Solar panels on top of a school in Powhatan. (Sarah Vogelsong / Virginia Mercury)
A Senate panel on Monday swiftly rejected a Republican proposal to repeal the Virginia Clean Economy Act, a 2020 law that commits the state’s electric grid to decarbonizing by 2050.
All three Democrats on the five-person Senate Energy Subcommittee and Minority Leader Tommy Norment, R-James City, voted against the proposal. Sen. Stephen Newman, R-Bedford, was the only panel member to support it.
Norment said he didn’t “really agree philosophically” with the repeal bill, although he voiced discomfort with the idea of agreeing with environmental groups.
While Senate subcommittees don’t have the power to make final decisions on legislation, committees generally accept their recommendations, particularly if the subcommittee has heard testimony on a bill.
The Democrat-controlled Senate panel’s position on the so-called “Repeal VCEA” bill Monday was a sharp departure from the House stance: last week, the proposal cleared the Republican-controlled House of Delegates with every Republican voting in its favor.
The bill’s patron, Del. Nick Freitas, R-Culpeper, said Monday that “what this comes down to is different approaches with respect to how we should manage energy, how we should manage green energy in the Commonwealth of Virginia.”
The VCEA, which was negotiated by environmental groups, the state’s electric utilities and energy developers over several months surrounding the 2020 General Assembly session, made sweeping changes to Virginia energy law. Besides setting ambitious targets for renewables development, the law requires that utilities source an increasing percentage of their energy from renewables and meet certain energy efficiency goals and sets closure dates for the state’s remaining coal plants.
But while Republicans have been critical of the VCEA’s aims and costs, Democrats have pledged to “hold the line” on what they see as their landmark environmental achievements.
During Monday’s hearing, Collister Johnson of the Suburban Virginia Republican Coalition, a group that has been running a “Repeal VCEA” campaign, called the law “the most radical, costly and destructive energy legislation in the history of the commonwealth.”
Dominion Energy and numerous environmental and energy groups, including the Southern Environmental Law Center, Virginia Conservation Network and American Clean Power Association, opposed rolling back the Clean Economy Act.
“Our data shows that renewables increase reliability,” said Andrew Gohn of the American Clean Power Association, while Harry Godfrey of Virginia Advanced Energy Economy argued that the clean energy industry supports 93,000 jobs in Virginia that could be endangered by VCEA repeal.
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