by Ivy Main, cross posted from Power for the People VA
Yesterdayâ€™s post launched my annual roundup of energy and climate bills with a comparison of the two major energy transition bills filed to date,Â HB1526/SB851, the Clean Economy Act, andÂ HB77, the Green New Deal Act. Today Iâ€™m covering other renewable energy bills. You will be glad to see I am addressing each only briefly, given the large number of them. Bills can still be filed as late as Friday evening, and there is often some lag in the Legislative Information System, which posts the bills, their summaries, their committee assignments, and what happens to them. I will add to this list once Iâ€™ve seen the rest, so check back for updates.
Most of these bills will be heard in SenateÂ Commerce and Labor, or now in the House,Â Labor and Commerce, committees. Both House and Senate have established energy subcommittees. In the Senate, theÂ subcommitteeÂ is advisory and does not have the power to kill a bill outright. TheÂ House subcommitteeÂ used to be a killing field for good bills. Hopefully this year will be different.
Bills with monetary implications typically must go to Finance or Appropriations.
As always, the action will be fast and furious, and it is already underway. Blink and you will miss it.
BothÂ HB1526/SB851, the Clean Economy Act, andÂ HB77, the Green New Deal Act, contain a renewable portfolio standard (RPS) requiring utilities to include in their electricity mix a percentage of renewable energy that ratchets up over time. In addition,Â HB1451Â (Sullivan) is a stand-alone RPS bill that also includes an energy storage mandate. It applies only to IOUs but otherwise appears to be identical to the RPS and storage provisions of the CEA (of which Sullivan is also the patron).
Instead of an RPS,Â SB876Â (Marsden) establishes a â€śclean energy standardâ€ť applicable to both IOUs and coops. A â€śclean energy resourceâ€ť is defined as â€śany technology used to generate electricity without emitting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere,â€ť including â€ś(i) electric generation facilities that are powered by nuclear, solar, wind, falling water, wave motion, tides, or geothermal power; (ii) a natural gas-fired generation facility with 80 percent carbon capture; or (iii) a coal-fired generation facility with 90 percent carbon capture.â€ť Aside from the contradiction in terms inherent in this definition, the clean energy standard also suffers from a delay in its starting point to 2030, when it begins at 30%â€“or about where Dominion is today with its nuclear plants. Considering only offshore wind and solar development already underway, the CES would not be a meaningful spur to new renewable energy for at least another 15 years. A couple of strong points, however: the bill also requires the closure of all coal-fired generation facilities by 2030, and requires workforce transition and community assistance plans.
â€śSolar Freedomâ€ť is back this year for another attempt to lift barriers to customer-sited renewable energy, including rooftop solar. The primary vehicles areÂ SB710Â (McClellan) andÂ HB572Â (Keam), with nearly identical versions from Lopez (HB1184) and Simon (HB912). It contains 8 provisions:
Other PPA and net metering bills
Five of the eight provisions of Solar Freedom also appear in the Clean Economy Act, omitting only numbers 3,4 and 5.Â SB532Â (Edwards) is a stand-alone bill to make PPAs legal, using an approach similar to that of Solar Freedom and the CEA.Â HB1067Â (Kory) deals with a specific situation where a customer has solar on one side of property divided by a public right-of-way, with the electric meter to be served by the solar array on the other side. The legislation declares the solar array to be located on the customerâ€™s premises. (Item 4 of Solar Freedom would also solve the problem.)
HB959Â (Bourne) directs DMME to establish a pilot program for resilience hubs. These are defined as a simple combination of solar panels and battery storage capable of powering a publicly-accessible building in emergency situations or severe weather events, primarily to serve vulnerable communities.
HB414Â (Delaney) andÂ SB504Â (Petersen) clarifies the respective rights of homeowners associations (HOAs) and residents who want to install solar. The law allows HOAs to impose â€śreasonable restrictions,â€ť a term some HOAs have used to restrict solar to rear-facing roofs regardless of whether these get sunshine. The bill clarifies that HOA restrictions may not add more than $1,000 to the cost of solar facility, or decrease the expected output by more than 10%.
Three years ago legislation passed to allow utilities to set up so-called community solar programs. A couple of coops followed through,Â notablyÂ one from Central Virginia Electric Cooperative.Â Dominion received SCC approvalÂ to launch a small program back in 2018, but still hasnâ€™t done so. That leaves a large base of potential customersâ€”people without sunny roofs, apartment dwellers, or anyone who canâ€™t afford to install solarâ€”with no options.
The Clean Economy Act has detailed provisions for community solar, supported by the trade organization Community Solar Access. An alternative as a stand-alone bill isÂ SB629Â (Surovell). It creates an opportunity for subscribers in the territory of investor-owned utilities to buy from small (under 2 MW) â€śsolar gardensâ€ť developed by third-party owners. Utilities would credit purchasers at the retail rate minus the utilityâ€™s costs. Preference would be given to solar gardens with low-income subscribers.
