Women have been at the forefront of energy innovation for over a century. From Katharine Burr Blodgett, who invented the monomolecular glass coatings that make solar panels and LED bulbs possible, to Beatrice Hicks, who developed environmental sensors for heating and cooling systems, the contributions of women in energy efficiency are everywhere.
Here at the VAEEC, the work women do to advance energy efficiency is obvious – we’re an all women team, with five additional women serving on our Board of Directors. In honor of Women’s History Month, we asked several of them – Board Secretary Liz Beardsley, and Board member Leigh Anne Ratliff, and Executive Director Chelsea Harnish, – about their roles in the energy efficiency industry and their views on the industry itself.
How did you get into the energy efficiency industry?
Liz: I was drawn towards environmental issues from my childhood love of nature… and towards engineering from my interest in math and science. So environmental engineering was a natural fit in college. Through my career this eventually led to environmental policy, including using policy to reduce energy consumption and its impacts through efficiency.
Leigh Anne: I got into the energy efficiency industry from working with the PJM energy efficiency rebates. This program afforded me the opportunity to work with owners, contractors, engineers and architects on the many energy efficiency initiatives around the Commonwealth – from LED upgrades to specialized industrial equipment upgrades. I’m lucky – I get a bird’s eye view of this exciting industry.
Chelsea: As a policy manager for an environmental advocacy group, I had a basic understanding of energy efficiency and its benefits for creating a cleaner, healthier world. When the opportunity to lead the VAEEC became available, I jumped at the chance to really dive deeper into understanding this industry and its challenges and opportunities.
What do you see as the biggest challenges and opportunities for women in the energy efficiency field?
Liz: There can still be some unfortunate and inaccurate stereotypes about women in technical fields so perhaps a challenge in some circumstances is being underestimated. By and large however I see many opportunities for women in energy efficiency and each individual, woman or man, will do well to understand and leverage their own strengths.
Leigh Anne: I think the biggest challenge for women in the energy efficiency field is that a good part of it lies within the realm of STEM and women are still only 28% of the STEM workforce. When I went to engineering school it was a rarity for women to be in the classroom – but that was in the 1980’s. I can’t believe that there is still such a disparity. That being said, the smaller numbers of women in this field is an opportunity as well – employers see the value of diversity and women are succeeding in leadership roles in the energy industry. It’s a fun time to watch LinkedIn and see which women in energy are getting promoted to the highest levels in their company.
Chelsea: I think the opportunities for women in this field are endless. Our industry is so unique in that there are a wide range of positions from inventing new technologies or writing code to spending your days in a crawlspace, and everything in between. This industry provides the opportunity to do what you love while helping make someone’s home or workspace more comfortable.
What advice would you offer women entering the industry?
Liz: Work hard, be aware of opportunities, find your voice and use it.
Leigh Anne: Listen a lot and build your skillset. Develop mentors. You’re not expected to know everything so be patient with yourself. Take notes and follow up if you hear something that interests you or you don’t understand. Be curious and brave!
Chelsea: My general advice for young women entering the workforce is to not be afraid to use your voice. You were chosen for your position as the best candidate so don’t feel that you cannot bring new ideas to the table.
What is your number one energy efficiency tip?
Liz: Turning off the lights. My dad drilled this into me as a child in the 70s and I think it creates an awareness and mindset that carries into many other things with a cumulative beneficial impact.
Leigh Anne: If you haven’t installed LEDs yet, run to a store and get them right now.
Chelsea: We love our smart thermostat!
What is one thing about the energy efficiency industry that you would like to see change?
Liz: Breaking down silos! There is a lot of fragmentation. [But] when we work together, we have a stronger message and can achieve more. This is one of the great benefits of VAEEC!
Leigh Anne: I’d like energy efficiency to get more credit for the game changer that it is.
Chelsea: We need more workforce development training to provide more demand for the job creation we are seeing and hope to see further in the future.
Virginia Uniform Statewide Building Code Updates
The Department of Housing and Community Development Board has finalized the latest update to the Uniform Statewide Building Code (USBC). This update puts us nearly inline with the 2018 model international energy conservation code (IECC). (The international model code comes out every three years with the 2021 update recently being finalized. More details on that below).
