Governor Ralph Northam signed an executive order Tuesday that he said will jump-start Virginia’s clean energy economy and help combat climate change. Northam’s order directs cabinet secretaries and agency heads to develop a plan to ensure that 30% of Virginia’s electricity comes from renewable energy resources by 2030.
The long-term goal is to have a 100% carbon-free electric grid by 2050.
Northam asked that the plan include measures that provide minorities and low-income Virginians with more access to clean energy. He pointed to research from The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy that shows those households have higher-than-average energy bills, in part because many rental properties and multi-family homes aren’t energy efficient.
“No segment of the population should bear disproportionately high or adverse effects from pollution and climate disturbance,” the order says, “and as we increase investments in clean energy, equity must be part of the framework.”
Virginia’s secretary of natural resources said in a statement, the state is already feeling the impacts of global warming in the form of rising sea levels, increased flooding, and more extreme weather events.
Environmental groups are cautious about the plan.
“This is a truly admirable goal and I think that most Virginians are ready to work towards it, “ said Cassady Craighill, a spokesperson for Clean Virginia. “But the people in charge of actually implementing it have got to do a lot to restore faith in their ability to actually see this through.”
Craighill said Northam-backed projects like the Atlantic Coast Pipeline are incompatible with his clean energy goals. And she added that the path to achieving a clean energy future is not through the state’s primary electric utility, Dominion Energy, which she said is rewarded for building fossil fuel projects.
Chris Bast, Chief Deputy Director of the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality says the 2030 goal will focus on wind and solar development, but the 2050 goal will likely be met with a mix of other carbon-free resources like hydroelectric and nuclear energy.
“I think the important thing is that we get the policy mechanisms in place so that we can spur innovation and create opportunities for technology to be deployed to help us meet this goal,” Bast said.