NJ Democrats Tacking Away from Wind Power

by Steve HanerFirst published this morning by the Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy.

Virginia is one of only two states that hold their major legislative elections this odd-numbered year, with the other being New Jersey. In New Jersey, the state’s offshore wind aspirations have become a major political issue, with even Democrats now starting to question the wisdom of the plan.

The Democrats control new Jersey, so it is noteworthy that both leading Democratic legislators, the Speaker of the House and President of the Senate, signed a joint statement expressing concern about “unanswered questions” as the state’s Board of Public Utilities goes full speed ahead on its wind projects. The turnabout is even more dramatic because the same legislators just weeks ago voted to give the private wind developers of the first project a more profitable deal at ratepayer expense. The company was one of those complaining its project was not financially feasible under the original terms.

New Jersey has become a major hotspot for political opposition to offshore wind, in part because the planned projects are often closer to shore and will be more visible from beach homes and tourist areas than the project off Virginia Beach. There is also more focus in that media market on the unexplained spike in whale deaths, now reportedly up to 60 since December of last year.

The same questions of cost and tourism impact remain unanswered in Virginia, but so far there is no sign many candidates are seeking to enter the legislature with promises to reverse course on our $10 billion project, if that is possible at this point. Dominion Energy Virginia intends to build a second wave of turbines, however, and the next few General Assembly sessions will have every opportunity to change the rules for that tranche.

As was strongly recommended before similar elections two years ago, the first and most important priority should be to restore fully the regulatory State Corporation Commission’s authority to decide whether such a project is necessary, reasonable and prudent. The 2023 General Assembly restored some of the SCC’s authority over rates but left intact all the legislative mandates to rapidly build more intermittent wind and solar projects and eliminate reliable fossil fuel generators.

The legal handcuffs on the SCC remain in place because Democrats are the majority in the Virginia Senate and have proudly declared a Blue Wall to fully maintain Virginia’s version of the Green New Deal. When they had full control, they passed the Virginia Clean Economy Act and other bills creating carrot and stick incentives for the wind and solar industry. The utility, earning a profit when it spends more capital on projects, was their willing partner and recruited some Republicans to go along.

Should Senate control change or should Virginia Democrats learn something from their New Jersey compatriots, it would be possible to revisit the VCEA and restore the SCC’s autonomy over what plants to build. Whether or not Virginia builds any more wind or solar projects should be decided in the SCC’s more open process, free from political contributions and free from any of the artificial financial considerations in the law, such as an imaginary social cost of carbon.

It is also the VCEA that imposes the schedule to retire Virginia’s remaining fossil fuel generation plants despite their remaining useful lifespans and places a financial penalty on the utility if it fails to use enough wind and solar power.  The penalty will really be paid by customers.

But a complete rewrite of the VCEA would be just the first of several steps needed to restore energy sanity in Virginia. Most of the bills needed have already been attempted, usually passing in the Republican-controlled House only to hit that celebrated Blue Green Wall in the Senate.

The next General Assembly should:

  • Provide customers of municipally owned natural gas companies some assurance that their service will continue, even if the voters of the city have decided to kill off those operations as virtue signaling against feared climate change. If the cities want out, they should be made to sell the assets and customer base to public service corporations. Local governments should have no authority to restrict energy choice.
  • Restore full customer choice over the purchase of light-duty vehicles. Virginia’s Air Pollution Control Board should repeal the regulation it imposed, on orders from the legislature, to mirror the rules in California. Those rules will soon begin to limit the sale of gasoline and diesel vehicles in the state and will eventually eliminate those choices.
  • Repeal the 2020 statute that gave that same Air Board and the Department of Environmental Quality the authority to impose a carbon tax on electricity generators. A lawsuit will probably be underway on the same topic as the new Assembly convenes, but a vote to repeal that provision would moot the legal challenge. If the Assembly wants to tax carbon, propose it like any other tax bill.
  • Finally develop the bipartisan will to wean itself from the massive campaign donations from everybody involved in these fights – public service corporations, private wind and solar developers, home repair contractors – who have profited mightily from past Assembly actions.
  • Direct the SCC to greatly reduce the level of secrecy in its proceedings, opening more documents and reports to examination.

Virginia’s energy future should be a major issue for most of the coming campaigns. Polling regularly confirms that most voters are not happy with the costs being imposed by Virginia’s mandatory transition away from fossil fuels and are beginning to understand the problems it will cause with energy reliability.  They also understand the role energy costs play in causing general inflation throughout the economy.

The incumbents in either party who brought us to this place should be called to account.


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Comments

9 responses to “NJ Democrats Tacking Away from Wind Power”

    1. Nancy Naive Avatar
      Nancy Naive

      1. Stephen Haner Avatar
        Stephen Haner

        Thanks, I needed a good laugh!!

        1. Nancy Naive Avatar
          Nancy Naive

          Knife cuts both ways. Broken Hill seabed mining then, windmill bases this time, and oil exploration the next. Wait. I guess the knife cuts 3 ways. Triple edged. Funny knife.

          1. James Wyatt Whitehead Avatar
            James Wyatt Whitehead

            Thank god for the shot heard round the world. Or we would still talk and sound like these two fools.

          2. Nancy Naive Avatar
            Nancy Naive

            They’re Aussies. We never sounded like them. That said, we do “sound” like them. You should watch more of their stuff. They’re hilarious. My favorite is “The Front Fell Off”. Could have been the Exxon Valdez.

    2. Stephen Haner Avatar
      Stephen Haner

      https://twitter.com/i/status/1690449569472204800

      New documentary on the issue coming out, but it appears to hide behind a paywall for now.

  1. NJ Democrats Tacking Away from Wind Power

    And ten years from now they will all claim they never supported it in the first place…

  2. energyNOW_Fan Avatar
    energyNOW_Fan

    Oh boy, I am thinking about moving back to NJ so I can impact the outcome. Unfort my swift sword used to be the “Letter-to-the-Editor” (for those old enough to recall newspapers). Politics have shifted a bit in NJ, one of the high level Dems most supportive of big union (wind) projects got voted out. Ironically he was pro-coal and I had had past years fights with him over that. There was a time when I was left of the Liberals, but they left me in the dust to the right.

    From the start, I have been saying here on BR how expensive offshore wind is. We should exploit onshore wind which means Pa/WV/MD, and maybe partner with them for joint offshore projects to share risks.

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