stupid, stupid.

SB 140 Electric utilities; net energy metering, standby charges. One of several strong bills on energy by Sen. John Edwards (D-Roanoke), this bill would have “increase[d] the size of electrical generating facilities operated by residential or agricultural net energy metering customers that are subject to a monthly standby charge from those with a capacity of 10 kilowatts to those with a capacity of 20 kilowatts.” Yet another bill “continued to 2017,” aka “killed for 2016 and maybe indefinitely.”

HB 618 Distributed electric generation; establishment of community solar gardens. Great bill by Del. Paul Krizek (D-Fairfax), would have authorized “the establishment of community solar gardens, which are required to be owned by a subscriber organization that has at least 10 subscribers.” Another no brainer, which needless to say was “continued to 2017,” even as the urgency of switching to clean energy NOW is clearer than ever.

HB 941 Clean energy programs; expands scope by including certain residential properties. This bill by Del. David Toscano (D-Charlottesville) would have, as the Virginia Sierra Club’s Ivy Main explains, “expand[ed] the authorization for Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) programs to include residential and condominium projects,” thus “allow[ing] localities to offer low-interest financing to homeowners for both energy efficiency and renewable energy investments.” A super-smart bill, which of course was…yep, killed (“Left in Counties, Cities and Towns”).

HB 977 State waters; unlawful discharge of deleterious substance into waters. One of several excellent bills by Del. Alfonso Lopez (D-Arlington/Fairfax), this one would have required “any person who unlawfully discharges any deleterious substance into state waters to notify the State Water Control Board (the Board), the Department of Environmental Quality (the Department), or the coordinator of emergency services of the affected locality within 12 hours. Current law allows such a person 24 hours to give notice.” Particularly in light of Dominion’s oil spill into a wildlife sanctuary in Arlington back in late January — and about which the public heard nothing for two weeks — not to mention Flint, coal ash issues all over Virginia, and after Virginia was named the 5th-worst state in America for toxic dumping –you’d think this bill would have been a priority. Instead, it was watered down (pun intended), passed out of committee (with most Republicans voting no), but then “refused engrossment,” ergo killed on a party-line vote. Note that this bill would have cost nothing, and would have simply taken Virginia from the 1890’s to the 1950’s. But nooooo…too much for Republicans.

SB 114 Plastic bags; tax imposed in Chesapeake Bay Watershed by Sen. Chap Petersen (D-Fairfax). “Passed by Indefinitely” on a party-line vote. Also SB 55 Disposable plastic shopping bags; local option to prohibit distribution. by Sen. Mamie Locke (D-Hampton). Killed in committee on a party-line vote (of course).

SB 227 Environmental Quality, Department of; toxic waste site inventory. This bill by Sen. Donald McEachin (D-Richmond/Henrico) would have directed DEQ “to inventory by July 1, 2017, nonfederally managed toxic waste sites in the Commonwealth and publish the inventory at that time and annually thereafter.” It passed the Senate 38-1, but for whatever crazy reason was killed in House committee. #FAIL

HB 1286 Distributed and renewable generation of electric energy; net energy metering.. What happened to this bill, which Ivy Main called “the most important piece of [energy] legislation” this session? According to Main:

Over many weeks Dominion lobbyists met with members of the industry coalition and persuaded them to strip away parts of the legislation—first one provision, then another, all in the name of “compromise.” Eventually the bill was reduced to a single paragraph recognizing the legality of third-party PPAs, with all sides in agreement. Then two days before the subcommittee hearing on the bill, Dominion reneged and produced substitute language that eliminated authority for all but a narrow subset of PPAs, while suddenly slapping new standby charges on small commercial customers who install renewable energy systems, a provision entirely separate from the PPA issue. The standby charges were a known poison pill.”

In sum, yet again Dominion “Global Warming Starts Here!” Virginia Power has done its dirty work, as the millions of dollars it has used to “capture” our state government (legalized corruption anyone?) continue to pay off for it, but certainly not for the people or environment of Virginia.

How about all the other bills, why were they killed? I think Ivy Main explains it perfectly:

Most Virginia legislators say they want more renewable energy. They listen to their constituents, they understand the economic opportunities, they support consumer choice, and they think it’s important to diversify our energy supply, even if they aren’t against fossil fuels. But when it comes to voting, only one voice counts with them, and that’s Dominion’s.

And so Dominion Virginia Power once again succeeded in blocking legislation that would have opened the market for wind and solar to greater private investment through third-party power purchase agreements (PPAs), community solar programs, removal of standby charges and the lifting of size caps. (I described most of these bills in a previous post.)

Starting to sense a pattern here? In short, the wishes of the overwhelming majority of Virginians who want clean energy and climate action were ignored, while the self-serving demands of a powerful corporation (Dominion) and other fossil fuel interests were heeded. Is this democracy? Is this good government? Is this the way to move Virginia forward or to tackle some of the biggest challenges facing our state? Do I really need to ask any more rhetorical questions at this point? Heh.

P.S. Oh yeah, shouldn’t have forgotten this piece of crap (“HB 2 Clean Power Plan; state implementation plan, General Assembly approval.”) by Del. Israel O’Quinn (R-Coal). This monstrosity passed the House and Senate on party-line votes, and is now with Gov. McAuliffe for what I presume will be a prompt veto.