Gov. Youngkin’s energy plan: Serious reform or public relations head fake?

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Amid much hoopla and fanfare, the Administration of Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin recently released what it calls the “2022 Virginia Energy Plan – Virginia’s Energy Future.”

This document was much awaited by CFACT and other observers of Virginia’s energy policy, because it marked the first time that the Governor’s office had issued a comprehensive commentary on the laws governing electricity generation in Virginia.

In the 2021 election, Virginia voters replaced Democratic office holders in all three of the top Executive offices, and also flipped the House of Delegates to Republican control. But would that be enough to also change Virginia’s energy policy, which was rammed into law by Democrats in 2020 through the partisan passage of the Virginia Clean Economy Act (VCEA)?

There can be no question that Republicans wanted a serious change in electricity policy. In addition to sweeping out all three Democratic Executive office holders, Republicans in the House of Delegates voted unanimously in last year’s legislative session to repeal the VCEA. The cornerstone of the VCEA is its mandate for the construction of the world’s largest offshore industrial wind facility, and also the construction of solar projects equal in the aggregate to the size of 35 New York Cities.

Would the new Youngkin Plan rein in these massive renewable energy boondoggles?

The Plan begins with language suggesting that the Youngkin Administration understands the folly of reliance on intermittent and costly solar and wind to replace abundant and reliable natural gas and nuclear energy. For example, it states:

“Baseload generators, like nuclear power stations and combined cycle natural gas, operate continuously and consistently over time to meet the minimum level of power demand. Intermittent generators, such as solar and wind, can only operate when conditions are right, with the sun shining and the wind blowing.”

On the issue of reliability, the Plan further notes that:

“The VCEA …. introduced uncertainty into the Commonwealth’s energy landscape, placing additional costs on consumers and raising concerns regarding the reliability of the electrical grid, which was historically strong.”

The Plan also acknowledges the VCEA’s fundamental mistake of  “legally requiring the retirement of all (emphasis added) natural gas baseload generation,” which will then “require the construction of utility scale storage… which is not currently cost effective.” Moreover, “full compliance with the VCEA will necessitate present implementation of currently unavailable grid storage technologies.”

With respect to electricity costs, the Plan recognizes that the VCEA will “increase electricity costs over 2020 levels by 53% by 2030 and 72% by 2035.” And these levels would be much greater were it not for the fact that Virginia will be forced “to rely on electricity imports from other states that are generated by coal, gas, and nuclear sources.”

Finally, the Plan notes that the VCEA “requires the Commonwealth to retire its natural gas power plants by 2045, which currently provide 67% of current baseload generation, as well as 100% of peak demand. This switch has not occurred successfully anywhere in the world” (emphasis added).

Well, given all that rhetoric, one would certainly expect the Plan to advocate serious reversal, if not outright repeal of the VCEA. Right?

Wrong. Instead, the Report fully embraces the Offshore Wind Project, and also endorses the VCEA solar mandates “as a chance to seize a global competitive advantage in emerging supply chains and technologies.”

What? After all that preamble, the Plan still endorses the Offshore Wind Project – the cornerstone of the VCEA, the single largest, costliest, riskiest, and most unreliable project in the history of not only Virginia, but the “entire world?”

How is this possible? Where is the logic? Surely Dominion Energy’s stranglehold on Virginia energy policy does not reach this far. Or does it?

To be fair, the Plan does “recommend” that the VCEA  should be “reevaluated based on the latest technology availability and cost assessments, and reauthorized in 2023” and that there should be “restoration of discretion to the [State Corporation Commission] concerning power plant retirement timelines, including proactive authority to defer [Renewable Portfolio Standards] requirements to ensure reliability.”

Ok, but what do “reevaluate,” “reauthorize,” “proactive authority,” and “restoration of discretion” actually mean in reality? How does the Commonwealth legally get there? Unless these concepts are captured in legislative language and enacted into law by both the House of Delegates and the Senate in the upcoming legislative session next January, they are nothing more than empty promises wrapped in a thick cloak of virtue signaling.

In fact, the whole Plan is nothing but empty rhetoric unless backed by legislative language which will amend current law. In practice, this means repealing or drastically amending the VCEA. Without a robust and aggressive legislative push from the Governor’s office during the legislative session this coming January, the whole fabric of the Plan evaporates into nothingness.

So, the question of whether the Plan is a serious exercise in reform, or merely a public relations exercise remains to be seen.

Governor Youngkin and his team need to propose tangible legislative initiatives over the next several months. The Governor’s political reputation as a leader who can cut through Democratic ideology and overcome the power of the climate industrial complex hangs in the balance.

This article originally appeared at Real Clear Energy

  • Johnson has spent the last four decades working in the public and private sectors in Virginia, primarily in the fields of project finance and maritime transportation. He began his career in public service as Chairman of the Board of the Virginia Port Authority. He was appointed by President George W. Bush, and confirmed by the Senate, as a member of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, and most recently, as Administrator of the St. Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation. In that capacity, he became knowledgeable in the field of climate and its impact on the Great Lakes. He currently serves on CFACT's Board of Advisors. Johnson holds a B.A. degree from Yale University, and a J.D. from the University of Virginia.

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