Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (R) and a state environmental group have found rare common ground on Virginia’s renewable energy law, though the two parties differ on how to solve the problem.
Last month, Cuccinelli released a report that studied the costs and benefits of incentives given to the state’s two largest electric utilities aimed at expanding renewable energy in Virginia. The incentives started in 2007, when Virginia’s electric utility system was revamped.
Cuccinelli said the incentives given to Dominion Virginia Power and Appalachian Power have not served their purpose and called on the General Assembly to eliminate the bonuses. He painted the law as short-changing consumers and the environment.
“While the report does contain recommendations for changes that will lower what customers pay to the utility companies, the report should not be viewed as a criticism of the utilities,” Cuccinelli said. “Their conduct and decisions as reflected in this report are consistent with what reasonable companies would have done given the statutory framework that was put in place in 2007. The question going forward is, should Virginia leave them with all of those same incentives funded by ratepayers?”
On Monday, Cuccinelli’s office presented their concerns to the General Assembly’s Commission on Electric Utility Regulation. Cuccinelli spokesman Brian Gottstein said the attorney general’s office was asked to work with the two power companies to come up with a compromise by Jan. 16 to their disagreements over how the law is functioning regarding the bonuses, also called “adders.”
“We will continue to work with the utility companies to seek a reasonable compromise on the adders issue,” Cuccinelli said in a statement Monday. “However, any resolution must take into account that the (bonuses) have tilted the playing field in the utilities’ favor, and a fair compromise must move things in the customers’ favor. That is the only way to get a balanced approach.”
The Chesapeake Climate Action Network issued a report Monday that was largely in agreement with Cuccinelli’s concerns. Both parties criticized the law for allowing bonuses for utilities that have not built any new renewable energy facilities, instead relying on renewable energy certificates from facilities that existed before the law was passed, including an 80-year-old hydroelectric plant.
Virginia State Director for the network, Beth Kemler, said the law is “coming nowhere close to living up to its intent.”
“The way the goals are structured, utilities really don’t have to do much to meet them, and don’t have to do anything that spurs the growth of renewables in Virginia,” said Kemler, who wrote the report. “We need to fix it so it fulfills its original intention.”
The Chesapeake Climate Action Network also called for legislative action on the matter, though they called for making the existing law stronger. The group proposed replacing the existing bonuses with a tiered system and requiring utility companies to get a portion of the energy from wind and solar power. They also proposed that renewable energy used to meet the goals of the law would have to come from facilities in Virginia.
Thirty-one states and the District have such laws, known as renewable portfolio standards, meaning they have established targets for how much of their electricity supply should come from renewable sources by a specific year.