by Steve Haner
“To say that an electric stove is as good as a gas one is misunderstanding the art of cooking.”
That line was used by a restaurant industry lobbyist February 3 in a House of Delegates committee debate on a bill seeking to protect the use of natural gas in Virginia homes and businesses. He later claimed it originated with a chef in San Francisco, where local governments have been passing ordinances to ban gas use.
The bill, House Bill 1257, then went on to fail, with all nine Democrats on the House Commerce and Energy Committee voting against it. All the Republicans present voted for it, but three were out of the room and the vote tied 9-9. The same committee may take the bill up again Tuesday for another effort at passage.
That was the first of three votes Thursday on efforts to roll back the Virginia Clean Economy Act and related measures approved during the two years of Democratic hegemony. The Democrats’ package of legislation has the ultimate goal of ending use of fossil fuels pretty much anywhere in the Virginia economy in the next 25 years. Most voters remain unaware.
The same meeting where the right to natural gas bill could return should include two other bills which were approved on party-line votes in subcommittee Thursday night. The subcommittee voted 6-4 for House Bill 118 and House Bill 73, with opponents claiming they would mean the end of plans to build hundreds of giant generation turbines off the shore of Virginia Beach.
What they actually would do is give the regulatory State Corporation Commission authority to decide whether such a wind farm is reasonable, prudent and really in the public interest. Under current law the SCC has already been told up to 3,000 megawatts of offshore wind is in the public interest and must be approved. Apparently without the legislative leg up, the project will not pass muster.
The maddening pattern of recent years continues, despite the recent election. Republicans, seemingly more than in previous years, are happy to vote to strengthen SCC oversight on generation decisions. Tuesday night, complaints from the Dominion Energy Virginia lobbyists did not translate into a single nay vote from a Republican.
Democrats, however, remain quite comfortable with a hamstrung SCC on questions of how Virginia utilities should be producing energy. They instead put in bills to restore SCC authority over utility rates, profits and refunds. On those bills, the Republicans line up behind the utility lobbyists and vote the bills down, leaving the SCC hamstrung. It happened again this week to Delegate Sally Hudson, D-Charlottesville, with House Bill 1288. Suddenly for many Republicans the SCC could not be trusted.
Both sides claim they want the SCC to do the job the Virginia Constitution intended, making utility decisions free from politics, lobbyist dinners and campaign contributions. Both sides vote over and over to do the opposite. Consumers lose and monopoly utilities win every time with their divide and conquer tactics.
New Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) called for a course change but has not visibly entered the fray on any of these bills on either side. Democrats still control the Virginia Senate 21-19 and have given themselves 12 of the 15 seats on its Commerce and Labor Committee. All observers expect that committee to crush all three of these bills later in the session.
House Bill 118 has been billed as the straight repeal of the 2020 VCEA, including that section of the code that authorized the state to join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative and begin to collect a carbon tax on Dominion’s monthly bills. Youngkin is seeking to repeal VCEA, through several different avenues.
Several of the national advocacy groups that fight back against the climate catastrophe narrative have joined the effort to pass House Bill 118. Many of their offices and leaders are in Northern Virginia. Last night speakers for the bill included representatives of the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow (CFACT) and the CO2 Coalition, active defenders of the vital atmospheric gas that has become the main villain in the climate disaster play.
Most focused their effort on providing written comments through the portal the legislature created as a pandemic measure, although it is not clear legislators really see that input. And most focused on the debate over climate change and the impacts, seeking to undermine VCEA as unnecessary because there is no threat.
Others, however, dove into the details of the future capital plan, the integrated resource plan that Dominion claims will implement the VCEA in the 2030s and 40s. As it now stands, and has been previously discussed (here and here), the current proposal is far too light on expensive energy storage. When the wind and sun are unavailable, Virginia will be challenged under this plan. (And even when they are both at peak, we’ll be paying far, far more.)
The national activists watched House Bill 118 get endorsed, then left the room before House Bill 73 came up. That bill is narrowly focused on restoring SCC oversight, leaving alone many elements of the 2020 VCEA. But under that bill, if passed, even the pending Dominion wind application would face the traditional “reasonable, prudent and in the public interest” tests.
Nay votes on House Bill 73 (and plenty are coming — perhaps some from Republicans) will be far harder to explain at the next election. It should be a major theme in the next round of elections, along with any foolish nay votes on House Bill 1257, which are votes to allow local governments to ban natural gas.