HB573Â (Keam) does not establish a new program. It affects the utility-controlled and operated â€ścommunity solarâ€ť programs required by 2017 legislation (and still not rolled out yet, though I assume the facilities have been selected). The bill requires that â€śan investor-owned utility shall not select an eligible generating facility that is located outside a low-income community for dedication to its pilot program unless the investor-owned utility contemporaneously selects for dedication to its pilot program one or more eligible generating facilities that are located within a low-income community and of which the pilot program costs equal or exceed the pilot program costs of the eligible generating facility that is located outside a low-income community.â€ť I read this to mean utilities must select more expensive sites and develop more expensive programs in low-income areas than elsewhere, which seems . . . odd.
Resolving local disputes over utility-scale projects
Developers of utility-scale solar and wind sometimes face pushback at the local level. Opposition can come from residents who worry about viewsheds or who have been subjected to anti-renewables propaganda, and from local officials who want to collect tax revenue above the local real estate tax rate. Industry organizations and counties have worked to come up with a number of bills to resolve the concerns, though in some cases the counties have split on whether to support them.
HB1327Â (Austin) allows localities to impose property taxes on generating equipment of electric suppliers utilizing wind turbines at a rate that exceeds the localityâ€™s real estate tax rate by up to $0.20 per $100 of assessed value. Under current law, the tax may exceed the real estate rate but cannot exceed the general personal property tax rate in the locality. Wind developer Apex Clean Energy helped develop the bill and supports it.
Bills supported by the solar industry organization MDV-SEIA include:
Other RE siting bills
HB1133Â (Jones) makes it in the public interest for utilities to build or purchase, or buy the output of, wind or solar facilities located on previously developed sites.
A couple of bills appear designed to make wind and solar projects harder to site, or are intended to rile up sentiment against solar:Â HB205Â (Campbell) adds unnecessary burdens to the siting of wind farms and eliminates the ability of wind and solar developers to use the DEQ permit-by-rule process for projects above 100 megawatts.Â HB1171Â (Poindexter) is a make-work bill requiring an annual report of the acreage of utility scale solar development, as well as the acreage of public or private conservation easements.
Grants, tax deductions, tax credits and other financing
HB754Â (Kilgore) establishes the Virginia Brownfield and Coal Mine Renewable Energy Grant Fund, which will support wind, solar or geothermal projects sited on formerly mined lands or brownfields. (See also Jonesâ€™Â HB1133, which makes it in the public interest for utilities to build or purchase, or buy the output of, wind or solar facilities located on previously developed sites. And see Koryâ€™sÂ HB1306, which directs DMME to adopt regulations allowing brownfields and lands reclaimed after mining to be developed as sites for renewable energy storage projects.)
HB461Â (Sullivan) establishes a tax credit of 35%, up to $15,000, for purchases of renewable energy property. It is available only to the end-user (e.g., a resident or business who installs solar or a geothermal heat pump).
HB633Â (Willett) establishes a tax deduction up to $10,000 for the purchase of solar panels or Energy Star products.
HB654Â (Guy) authorizes DMME to sponsor a statewide financing program for commercial solar, energy efficiency and stormwater investments. The effect would be to boost the availability of Commercial Property Assessed Clean Energy (C-PACE) in areas of the state where the locality has not developed a program of its own.
HB947Â (Webert) expands the authority of localities to grant tax incentives to businesses located in green development zones that invest in â€śgreen technologies,â€ť even if they are not themselves â€śgreen development businesses.â€ť Green technologies are defined as â€śany materials, components, equipment, or practices that are used by a business to reduce negative impacts on the environment, including enhancing the energy efficiency of a building, using harvested rainwater or recycled water, or installing solar energy systems.â€ť
SB542Â (Edwards) repeals the sunset date on crowdfunding provisions and provides fixes for certain existing obstacles to this financing approach. The bill is the result of lessons learned in developing a 2019 â€śsolar bondsâ€ť program for five commercial and non-profit customers.
Customer rights to buy renewable energy
HB 889Â (Mullin) andÂ SB 379Â (McPike), the Clean Energy Choice Act, is broader than HB868. The legislation allows all customers to buy 100% renewable energy from any licensed supplier regardless of whether their utility has its own approved tariff. In addition, large customers (over 5 MW of demand) of IOUs also gain the ability to aggregate their demand from various sites in order to switch to a competitive supplier that offers a greater percentage of renewable energy than the utility is required to supply under any RPS, even if it is not 100% renewable. Large customers in IOU territory who buy from competing suppliers must give three yearsâ€™ notice before returning to their utility, down from the current five years. The SCC is directed to update its consumer protection regulations.
The CEA contains detailed provisions for the buildout and acquisition of offshore wind.Â SB860Â (Mason) puts the construction or purchase of at least 5,200 MW of offshore wind in the public interest.
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