Statewide Environmental News Roundup

A contributed perspectives piece by the Climate Action Alliance of the Valley

Editor’s Note: This is the first installment of regular series of contributed news roundups about statewide environmental news. This piece highlights, with links to further coverage in various media outlets, two recent environmental news stories of significance to Virginia: (1) Gov. Ralph Northam’s (D) signing into law an assortment of climate, environmental and energy bills that radically change the state’s policy landscape, and (2) the 50th anniversary of Earth Day.

The VA Clean Economy Act (VCEA) passes, and the state joins the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI)

Governor Northam signed two significant environmental bills that the General Assembly passed. The scope of the VCEA is far-ranging and far-reaching. It provides a roadmap for the state and its utilities to move away from fossil-fuel-sourced energy and provides authorizations to carry out the Governor’s clean energy mandates in his September 2019 Executive Order 43. VCEA resulted from lengthy and complex negotiations among numerous stakeholders, including utilities, ratepayers, environmentalists, conservationists, economic/environmental justice advocates, business/industry representatives, and civic groups. Enacting the bill represents a breakthrough for Virginia and the South, resulting in widespread news coverage and recognition from various sources.

Major provisions of the law require the state to:

  1. Place a moratorium on the construction of new gas peaker plants until 2022.
  2. Join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), thereby incentivizing VA’s move away from fossil fuels.

The VCEA also requires the state’s investor-owned utilities to:

  • Ensure 30% of their power comes from renewables by 2030.
  • Transition to 100% renewable energy by 2045 (for Dominion Energy) or 2050 (for Appalachian Power).
  • Shutter all coal plants by 2024.
  • Close all carbon emitting power plants by 2045 (Dominion), by 2050 (Appalachian Power).
  • Bring 16 GW of solar and onshore wind, along with 3GW of battery storage, online in the next decade.

The VCEA also established a new energy efficiency standard that

  • Sets a 5% energy-savings target for Dominion and 2% target for Appalachian Power by 2025, as compared to 2019 levels.

Finally, the VCEA lifted or eased solar barriers and endorsed offshore wind; the new provisions:

  • Increase the current solar net metering cap from 1% to 6% (broken out as 1 percent for low- and moderate income customers, and 5% for everyone else).
  • Increase the allowable size of residential net metered solar arrays to 25kW.
  • Remove standby charges for residential customers with solar facilities of less than 15 kW in Dominion territory, and for all Appalachian Power or Old Dominion Power customers.
  • Allow Dominion customers to install enough solar to meet 150% of their previous year’s demand, recognizing the needs of growing families and EVs. (In Appalachian Power territory, the limit remains at 100% of the past 12 months’ demand.)
  • Permit residents of apartment buildings and condos to share the output of any onsite solar.
  • Say that HOA restrictions on solar systems cannot increase costs by more than 5%, nor reduce energy output by more than 10%.
  • Give Dominion the authority to build 3000MW of offshore wind.

In addition to the VCEA, the General Assembly passed a somewhat related bill that raises questions about Dominion’s ability to complete two proposed fossil fuel projects, the Mountain Valley and Atlantic Coast Pipelines.

Earth Day 2020 Celebrations Happened Despite the Pandemic!

April 22, 2020 marked the 50th anniversary of the first Earth Day. April 2020 saw numerous virtual celebrations; many managed to commemorate the event while socially distancing. The anniversary also produced numerous online educational and visual opportunities for observing “Earth Day Month” while obeying stay‑at-home requirements. Some JMU professors weighed in on how the current coronavirus pandemic illustrates the importance of caring for our environment.  A local blogger offered his reflections.

The Climate Action Alliance of the Valley (CAAV) is a non-profit, grassroots group in the Central Shenandoah Valley that educates legislators and the public about the implications of the Earth’s worsening climate crisis.

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