On Sunday, Virginia became the first southern state to commit to transition to clean energy by 2050 when Governor Ralph Northam signed the Virginia Clean Economy Act into law.
The law sets new requirements for energy efficiency among the state’s leading utility companies and establishes a deadline to phase out some of the worst culprits of carbon emission: coal plants. Per this new legislation, all coal-fired plants must close by the end of 2024, and Dominion Energy Virginia and Appalachian Power are required to switch to 100 percent carbon-free energy by 2045 and 2050, respectively. Companies that fail to meet these deadlines will incur financial penalties, the revenue from which will partly fund new outreach programs and job training in disadvantaged communities.
“These new clean energy laws propel Virginia to leadership among the states in fighting climate change,” said Northam in a statement issued by his office Sunday. “They advance environmental justice and help create clean energy jobs. In Virginia, we are proving that a clean environment and a strong economy go hand-in-hand.”
Other provisions include expanded access to clean energy energy-related jobs among low-income communities as well as new requirements for companies to prioritize hiring locally as they switch over to clean energy from renewable resources such as solar and wind power. The act also folds in several energy efficiency directives established by an executive order that the governor issued in September.
Additionally, pilot programs aimed at increasing energy efficiency are now considered to be “in the public interest,” and the Department of Social Services and the Department of Housing and Community Development will lead a joint effort to establish a new program to “reduce the energy burden for low-income customers.” The legislation goes on to state that 5,200 megawatts of offshore wind generation and 16,100 megawatts of solar and onshore wind generation are “in the public interest” as well.
“This is the most significant clean energy law in Virginia’s history,” said Senator Jennifer McClellan per the statement, adding that the bill is expected to create thousands of jobs in the industry and “break Virginia’s reliance on fossil fuels.”
On Sunday Northam also announced proposed amendments to the Clean Energy and Community Flood Preparedness Act. This legislation establishes a cap-and-trade program for carbon dioxide emissions in order to bring these levels into compliance with the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a market-based program employed in several northeastern states to reduce pollution. In his office’s statement, Northam said his proposed revisions would clarify the Virginia Community Flood Preparedness Fund, a loan program to tackle flood prevention and coastal resilience among coastal communities.
“By joining RGGI, Virginia will take part in a proven, market-based program for reducing carbon pollution in a manner that protects consumers,” the governor said. “I am proposing important refinements and I look forward to signing it into law soon.”