The Virginia Clean Economy Act is a giant leap forward for Virginia energy policy

January 15, 2020 12:01 am

Environmental groups held a rally and lobby day in January for clean energy legislation. (Sierra Club Virginia Chapter)

By Karla Loeb

Last month, a broad coalition of clean energy companies including energy efficiency providers, rooftop solar installers and utility scale renewable energy developers joined with leading environmental groups and Democratic lawmakers to unveil the key pillars that will make up the Virginia Clean Economy Act, a bill that thoughtfully and simply puts Virginia on a path towards 100% carbon free by 2050.

Here’s why Sigora Solar is committed to seeing the Virginia Clean Economy Act become the commonwealth’s energy policy. At its core the Clean Economy Act is designed to ensure an equitable transition from fossil fuels to clean energy. 

First, the Clean Economy Act prioritizes energy efficiency investments, including low-to-moderate income programming. It’s simple: The cleanest and cheapest energy is the energy a family or business doesn’t need to use. By prioritizing energy efficiency prior to investing in new utility scale investments we can increase energy productivity, ensuring a family has the same level of comfort in their home without increasing costs, or a business is able to produce more of its goods and products while using less energy.

Next, the legislation will empower Virginians to have more control over their energy decisions by removing burdensome regulations that currently block many of these investments. The legislation will allow local governments to go solar by signing power-purchase agreements with local solar providers (more Virginia jobs). It will end utility fees that punish homeowners for going solar without recognizing the value solar brings to our electric grid and it will pave the way for shared solar programs that will allow Virginians who don’t own a home to go solar. 

Additionally, it will establish low-to-moderate income solar programming to ensure our most distressed and marginalized communities are able to go solar.

Just as importantly, the legislation has the twin policy components that will ensure the commonwealth meets its energy demands with 100% carbon free energy by 2050, meaning that by the middle of this century, Virginia will not burn any fossil fuels. The legislation will take a stepped approach, ensuring that clean energy is brought to scale at a pace that doesn’t break the bank.

That’s a new direction for Virginia’s energy policy and one that is consistent with the preferences of more than 90% of Virginia voters, according to a survey performed by Conservatives for Clean Energy.

Here’s what this means for Virginia’s future: A recent study from Advanced Energy Economy showed that getting to a zero-carbon electricity system by 2050 could create more than 13,000 jobs annually in the energy sector over business as usual. These jobs will be created in every Virginia community through energy efficiency contractors, rooftop solar installers, offshore wind construction and maintenance workers and many more. Another study performed by The Solar Foundation found that as many as 20,000 additional jobs could be created in the solar industry in Virginia if we add 7,500 megawatts of solar in the next decade.

Next, moving to 100% carbon-free energy will save consumers money. The same Advanced Energy Economy study showed going carbon free can reduce costs for the average Virginia family by at least $3,500 over the life of the program. The legislation will use a suite of tools to ensure costs remain low for consumers, including utilizing funds from Virginia’s participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative for clean energy programming, robust deployment of energy efficiency, a requirement that utility scale investments in renewable energy are competitively procured and not simply built by Dominion Energy and new solar financing structures.

All of this will drive down costs for consumers and accelerate the deployment of cost-effective clean energy.

Virginia can and should get to 100% carbon free energy by 2050. The Virginia Clean Economy Act gets us there with a sensible and simple approach that empowers consumers to have more say in where they get their energy and how much they use while reducing costs for consumers across the commonwealth and creating thousands of new jobs in the clean energy sector.

As legislators get to work in Richmond they can set Virginia on the right path towards 100% clean energy. It’s long past time they take it.

Karla Loeb is chief policy and development officer at Sigora Solar, a Virginia residential and commercial solar power provider. She sits on the executive committee of the national board of the Solar Energy Industries Association, which represents more than 250,000 solar workers. 

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