Apex Clean Energy, a company headquartered in Charlottesville, is in the planning stages of its first Virginia wind farm.
Over the past four years, Virginians have seen the advanced energy industry grow, as it became a key priority for the McAuliffe Administration. The solar market grew from 18 MW installed in the Commonwealth in 2013 to over 200 MW today, with hundreds more on the way. Gov. McAuliffe also took executive and legislative action to improve the market for energy efficiency, and began regulatory initiatives to modernize the state’s grid with investment in advanced energy technologies. However, with Gov. McAuliffe’s term coming to an end and Election Day fewer than eight weeks away, voters (and the advanced energy industry) are asking how the next governor of Virginia will act on energy issues. Happily, both the Republican nominee – Ed Gillespie – and Democratic nominee – Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam – have announced policies to grow the advanced energy industry, shining a hopeful light in Virginia for what to expect for the next four years.
For those who do not follow Virginia politics, the Commonwealth holds its gubernatorial elections in so-called “off” years, including 2017. Virginia is one of just two states (New Jersey being the other) holding a gubernatorial election this year. To make things even more interesting, Virginia gets a new Chief Executive every four years, as governors are limited to just one term. All 100 seats in the House of Delegates are up for election this year as well. With more candidates running for the General Assembly this year than any time in the past decade, there is huge potential for a vastly different make-up of the legislature walking into the 2018 session.
For nearly two decades, Virginia’s ranking as a good place to do business has been a mark of pride for decision makers at all levels. Campaign slogans are borne out of Virginia being open for business. And why not? Virginians care about the economy. Recent polling by the Virginia Commonwealth University found that 80% of Virginians support incentives to support economic development.
One lifeblood of the Virginia economy has always been a strong energy sector. A reliable and affordable energy system has not only provided thousands of jobs and local tax dollars, but also attracted businesses that want low electricity costs. Virginia can continue to achieve these goals while modernizing its grid with advanced energy technologies.
AEE jumped into action earlier this year to ensure that the next Governor would prioritize advanced energy in his administration. AEE met with campaigns early in the year, then released a policy platform in the form of a memo sent to both the Gillespie and Northam campaigns just after the primary election, and met with each campaign to discuss how advanced energy can be an economic driver for Virginia. And people took notice. The Lynchburg News & Advance Editorial Board declared that “[so] far as job-creating economic sectors go, there’s nothing hotter than the renewable energy industry, either in the United States as a whole or in Virginia specifically.” The Ed Board went on to call on both Gillespie and Northam to release detailed policy plans on how to grow the renewable energy industry.
They’re starting to do so. In mid-August, Gillespie announced a detailed energy vision. Notably, he prioritizes “Clean Energy and Innovation” in his energy agenda, supporting “a regulatory framework that encourages the efficiency of its regulated utilities and promotes investment in job- and revenue-generating clean energy and ‘smart grid’ options.”
The Gillespie energy agenda calls for numerous policies that would grow the advanced energy industry in Virginia, including several of AEE’s priorities (the platform directly mentions AEE by name twice). Notably, the platform calls for additional large-scale renewable energy purchasing options for corporations, as recommended in our policy memo. This policy would further support companies looking to procure renewable energy in the state, including those that wrote to the State Corporation Commission calling for greater access. The Gillespie agenda supports the development of a broad energy efficiency strategy, expanded opportunities for performance contracting in state government to save money, and investment in energy storage to meet the challenges of peak demand and aging infrastructure. Gillespie also calls for grid modernization and performance-based regulation of utilities in order to improve energy infrastructure and grid security.
The Northam campaign is expected to release a detailed energy agenda in the coming weeks, and we have every reason to expect that it will be strong on advanced energy. Northam supported policies to expand energy efficiency and renewable energy during his time in the Virginia Senate, and on its website his campaign has committed to “remov[ing] barriers to the development and use of clean energy by encouraging competition.”
Historically, Virginia has not been a leader on advanced energy, but it’s catching up fast. Now, with advanced energy employing over 80,000 Virginians and driving billions of dollars in investment across the Commonwealth, both candidates have embraced our industry as an economic driver. When the next Governor declares that Virginia is open for business, we are confident he will be talking about advanced energy.
Click below to download a memo, delivered by AEE to the gubernatorial campaigns of Republican nominee Ed Gillespie and Democratic nominee Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, on June 22. It outlines four priorities to grow Virginia's advanced energy industry.