Northam's Bold Energy Plan Can Vault VA Grid into Modern Era

Governor Northam's just-released Energy Plan is a breath of fresh air for the still-creaky 20th century energy economy of Virginia.

In its acumen in identifying the barriers to progress that still exist and the solutions to overcome many of them, the Plan also reflects the horsepower and leadership within the administration that will be needed to usher Virginia's energy sector into a cleaner, cheaper, and more-competitive 21st century, in the next three years.

The blueprint is refreshingly visionary, and not just because it is devoid of the sops that can consign a planning exercise to a dusty shelf. Northam's Plan, if enacted, will be a distinct departure from Virginia's expensive and polluting status quo, in which our sleepy utility business model—combined with over-flexed muscle in the halls of power—have driven utility profit up and the state's pollution too high, at the expense of our pocketbooks, energy sector innovation, and ultimately the economy as a whole.

But if Northam's Energy Plan is any indication, the olden days may enter their golden years, ushering in instead citizen access to bill-lowering energy efficiency and zero-pollution renewable power.

This is just the beginning of the Governor's reform of the state's energy sector, with the heavy lifting still very much ahead of us (including making sure the Grid Transformation and Security Act of 2018 delivers real gains to everyday people). When the Governor and his team apply their diplomacy, their unique ability to pull disparate interests together, and, yes, their brains and brawn, the component parts of his ambitious Plan will be absolutely achievable in the next 3 years and 3 months. Especially when each of the components of the plan—like opening up access to cheap solar energy or cleaning up the air by making cars efficient and cheaper to run—is something that will not only benefit every average citizen of the Commonwealth, but also the utilities, if they are willing to shift their focus to providing cleaner, cheaper options.

Of course, nothing is perfect: the Plan is surprisingly bearish on lowering Virginia's energy costs and pollution—and our outsized energy burden on low-income citizens—by finally getting real about widely deploying efficiency technology in our homes and businesses. Instead, the Plan mostly punts that golden opportunity back over to the utilities. Rather than cross our fingers for leadership from that quarter, Northam could lead Virginia in joining the majority of states in the nation that successfully prioritize efficiency technology through there-for-the-taking standards that maximize efficiency and lower total bills.  With the ninth-highest average bills in the nation, Northam can deliver something better than waiting 3 more years to truly get serious on what 26 states have already shown is the marketplace's best option for cleaning the air and protecting the pocketbook, especially those with low incomes.

But other than that significant omission, Northam's Energy Plan is serious, credible, and worthy of celebration. All citizens—and hopefully the utilities too—should look forward to leading with Northam, and putting this in motion together in the coming weeks, months, and years.

About the Authors

Walton Shepherd

Virginia Policy Director, Climate & Clean Energy Program

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