This is why I was particularly disappointed to see that the State Corporation Commission denied a recent request by Walmart to buy renewable energy generated by a company other than Virginia’s two regulated, monopoly utilities. Not only is this a dangerous and short-sighted precedent, but it also represents a missed opportunity by state regulators.
Virginia is one of a handful of states across the nation that uses a “hybrid” energy marketplace in which large energy users have a few options when it comes to choosing their electricity provider.
To date, companies across the United States have contracted for more than 15 gigawatts — or about 4 million average U.S. homes worth — of utility-scale wind and solar energy, driven by both corporate sustainability and cost-savings efforts.
Access to a competitive energy marketplace makes Virginia attractive to other large customers and allows these companies to manage their electricity needs and sustainability goals through tailored solutions. Policies that stifle the ability of companies to adopt renewable energy with inhibitive or unclear procedures hurt the commonwealth’s economic growth potential.
This decision by the SCC flies in the face of large-scale consumers that want to take an active approach in meeting their sustainability goals. It sends a clear message to many of the state’s largest employers that regulators have little interest in helping them achieve their objectives. Publicly available data shows that many large-scale customers have already attempted to access the competitive market to drive their costs down – including Costco, Harris Teeter, Kroger, Reynolds Metals, Safeway, Target and Walmart. These companies would be completely shut off from energy choice if the SCC continues making decisions like this.
Further, if regulators continue down this path, it would put Virginia at a competitive disadvantage with other states as the commonwealth attempts to attract new businesses that prioritize the competitive costs of renewable electricity. Virginia would be at serious risk of missing opportunities to welcome businesses looking to move, expand and create jobs.
The renewable energy industry itself is booming in Virginia. Recent statistics from Advanced Energy Economy, a coalition of advanced energy business, show that Virginia is home to nearly 100,000 jobs in wind, solar, efficiency and other advance energy industries. That is more jobs than exist in all of Virginia’s supermarkets, double the number employed by hotels and motels, and more than 10 times more than the two utilities in the state.
The public overwhelmingly supports prioritizing investments in renewable sources of energy such as wind and solar. A recent poll showed that 73 percent of Virginia voters agree. These investments would reduce damage to public health, protect our natural resources, lower energy costs and create even more clean-energy jobs.
Technology companies, retailers and manufacturers select locations for expansion based on lower costs, access to talent and modern facilities.
This SCC decision represents a laundry list of misplaced priorities. Instead of stifling innovation and taking Virginia backward, the SCC should embrace policies that bring us to a new place in energy policy. There must be a better way.