Last month, Governor Northam announced an executive order that seeks to require Virginia to produce 100% of its electricity from carbon-free sources by the year 2050. Northam noted that this shift would help mitigate the risks associated with climate change. In the near term, the order requires certain executive agencies to develop a plan for meeting this goal. By 2030, the goal is to power 30% of the state’s electricity needs through renewable sources. Currently, in Virginia, only about 5% of our electricity is carbon-free.
The goal is ambitious, and many are concerned that without the proper legislative support, it won’t succeed. An executive order only binds executive agencies and cannot be directed at private companies or individuals. Only the legislative branch may pass laws that are binding on private citizens. As a result, support from Virginia’s General Assembly will be integral in bringing this goal to fruition, which has not been present in the past. However, this November elections will be held for both the Senate and House of Delegates, which could shift the legislature’s attitude towards renewables.
Dominion Energy and Appalachian Power have both indicated some level of support for the initiative. The two energy giants will play a significant role in the energy landscape in Virginia in the coming years.
What are the specifics?
Governor Northam’s Executive Order 43, “Expanding access to clean energy and growing the clean energy jobs of the future,” orders state agencies to create a plan to “produce 30 percent of Virginia’s electricity from renewable energy sources by 2030 and one hundred percent of Virginia’s electricity from carbon-free sources by 2050.”
There is no definition of what energy sources are acceptable under this order, but it does make mention of wind and solar. As the order stands, it does prevent biomass from being included in the mix of renewables. Additionally, it specifically references “carbon-free sources,” which means that nuclear power will also be an acceptable means of reaching this goal. Additionally, there is no definite answer on whether this order will require all of the renewable energy be produced in Virginia, or if it can be purchased from other states.
Some of the specific policy outcomes of this order include the development of offshore wind, increased investment into energy efficiency measures, investment in and integration of storage technology, and, of course, the continued expansion of solar and wind, both utility-scale and distributed.
There are still many questions about Executive Order 43 that will likely be answered as the state agencies develop action plans, however, the goal should be seen as a step in the right direction for Virginia.