Gov. Northam orders 100% carbon-free electricity in Virginia by 2050

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Virginia took the first step down the path of carbon freedom yesterday, with Governor Ralph Northam (D) signing Executive Order 43. The aforementioned order is founded upon the goal that by 2030, 30% of Virginia’s electric system will be powered by renewable energy resources, with zero-carbon moving to 100% by 2050.

The path toward carbon freedom is paved not only by renewable generation, with Governor Northam identifying solar, wind and nuclear power to lead the way. The order calls for at least 3 GW of solar and onshore wind to be developed by 2022, with another 2.5 GW of offshore wind to be fully developed on an accelerated timeline by 2026.

The involvement of wind makes anticipating what this executive order means for solar tricky. Virginia is in a part of the South that has adopted utility scale solar, as supported by North Carolina’s 5.6 GW installed capacity, South Carolina’s 830 MW and Georgia’s 1.5 GW. Virginia as a state has installed 802 MW, nearly all of it being utility-scale.

It’s likely that the 3 GW by 2022 will come mostly from solar, as the South’s history with onshore wind development has been negligible thus far, more of a rounding error than an industry. The capacity will be achieved through competitive procurement processes carried out by Dominion Energy:

Dominion Energy has committed to annually procure up to 500 MW of utility-scale solar and onshore wind projects through a competitive procurement process. Dominion has also committed to annual procurements of smaller-scale solar energy, including rooftop solar, through a competitive procurement process that will be issued annually beginning in 2019. These procurements will start at 50 MW and will scale up to 150 MW by January of 2022.

Not to be forgotten, Appalachian Power also initiated a competitive procurement process for 200 MW of utility-scale solar projects, to be operational by the end of 2021.

This path was nearly destined to run through an executive order. This is because while Virginia’s Governor is a member of the Democratic Party, both the state’s House and Senate are controlled by Republicans. No mandate with this type of aggressive carbon cutting vision has ever been passed in a state where Republicans held either house of the legislature, let alone two. An executive order is more of a general policy statement which does not have the force of law.

Under the order, a number of departments are on call for action, including the Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy, the Secretary of Commerce and Trade, the Secretary of Natural Resources and the Director of the Department of Environmental Quality. This group is tasked with developing a plan of action to meet the stated goals. The plan will also address issues related to energy storage, energy efficiency, equity, and environmental justice. The Chief Workforce Advisor and the Secretary of Commerce and Trade will be in charge of developing an energy workforce plan that creates career pathways for “the communities that need them.” Solar jobs coming to previously disadvantaged communities can prove invaluable for providing education and employment to those that wouldn’t have access otherwise.

If carried out in full power, this executive order will be transformative to Virginia’s energy profile and make the state a national leader in the renewable energy movement.