The Wildest Energy Whirlwind Ever is Underway

by Steve Haner

If Bacon’s Rebellion at times has been “Dominion Pravda,” providing a window into that corporate giant’s C suite, our friends at the Virginia Mercury sometimes take the opposite role of “Environmental People’s Daily.”

Its story today is a good example, for what it includes and what it does not. The long, detailed and worthwhile summary of energy and environment issues coming to the 2020 General Assembly has a glaring omission. It makes no reference to the Transportation and Climate Initiative. If anybody could get a straight answer out of the Northam Administration, you’d think it would be Virginia Mercury. The silence is deafening and perhaps significant.

At some point soon somebody has to say something, wouldn’t you think? In others states in the proposed interstate compact, governors are being pinned down, actual TCI bills are pending, legislators are taking positions, coalitions are forming. This will have to happen in Virginia soon if the organizers of TCI want their proposed memorandum of understanding signed by enough states to actually impose the carbon caps and taxes by 2022. 

Maybe they hope you are distracted. As the Virginia Mercury story details, and anybody reading the incoming bills can see, this is going to be the most confusing and contentious energy session ever, with the battle between various factions seeking to save the planet as a whole, to hold back oceans which have been rising for millennia, to completely rebuild the energy industry to fit their green vision, to give you a host of choices where to buy your electricity or to keep the power monopolies intact but rein in their unregulated pricing advantages.

You might think, how can the utilities survive this onslaught? The attack’s fractured nature – its lack of a coherent goal or strategy – adds strength to the advantage already enjoyed by the status quo. Election results notwithstanding, don’t sell your utility stock just yet. Many of the desired energy projects will come with healthy profit margins for the utility, as noted in this story about the bill implementing the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.

You want other examples of how wild this session is going to be on these issues? Check out these “minor” bills:

HB 389 Hurricane and Flooding Risk Reduction and Bond Rating Protection Act of 2020; established, report. This will create a new state bureaucracy to fund and build flood control projects, comparable to the task of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Maybe the feds will eventually pay?

“The Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) shall consult with Louisiana’s Legislative Fiscal Office to assess the increased state and local tax flows in Louisiana that resulted from post-Katrina federal spending, including spending for civil works storm and flooding risk reduction projects.”

HB 443 Coal combustion residuals impoundment; Giles and Russell Counties; closure. This is a Northern Virginia Democrat seeking to impose the same expensive coal ash clean up approach that Dominion accepted on the Appalachian Power Company’s big ash accumulations, and the related costs on that utility’s customers (way out of her district).

HB 432 Public utilities; use of small, woman-owned, or minority-owned business. Basically, this says the State Corporation Commission cannot reject a cost as unreasonable or imprudent if the reason the cost is higher than a competitor is the source is a small, woman-owned or minority-owned business. The preferred vendor set aside approach comes to your electric bill.

HB 454 Virginia Public Procurement Act; purchase programs for recycled goods; climate positive materials. This one, from a freshman Republican, wants to dictate that the state buy only “certified climate positive” materials, with something called a net negative carbon footprint. Do they get double points if made by small, woman-owned or minority-owned companies?

One more: HB 413 Subdivision ordinance; energy efficiency and renewable energy provisions. Authorizes a local governing body to include in its subdivision ordinance provisions for establishing minimum standards of energy efficiency and establishing and maintaining access to sources of renewable energy.” This would be challenging if done statewide by building experts through the building codes, but doing it by political fiat in the subdivision ordinance? With myriad local variations?

For more than a year these issues have been a focus for me, with one bottom line point to be made: As a consumer, don’t assume anybody is really looking out for you. The SCC takes some steps but has its hands tied, the Attorney General is subject to political pressure and takes money from all sides, and the others gain profits if they prevail (including the big users seeking to flee the monopolies). Consumers just pay. There may be a comparable list of good pro-consumer bills, but it may take some digging to compile it.