By Emily Holter
Capital News Service
RICHMOND — On a split vote, a legislative committee has approved a bill to halt the construction of power plants that use fossil fuels and pipelines that carry such fuels after 2020 and to develop a plan for Virginia to rely totally on renewable energy for generating electricity by 2036.
The House Commerce and Labor Committee voted 9-7 on Wednesday in favor of HB 1635, which would place a moratorium effective Jan. 1, 2021, on issuing permits for electrical generating facilities that use fossil fuels such as coal or natural gas. The moratorium also would apply to pipelines, refineries and other facilities associated with fossil fuels.
Moreover, the bill mandates that beginning in 2036, all electricity sold by public utilities in the state must be generated from clean energy resources.
“It challenges Virginia to come up with an aggressive 100 percent renewables plan in the next 15 years,” said the measure’s sponsor, Del. Sam Rasoul, D-Roanoke. “We clearly have heeded the warning that we are in an environmental crisis that could lead to an economic crisis.”
There are more than 97,000 jobs in the solar, wind and other renewable-energy industries in Virginia, Rasoul said. He said the bill would create more jobs and boost the economy, especially in impoverished areas, while helping to mitigate the effects of climate change.
But the bill’s opponents argue that the timetable to switch electricity production from fossil fuels to renewable energy is too short.
Del. Tony Wilt, R-Harrisonburg, said that he supports renewable energy but that the plan would have negative consequences on the state.
“People are reading too much into the tea leaves,” Wilt said. “Moving from A to Q in a short amount of time could be devastating.”
Rasoul’s bill initially called for imposing a moratorium on the construction of fossil-fuel power plants, pipelines and other facilities on Jan. 1, 2020. The House Commerce and Labor Committee changed the date to 2021 before voting on the legislation.
Republican Del. Tim Hugo of Fairfax joined eight Democrats on the committee in voting for the bill. Five Republicans and two Democrats voted against the measure. Six committee members — all Republicans — did not vote.
In an interview Wednesday, Rasoul acknowledged that it would be difficult for the bill to pass the full House of Delegates. But he said that he is glad people are talking about moving away from fossil fuels — and that he is hopeful for his proposal in the long term.
“It is time for Virginia to be bold if we want to move in the right direction,” Rasoul said.