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After Democratic gains in last November’s election, several energy-related bills in the Virginia General Assembly face different odds than they would have a year ago. The session that began last week and runs through mid-March is expected to include debate on how to deal with coal ash, pipeline safety, as well as questions about how to revive coal-dependant local economies.
Here’s a look at some of the proposals already on the radar of utilities, environmental groups, and consumer advocates:
A pair of bills in the House (HB 1215) and Senate (SB 284) would declare the construction or purchase of solar generation in the public interest. The bills are buoyed by their lead sponsors, Democratic Sen. Richard Saslaw and Republican Del. Tim Hugo, both of whom represent northern Virginia districts and are considered to be allies of Dominion Energy.
A bill in the House of Delegates (HB 392) would increase a goal (but not a mandate) that solar capacity in the state to rise from 500 MWs currently to 15,000 MWs. Its sponsor, Democratic Del. Mark Kean of northern Virginia, faces tall hurdles in committee.
Another bill (SB 711) that has garnered public support would require the State Corporation Commission to authorize community-owned solar systems. The bill would define “community solar” more broadly than utilities’ existing programs, which so far have been owned by the utilities and offered under their terms and conditions.
A pair of bills in the House would require additional water quality permits and testing before pipelines could be constructed in the state.
Under HB 1141, the Water Control Board would have to issue a Water Protection Permit and Water Quality Certification under Sec. 401 of the federal Clean Water Act. Democrat Del. Sam Rasoul of southwestern Virginia is the lead sponsor and represents thousands of constituents whose water sources may be put at risk by Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley construction.
HB 1188, also sponsored by a delegate from southwestern Virginia, Chris Hurst, would require pipeline operators to commission an independent test of area ground water quality before operations begin.
Two bills are being closely watched for signals on how proactively Virginia, under the administration of newly elected Democratic Gov. Ralph Northern, will manage the disposal of coal ash. HB 182 would direct the state Department of Environmental Quality to require closure by July 1, 2022, of any ash surface impoundment in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. HB 467 would prohibit the disposal of coal ash when recycling or other “beneficial” use would be more cost-effective.
Two bills could unleash a flurry of private sector solar projects, developers say. SB 83 would replace an existing pilot program authorizing certain third-party Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs) to finance renewable energy systems for nonprofits. It would also require the State Corporation Commission to establish PPA programs, one for Dominion and another for Appalachian Power. And HB 1155 would establish the legal status of PPAs and overcome opposition by utilities which assert they are a violation of their monopolies.
As interest in and financing for sophisticated energy storage systems grows throughout parts of the country, but not yet in Virginia, HB 782 would require both Dominion Energy and Appalachian Power to develop qualifying pilot programs designed to run for five years.