The 2020 General Assembly session marked a monumental shift in energy policy in the state, with multiple bills successfully pushing towards a cleaner, carbon free Virginia. Below, we highlight five bills that advance energy efficiency opportunities in the Commonwealth.
The most notable piece of clean energy legislation that passed the General Assembly this year is the sweeping Virginia Clean Economy Act (VCEA), carried by Delegate Rip Sullivan and Senator Jennifer McClellan. This landmark law will pave the way for a carbon-free Virginia by 2045, ensuring investments in energy efficiency, solar, wind, and more. The VCEA mandates 5% energy savings from the investor-owned utilities by 2025, with the State Corporation Commission (SCC) determining future savings in three-year blocks, marking Virginia as just the second state in the Southeast to establish a mandatory stand-alone Energy Efficiency Resource Standard (EERS).
Based on our own analysis, the goals set forth in the VCEA are achievable. As part of our pre-filed testimony in support of Dominion’s Demand Side Management (DSM) Filing, we looked at Dominion’s current energy efficiency programs and their proposed programs to find a baseline for existing energy savings. We determined that, even using conservative estimates as only three years of data were available, Dominion would exceed the 2022 target of 1.25%. Additional analysis by ACEEE indicates that these targets translate to an average of 1.3% savings per year, which would put Virginia in the top 15 states nationwide in terms of utility savings targets.
Additionally, the VCEA removes the automatic opt out for industrial customers above 500kW, which was instituted as part of the Grid Transformation and Security Act of 2018. Instead, it creates a verified, self-direct program which allows industrial customers above 1MW to opt out only after providing measured and verified savings data to the SCC from their own energy efficiency programs. VAEEC and many member organizations participate in an energy efficiency stakeholder group, which will leverage our ability to identify and maximize the programs that will best meet these customers’ needs. Programs geared towards these large industrial users will go even further towards the savings goals in the VCEA.
The Virginia General Assembly also passed legislation to allow Virginia to join the northeast Regional Greenhouse Gas Inventory (RGGI) as the first southern state to do so. The legislation allocates 50% of the money from the carbon trading regime to the Department of Housing and Community Development for low-income energy efficiency programs, including public housing upgrades and new construction incentives.
Thanks to legislation carried by Senator David Marsden, electric cooperative members will soon have the opportunity to afford energy efficiency upgrades to their homes via an on-bill tariff. The Pay-As-You-Save (PAYS) model has successfully been implemented in other electric coop territories nationwide and Rappahannock Electric Cooperative in Virginia hopes to be the first Virginia coop to offer it in the near future.
Other notable legislation that passed included two bills by Senator Scott Surovell. One bill now requires the Virginia Residential Disclosure Act to include an energy audit as an option for homeowners and buyers during the home buying process. The other legislation will require each state agency to designate an energy manager and begin tracking energy and water consumption at 100% of state-owned buildings by 2025. Public buildings are largely ineligible for energy efficiency programs and funds, so establishing a baseline for their energy use is critical to future savings.
The General Assembly also has the opportunity in the next few years to elect two new commissioners to the SCC, which presents greater opportunities for the expansion of clean energy- including energy efficiency- in Virginia.
The actions taken by the 2020 General Assembly will catapult Virginia into the top half of states in the country on the ACEEE scorecard. It will be up to the energy efficiency industry to ensure that savings from these programs are realized in order to continue climbing in the rankings. The VAEEC and our members will continue to monitor and take part in implementation efforts to ensure that Virginia maintains our new standing as an energy efficiency leader in the southeast.