The State Corporation Commission
The State Corporation Commission seal. (Ned Oliver/ Virginia Mercury)

Two renewable energy providers will be allowed to operate in Virginia after the State Corporation Commission ruled Wednesday that they meet state standards for selling renewable energy and don’t need to measure up to more stringent benchmarks proposed by Dominion Energy, the commonwealth’s largest utility.

The ruling means that Virginia consumers will continue to be able to purchase fully renewable energy from Direct Energy and Calpine, the competitive service providers challenged by Dominion.

In its decision, the commission declared both that there was no precedent in its own rulings for Dominion’s proposed standard and that such a standard “would also significantly hinder a customer’s right to purchase … electric energy provided from wind and solar generation due to the intermittent nature of these resources.”

Cliona Mary Robb, an attorney for both Direct Energy and Costco, which has sought to buy energy from Calpine, called the decision “the best order customers could have hoped for” and “a resounding victory.”

Dominion did not provide a comment. Officials have said in the past that the company has a policy against speaking with the Mercury.

The complicated case, which has been on the commission’s docket since July, concerned the state’s definition of “100 percent renewable energy.”

Under Virginia law, non-utility companies known as competitive service providers are allowed to sell such energy to customers as long as the utility that controls the territory doesn’t offer the same product. Dominion doesn’t, although on May 31 it filed an application with the commission to do so, a move that signaled the window was closing for private companies to enter Virginia’s renewable energy market.

A month and a half later, the utility stopped processing enrollments for customers seeking to leave its service and instead buy renewable energy from Direct Energy and Calpine. The State Corporation Commission subsequently ordered Dominion to resume the enrollments while it considered the broader question of whether the CSPs met statutory requirements.

On that issue, Dominion argued that in order to be allowed to operate in Virginia, a competitive service provider must prove that it “controls sufficient generation resources to meet the customer’s full load requirements around the clock: not just each month, but each and every day and night during the month.”

In its Wednesday ruling, the State Corporation Commission struck down that argument, finding that “there is nothing in the plain language of [the statute] … that mandates Dominion’s ‘100% of the time’ (i.e., ‘around the clock’) requirement.”

Instead, the commission found it sufficient for Direct Energy and Calpine to meet a monthly matching standard that requires them to prove that on a monthly basis, the amount of renewable energy they send into the grid equals the amount of energy their customers are using.

State law, the commissioners wrote, “does not specify the time period for matching customer load and renewable supply” but instead leaves the matter to the commission’s discretion.

“Even if Dominion’s new proposal were procedurally appropriate, which it is not, the Commission further finds that such proposed standard is neither legally nor factually required,” the decision stated.