Virginia's General Assembly passed landmark clean energy legislation that doubles its offshore wind goal to 5.2GW and clears the way for big deployments of solar and storage, in a move hailed by US renewable energy groups as transformational.
The legislation creates a mandate requiring that 30% or more of electricity comes from renewable sources by 2030 and sets a target of 100% zero-emissions by 2050.
The bill creates a pathway for Virginia to steadily reduce its dependence on fossil fuels, partly with incentives for 16.1GW of solar PV and 2.7GW of energy storage, as well as the offshore wind goal that's behind only New York and New Jersey among US states.
Tom Kiernan, CEO of the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) called it “pro-business, forward thinking and comprehensive”, adding it will foster economic development across Virginia.
Greg Wetstone, CEO of the American Council on Renewable Energy, called the bill “important” as it will attract significant new investment, create thousands of well-paid jobs and give state residents “access to more affordable, pollution-free power”.
The PV sector also welcome the legislation. Solar Energy Industries Association CEO Abigail Ross Hopper said the legislation “will completely transform energy in Virginia and is a bold step into the Solar+ Decade”.
Northam expects to sign the Virginia Clean Economy Act into law as early as this week. The amended bill – it first passed last month – was approved largely along party lines 22-17 in the Senate and 51-45 in the House. Northam’s Democrats are a majority in both chambers.
Virginia uses natural gas to generate about 53% of its electricity, nuclear (30%), coal (10%) and renewables, mainly biomass (7%), according to the US Department of Energy.
Importantly, the bill declares wind, solar and storage to be in the “public interest,” effectively ordering the normally independent State Corporation Commission, which regulates electric cooperatives and utilities in Virginia, to facilitate public policy there.
For offshore wind, this means allowing Dominion, the state’s dominant utility, to recover the estimated $7.8bn cost plus make a reasonable profit on its planned 2.64GW array – the nation’s largest – that it wants to build in federal waters in three stages by 2026.
The Commission estimates the project with that price tag would add as much as $12 to monthly electric bills of Dominion’s customers.
Critics contend that regulators, not politicians, should determine whether costs of fulfilling the state ’s offshore wind ambitions are justifiable and appropriate and should be borne by ratepayers, as occurs with other energy infrastructure projects such as natural gas pipelines and storage facilities and transmission lines.
Dominion presently has a two-turbine, 12MW demonstration project under development that it expects to have operational later this year near the planned commercial-scale site.
Virginia is among nine states that have no onshore wind power capacity.