Youngkin slams Virginia plan for wind, solar; calls for nuclear energy promotion

RICHMOND – Gov. Glenn Youngkin on Monday rejected Virginia’s plan to become carbon-free by 2050 as his administration released a report calling for continued reliance on natural gas and a “moonshot” effort to boost nuclear power.

“Virginia needs to grow,” Youngkin (R) said Monday as he unveiled his 2022 energy plan at a Lynchburg company that makes components for electric distribution. “To foster this growth, we need an achievable and dynamic energy plan that provides abundant, reliable, affordable and clean energy.”

An update to the state’s energy plan was required under the Virginia Clean Economy Act passed in 2020 by a Democratic-controlled General Assembly and signed into law by then-Gov. Ralph Northam (D). As envisioned at the time, the update would outline how the state would continue to take steps to eliminate its dependence on fossil fuels.

Virginia passes sweeping law to mandate clean energy amid cost concerns

But Youngkin used the update to argue that the legislation puts Virginia at a competitive disadvantage against other states, saying a mandated transition would increase energy costs for consumers. So his report instead outlines proposals to keep energy costs down and slow the transition to renewables like wind and solar.

That entails an “all of the above approach,” Youngkin said — continuing to rely on natural gas as alternative sources mature and building “the world’s leading nuclear energy hub right here in Virginia.” As a centerpiece, he called for a “moonshot” effort to develop a commercial small modular reactor in southwest Virginia in the next 10 years.

Technology for such reactors is still being developed around the world. Building a commercially viable unit in Virginia “is more of a Mars shot than a moon shot,” said Albert Pollard, an energy attorney and former Democratic state delegate.

Most of Youngkin’s regulations would require action by the General Assembly, so his energy plan — developed after a period of public comment over the summer — is mostly a policy template that will generate legislation in next year’s session.

With Democrats in control of the state Senate, the prospect of significantly changing the Virginia Clean Economy Act appears dim.

Late. Scott Surovell (D-Fairfax) pointed out in a tweet Monday that one of the factors Lego Corp. cited earlier this year when deciding to locate its U.S. manufacturing facility in Chesterfield County was Virginia’s ambitious goal for carbon-free energy.

“Youngkin for President will single-handedly destroy our VA’s business climate in his eagerness to make headlines,” Surovell tweetedreferring to Youngkin’s supposed ambition for national office.

Ceres, a nonprofit environmental group that represents a network of major companies such as Capital One, Target, Ford and Amazon, supported the Virginia Clean Economy Act and said Youngkin’s plan falls short. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.

“Ceres would like to see an emphasis on proven, cost-effective investments in clean energy such as solar and wind in an effort to reliably and affordably meet the state’s energy needs and the essential goals of the VCEA,” Alli Gold Roberts, senior director of state policy at Ceres , said via email.

Eight Ceres companies — including Nestlé, Mars and Siemens — had written Youngkin last month to reaffirm their support for the VCEA as well as Virginia’s adoption of California’s clean car standards and its membership in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.

Democrats accuse Youngkin of circumventing the state’s environmental plans law

Youngkin said Monday he will support legislation to remove Virginia from California’s standards, which seek to phase out new gasoline-powered vehicles by 2035. Youngkin is also seeking to remove the state from RGGI, a multistate carbon trading market, because he believes it raises prices for consumers.

Democrats argue that the governor does not have the authority to withdraw from RGGI because membership was required by state law. Youngkin’s administration argues that the law allows membership but does not mandate it.

At least one aspect of Youngkin’s plan has seen bipartisan support in previous General Assembly sessions: restoring the State Corporation Commission’s full power to review rates charged by the state’s largest public utilities, Dominion Energy and Appalachian Power.

Actions by the General Assembly over recent years have limited the regulator’s traditional ability to limit price increases and order rebates for consumers. A small, bipartisan group of lawmakers has tried to repeal those limits, but failed in the face of the utilities’ enormous political influence.

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