newsyoungkin energy plan is all of the above solution to future needs or fossil fuels boondoggle

Youngkin energy plan: Is ‘all-of-the-above’ solution to future needs, or fossil fuels boondoggle?

Chris Graham
virginia politics
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Gov. Glenn Youngkin on Monday unveiled a proposed Virginia Energy Plan that, as promised on the campaign trail last fall, takes direct aim at the Virginia Clean Economy Act that was passed in 2020.

The new plan from Youngkin is centered around the concept of “all-of-the-above,” encompassing an increased emphasis on nuclear energy, in addition to renewables and new energy sources, plus a lot of money in the form of subsidies going to old energy sources in the fossil fuels sector.

Chief among the controversial planks in the plan are the proposed repeal of Virginia’s Clean Cars Standards, expedited approval of gas pipelines, and requiring the VCEA to be reevaluated and reauthorized in 2023, and every five years thereafter.

“A growing Virginia must have reliable, affordable and clean energy for Virginia’s families and businesses. We need to shift to realistic and dynamic plans,” Youngkin said in a statement released by the governor’s office on Monday. “The 2022 Energy Plan will meet the power demands of a growing economy and ensures Virginia has that reliable, affordable, clean and growing supply of power by embracing an all-of-the-above energy plan that includes natural gas, nuclear, renewables and the exploration of emerging sources to satisfy the growing needs of Commonwealth residents and businesses.”

In a report released Monday by the Youngkin administration, the governor, laying out the thinking behind the proposal, said the energy plan from his predecessor, Ralph Northam, a Democrat, “goes too far in establishing rigid and inflexible rules for the transition in energy generation in Virginia.”

Later in the document, the administration projects that full compliance with the Virginia Clean Economy Act will increase electricity costs for consumers 72 percent by 2035.

“In addition to substantially raising costs, retiring baseload generation in favor of solar and wind will reduce Virginia’s electricity reliability,” according to the report.

“VCEA’s mandates are an inflexible, 30-year determination with a prescribed route that currently cannot be delivered and do not contain any guidelines ensuring reasonable energy costs for Virginian consumers. Blindly complying with VCEA exposes Virginia families and businesses to outsized energy costs, risks the reliable delivery of energy, and closes Virginia to innovative energy sources and technologies,” the report said.

‘Big handouts’

One critic of the Youngkin approach, Michael Town, executive director of the Virginia League of Conservation Voters, zeroed in on the “big handouts to the fossil fuel industry” at the heart of the plan “that does little to accomplish even his own stated goals.”

“This ‘all-of-the-above’ energy plan is really just a thinly veiled attempt to obstruct our transition to a clean energy economy and roll back the climate action policies that are securing cleaner air for Virginia while creating jobs and investment in our state,” Town said. “We firmly oppose any weakening or wholesale repeal efforts targeting the clean energy and climate action policies we fought so hard to secure, and we will work with our champions in the Senate to block this administration every step of the way as they work to undermine our progress.”

The Rev. Dr. Faith Harris, executive director of Virginia Interfaith Power & Light, said Monday that the plan from Youngkin fails to “take the realities of climate change seriously.”

“Reducing carbon emissions is critical to preventing future catastrophic changes in our climate. It should be the central focus of any responsible energy plan,” Harris said. “Like every other state, Virginia has a moral and global responsibility to transition as quickly as possible from burning fossil fuels for our energy production.

“Slowing down the retirement of coal and natural gas plants and removing Virginia from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative is the wrong direction for Virginians who want our state to do its part in combating climate change. While we agree that technology is still developing, we should not use this time to double down on fossil fuels. Instead, we need a forward-looking plan that centralizes renewables, providing incentives for their development,” Harris said.

Which is a fair point. The VCEA, like climate legislation passed by other state legislatures, is predicated on the idea that putting deadlines in place will spur the innovation needed to bring new climate technologies to the fore.

It’s not clean energy driving future price increases

“Clean energy is not the problem here. The problem is a regulatory system that enables utilities to over-charge customers on the one hand and then drive rates even higher with new surcharges with the other hand,” said Will Cleveland, a senior attorney in SELC’s Charlottesville office.

Cleveland said the plan unfairly demonizes clean energy as the cause of projected electricity price increases.

In reality, Cleveland said, fossil-fuel generation and an anti-customer utility code have driven most costs increases since 2007, with Dominion adding more than $1 billion to customer bills in unexpected coal and gas prices last year alone.

“Years of bad legislation have handcuffed the State Corporation Commission’s ability to prevent these ratepayer abuses,” Cleveland said. “We would happily work with the governor to rectify the fundamental ratemaking problems, but we cannot retreat from our clean energy transition. Proven, falling-cost resources like solar, wind, and battery storage simply do not threaten reliability or affordability, as this energy plan claims.”

The benefits of natural gas

The Youngkin plan also makes the argument that the permitting process on the Mountain Valley Pipeline in conjunction with “litigious special interest groups” has significantly impacted the ability of natural gas utilities to meet the energy demands of their customers, and claims that Virginia has historically been supportive of natural gas pipeline projects due to their “clear benefits” of job creation, economic development, and energy reliability.

“We are well beyond the idea that natural gas – methane – is a clean replacement for coal-fired power generation. It’s simply not,” said Greg Buppert, an SELC senior attorney and leader of its Regional Gas team, Greg Buppert.

“Methane is a dangerous fossil fuel that’s driving climate change, and it’s time for the Commonwealth to recognize that scientific fact,” Buppert said. “For its part, the Mountain Valley Pipeline would cause tens of millions of tons of greenhouse gas emissions every year. And this project is not in the home stretch: only 55.8 percent is complete to final restoration, and some of the most challenging work still looms. Meanwhile, the on-the-ground cost of pipeline construction across Virginia has been staggering.”

Chris Graham

Chris Graham

Chris Graham is the editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1994 alum of the University of Virginia, Chris has won 17 Virginia Press Association awards for his work as an investigative reporter, feature writer and columnist. Chris is the author and co-author of seven books, including Poverty of Imagination and Team of Destiny: Inside Virginia Basketball’s Run to the 2019 National Championship, both published in 2019, and The Worst Wrestling Pay-Per-View Ever, published in 2018. For his commentaries on news, sports and politics, go to my YouTube page, Want to reach Chris? Try [email protected].