Virginia Governor Ralph Northam signed a number of bills into law on Easter weekend that include policies akin to the Green New Deal that some Democrats are pursuing in Congress. The passing and signing of the laws took place during the middle of the coronavirus pandemic, similar to the recent budget bill approved by Governor Cuomo in New York.
One Virginia law requires new measures to promote energy efficiency, sets a schedule for closing old fossil fuel power plants, and requires electricity to come from 100 percent renewable sources such as solar or wind. If energy companies do not meet the targets, penalties will be assessed. The revenue obtained from the penalties would, in part, fund job training and renewable energy programs in historically disadvantaged communities. The legislation also advances offshore wind generation and solar and distributed generation. The bill makes Virginia the first southern state with a 100 percent clean energy standard. Another bill establishes a carbon dioxide cap-and-trade program to reduce emissions from power plants, in compliance with the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.
The Energy Bills
The Virginia Clean Economy Act was passed as House Bill 1526 and Senate Bill 851, which incorporate clean energy directions that the Governor issued in Executive Order Forty-Three in September 2019. The Act provides for the following:
- Establishes renewable portfolio standards. The Act requires Dominion Energy Virginia to be 100 percent carbon-free by 2045 and Appalachian Power to be 100 percent carbon-free by 2050. It requires nearly all coal-fired plants to close by the end of 2024.
- Establishes energy efficiency standards. The Act creates a new program to reduce the energy burden for low-income customers, and sets an energy efficiency resource standard, requiring third party review to assess whether energy companies are meeting their goals.
- Advances offshore wind. The Act provides for 5,200 megawatts of offshore wind and requires Dominion Energy Virginia to include an environmental and fisheries mitigation plan.
- Advances solar and distributed generation. The Act establishes 16,100 megawatts of solar and onshore wind; and expands “net metering,” making it easier to sell rooftop solar installations. Net metering requires utilities to pay the owners of rooftop solar installations a retail price for what is a wholesale product—electricity. In places where it exists, homeowners without solar installations end up with higher bills that subsidize their neighbors’ solar systems. The law also requires Virginia’s largest energy companies to construct or acquire over 3,100 megawatts of energy storage capacity.
The Clean Energy and Community Flood Preparedness Act was passed as House Bill 981 and Senate Bill 1027. The Act establishes a carbon dioxide cap-and-trade program to reduce emissions from power plants, in compliance with the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). The Department of Environmental Quality is tasked to establish and operate an auction program to sell allowances into a market-based trading program. This was passed despite the previous year’s budget explicitly preventing Virginia from joining RGGI, but the legislature switched control from Republicans to Democrats in the last election.
The sale of emissions allowances will pay for the new Virginia Community Flood Preparedness Fund, which is supposed to enhance flood prevention, protection, and coastal resilience, creating a low-interest loan program to help inland and coastal communities that are subject to flooding. Time will tell if this program lives up to its billing.
The Folly of Virginia’s New Laws
Governor Northam and his legislators should watch Michael Moore’s new documentary, Planet of the Humans, to understand the folly of the energy programs in their “Green New Deal”. The film, for example, points to the massive materials requirements of renewables. Solar panels require sixteen times more materials in the form of cement, glass, concrete, and steel than do nuclear plants, and create three hundred times more waste. It also shows both abandoned industrial wind and solar farms, which do not last forever, and new ones being built, after cutting down forests to make room for them. It debunks the idea that an entity, state, or the world can run on 100 percent renewable energy from wind and solar, which not one industrial plant or complex has achieved. Wind and solar are intermittent technologies, performing only when the sun is shining and the wind is blowing.
Further, states with renewable portfolio standards have higher electricity prices than states that do not have them. Average electricity prices in the United States increased 7.9 percent from 2009 to 2019 while electricity from solar and wind increased from two to nine percent. This is despite the fact that prices for natural gas and coal, the leading sources of electricity in the United States, have gone down. During this period, demand for electricity was primarily flat so little new capacity needed to be built. The states of South Dakota, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Kansas, Texas, and Iowa receive about 25 percent or more of their generation from wind and solar power today, but that increase was accompanied by an increase in their electricity prices, as follows:
- In North Dakota, electricity prices increased 37 percent while electricity from solar and wind grew from nine to 27 percent between 2009 and 2019.
- In South Dakota, electricity prices increased 34 percent while electricity from solar and wind grew from five to 24 percent between 2009 and 2019.
- In Kansas, electricity prices increased 28 percent while electricity from solar and wind grew from six to 41 percent between 2009 and 2019.
- In Iowa, electricity prices increased 27 percent while electricity from solar and wind grew from 14 to 42 percent between 2009 and 2019.
- In Oklahoma, electricity prices increased 12 percent while electricity from solar and wind grew from four to 35 percent between 2009 and 2019.
From 2009 to 2019, Virginia’s electricity prices have increased less than 7 percent while getting less than 1 percent of its generation from wind and solar power in 2019. Most of Virginia’s power comes from natural gas (60 percent) and nuclear (30 percent). Coal makes up 4 percent.
The Virginia legislature approved and Governor Northam signed legislation that will increase electricity prices for Virginians. Virginia will be replacing about 3 gigawatts of coal power with over 21 gigawatts of wind and solar power, over 5 gigawatts of which is to be offshore wind, which is one of the most expensive sources of power, according to the Energy Information Administration. They are also requiring all of the state’s power to come from 100 percent carbon-free sources by 2050, which will require a lot of the state’s land and probably cut down some forests. All of this legislation was passed during the height of the coronavirus pandemic, and received scant attention. As Virginians watch their utility bills climb in the future, they should remember that they heard it here first.