RICHMOND, Va. (WAVY) — Governor Northam is continuing efforts to make Virginia an energy-efficient state as he signed a bill Sunday making the Commonwealth the first southern state to transition to clean energy by 2050.

The governor signed the Virginia Clean Economy Act that commits to providing 100% carbon-free electricity by removing harmful carbon emissions and obtaining clean energy from renewable sources such as solar or wind generation. 

Northam announced he is also amending the Clean Energy and Community Flood Preparedness Act that requires Virginia to join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative which is the first U.S. mandatory market-based program to limit carbon dioxide from power plants.  

The Virginia Clean Economy Act was passed as Delegate Richard C. “Rip” Sullivan Jr.’s sponsored House Bill 1526 and Senator Jennifer McClellan’s sponsored Senate Bill 851 both of which regulate electric utilities. The Act also covers Executive Order Forty-Three issued by the governor in Septemeber 2019. The order expands access to clean energy and the growth of energy-related jobs.

“These new clean energy laws propel Virginia to leadership among the states in fighting climate change,” said Governor Northam. “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.”

The legislation covers energy efficiency promotions and puts a timeline standard stating that coal-fired plants are to close by 2024, and Dominion Energy and Appalachian Power will be 100% carbon-free by 2045 and 2050, respectively. 

Energy companies will pay penalties for not meeting the objectives and the revenue from the penalties will go towards job training and programs in disadvantaged communities.

According to the legislation, there will be a reduction of energy burned for low-income users and all energy-efficient standards and pilot programs are to be “in the public interest.”

The statement released says the Act may potentially create thousands of new jobs as Dominion Energy will now be required to hire local workers from “disadvantaged communities” and open apprenticeship and job training.

The legislation states that 5,200 megawatts of offshore wind generation to harvest energy for generating electricity is “in the public interest.” Distributed generation facilities including solar power, will have 16,100 megawatts of solar and onshore wind generation as it is also considered “in the public interest.”

Net metering will be used, which credits solar energy system owners for the electricity they add to the grid making it easier for the growth of rooftop solar power in the Commonwealth.

“This is the most significant clean energy law in Virginia’s history,” said Senator Jennifer McClellan. 

Additionally, Northam is making amendments to the Clean Energy and Community Flood Preparedness Act that establishes a “carbon dioxide cap-and-trade program to reduce emissions from power plants in compliance with the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI).”

The changes will provide clarification on how the Virginia Community Flood Preparedness Fund will operate since it is funded by the sale of emission allowances. The fund falls under the Act and is designed to “enhance flood prevention, protection, and coastal resilience. It creates a low-interest loan program to help inland and coastal communities that are subject to recurrent flooding.”

“By joining RGGI, Virginia will take part in a proven, market-based program for reducing carbon pollution in a manner that protects consumers,” said Governor Northam. “I am proposing important refinements and I look forward to signing it into law soon.”

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