Virginia ranked fifth in its solar energy capacity growth in the first quarter of 2021 as the state continues to move away from carbon-emitting energy sources in favor of wind and solar energy.
Virginia’s solar capacity grew by 236 megawatts from January through March, according to the U.S. Solar Market Insight Q2 2021 report released by the Solar Energy Industries Association this week. That put only four states ahead of the commonwealth: California, Florida, Indiana and Texas.
Gov. Ralph Northam has made his green energy push a major policy goal during his tenure as governor. Last year, the governor signed legislation to gradually reduce and eventually eliminate all carbon-emitting energy sources over the next three decades. This forces the state’s energy sector to shut down coal and natural gas plants and quickly transition to different sources or risk facing heavy fines.
The plan sets periodic goals for energy companies to inch closer to total elimination. Dominion Energy will be required to shut down all carbon-emitting energy sources by 2045 and for Appalachian Power to do the same by 2050. All coal plants will need to shut down by the end of 2024.
Earlier this year, the governor signed legislation to end two major coal tax credits as the state continues to fund wind and solar energy projects. The state will cease to provide new credits via the Coal Employment and Production Incentive Tax Credit and the Coalfield Employment Enhancement Tax Credit starting on Jan. 1 2022 and all carryover credits will be capped to $1 million per year.
Virginia’s push toward green energy has earned support from environmentalist activists and lobbyists for wind and solar energy. However, it has been opposed by the coal and natural gas industry, as well as free-market groups that warned it would gradually increase energy costs for consumers. The bills were supported by Democratic leadership, but opposed by Republican leadership.
Other states have continued to push toward solar energy sources as well. According to the report, the first quarter of 2021 saw record growth for the solar industry nationwide. Solar energy grew by five gigawatts of new capacity in those three months, which is 46% higher than the first quarter of last year. Solar accounted for about 58% of new electric capacity and renewable energy accounted for almost 100%.
“It’s incredible to see the solar industry pass 100 gigawatts after the policy and regulatory hurdles we’ve faced over the last few years,” Abigail Ross Hopper, president and CEO of SEIA, said in a statement. “While we’re poised for more growth, we must accelerate solar and storage deployment to address the climate crisis and reach President Biden’s ambitious clean energy goals. Long-term policy certainty is the best way to do that, and we’re urging Congress to act this summer.”
Some states have threatened a lawsuit against Biden if he uses the executive branch to push green energy mandates, claiming that it is not within his authority and it would cripple their economies.