Gov.-elect Glenn Youngkin said Wednesday that he will use executive power to withdraw Virginia from a program called the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, which he said is essentially a tax on electricity ratepayers and a bad deal for them and for business.
Youngkin's comments came during a speech in Virginia Beach at the annual meeting of the Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce.
The program, designed to reduce emissions from power plants, was approved by the Democratic-controlled General Assembly in 2020 and signed by Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam. In August, the Virginia State Corporation Commission first approved a request by Dominion Energy, the state's largest electric utility, to recover costs from customers for RGGI, as it's called.
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"Just this week Dominion Energy announced that they will seek to double the carbon surcharge that is being applied to ratepayers under the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative," said Youngkin, the Republican who won the governor's office last month and takes office Jan. 15.
"RGGI will cost ratepayers over the next four years an estimated $1 billion to $1.2 billion dollars. RGGI describes itself as a regional market for carbon, but it is really a carbon tax that is fully passed on to ratepayers. It’s a bad deal for Virginians. It’s a bad deal for Virginia businesses. And as governor I will withdraw us from RGGI by executive action."
Energy producers in states that participate in RGGI trade emission reductions for credits, or buy credits to emit carbon dioxide past a cap. The revenue the state gets from the program is directed to programs that help low-income people reduce energy usage - thereby lowering their cost of electricity - and for programs combating sea level rise in coastal areas.
The estimated impact on a typical Dominion Energy Virginia residential customer bill was estimated earlier this year at $2.39 a month. In its filings at the SCC on Monday, Dominion said the monthly bill increase next year will be $4.37.
And that's not counting other pieces of legislation the General Assembly approved that are estimated to cause a sharp increase in electricity bills.
The legislation allowing Virginia's participation in RGGI was paired with passage in 2020 of a law called the Clean Economy Act as part of a policy shift toward cleaner air and water. Those measures are projected to lead to steep increases in electric bills because utilities will recover costs from customers.
The Virginia League of Conservation Voters, a proponent of the RGGI program, questioned whether Youngkin has to power to remove Virginia.
Lee Francis, a spokesman, said a governor cannot single-handedly roll back state laws or regulations without action by the legislature, or in this case, the State Air Pollution Control Board. "Youngkin's proposal is grounded in neither fact or law," Francis said.
In his speech, Youngkin said he would be a champion of various forms of electricity production - wind, solar, nuclear and natural gas, and pledged that his administration would support coastal resiliency and fight sea level rise and flooding in Hampton Roads.
This is a developing story and will be updated.