Senate Democrats win pro-environment compromise on utilities bill

earth-newThis afternoon, at Democrats’ behest, the Senate adopted a series of strongly pro-environment amendments that resolved substantial issues with SB 1349.

The bill, introduced by Senator Frank Wagner (R-Virginia Beach), freezes base rates for Dominion customers over a five-year period and gives the company an increased level of stability as it works to comply with new EPA regulations – but stakeholders had raised serious concerns relating to the environmental impact of the bill and its lack of accountability. Democrats secured improvements that addressed many of those concerns, adding (among other changes) a path that would help utilities increase their use of clean solar energy; removing ideologically-charged language that could have slowed our transition to clean, renewable energy; and clarifying that certain existing oversights and reviews will remain in place. The final bill passed on a vote of 32-6.

Speaking to the amended bill on the Senate Floor, Senator Donald McEachin (D-Henrico) said: “We have created the opportunity for more solar power in the Commonwealth of Virginia than has ever been had before. That is progress. Is it as far as some of us would like to go? Is it as far as I would like to go? No, it’s not. But it’s progress, it is verifiable progress, you cannot deny that we have made progress in that area, it is a good thing that we have done today… Today has been a great day for the environment and that’s why it’s a good day for Virginia.”

Senator Kenny Alexander (D-Norfolk) said, “When we started, there were some concerns about the bill. One of the things that I had concerns about was whether or not we had more solar, whether we had more energy efficiency, whether we would truly cut emissions and whether we freeze the base rate. But the important thing was whether or not we would have continued oversight from the State Corporation Commission. And now we do.[…]  So today is a good day and I want to thank all of those who were involved and especially this Caucus for helping with the amendments.”

In a statement released to reporters earlier this afternoon by the Southern Environmental Law Center, SELC Director Cale Jaffe said, “As Virginians work to build a new, clean energy economy, we need to take advantage of job-creation opportunities in solar energy and energy efficiency.  The version of Senate Bill 1349 that passed the Senate today does just that.  Senator McEachin deserves immense credit for bringing all stakeholders together to deliver real progress. Thanks to Senator McEachin’s hard work, the legislation that passed today will create more jobs right here in Virginia in the solar and energy efficiency industries.”

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