Master plan rewrite gets Virginia kudos from clean energy advocates

Source: By David Iaconangelo, E&E News reporter • Posted: Thursday, October 4, 2018

The Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy (DMME) has published a refashioned blueprint for the state’s energy future, calling on Gov. Ralph Northam (D) to bolster existing clean energy plans and launch new programs in five policy areas.

The energy master plan gets rewritten every four years, after the end of a governor’s term. This year’s version focuses almost entirely on the growth of zero-emissions sources.

Harrison Godfrey, executive director of Virginia Advanced Energy Economy, a clean energy business coalition, said he thought it was “the most proactive energy plan” to emerge from Virginia.

“I don’t think you see the same detailed specific commitment if you look back at other energy plans,” Godfrey said.

The DMME’s recommendations come in the wake of grid modernization legislation, passed earlier this year, which dealt with the problem of notoriously high rates for power customers.

The legislation, S.B. 966, also contained a mammoth package of energy commitments, directing investor-owned utilities to spend $1.1 billion on efficiency and certifying thousand-megawatt investments in renewables as being in the public’s interest.

Parts of the master plan simply lend backing to those investment goals or lashes them to a firmer timeline.

Dominion Energy and Appalachian Power, the state’s two investor-owned utilities, should bet on spending a combined $115 million of the $1.1 billion every year, beginning in 2019. And of the 5,000 megawatts of solar and onshore wind deemed in the public interest, the state should shoot to develop at least 3,000, said DMME.

Northam’s administration should also oversee the development of 2,000 megawatts of offshore wind, said the plan — a goal not provided for in earlier legislation. Other areas touched on in the recommendations, including energy storage and electrified transportation, would depend more on government action.

The state should break ground on a comprehensive electrification plan for the transportation system, wrote DMME, set targets for electric-vehicle infrastructure and follow California’s Advanced Clean Cars Program.

Chelsea Harnish, executive director of the Virginia Energy Efficiency Council, credited the master plan with underscoring new opportunities that fell under the state’s charge, like improving energy performance in contracting.

“Through an energy-efficiency lens, this is more expansive,” she said. “[The earlier law] is just about utility programs. This energy plan is about what state agencies can do.”

The plan also recommends more consumer-friendly net-metering policies for rooftop solar. It also calls for a comprehensive analysis of how to transition the grid toward more decentralized resources, which is in line with demands made by opponents of the grid-modernization law.

“S.B. 966 was a juggernaut of a bill. And it had really, really bad provisions to it that were very pro-utility and anti-consumer, which is why we did not support the bill,” said Will Cleveland, staff attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center.

But the law also held out the possibility of benefits for the economy and environment, he added. “This energy plan is largely pushing toward reaching the potential upsides,” Cleveland said.