The 2020 General Assembly saw a record number of bills introduced, many of which were geared towards improving Virginia’s energy landscape. Legislators grappled with numerous solutions and potential innovations. By the end of the session, some good bills succeeded, and a few were left behind. Below are some of the most significant wins and some of the bills that should have made it through.
Virginia will join nine other states in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a cap and trade system designed to reduce emissions. Each year, carbon emitters will purchase carbon allowances through a state-run auction. Companies may trade their allowances, but there will be a state-wide cap on emissions that will gradually reduce each year. The bulk of the revenue from those auctions will then be invested into flood preparedness and energy efficiency programs.
The Virginia Clean Economy Act
This omnibus bill required a significant amount of negotiation among key stakeholders, but ultimately a compromise was reached. Its most significant ambition is to make Virginia’s electric grid carbon-free by 2045. It also includes provisions for more robust wind and solar development, relaxed regulations on distributed energy, a binding renewable energy portfolio and energy efficiency standards for utilities.
Community Solar Pilot
Dominion’s community solar programs allow residents and companies in certain areas to opt into purchasing solar power from a partner solar farm. The new 2020 legislation extends this pilot program to low-income areas in Virginia to ensure that the development of renewable energy occurs equally throughout the state.
One successful bill will remove some of the legislative barriers that currently exist. For instance, it will remove the cap on the total amount of renewable energy that can be net metered in a utility’s territory, authorize power purchase agreements for all types of customers, permit solar up to 5 megawatts to be built on government-owned properties, and the installation of renewable energy generation in multi-family housing structures, among others.
On-Bill Tariff Programs
This program allows electric cooperatives to offer financing programs in the form of additional monthly charges to customers for energy efficiency improvements. These improvements heating and air conditioning systems, water heaters, weatherization, insulation, window and door modifications, appliances, and automatic or Internet-connected control systems. This program will allow customers the financial flexibility to make improvements that will eventually save money as their energy consumption is reduced.
The Fair Energy Bills Act
This bill would have restored the State Corporation Commission’s ability to review Dominion Energy’s base rate. It would have made the rate review process fairer and given the SCC the authority to refund overearnings from 2017 to 2020 to ratepayers. The FEBA passed with bipartisan support in the House but was left in the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee with an 8-7 vote.
Renewable Energy Tax Credit
The tax credit would have been for any “renewable energy property.” The credit was set at 35% of the installed cost of the property, with a maximum of $15,000 in a taxable year.