After weeks of discussion and debate about the Virginia Clean Economy Act (VCEA – click here for the latest version of HB1526), today the State Senate and House of Delegates will finally vote on the legislation. It’s been frustrating trying to analyze VCEA, for several reasons: 1) it’s massive; 2) it’s highly technical; 3) it’s been negotiated largely by “stakeholders” behind closed doors; 4) it has changed in significant ways over time. For example, here’s a summary that was forwarded to me of the amendments engrossed yesterday on the House floor:
“1) RGGI date for zero emissions moved from 2050 to 2045
2) mandatory 2024 retirement date for all utility coal/oil (except VCHEC and Clover)
3) mandatory 2030 retirement date for VCHEC unless they can achieve 83% reduction through CCS
4) mandatory retirement date for everything else that emits carbon by 2045 (instead of 2050)
5) correct drafting error on exclusion of utility-scale biomass and thermal RECs from RPS
6) double 2025 EERS targets (from 2.5% to 5% for Dominion and from 1% to 2% for APCo)
7) increase Dominion PPA for NEM systems cap up to 1,000 MW
8) add a 2030 moratorium on all new fossil if the secretariats determine in 2028 that we’re not on track to meet our emissions reductions goals
9) some ongoing SCC oversight of RPS costs”
All of these changes look like steps in the positive direction: moving the RGGI date up five years (to 2045), mandatory retirement for coal and oil-fired power plants, moving the overall 100% clean energy goal up five years (to 2045), excluding “utility-scale biomass and thermal RECs” from the Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS), doubling energy efficiency improvement goals (this one, alone, is a really big deal IMHO), putting in some “moratorium” language, and also adding some language about State Corporation Commission oversight of RPS costs. With those improvements, this bill appears to be moving in the right direction – getting stronger, not weaker – and strengthens arguments in favor of voting for the bill.
Now, to be clear, this bill is far from perfect, and the process by which it’s been developed has been far too opaque/non-transparent, among other problems. But at this point, the question isn’t between a perfect piece of legislation VCEA; it’s between VCEA and…basically, no other omnibus clean energy legislation. Can you even imagine coming out of this historic legislative session, which has accomplished so much on so many fronts, with a massive #FAIL on what is, by far, the most urgent issue facing humanity – the climate crisis? And can you imagine, if this massive effort and time expenditure comes to naught, that legislators are going to have any stomach to come back and take another bite at this (rotten) apple next year, or anytime soon? Finally, do we have time to waste in getting Virginia’s ass in gear on moving towards 100% clean energy? The answers to those three questions are: 1) nope; 2) hell no; 3) f*** no.
Finally, I’d note that there’s a huge coalition behind VCEA, including many groups I greatly respect, such as the Chesapeake Climate Action Network (CCAN), which has been a climate champion for many years; the Virginia Sierra Club, which has great folks like Ivy Main, Glen Besa, etc.; Environment Virginia; Ceres; Audubon; the Virginia League of Conservation Voters; the Virginia Conservation Network; the clean energy community; legislators I respect like Del. Rip Sullivan and Del. Alfonso Lopez; etc.
In sum, this bill isn’t perfect, but at long last it gives Virginia clean energy advocates and a “vehicle” with which we can “drive” Virginia towards a 100% clean energy future. And no, we shouldn’t be letting “the perfect be the enemy of the good” on this, or anything else really. I’d also point out that there’s no reason why we can’t work to strengthen this legislation in future years, as we’ve seen in many other states, such as California. So…I encourage Virginia legislators to vote yes on SB851 and HB1526 today, then keep working to strengthen the legislation going forward – after “Crossover,” in final House/Senate negotiations, and in coming years.
P.S. It is in large put due to pressure from the grassroots that those amendments got added – both Democratic grassroots groups and Green New Deal folks. The Green New Deal people are justifiably angry that their preferred bill got buried in Appropriations, but they get credit for pushing the VCEA to be much better than it would have been without the uproar from the “left.”