For years, environmentalists have been a voice in the wilderness criticizing Virginia’s RPS (renewable portfolio standard), which “encourages” but doesn’t require Virginia utilities to invest in renewable resources, such as water, solar and wind.
Unlike our neighboring states, the RPS standard in Virginia is not mandated. Rather it gives a “bonus” to Virginia utilities that undertake these projects. The idea is to create an alternative universe of energy production in which renewable resources occupy an increasing percentage, thereby lessening our dependence on foreign oil.
That was the idea. The outcome can be summed up in one word: failure.
Since 2007, when the RPS law passed (as part of an overall rewrite of the utilities law), there has been no new Virginia-based renewable projects. No wind farms. No solar plants. No ground-breaking technology. Instead, most of the “bonuses” — which are subsidized by Virginia ratepayers — have been paid to energy coming from existing assets, whether hydro power from dams constructed in the 1920′s or wind power from out-of-state sources. Sorry, but that accomplishes nothing.
Perhaps cowed by the powerful utilities, few statewide leaders have spoken up. A handful of senators and delegates have filed bills to reform this law, only to go down in flames (my turn was in 2008 with Senate Bill 446).
A couple weeks ago, the voices in the wilderness gathered an unusual ally: the Attorney General’s office. In a highly critical 40-page report, the AG’s office said in official language what environmentalists had been saying for years: the voluntary RPS creates no new jobs, it just raises costs for consumers.
The AG’s solution is to repeal the existing law. That is one solution. A better solution is one I will propose in 2013: require all qualifying plants to be built in Virginia (or at least generate Virginia jobs) and only give credit to new plants.
If the utilities are unable or unwilling to do that, then it probably is the better course to just scrap the law.