Today's news from the Washington Post that Dominion Virginia Power and Attorney General Cuccinelli have reached an agreement on Virginia's renewable energy law, if true, could mean a dagger through the heart for Virginia's clean energy industry.
Some within the environmental community will disagree with me, and they would probably tell you the law was so bad that it should be repealed and replaced with a new more effective clean energy standard. I would agree if that were a possibility but, it is not.
Here are a couple of the realities which come to fruition if Virginia's voluntary RPS is repealed:
First, investments in clean, renewable energy are now subject to the strictest interpretation of the Virginia State Corporation Commission. The commission has never approved a full clean energy proposal put forward by Dominion. It has limited the size of the utility's energy efficiency and solar programs.
Now, to take away the regulatory framework by which the commission is supposed to approve new renewable energy programs the bar will be even higher for approval. Without the framework the commission is left to review the projects strictly on the basis of cost, and while renewables will lower cost for consumers in the long-run the methods for determining cost by the Commission are so archaic and stringent that renewables lose out.
Secondly, repealing the law removes Dominion's incentive to invest in renewable energy. Environmentalist are correct to point out that no new renewable energy in Virginia means that Virginians are paying Dominion a bonus they don't deserve while reaping none of the benefits of clean energy. The problem is that repealing the RPS means Dominion, and other investor owned utilities, now have zero incentive to invest in clean energy in or out of Virginia.
Now, Dominion's decision on whether to tempt fate in front of the State Corporation Commission is left not to the rules that govern their decision making in such instances but, to the whims of their CEO Tom Farrell. For those who don't know Mr. Farrell do a quick Google search, and you'll find him railing against clean energy and singing the praises of the coal industry. Not exactly a clean energy champion.
A glass half-empty type of person probably sees this effort to repeal the state's RPS as an opportunity for those who oppose clean energy to stop it dead in its tracks. The decision to move forward with repeal will rest with those who serve in the General Assembly. A prospect that doesn't bode well for clean energy advocates.
Over the next five weeks we'll all be able to see if Virginia's energy future is going to be dependent on fossils or on the wind and the sun. Unfortunately, I don't think you could give me odds I would be willing to take on this bet.
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