The latest update to the Virginia USBC includes some major energy improvements such as:
- Increased fenestration, which has been included in the model code since 2012
- Blower door testing requirements, which has been included in the model code since 2012
- Increased minimum ceiling insulation from R-38 to R-49, which has been included in the model code since 2012
- ResCheck compliance updated to 2018 IECC, without Virginia amendments. Previously, a work around had been created for VA amendments that weakened the current IECC.
- Energy certificate requirements, which has been included in the model code since 2006
These improvements, in addition to the expanded energy requirements we worked to incorporate into the last USBC update, bring Virginia nearly inline with the 2018 IECC. Along the east coast, only a handful of states have fully adopted the 2018 IECC, and only one southeastern state- Florida- has done so.
The remaining proposals from the 2018 IECC that are not included in the Virginia USBC are:
- Increased wall insulation R-value
- Changing building tightness from 5 ACH to 3 ACH
There is a 30-day comment period open on the Final USBC in the Virginia Register through March 31, 2021. DHCD anticipates an effective date of July 1st, and will begin the 2021 update once the 2018 update takes effect.
General Assembly Bill Update
The General Assembly also passed a bill in 2021 mandating a review of the most-updated IECC. While the original version of this bill mandated an automatic update to the latest IECC within one year, the final bill does not provide a timeline, nor does it expressly state that an automatic update is to occur. Instead, it requires the state to consider amendments that address the changes made in the model code. Since this is quite vague, it’s unclear how this will affect future update processes.
Updates at the International Level
The 2021 IECC was also finalized this fall after a massive appeals process. According to the DOE Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, the energy requirements in the final model code will account for a whopping 19% in energy efficiency gains in the residential sector when implemented.
Key changes include:
- Envelope: fenestration and insulation increases
- Lighting: increased efficacy to promote LED use
- HVAC: duct leakage testing required in conditioned spaces, mechanical ventilation systems tested for flow rates, and ventilation fan efficacy increased
- Performance Path/ ERI: provides builders more flexibility to choose options that will work on specific projects based on their particular design, building type and location.
- Optional zero-energy compliance pathway: provides jurisdictions an opportunity to adopt a base or stretch code that achieves zero energy in homes and low-rise multifamily buildings.
More details about these changes can be found in this DOE Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy presentation.
Virginia Hits Energy-Efficiency Milestone
Ranks No. 1 in South, Breaks into Top 25 in New Ranking
The Virginia Energy Efficiency Council heralds a new research report, released today, that names Virginia as the regional leader of the South for its energy efficiency practices.
Virginia had its best year on the annual State Energy Efficiency Scorecard, a nationwide analysis of states based on “their policy and program efforts to save energy and pursue efficiency as a cost-effective, critical tool for slashing emissions and meeting state clean energy goals.”
“We’re thrilled to see Virginia named as a state to watch and break into the Top 25,” said Chelsea Harnish, executive director of the Virginia Energy Efficiency Council (VAEEC). “This is a reflection of the hard work that went into passing the Virginia Clean Economy Act and the efforts of the energy efficiency industry in the Commonwealth.”
The annual scorecard is published by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy and can be found at aceee.org. Among the report’s findings:
“Virginia was among the top energy stories of 2020, creating its first-ever clean energy standard and becoming the first state in the Southeast with a 100% clean electricity goal. The Virginia Clean Economy Act also established an energy efficiency resource standard that sets multiyear electric savings targets for utilities and includes important measures to support low-income customers and reduce energy burdens. The governor also signed HB 981, making Virginia the first southern state to join RGGI, with proceeds going toward energy efficiency, renewable energy, and climate mitigation measures.”
by Rebecca Hui, Office Manager at VAEEC
When facilities managers shut off the lights this spring, they had no idea that months later, the nation would still be in the throes of the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s no secret that this virus has irreversibly changed the world around us, and continues to do so with every new development. This three-part series will focus on the ways VAEEC members are meeting these challenges head on to keep their customers and their communities safe. You can view part one, ‘Technologies To Keep Us Safe’, here.
There’s something spooky about an empty elementary school. The tiny, untouched chairs in dim, vacant classrooms. The silent playgrounds and echoing hallways. It all evokes the tumbleweed images of an old Western ghost town. While the realities of COVID-19 have made this scene common nationwide, research shows that the virus spreads more easily indoors, and that viral load and exposure time increase the likelihood of infection. This has put a new emphasis on ventilation and indoor air quality across sectors, including school systems.
