RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Gov. Glenn Youngkin is revealing a new energy roadmap that aims to keep electric bills under control while meeting the power demands of a growing economy.
But the framework is already facing backlash from some advocates who say the plan undercuts Virginia’s clean energy future by attempting to water down goals previously passed under Democratic leadership.
At a Monday morning event at Delta Star Inc., a power transformer manufacturer in Lynchburg, Youngkin said his administration’s 2022 Virginia Energy Plan embraces an “all-of-the-above” approach that harnesses nuclear, natural gas, renewables, and new energy sources.
Youngkin’s plan also aims to make Virginia the world’s leading nuclear innovation hub and restore some regulatory oversight that lawmakers stripped in recent years.
“We must reject the false choice between reliable and affordable energy and clean energy,” Youngkin told the crowd. “The idea that you can’t have both is just pure politics and it does not belong in a plan that is so important to Virginia’s future.”
The new report criticizes the Virginia Clean Economy Act, a law passed in 2020 that seeks to transition the state’s electric grid to 100% clean energy by 2050.
“The plan that was adopted in 2020 by the previous administration establishes inflexible rules with rigid deadlines that are unattainable under current technical capabilities and places an unbounded and ultimately unknowable cost on Virginia ratepayers,” Youngkin said.
Youngkin said the timeline approved under former Gov. Ralph Northam will fail to meet demand and result in “rolling blackouts.” This, according to Youngkin, will force Virginia to rely on other states and hurt economic development.
Youngkin said Virginia “should have clean energy goals” but the state should not “prematurely abandon” its reliable network. The plan said the state should require the Virginia Clean Economy Act to be reevaluated and reauthorized in 2023, and every five years thereafter, to maintain flexibility.
Macaulay Porter, a spokesperson for Youngkin, said he will seek General Assembly approval to make those changes. A Democrat-controlled Senate may stand in the way.
Senator Jennifer McClellan (D-Richmond), who sponsored the Virginia Clean Economy Act, said in a statement that the predictability of the law has been a key selling point for attracting jobs and major Fortune 500 companies, like LEGO.
“Gov. Youngkin’s plan would create roadblocks and mandatory 5-year-reviews that would undermine the predictability of Virginia’s energy system and make our commonwealth lose out on new jobs,” McClellan said.
Democrats are also likely to oppose Youngkin’s recommendation to repeal a law tying Virginia to California’s standards for vehicle emissions, which will effectively end the sale of new gas-powered cars by 2035 without further action.
The plan is being rolled out amid a regulatory effort to withdraw Virginia from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, an interstate pact to lower carbon emissions.
Michael Town, executive director with the Virginia League of Conservation Voters, said Youngkin’s plan sides with the fossil fuel industry and “does little to accomplish” his own stated goals.
“This “all-of-the-above” energy plan is really just a thinly veiled attempt to obstruct our transition to a clean energy economy and roll back the climate action policies that are securing cleaner air for Virginia while creating jobs and investment in our state,” Town said in a statement.
In an interview, Town said the 2050 carbon-free timeline is “probably not bold enough” but it represented a compromise reached in collaboration with the state’s utilities.
Town said the emphasis on nuclear energy contradicts Youngkin’s goal of keeping electric bills under control since the source is notoriously expensive to produce. Meanwhile, Town said the report largely ignores other interventions that could cushion the blow for customers.
“As we transition our grid from dirty power to clean power, we’re going to have to pay for those costs. Energy efficiency is the way that you balance that and make it so that you either minimize or eliminate those increases and this report just ignores that topic altogether,” Town said.