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Energy efficiency savings bill passes General Assembly

6 electric meters on a brick building
Connor Scribner
VPM News
The Dominion-backed legislation would guide state regulators to set savings targets for select demographics.

Low-income, elderly and disabled customers of Dominion Energy, alongside veterans, are set to benefit the most.

The General Assembly approved a bill on Tuesday that proponents say would guarantee more energy efficiency savings for low-income, elderly, disabled and veteran customers of Dominion Energy.

Bill sponsor Sen. Jennifer McClellan (D–Richmond) — who has had a busy day — told her colleagues during a January committee hearing that she wants to make sure people who need help are getting it.

“Dominion’s already spending money on energy efficiency programs. What this bill does is put a standard in place to ensure that those programs actually have some reduction in energy bills for veterans, low-income individuals and the elderly,” McClellan said.

The law, if accepted by Gov. Glenn Youngkin, would guide regulators at the State Corporation Commission to set savings targets for programs conducted by Dominion at 1% or more of the total yearly sales to customers in those categories.

The first target would be set in 2025, and the commission would continue setting yearly targets until 2031.

McClellan said the measure would also serve as a demand-side emissions reductions strategy.

Most of Virginia’s efforts to reduce emissions so far deal with supply. The Virginia Clean Economy Act, passed in 2020, phases out the state’s fossil fueled power plants — while Virginia’s continued subscription to California vehicle emissions standards will require auto dealers to stop selling most gasoline cars by 2035.

Walton Shepherd, Virginia policy director at the National Resources Defense Council, told VPM News that energy efficiency is the most important component of Virginia’s energy transition. Efficiency upgrades like heat pumps, new insulation and LED lights decrease the energy used by our buildings — decreasing greenhouse gases emitted from fossil-fueled power plants.

“Not only does it lower pollution, these efficiency upgrades lower electric bills as well, month in and month out,” Shepherd said. “And folks on fixed income... need those efficiency programs the most.”

The SCC would have to consider savings brought about by other sources when determining Dominion’s targets. Those include proceeds from Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative auctions, half of which go into a pot controlled by the Department of Housing and Community Development for energy efficiency programs.

Dominion Energy supported the bill after it was amended to require regulators to consider federal loan guarantees, grant funds and rebates under the Inflation Reduction Act.

The bill was approved unanimously by the Senate in early February and by a 96–2 vote in the House of Delegates on Tuesday. It must be signed by Gov. Glenn Youngkin before becoming law effective July 1.

This story is powered by the 2023 People's Agenda.

Patrick Larsen is VPM News' environment and energy reporter, and fill-in host.