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Youngkin Energy Reforms Killed Without A Vote

Governor Glenn Youngkin’s proposal to ensure that any future wave of wind turbines built off Virginia must follow a real competitive bid process ended up dead as a beached whale. The General Assembly didn’t just kill his proposed amendment during its reconvened session April 12, it refused to even take up the matter.

Both the Republican-controlled House of Delegates and Democrat-controlled Senate voted to “pass by” the substitutes. They then died when the motion to adjourn was approved at the end of the day. Such a motion is often used to avoid a recorded vote loaded with political risk.

Rejection of the amendments, first discussed here, leaves Youngkin (R) free to veto the underlying bill (actually two identical bills, one in each chamber), but his argument was not with the underlying bills themselves. He was just trying to weaken Dominion Energy Virginia’s control over the wind development process, which has led to Virginia building the first and only $10 billion project with all the cost and risk on its ratepayers. At this point, any second phase will likely be the same.

The gubernatorial amendment on competitive bidding for offshore wind was injecting a new issue in the last stage of the 2023 session. Youngkin offered other amendments which constituted repeat efforts to pass things rejected during the regular part of the session. They met the same fate, some also by motions to pass by supported by his own party.

Again using identical House and Senate bills, Youngkin sought to revive a requirement that a more careful review of system reliability precede any decision to close a fossil fuel generation plant, meaning perhaps the plants would survive. (See amendments 2 and 3 here.) This would be a serious change in the 2020 Virginia Clean Economy Act, which sets a deadline for those retirements. Concerns over future reliability are growing as the U.S. power grid becomes more dependent upon intermittent solar and wind generation.

A partisan divide on that issue was expected, with Senate Democrats having the votes to kill the idea, but the hope was that one or more of them might break with the pack since the issue never actually was voted on in the full Senate. A straight yea or nay vote on that issue would at least provide a roll call for use in the coming election campaigns.

The Senate cooperated to that extent, and a roll call vote was held on those amendments, made in the Senate to Senate Bill 1231. The vote to reject the extra reviews on reliability was indeed totally partisan, with the 22 Democrats voting against and 18 Republicans voting for. The same vote also killed an amendment to recognize nuclear and hydrogen generated power as qualifying as renewable under that same Virginia Clean Economy Act.

But on the House side, the same set of amendments offered to House Bill 2026 never faced a vote. It died on the same motion to “pass by” that killed the offshore wind amendment, a motion made by Republican Majority Leader Terry Kilgore (R-Scott County). No clean roll call on the reliability issue was produced for later use.

There was a bill dealing with plans to place a major transmission line underground, an expensive approach that always ends up padding all consumer bills through higher transmission charges. House Bill 1637, sponsored by Delegate Michael Webert (R-Fauquier County), also had a matching Senate version. The Governor’s substitute suffered the same fate, passed by on the same joint motion from Kilgore and a similar motion in the Senate.

Northern Virginia loves to protect its viewsheds with underground 230 volt lines by sending the bill to the rest of Virginia’s Dominion Energy ratepayers. This deserves a deeper dive at another time. Such lines are going to multiply incredibly in the all-electric future envisioned for Virginia.

Youngkin was successful with a series of amendments to the proposal to re-energize a legislative Commission on Electric Utility Regulation. His amendments added the Attorney General or a member of his Consumer Counsel staff as ex-officio members, required that citizen members have a history of sticking up for ratepayers, and authorized the commission to start issuing estimates of how legislative proposals would affect electric rates.

Given the harsh treatment afforded the Governor’s other amendments, and the total lack of any debate or even explanation before the votes went down, handing more information and authority to legislators in this realm may not prove of benefit to consumers.

Stephen D. Haner is Senior Fellow with the Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy. He can be reached at [email protected].

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