Virginia OKs largest state renewable contract in the nation

Source: By Carlos Anchondo, E&E News reporter • Posted: Monday, October 21, 2019

 Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D). Photo credit: Northam/Facebook

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D). Northam/Facebook

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam announced an agreement with Dominion Energy Inc. last week that is the largest-ever procurement of renewable energy to power state government.

The partnership with the state’s monopoly utility involves more than 400 megawatts of power, including a 75-MW onshore wind farm and four proposed solar projects of 345 MW. The announcement is part of Northam’s push on a low-carbon agenda, which is occurring amid pushback about Dominion’s fossil fuel projects like the Atlantic Coast pipeline.

The announcement comes one month after Northam’s executive order establishing a goal for the state to produce 100% of its electricity from carbon-free sources by 2050 (Energywire, Sept. 19). The governor said the utility partnership is proof that Virginia is leading by example on climate change.

“Moving our Commonwealth toward cleaner, renewable energy will require innovation, bold commitments, and diverse partnerships,” Northam said in a statement. “I am proud that this agreement will help us achieve our clean energy targets and secure a healthier environment for future generations.”

The 75 MW of planned wind energy comes from Apex Clean Energy, based in Charlottesville, and would be the state’s first onshore wind farm. Apex is working with state and local authorities to develop the Rocky Forge energy project in Botetourt County north of Roanoke.

Northam said the wind facility, in addition to the solar projects, will help Virginia realize a target in his executive order calling for 30% of the energy that powers state government to come from renewable sources by 2022. The 420 MW that Virginia will purchase is the equivalent of powering more than 100,000 homes, Northam said.

Samantha Moore, a spokeswoman for Dominion, said the output from projects would be purchased by the state and not have any impact on customer rates. The utility will not seek to recover costs from ratepayers for their construction, she said.

“By partnering with the Commonwealth of Virginia, we can secure Virginia’s clean energy future while also advancing the Commonwealth’s clean energy goals,” Moore said via email. The project would have a wide range of benefits, including cleaner air, energy savings and “a healthier, greener future for the Commonwealth,” she said.

But Kate Addleson, director of the Sierra Club’s Virginia chapter, said Northam’s announcement was overshadowed by the pollution caused by Dominion’s power plants and fracked gas projects. Currently, more than half of the state’s electricity is fired by natural gas, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

“If Dominion wants to do right by the customers and communities they serve, then they will cancel projects like the fracked gas Atlantic Coast Pipeline and Union Hill compressor station, support access to customer-owned solar, and stop opposing pollution reduction plans,” Addleson said in a statement.

Moore said plans for the Atlantic Coast pipeline, which will run through the state, or the Union Hill compressor station are not affected by the announcement. The Supreme Court recently agreed to hear a case involving Atlantic Coast’s planned crossing of the Appalachian Trail (Energywire, Oct. 4).

Similarly, Will Cleveland, a senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center, called Virginia the “spear point” in the fight against climate change and challenged Dominion to explain its plan to help achieve a carbon-free Virginia by 2050 while still pursuing fossil fuel-burning projects.

“In the absence of any leadership on climate at the federal level, other states should follow Virginia’s lead and proactively use every tool available to deploy clean energy, including direct government procurement,” Cleveland said.

Tim Cywinski, a spokesman for the Sierra Club’s Virginia chapter, said that Dominion’s position as a monopoly means it has an obligation to do what’s right by all ratepayers and Virginians in general.

The announcement shows Northam is making a name for himself in clean energy policy, said Nicole Duimstra, management coordinator at the Virginia Renewable Energy Alliance. The addition of onshore wind is another “crucial piece of the puzzle” on the clean energy transition, she said.

“It’s nice to see that a state that has such aggressive renewable energy goals is finally adding on a key component to renewable energy development that we haven’t seen before,” Duimstra said.