Today, Environment Virginia showcased its new report outlining the benefits that Virginia could reap by joining the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), the nation’s most effective regional climate and clean energy program. The report, Cooler Together: The Benefits of Cooperative Action Against Global Warming in the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic and Beyond, concludes that Virginia could gain as much as $2.8 billion in revenue if it formally joins the region’s cooperative climate action program -- and more than $2 billion of that revenue could be used to help Virginia homeowners and businesses finance clean energy and energy efficiency projects by 2030.
“Virginia has a major opportunity to cut carbon pollution, clean our air, and protect our climate,” said Lindsey Mendelson, Environment Virginia Global Warming Advocate. “Like their counterparts throughout the region, Virginia’s decision makers can work across party lines to get things done at the state level while the federal government stalls on climate action.”
The program works by capping carbon pollution, putting a price on carbon emissions, and reinvesting revenue in the clean energy transition. Nine states have participated since the program’s beginning: Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont. In an encouraging show of bipartisanship, five of the states are led by Republican governors and four by Democratic governors. Since 2005, the program has contributed to cutting the region’s carbon dioxide emissions from electric power plants in half and raised more than $2.78 billion for member states to invest in energy efficiency, clean energy, and consumer benefit projects. The program has also saved consumers more than $773 million on their energy bills.
“To address global warming, we need to set strong limits on pollution, invest in clean energy, and build widespread, bipartisan support for bold action," said Tony Dutzik, a senior policy analyst with Frontier Group, which co-authored the report. "This program hits all those marks, and shows that change is possible."
In December, the nine governors participating in the program announced that they would strengthen the program even further. Environment Virginia’s analysis found that the strengthened program has the potential to generate $7.3 billion in funding for energy efficiency, renewable energy, and greenhouse gas reductions across member states over the next 13 years. And that number could rise even higher with new members. In January 2018, New Jersey announced it would rejoin RGGI. Cooler Together estimates that by joining the program, New Jersey and Virginia combined could eliminate as much as 88 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions.
This analysis comes as Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam plans to build off of his predecessor Gov. Terry McAuliffe's executive proposal known as the Clean Energy Virginia Initiative. With that plan, Virginia, like its neighbors aligned with RGGI, could reduce pollution 30 percent by 2030. The state is currently inviting citizens to weigh in on the plan during a 90-day public comment period. Several public hearings on these proposals are also being held there next month.
In his address to the General Assembly last month, Gov. Northam also encouraged state lawmakers to pass a bill to maximize the benefits of joining this program. The bill would guarantee that polluters pay for their harmful emissions and would encourage the state to direct those fines to clean energy, energy efficiency, and coastal resilience programs.
"My proposed legislation to join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative would provide an estimated $200 million annually for investments throughout the Commonwealth,” said Virginia State Sen.Lynwood Lewis. “That would go towards addressing coastal resiliency and sea level rise, energy efficiency and renewable energy programs, economic development and revitalization in the Southwest region and agricultural best management practices. As the legislature seeks creative ways to fund critical priorities every year, we have an opportunity through RGGI to instead establish a reliable revenue stream while simultaneously lowering utility bills and bringing new jobs to the state. It's a win-win-win."
Virginia’s existing community solar and offshore wind initiatives, including its first offshore wind project near Virginia Beach, provide excellent opportunities for funding further projects with RGGI proceeds.
“By entering the market-based RGGI, Virginia takes a leadership role in the clean energy marketplace and does so at no cost to taxpayers,” said Logan Landry, CEO of Sigora Solar. "Let's help Virginia take millions and turn them into billions for clean energy deployment for Virginian households. Let's enter RGGI. The Commonwealth can't afford to wait.”
Virginia has two existing energy efficiency programs that could benefit from these funds: the Clean Energy Development and Services (CEDS) program and the Commonwealth Energy Fund (CEF).
“Energy efficiency is the fastest, cheapest, cleanest way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and there is tremendous opportunity for energy efficiency improvements in Virginia,” said Dr. Damian Pitt, Associate Professor at VCU's L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs. “By joining the RGGI program, Virginia could generate revenue that could be used to stimulate such energy efficiency investments by homes and small businesses across the Commonwealth."
“We encourage Virginia to join the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states’ leadership on climate change,” said Andrea McGimsey, Environment Virginia’s Global Warming Director. “The success of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative shows that bipartisan action on climate change is possible and can lead to dramatic progress and significant benefits.”