For some VAEEC members, this makes it the perfect time to get to work. “Clients are making necessary HVAC improvements or replacements to make buildings healthier and safer for the building users,” said Susan Kalergis, Marketing Communications Manager at 2RW Consultants, Inc.
Making the Case
Energy Performance Contracting (EPC) has been an effective way for businesses and localities to make cost-saving energy efficiency upgrades without large up-front expenditures since the late 1980s. It is a budget-neutral approach to implement energy-saving improvements without using funds from capital budgets. These projects offer comprehensive energy efficiency, renewable energy, water conservation, and/or operational solutions that are tailored to the needs of the specific facility, with a guarantee that the energy savings will cover the lifetime costs of these upgrades. Here in Virginia, public bodies and state agencies can take advantage of the statewide Energy Savings Performance Contracting (ESPC) program to streamline their procurement processes.
“As a vendor, we have seen two different approaches as customers attempt to deal with the pandemic. Some have totally shut down all projects and procurement. Alternatively, others have done the opposite and pursued performance contracting as a way to attack COVID-19 and other issues head on. With spaces vacant and interest rates at historic lows, several customers have moved forward with [EPC] projects,” said VAEEC Board member George Barnes, Account Manager for Complex Solutions for Trane.
While EPCs have been used for decades, the combination of low building occupancy, low interest rates, and an increased need for efficient and effective air filtration systems have made them a more attractive option to many businesses, commercial building owners, and institutions. Trane, 2RW, and other Energy Service Companies (ESCOs) are working to balance the needs of their customers with the safety of their staff as projects continue.
“With the restrictions created by COVID-19, we need to closely manage the logistics of integrating our process with [the project],” said Barnes.
Kalergis shared a similar sentiment. “[In response to the pandemic], a fundamental guiding premise was to rely on data to make thoughtful decisions, which could have long lasting implications.”
“As school districts across the country work to respond to the coronavirus, utility and energy efficiency program administrators have an important role to play in delivering solutions,” a representative from VEIC said in a recent statement. VEIC is a nonprofit organization committed to reducing the economic and environmental costs of energy use. As program administrators of the DC Sustainable Energy Utility (DCSEU), VEIC launched a variety of programs to support safe reopening strategies for schools, small businesses, and more.
School systems across the country report that energy costs are second only to personnel in their annual budgets. With many schools either shut down or reopening with significantly reduced activities, the DCSEU developed a School Shutdown Toolkit that identified low-and-no cost ways that school systems can save energy, as well as recommending priorities for often-deferred maintenance.
VEIC also launched an indoor air quality improvement program for Vermont’s K-12 schools. With a high degree of variability across schools, the program takes a customized approach to assess and improve each unique HVAC system, prioritizing efficiency wherever possible. Typically, increases in ventilation and filtration result in an increase in energy use, but by leveraging equipment controls and efficient equipment, these programs help schools keep energy increases manageable.
“For sustainability advocates, the push for improved indoor air quality is not new; and it has always been an important part of [our] designs and equipment specifications,” said Kalergis. “While not every technique and technology may be advantageous for every building, we advise building owners and facilities operators that techniques for [their] specific building types—such as education or healthcare—are proven to be effective and worth considering.”
by Rebecca Hui, Office Manager at VAEEC
When business owners shut off the lights this spring, they had no idea that months later, the nation would still be in the throes of the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s no secret that this virus has irreversibly changed the world around us, and continues to do so with every new development. This three part series will focus on the ways VAEEC members are meeting these challenges head on to keep their customers and their communities safe.
So what does energy efficiency have to do with COVID-19? A surprising amount. Research shows that the buildings where people work, live, and play can dramatically affect their health. A 2019 study from VAEEC member, VEIC, stated that Americans spent nearly 70% of their time in their homes – and that was well before stay-at-home orders and social distancing went into effect. Poor insulation, leaky windows, aging appliances, and improper ventilation all contribute to many of the leading causes of death in the U.S.: asthma, heart disease, chronic respiratory illness, and stroke (ACEEE 2019). While energy efficiency measures have been helping to address many of these problems for years, the new, acute threat of COVID-19 has forced the industry to rapidly adapt to changing – and sometimes contradictory – needs.
