The Virginia Statehouse in Richmond. Credit: Ron Cogswell / Flickr / Creative Commons
Maggie Clark is the Southeast state affairs senior manager for the Solar Energy Industries Association.
Rachel Smucker is the Virginia policy and development manager for the Maryland-DC-Delaware-Virginia SEIA.

The 2020 General Assembly has brought historic change to the Virginia commonwealth and seen us make great strides toward a more inclusive and prosperous future for all.  As we near the midpoint of this historic legislative session, there is still one area where we cannot afford to fail: energy and environmental justice.

Fortunately, it is an area we are equipped to address.

Legislation just passed by the General Assembly, the Virginia Clean Economy Act, represents our best chance this year to ensure reliable and affordable electricity, create jobs and grow our economy, turn back the tide of climate change and put Virginia on a path toward an equitable transition to a clean energy economy.

This legislation would turn Gov. Ralph Northam’s clean energy goals into law, and chart the course for Virginia to get there. According to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), only about 1% of Virginia’s electricity comes from solar. This ambitious plan would require Virginia to become zero carbon by the middle of this century.

The Clean Economy Act takes a major step forward on equity by directly empowering consumers with access to rooftop. It is a bold step, and it is needed now.

The Clean Economy Act includes provisions to dramatically expand access to these clean energy sources, eliminating arbitrary caps on net metering and power purchase agreements. These tools make it easier for consumers to receive a fair credit for the energy their solar systems generate, and they provide access to no-cost financing options for solar projects.

The legislation also drives direct investment in underserved communities, requiring the construction of solar projects in communities of color and low-to moderate-income communities. There is no better way to insulate individuals from spiking energy costs than to provide them with the opportunity to generate their own electricity, right on top of their home. That is true empowerment — control over your energy bills. 

The rooftop solar provisions in this bill will have a real-world impact on all Virginians.

But the impact goes beyond just energy itself, creating a major economic opportunity for the commonwealth as well.

A new study from Virginia Commonwealth University Center for Urban and Rural Analysis shows that the Clean Economy Act’s investments in distributed generation could create up to 29,500 new jobs over the next decade.

These well-paying, skilled jobs include installers, technicians, electricians, and customer service. We need all of these jobs to support our long-term energy goals.

Not to be overlooked is the impact this legislation would have on our fight against climate change and our pursuit of environmental justice.

The legislation will eliminate virtually all carbon emissions from Virginia power plants by 2050, as well as other harmful pollutants and toxins. National studies show that communities of color bear the greatest burden from carbon emissions. Shuttering these power plants is critical to protecting our most vulnerable communities. The bill will invest in coastal communities that face threats from rising sea levels, several of which in Virginia are minority-majority cities.

Taken together, fighting climate change, creating economic opportunity, and ensuring affordable and reliable power for our homes and businesses represents a major opportunity for our commonwealth.

The Virginia Clean Economy Act is how we put Virginia on the right side of history and while positioning us to be a climate and clean economy leader. Let’s do it before it is too late. 

Maggie Clark is the Southeast state affairs senior manager for the Solar Energy Industries Association, the national trade association for the U.S. solar industry. Rachel Smucker is the Virginia policy and development manager for the Maryland-DC-Delaware-Virginia Solar Energy Industries Association.