At a time when an increasing sense of urgency is being expressed about climate change and its impact on energy and vice versa—the impact of energy production on climate—the position of Virginia government and its leaders on the subject is very mixed and less than clear. Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin will address the General Assembly “money” committees of House Finance, House Appropriations on which I serve, and Senate Committee on Finance and Appropriations in his first major address since taking office in January. A major purpose of the “short session” held in odd-numbered years is to consider needed changes in the biennial budget at the midpoint of its implementation. Invariably there are adjustments to state tax revenue projections as they tend to fluctuate with the economy. We will need to make a guess to carry us through 2023 as to whether we might be moving into a recession, continued growth, a settling in the economy, or some of all of the above.
We can probably safely assume that the Governor will follow through on his campaign pledge to withdraw from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). To do so would deprive the state of a significant source of funding for programs that provide weatherization and other energy efficiency services for low-income households. In 2021, more than $21 million went toward the Weatherization Deferral Repair program and the Affordable and Special Needs Housing program. According to the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE), Virginia is the only state that allocates half its RGGI proceeds for low-income energy efficiency programs.
ACEEE ranks Virginia 20th among the states in energy efficiency and the leader in the South based on about a half-dozen factors. Virginia advanced five places among the states for its RGGI program and its historic Virginia Clean Economy Act (VCEA) that created the Commonwealth’s first clean energy standard while also establishing an energy efficiency resource standard that sets multiyear electric savings targets for utilities. To ensure Virginians see the full benefits of the investments in energy efficiency, ACEEE indicated in its most recent report that the Commonwealth will need to successfully implement its clean energy law and continue its participation in RGGI. Reversing or scaling back these commitments, ACEEE indicates, could increase costs and worsen energy burdens for Virginia residents.
Virginia should not take actions that will lessen its energy efficiency standards that provide health protections for its citizens as well as making the state an attractive place to live and start a business. Virginia can increase its standing among the states with wise actions on energy efficiency and climate change. We need not reverse course from the successes of the last several years. We take pride in our economic successes, and we can do the same with energy efficiency, a clean economy, and being a leader in the struggle against climate change. That is the message the Governor needs to deliver this week.