While many things about COVID-19 remain unknown, data shows that one thing is clear – the virus spreads faster indoors, and as viral load and exposure time increase, so does the likelihood of infection. ACEEE recently stated that, of 1,500 known superspreader events, only three took place entirely outdoors. This reality has brought ventilation and indoor air quality into laser focus for many businesses and commercial and multi-family building owners as they scramble to meet the changing needs of their staff, customers, and residents.
“If we can take one good thing out of [the pandemic], it’s bringing a focus to the building environment and how healthy that building environment can be for occupants,” said Chris Rawlings, Chief Energy Officer of VeteranLED. In light of the pandemic, experts recommend increasing the number of air changes per hour in a building and running HVAC systems continuously to flush out potentially infectious air. Although outdoor air dilutes contaminants, increasing ventilation rates reduces the energy efficiency of the space, leading to a tricky balance between safety and rising energy costs. To solve this problem, many are looking toward technology.
VAEEC Board member George Barnes, Account Manager for Complex Solutions for Trane said, “the challenge is to complete [measures] in an energy efficient manner. If done correctly, spaces will be safer, occupants will be healthier, and any cost increases will be mitigated.”
Customers aren’t the only ones looking for ways to help keep their businesses afloat. The energy efficiency industry has been hit hard by the pandemic, causing many businesses to adapt to a new set of needs. For Rawlings, this meant a hard pivot into previously unknown territory – installing UVGI systems.
Ultraviolet Germicidal Irradiation (UVGI) has been used for decades to help stop the spread of infectious diseases. It uses shortwave ultraviolet radiation, or UV-C, to damage the microbe’s DNA, which in the case of coronaviruses, causes the outer protein coating to break down and render the virus inactive. Because UV-C radiation is only effective when in direct contact with a pathogen, it has to be correctly implemented to combat COVID-19 and other diseases. There are two common strategies for using UVGI systems: integrating the fixtures into the HVAC system, and using “upper room” systems.
In-Line Duct systems use UVGI lighting inside the ducts of a building, passing air through the radiation and rendering microbes incapable of replicating. These solutions also incorporate HEPA or other high-efficiency filtration systems to remove the contaminants from the air.
Meanwhile, “upper room” systems irradiate the air near the ceiling of a room, above the heads of any inhabitants, and use fans and circulators to move the air in the lower part of the room into the irradiation zone. While UV-C is less harmful to humans than other types of UV radiation, UVGI still must be carefully and correctly implemented to reduce exposure.
VeteranLED has been installing and designing energy efficient building systems since 2014, but incorporating UVGI technology was a completely new challenge. By “really diving into the research” and applying his experience, Rawlings developed an integrated air purification system that uses UVGI lighting in an in-line duct system and hospital grade UV-C fixtures that can sterilize surfaces when the space is not occupied.
“We’ve been able to tap into resources and networks where [health] has been a priority since the get-go, like hospitals and laboratories,” said Rawlings. VeteranLED was hired to install their air purification systems in 20 Silver Diner restaurants across the Midatlantic region.
For other organizations, COVID-19 has meant doubling down on the technologies they already offer. Siemens has been a long time leading provider of Internet of Things (IoT) technologies. The question, for them, was how to adapt their existing portfolio to meet the changing needs of Siemens’ customers?
“As a company that diligently practices a ‘Zero Harm’ culture, we had to learn how to protect our employees and our customers while ensuring our communities most important infrastructure assets were operating and available to serve their mission,” said Michele Mitch-Peterson, Ingenuity Consultant for Siemens Smart Infrastructure team. Siemens provides an array of high-performance building systems, including occupancy and temperature sensors, energy performance management systems, and non-ozone producing ionization technology.
Building automation systems, or BAS, is an automated, central control system that manages the HVAC, lighting, security, and other interrelated systems in a building. Automation systems use a variety of tools such as sensors and controls to improve comfort and reduce energy use and maintenance costs. These technologies have been advancing in both complexity and popularity since the early 2000’s, and have been adopted in most new commercial, industrial, and institutional construction. Siemens has been on the forefront of much of this innovation.
