Virginia Gov. Signs Raft of Legislation Promoting Renewable Energy

Energy from municipal and agricultural waste, biofuels, 'green roofs' and other renewable energy projects encouraged.

by / March 31, 2009

Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine has signed a number of bills aimed at increasing the amount of energy generated from renewable sources. In addition, he has amended three which the legislature is set to reconsider on April 8th.

The governor signed legislation increasing incentives for the production of biofuels, turning municipal waste and compost into energy, encouraging "green roofs" projects, and increasing renewable energy sourcing targets.

HB 1994 is designed to encourage investor-owned incumbent electric utilities to produce 15 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2025.

HB 2001 increases incentives for the production of biofuels from algae, cellulosic sources and winter crop cover. The governor's office noted that increased support for cellulosic sources would encourage the development of biofuels that do not affect food supply or feed/food prices. Using winter crop cover as a biofuel source also helps reduce agricultural runoff -- which, in turn, helps reduce pollution of the Chesapeake Bay. Cellulosic crops such as switchgrass and other warm season grasses do not require tilling every year and can serve as stream buffers. Algae can be grown to clean up polluted waters and provide a source for biodiesel production.

The bill also lowers the minimum annual production requirement for producers to be eligible for grants to one million tons per year. The Governors Office said lowering the production requirement would make more producers eligible for grants and lead to more green jobs.

HB 2171 provides that any farm that owns and operates facilities to generate electricity from waste-to-energy technology is excluded from regulation as a public utility. According to the Governor's Office, a person who obtains the majority of his income from farming activities and produces the waste that is used in the generation of the electricity may connect to the electric grid in accordance with state regulations and will not be considered a manufacturer under state law.

The governor also signed bills that encourage electricity production from municipal waste and encourage local governments to provide financing for energy efficiency and clean energy improvements.

HB 2576 clarifies that solid waste management facilities that produce electricity from solid waste meet the definition of a qualified project under the Public-Private Education Facilities and Infrastructure Act of 2002. This will encourage more of these projects through financial incentives achieved through partnerships. The genesis of this bill is Arlington's landfill and waste-to-energy plant, where municipal solid waste is converted into enough electricity to supply 23,000 homes. In addition to the energy generated, these facilities can significantly reduce the volume of waste put into landfills.

SB 1212 grants localities the authority to create energy financing programs. Originally designed to apply only to Charlottesville, this bill now applies to all localities. With this bill, localities could enter into contract with landowners to install energy efficiency and clean energy improvements. The improvements would be paid for with an assessed fee based on the cost and attached to billings such as water and sewer charges. The governor hopes this bill encourages green energy contractors in the state to step up their hiring.

The governor also signed a set of bills that authorize localities to adopt ordinances that set forth incentives to promote the construction of "green roofs" on private homes and businesses. A green roof is any roof that provides for the

generation of renewable energy or roofs designed in accordance with the state's storm water management program's standards and specifications with regard stormwater control mechanisms.

Under SB 1350, the Marine Resources Commission now has the authority to lease sub-aqueous lands for the purpose of generating electrical energy from renewable sources, transmit energy from such sources to shore, and ensure that any such leases require a royalty. Any money collected through this initiative will be appropriated to the Virginia Coastal Energy Research Consortium. The bill also directs VMRC to determine whether sufficient and appropriate sub-aqueous lands exist to support a commercial offshore wind farm and, if such land exists, offer it for development in a lease auction.

Amended bills returned to the legislature for reconsideration include SB 1248, HB 2506 SB 1339 and HB 2155. SB 1248, which would have required statewide reduction of electricity consumption by 19 percent of 2006 levels by 2025, now makes that goal voluntary with incentives for utilities that meet it. The Governor's Office noted that this bill has the support of both the electric utilities and environmental groups.

SB 1339, which increases the commonwealth's renewable portfolio standard goal from 12% to15% by 2025 to ensure that utilities aggressively pursue renewable energy, was also amended.

The amended legislation will be considered during on April 8th.