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Finnerty: Virginia should lead on clean energy in 2020

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John Finnerty

John Finnerty

By John Finnerty

Finnerty is director of business development at Standard Solar in Rockville, Maryland.

This year, Virginia has a new opportunity to become a leader on clean energy and climate change.

Teeing up the Virginia Assembly session that began this month, Virginia lawmakers recently introduced the Virginia Clean Economy Act (VCEA), which would put the state on a path toward 100% clean energy by 2050. The bill immediately received praise [vcnva.org] from Virginia businesses, environmental groups, and health groups for its pragmatic focus on making the Commonwealth cleaner, accessible, affordable and more efficient.

As a region that is particularly vulnerable to climate change impacts such as sea-level rise, it makes sense for the Commonwealth to be a leader in moving to a lower emissions future.

But the bill also will give Virginia residents and businesses new, more affordable energy options. The bill supports the Commonwealth’s energy grid with smart energy use through energy efficiency programs, reinforced with smart energy generation through the expanded use of renewable energy generation, such as reliable solar projects.

The cornerstone of the bill is a renewable portfolio standard that would put Virginia on a path toward 100% clean energy by 2050, a goal that aligns with an executive order [utilitydive.com] announced by Gov. Northam last year. Virginia would join 29 other U.S. states in adopting a renewable energy standard, a policy that would move the state from voluntary commitments to clean energy to a requirement.

The legislation also would significantly expand the use of distributed solar and utility scale solar, allowing for larger projects that make solar more affordable for businesses, schools and residents. The commonwealth currently ranks 17th in solar [seia.org] despite abundant daily solar resource. Policies such as VCEA support technology that would allow the state to catch up and advance with other more aggressive states.

Taken together, the bill’s provisions are estimated to create nearly 29,500 new jobs in Virginia’s rapidly growing renewable and efficiency industries. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that solar installer will be the fastest growing job [solarindustrymag.com] in the next decade, and with the policy support, many of those jobs can be based right here in Virginia.

Virginians face expensive energy costs, and the clean energy and efficiency provisions in the legislation would lead to up to $3,500 in savings for an average Virginia household over 30 years.

The VCEA is an opportunity for the Commonwealth to be a national leader on clean energy and energy efficiency, and in the coming days and weeks Virginians should stay engaged and communicate with representatives in Richmond about this important piece of legislation, HB1526/SB851.

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