“In the midst of all the uncertainty COVID-19 caused, we really sought to find projects and innovations to minimize the impact on our customers and give them certainty around energy savings, especially with buildings not being occupied,” said Peterson. Siemens was able to work with customers to implement specific energy reduction plans based on current usage. Using a variety of their proprietary solutions, they were able to automatically adjust systems due to reduced demand, continuously monitor buildings via Fault Detection and Diagnostics, and analyze sub-meter data to determine the effects of actions taken and identify areas where further energy savings could be achieved.
“It has been an extremely challenging period, but also extremely rewarding as we have found new ways to serve our customers.”
Dominion’s Energy Efficiency Stakeholder Group met virtually on August 27th. They discussed a number of updates, as well as brainstormed ideas for long-term planning.
The Virginia Clean Economy Act included some changes to the stakeholder process, so two new subgroups were created, focusing on Policy and EM&V. Those groups will meet in the coming weeks.
Additionally, Dominion provided an update on how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected their DSM programs as well as an update on the improved eligibility definition for low-income programs, which we worked to change earlier this year. While the marketplace has been open the entire time, all in-person programs were suspended last spring. Dominion resumed their Non-Residential programs on May 15th and resumed all of their single-family, residential programs in June. Recently, they allowed multi-family projects to resume in their low-income programs. All low-income program providers are following federal weatherization COVID guidelines.
Following the SCC’s recent approval of all of Dominion’s Phase VIII DSM programs, the Dominion DSM team and their implementation vendors are working on preparation as they prepare to launch them in January 2021.
Dominion also provided an update on their next filing for Phase IX, which will be submitted to the SCC in December. The company received 53 program proposals from ten vendors in response to their most recent RFP. The program categories were: Non-Residential, Residential, Low-Income, Cross Program services (e.g. marketing, call center, rebate fulfillment, etc.) and “open” programs with this last category being used as a starting point for next year’s RFP.
Dominion’s EM&V vendor, DNV GL, gave a presentation on their annual EM&V report, which was filed back in May. The residential marketplace made up 51% of the energy savings from DSM programs in 2019. Through the marketplace program, 3.5 million light bulbs were purchased either online or at a retail store. The Non-Residential lighting program made up 30% of the energy savings in 2019 and the Non-Residential small business program made up 11%. All other programs each made up one percent or less of the total savings accrued in 2019. There was also a brief discussion about the upcoming EM&V proceeding before the SCC, which will take place next May. The VAEEC will be participating as a respondent in this case and has already begun working with our lawyers with the UVA Environmental and Regulatory Law Clinic in preparation.
The group concluded the day with a discussion on long-term planning. The company has hired the Cadmus Group to assist with this planning, which will help meet their mandated energy savings targets, which became law earlier this year. If you are already a member of the stakeholder group, and would like to participate in this planning process, be sure to add yourself to the long-term planning subgroup in Trello.
If you would like to participate in the Stakeholder meetings or would like to view materials, please email the meeting facilitator, Ted Knicker at email@example.com to learn more.
Yesterday, the SCC approved ALL of Dominion’s Demand Side Management (DSM) programs in their phase VIII filing and the updated programs in their VII filing. All programs- except the Low Income (LI) heating and cooling program- were approved for five years from January 2021-December 2025. The LI heating and cooling program was approved for three years, as stated by law, and will run from January 2021-December 2023. The updated phase VII programs can begin immediately and will end in December 2024 along with the remaining VII programs.
As a formal respondent in the proceedings, the Virginia Energy Efficiency Council (VAEEC) is incredibly excited with the progress shown in this final order. The Commission has also expressly agreed with the VAEEC that the creation of a standardized dashboard for evaluation, measurement, and verification (EM&V) reporting is necessary to determine the true effectiveness of these energy efficiency programs.
The Commission also agreed that the proposed mid-stream program should not split the incentives between the homeowners and the builders. This is a great example of how our involvement in this process is crucial. The company had agreed to the 50% split incentive in their rebuttal testimony and the Hearing Examiner recommended it to the Commission. However, the Commissioners were clearly swayed by our arguments that a split incentive did not enhance energy efficiency gains in this instance.
We’re also pleased to note that Dominion has expressed its willingness to continue working on standardizing the process for qualifying low-income projects and post-construction reporting requirements. The updated eligibility criteria that Dominion agreed to earlier this week are part of this work, though there are standardization needs that still need to be addressed.
