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Commentary: Northam’s energy plan offers cleaner future for Virginia

A policy associate and energy consultant praise Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s plan to transition the state’s economy to clean energy.

Brianna Esteves

Ellen Zuckerman

In early October, Gov. Ralph Northam released the 2018 Virginia Energy Plan, which lays out a strategic vision for Virginia’s energy policy over the next 10 years. The administration’s plan underscores what major energy users across the Commonwealth have already recognized: that Virginia can seize an energy future that is efficient and clean, while growing the local economy.

In developing the 2018 Virginia Energy Plan, the Northam Administration welcomed comments from Virginia businesses and residents. In response, major companies, universities, business associations and healthcare institutions—representing some of the Commonwealth’s largest energy users—submitted comments with recommendations for Virginia’s energy future. The governor’s plan wisely follows much of their guidance, emphasizing the need to plan for the future and set specific goals for energy efficiency, renewable energy, electric vehicles and other technologies—all of which will help bring about a swift transition to a clean energy economy.

The 2018 Virginia Energy Plan sets a strong vision for clean energy investment and incorporates significant input from key stakeholders across the Commonwealth. We encourage legislators and regulators to heed the recommendations of the report.

Among the plan’s strengths are the energy efficiency recommendations it highlights, which are crucial for lowering electricity bills, reducing emissions and achieving the ambitious requirements established by the 2018 Grid Transformation and Security Act. Specifically, the plan proposes that Dominion Energy invest at minimum $100 million per year in cost-effective energy efficiency programs and that utility energy efficiency initiatives be established through a robust stakeholder process.

Establishing a required baseline for utility energy efficiency spending would send an important market signal to the business community that Virginia is serious about energy savings. A group of major manufacturers and service providers that includes Schneider Electric, Cree and Ameresco submitted comments stating that, “A strong and clear expectation that Virginia utilities must invest a base amount in utility energy efficiency programs and services would provide [the] certainty that businesses need.”

The plan also includes recommendations to improve renewable energy purchasing options for large energy users. In comments on the energy plan’s development, a group of twelve large energy users—including Mars Inc., Salesforce, Nestlé USA, Bon Secours Richmond Health System, and Virginia Wesleyan University—encouraged Virginia lawmakers to promote cost-effective green-purchasing programs for utilities, allow energy consumers to aggregate their energy load, and legalize all third-party power purchase agreements. The Northam Administration heard the needs of large energy users loud and clear as their final plan includes important recommendations for expanding options and access for companies looking to procure renewable energy in Virginia.

Furthermore, the Administration used the plan as an opportunity to underscore the importance of leadership on electric vehicles and other clean transportation options. Businesses recognize that clean transportation is the next frontier in sustainability, and Virginia would benefit from being an early leader in this inevitable transition. In fact, Virginia companies encouraged lawmakers to “set a strong vision for the electrification of the transportation sector,” and to adopt the Advanced Clean Cars program to set important targets for low-emission and zero-emission vehicle sales. The governor’s energy plan puts forward these recommendations and acknowledges the importance of goal-setting for increasing clean vehicle adoption.

Finally, the energy plan prioritizes the importance of government “lead-by-example” initiatives. By recommending commitments to double the Commonwealth’s own renewable energy procurement target to 16 percent by 2022 and to increase the energy savings target for state buildings from 15 to 20 percent, the Commonwealth will gain the incredible economic benefits of clean energy investments, further stretching taxpayer dollars.

While we applaud the recommendations included in the plan, there is more that lawmakers can and should do to improve the ability of large energy users to procure renewable energy and invest in energy efficiency solutions.

With the 2018 Virginia Energy Plan, the Northam Administration has laid out a clear vision for expanding clean energy in a way that will benefit all Virginians. Many of these recommendations require further action by lawmakers, regulators, and the Northam Administration. Now we should work to make this vision a reality during the 2019 legislative session.

Brianna Esteves is senior associate, state policy, at Ceres, covering policy work in Virginia. Ellen Zuckerman is a senior consultant with Schlegel & Associates.

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