More bills to watch

photo credit: Amadeus

photo credit: Amadeus

The bills keep coming. Again, this is hardly a comprehensive list, just the ones I’ve had a chance to think about. By the way, renewable energy fans may want to head to Richmond on January 30, when many of the House bills will be taken up in a long afternoon session of the House subcommittee on energy. Members of the public are usually permitted to testify.

Another renewable energy tax credit bill. Senator Norment has now filed SB 653, a companion bill to HB 910. This caps the overall total of tax credits that can be claimed at $10 million annually. As previously noted, it’s encouraging to have powerful Republicans supporting this bill. One complication, however, is that Senate Finance, which will hear Norment’s bill, has adopted a policy that makes it very difficult to pass new tax credit legislation, preferring grants instead. Tax breaks for renewable energy have proven extremely effective in other states and at the federal level in building the industry and creating jobs, but I wouldn’t object to grants. With Norment one of the leading senators on the Finance committee, we will hope he navigates this wisely.

Crowdfunding. Currently securities laws prevent private companies from accepting investments from people who are not “accredited” investors, otherwise known as rich folks. The purpose is to protect unsophisticated investors from hucksters, but it has the effect of preventing companies from engaging in creative crowdsourced financing for things like solar projects. An “invest in Virginia” bill, HB 880 (Yost) and SB 351 (Edwards), would loosen the rules for Virginia citizens investing in Virginia companies.

Ending HOA bans on solar. Since 2008, homeowner associations haven’t been able to impose new bans on solar panels, though they can impose restrictions on size and placement. However, HOA rules that were adopted prior to 2008 can still include total bans. SB 222 (Petersen) would nullify these bans. A similar bill passed the General Assembly two years ago, only to be vetoed by Governor McDonnell in the belief that it interfered with existing contracts. But many other states have overridden HOA solar bans as a matter of public policy; Virginia should do likewise. So far, Senate Commerce and Labor agrees, as the bill was passed out of committee today on a unanimous vote. (One caveat: what passed was a substitute, and I haven’t seen the changed language.)

Solar gardens. HB 1158 (Surovell) would allow “virtual” net metering of solar energy, making it possible for someone to subscribe to part of the output of a solar project and get credit on their utility bill for that amount. This approach would support huge growth in the solar market and has tremendous grassroots appeal; not surprisingly, the utilities are completely opposed to it.

Advantaging natural gas. Appalachian Power seems to want to build a new natural gas plant in Virginia at customer expense, and doesn’t want the State Corporation Commission to scrutinize the plan too carefully. HB 1224 (O’Quinn) makes an end run around the SCC’s standard operating procedures by declaring such a plant in the public interest and telling the SCC to “liberally construe” the provisions of the law to approve it. You have to wonder: if a natural gas plant is such a great idea, why does the SCC have to be coerced into approving it? And why shouldn’t a wind farm get the same treatment?

Fracking public lands. HB 915 provides that no permit or lease for oil and gas exploration or drilling on public lands can prohibit the use of fracturing. Really? Why would you prevent a state agency and the Governor from determining the scope of a permit? If the agencies are doing their job protecting public lands (I know, a big if), surely this prohibition ought to make it less likely, not more likely, that permits would be issued. That makes this bill a bad idea no matter whose side you’re on.

Attempts to nullify federal law. Two bills from Bob Marshall, HB 140 (multi-state coal compact) and HB 155 (interstate offshore energy compact) would replace existing federal laws and regulations with state control. Only the first bill is blatantly unconstitutional. The second, an attempt to supplant federal authority over waters beyond three miles out from shore, wouldn’t take effect without “consent” of Congress, so it might be merely a total waste of everyone’s time and an affront to our good sense. Delegate Marshall evidently regards the Constitution as a mistake. The rest of us can only be embarrassed for his constituents.

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