A full list of the programs can be found here.
We are excited to announce that this week, on a call with VAEEC members and staff, Dominion Energy committed to using a definition of low income eligibility requirements that weatherization providers and VAEEC have suggested for some time. That new definition is:
A household whose annual income does not exceed 80% of the local area median income as set forth by Virginia Housing Development Authority or 60% of the state median income as determined by the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development, whichever is greater.
This change, which Appalachian Power Company is already planning to implement, will allow weatherization providers to serve more households across Virginia. Chase Counts with Community Housing Partners stated, “This is not only a big win for vulnerable Virginian households but is also an example of Virginia’s leadership in energy equity issues.”
On June 16, 2020, the hearing examiner in the Dominion Energy DSM Proceeding (PUR-2019-00201) released his recommendations to the Commission. Overall, the report was positive, recommending that all of the programs be approved- some with modifications- at the budget requested by the company.
While the VAEEC is pleased overall with the recommendations, we are drafting comments as respondents in the case to address two outstanding issues:
- For the New Home Construction program, the hearing examiner recommends splitting the incentive between the homebuilder and the homebuyer 50/50. As we argued in our post-hearing brief, the lead actor for creating market transformation in this type of mid-stream program is the homebuilder, “who is making the design and equipment decisions necessary to achieve ENERGY STAR certification, [which] leads to more energy-efficient homes being put on the market for sale.”
- The hearing examiner stated that the VAEEC’s request to require that all future DSM applications include energy savings data and tracking metrics towards the goal in the Virginia Clean Economy Act (VCEA) was unnecessary. Instead, it was suggested that this and all other futuristic recommendations should be further explored and developed by the stakeholder group. While we do agree with this conclusion for some of our other recommendations (e.g. geo-targeting and using AMI to enhance programming options), we feel the Commission should require inclusion of key data- as related to the mandates in the VCEA- in all future filings. Without these metrics, how can the Commission and the public understand whether or not the company is making progress towards its goals?
We hope the Commission will consider these arguments as they deliberate on their decision.
One final thing to note is the section of the hearing examiner’s report on EM&V. Throughout the proceeding, the SCC staff expressed a lack of confidence in the company’s EM&V analysis. In the company’s rebuttal testimony, Mimi Goldberg with DNV GL invited Staff to meet with them in order to walk through their process and to “improve the rigor of EM&V.” During their opening statements at the virtual hearing on April 29th, the SCC staff attorney took offense to this suggestion, which they reaffirmed in their post-hearing brief, stating, “such collaboration between [Dominion Energy] and Staff would compromise Staff’s ability to critically review future DSM filings.”
In his report, the hearing examiner not only dismissed this notion of impropriety, but made the recommendation for the Commission to direct Staff to engage with the company on these issues. The recommendation also goes on to reaffirm SCC staff’s engagement in the stakeholder processes, which to date has been greatly limited.
From the hearing examiner’s report:
“Moreover, Staff working with the Company to develop more rigorous and accurate EM&V data is consistent with the requirements of § 56-596.2 C of the Code as revised by the VCEA. This Code provision directs the Company to use a stakeholder process “to provide input and feedback on . . . (iv) best practices for [EM&V] for purposes of assessing compliance with the total annual energy savings . . . .” This Code provision further provides: “[s]uch stakeholder process shall include the participation of representatives from each utility, relevant directors, deputy directors, and staff members of the Commission who participate in approval and oversight of utility efficiency programs, . . . .” I recognize that Staff working with the Company to develop more rigorous and accurate EM&V data may go beyond the requirements of the stakeholder process set forth in § 56-596.2 C. However, Staff participating in the stakeholder process addressing EM&V, but declining to otherwise work with the Company on EM&V issues, would undermine the policy directive of the General Assembly for EM&V practices to be developed in a collaborative process. Therefore, I find the Commission should direct Staff to work with the Company and others to develop more rigorous and accurate EM&V data.”
So, what are the next steps? We wait for the SCC to issue their Final Order in the case, which should happen within the next several weeks. Regardless, Dominion’s plan is to launch the approved programs in early 2021. The next virtual stakeholder meeting is anticipated to be held sometime in August.
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.