This past week saw the achievement of a significant goal of the 2024 Regular Session of the General Assembly. We were finally able to elect two new commissioners to the State Corporation Commission.

The three-seat State Corporation Commission has not been in full force for two years. The commissioners are often referred to as judges because that is essentially their role at the SCC. They issue rulings and govern disputes regarding a myriad of issues involving energy, utilities, financial institutions, insurance companies, and corporations and business organizations of all stripes. The SCC was founded more than 100 years ago to resolve disputes regarding railroads. While the railroads are largely preempted by federal law now, the SCC still manages some areas of railroad law.

The work is important and was hampered by the delay in filling the vacancies. In December of 2022, one of the members resigned, giving Democrats that controlled the Senate and Republicans that controlled the House each an appointment to fill. Nonetheless, Republicans in the House ensured that we would not get the job done. The House Republicans wanted to control both appointments, so neither was filled. This session, we made filling those seats a priority.

Delegate Jeion Ward, chair of the House Committee on Labor and Commerce and I, as chair of the Senate Committee on Commerce and Labor, worked to encourage people to submit applications to the SCC, and established a process within the Senate and House to vet the candidates. We then agreed on an interview and selection schedule. I am confident the two candidates we selected will serve the Commonwealth well. Sam Towell is a lawyer from Richmond. He has served as a deputy attorney general and oversaw cases heard before the SCC. He has the right experience handling consumer and business matters before that body. Kelsey Bagot is relatively new to Virginia and has work experience at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. She brings a depth of knowledge and creativity to the process. I am glad we were able to appoint two people who had been lauded by both the environmental and business communities.

Senator Deeds meeting with representatives from the Charlottesville Free Clinic

Senator Deeds meeting with representatives from the Charlottesville Free Clinic

The 60-day session moves quickly, and we are steadily moving through pending legislation, including the 22 bills I introduced this year.

In 2020, we passed legislation known as the Virginia Clean Economy Act (VCEA), which aimed to eliminate fossil fuels as a source of electricity generation in the Commonwealth. The standards were among the first adopted by any southern state. It is a gradual process, and the standards are somewhat modest in the views of many people. At this point Virginia is struggling to meet the goals, particularly in light of the new electric demand resulting from the development of the data center sector of the economy.

I’ve introduced two bills, both of which have drawn some attention, aimed at helping us speed up the development of alternative sources of energy. This must be a priority, because if we don’t change the way we do business, we may not meet the goals we set in the VCEA.

First, I introduced legislation to create a competitive process for the development of the next offshore wind project for Virginia. That bill has been opposed by Dominion Power, which had a monopoly on the development of the first phase of a wind project. My concern is not necessarily with Dominion, but I think a competitive process might better serve Virginia consumers by reducing the price of that development.

My second bill would encourage faster development of industrial solar projects. We have a county by county, hodgepodge of rules and regulations that solar developers have to navigate. In other states, namely North Carolina and Michigan and others, there is more uniformity. My bill would provide an appeal process to the SCC for an industrial solar project of 50 megawatts, a wind project of 100 megawatts or more, and certain energy storage facility projects, if the county turns the project down. The county would not lose a place at the table. This is a statewide issue and an arbiter with a broader view than a local board of supervisors might be able to provide a better perspective. After all, transmission lines, which can be 150 feet in width, crisscross our Commonwealth, traversing every county and city. Those lines aren’t approved by local board of supervisors. They are approved by the SCC because they do not just provide power in one county or city. They provide power throughout the Commonwealth. This is a statewide issue, and we need to be thinking about it that way.

As I write, I do not have a lot of hope that either bill will pass. The latter bill has been opposed by the Virginia Association of Counties and local boards of supervisors, the Farm Bureau, Dominion Power, and others. But I think that we have at least begun a conversation regarding the development of alternative sources of energy. We are going to have to continue that conversation if we are to meet our goals under the VCEA and transition to a renewable economy.

It continues to be my high honor to serve you in the Virginia General Assembly. If I may be of service to you or you would like to see your government in action, please contact us at 804-698-7511 or senatordeeds@senate.virginia.gov.

Best,

Creigh