If you’ve been following the woeful tale of Virginia’s renewable portfolio standard, by now you know it hasn’t produced a single electron of wind or solar power in the commonwealth, nor is it ever likely to. Fellow citizens, what is to be done?
Let’s review what happened in last year’s legislative session, when word got out that Dominion Power was meeting the state’s renewable energy goals by buying cheap renewable energy certificates from decades-old projects involving dams, trash and wood—and collecting tens of millions of dollars annually as a “bonus” for doing so. Outraged environmentalists pushed for a reform bill that would let utilities collect this bonus from their customers only if they invest in new, Virginia-made wind and solar projects—essentially, what we thought the law was about in the first place.
It was a well-crafted, solid, common-sense bill. It died without even a hearing.
But meanwhile, Governor McDonnell got two bills passed that actually made the law worse. The first one said that in addition to energy from old dams, trash and wood, utilities can meet our goals by purchasing renewable energy certificates generated by universities showing they’ve done some research into renewable energy.
Research is an admirable activity. Most of us approve of research. We approve of universities, too. But even when you put universities and research together, not a single electron of energy flows into anyone’s home. Under what possible theory does it qualify as renewable energy?
Also newly qualifying, thanks to the governor, are certificates representing an industrial process used by a Virginia corporation called MeadWestvaco. This also won’t put energy on the grid, but it creates a brand-new income stream for MeadWestvaco, paid for by utility customers—though not by large industrial users like MeadWestvaco itself, which got themselves exempted from paying for the added cost to utilities of renewable energy.
Lobbyists, my friends, are worth every dime of their inflated paychecks.
No doubt this clever bill will stimulate the creative juices of other corporations to figure out how they, too, can feed at the renewable energy trough. As a service to anyone wondering how to get their ideas into law, I note that MeadWestvaco gave $75,000 to Bob McDonnell’s campaign for governor and his inaugural committee. This is what we call the Virginia Way.
After these two bills passed, Governor McDonnell announced he had taken important steps to promote renewable energy. Advocates of renewable energy promptly asked him not to do us any more favors. Heading into the next session, we’re gravely concerned that he wasn’t listening.
Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli offered a different approach: repeal the RPS law, or at least repeal the bonus utilities get. Mr. Cuccinelli is more famous for attacking the credibility of climate scientists than for embracing renewable energy, but with the environmentalists’ reform bill dead, the Sierra Club ended up supporting the AG’s bill rather than see the consumer rip-off continue.
But that bill failed, too, though it got several votes from Cuccinelli allies in the House, some of whom are pretty sure that if renewable energy succeeds, the United States will become a failed socialist state occupied by blue-helmeted U.N. troops. (If you think I am making that up, check out some Virginia Tea Party websites.) It is safe to conclude that votes for the AG’s bill were not votes for renewable energy.
Cuccinelli’s bill shared the same fatal flaw as the reform bill: Dominion Power opposed it. In case you haven’t caught on by now, Dominion almost always gets its way in the legislature, and it sure isn’t going to allow either the AG or the Sierra Club to take away its free money.
The upcoming session could be interesting. Mr. Cuccinelli is running for governor next year, which makes him the leading Republican in the state, with all due respect to Bob “Lame Duck” McDonnell. This fall Cuccinelli issued a report critical of Virginia’s appalling RPS, and has signaled he plans to go after the bonuses again.
Which is more powerful for Republicans, political allegiance or Dominion’s campaign cash? Which matters more to Democrats, renewable energy or Dominion’s campaign cash? Which matters more to Governor McDonnell, his party or his tight relationship with Dominion’s CEO (not to mention the campaign cash)? Not surprisingly, legislators are begging Dominion and the AG’s office to work something out together so they won’t have to pick sides.
Concerned that a “compromise” may serve political ends but leave the public out in the cold, environmental groups plan to bring their own citizen’s army to Richmond in support of reform. They’d like to see a compromise that lets Dominion keep its bonus payments by earning them with Virginia-made wind and solar. It’s so little to ask–yet, based on past years’ experience, it may still be too much to hope for.
Which brings us to the third option for outraged citizens. Buy Dominion stock. Seriously, if the company is going to wind up on top every time, you may as well get in on the profits.
Maybe you can use your dividends to buy solar panels.