The High Cost of the Virginia Clean Economy Act

The Virginia Clean Economy Act Will Cost Virginia an Additional $203 Billion through 2050

Laws mandating the use of wind and solar power have been a popular measure used by state policymakers to increase the amount of electricity generated by these energy sources in the United States for nearly two decades. These laws, commonly known as Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPSs) or Renewable Energy Mandates (REMs), have been passed in 30 states and Washington D.C. The mandates have also become increasingly stringent over time.

Unfortunately, the lawmakers enacting these mandates failed to grasp the consequences that these policies would have on the reliability and affordability of the Ameri- can electric grid. As a result, prices have increased, and reliability has faltered.

Many people believe replacing coal and natural gas-fired power plants with wind turbines, solar panels, and battery storage technologies will be easy to accomplish and reduce electricity prices. However, this belief is not supported by the physics of the electrical system
or the real-world experience of states with high penetrations of wind and solar power.

Wind turbines and solar power can only produce electricity when the wind is blowing or the sun is shining. Furthermore, many people seem to think of the grid as a device that stores electricity for later use, like a giant bathtub that fills with power that can be accessed when needed at a later time. This misconception leads people to believe that wind and solar can increase the availability of electricity on the grid and improve reliability. They cannot.

Texas and California are poster children for states with heavy reliance on wind and solar generation that experienced blackouts when the weather did not cooperate, but the Southwest Power Pool, a consortium including 17 states that relies heavily on wind generation, also experienced rolling blackouts during winter storm Uri in February of 2021 because the wind wasn’t blowing.

In her best-selling book Shorting the Grid, Meredith Angwin describes a fatal trifecta afflict- ing electric grids throughout the nation. The fatal trifecta occurs when grids are overly reliant upon generation from weather-dependent renewable resources, such as wind and solar, electricity imports from neighboring regions, and just-in-time delivery and power generation from natural gas.

Angwin is a strong proponent of nuclear energy, which she sees as the most reliable, affordable way to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from the power generation sector, but she also acknowledges the vital role that coal plants play in keeping the lights on due to their large, on-site fuel supplies.

This study assesses how the Virginia Clean Economy Act (VCEA) would increase costs for families and businesses in the Commonwealth and make the grid more fragile. It also assesses an alternative scenario, the Reliable Resource Scenario (RRS), where reliability and affordability are given the prioritization they deserve.

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