Del. Terry Kilgore: Virginians should set Virginia energy policy

June 23, 2020

Kilgore represents the First District in the Virginia House of Delegates. His district consists of Lee County, Scott County, part of Wise County, and the City of Norton. He is a Republican from Scott County.

New England is a nice place this time of year. It is certainly a bit cooler than Virginia summers, and there is plenty to explore and see.

There are a lot of nice people in New England, too, even if Patriots football coach Bill Belichick is a bit grumpy.

But for all the things New England has going for it, I am not sure the people of Southwest Virginia, or the commonwealth for that matter, want New Englanders setting Virginia energy policy.

That is what could happen under an obscure case before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).

If allowed to move forward, this case would set two bad precedents. It would move us closer to nationalized electricity regulation and give more power to unaccountable federal bureaucrats.

We, as Virginians, must oppose this and fight to make sure the authority to set energy policy stays vested with Virginia’s General Assembly. Even if I disagree with much of what the new majority wants to do on energy policy, I disagree even more with federalizing it and handing it over to unelected bureaucrats.

The deal struck this session to keep the Virginia City Hybrid Energy Center open is exactly why people of our region should care.

A group called the New England Ratepayers Association (NERA) filed a case with FERC seeking to end state control over certain electricity programs and instead is asking FERC itself to make policy decisions for the entire country.

FERC is a federal regulatory agency that controls interstate electricity transmission and other regulatory matters related to energy. This includes the buying and selling of electricity across state lines, oil and natural gas pipelines, and the regulation of non-federal hydro projects.

The underlying policy question is really of little importance here, but in this case, it deals with the bill credits customers receive for providing excess power to the electric grid. Virginia, like other states, sets a policy for this practice — known as net metering — allowing homeowners and businesses with solar panels to earn credits when they make more power than they use.

Even though it is often seen as a Democratic issue, Republicans in the legislature established Virginia’s net metering policy many years ago.

The NERA group wants to end state control over this policy and instead is asking FERC to set all the rules and regulations around net metering.

As I alluded to before, regardless of your thoughts on the policy itself, the principle of the matter is that Virginia’s elected officials should set Virginia policy.

Washington is dysfunctional and broken. We should not allow important decisions like this to be federalized. They will inevitably get caught up in partisan politics and end up worse off than before.

We also should not allow decisions like this to be handed over to unelected bureaucrats. That eliminates transparency and accountability, giving people less say in how decisions are made.

The concentration of power in Washington and with decision-makers unaccountable to the people is dangerous. Right now, it is a seemingly small question about solar policy, but what is next? We all know that once we give control to a federal agency, we never get it back.

Important energy policy matters, especially ones that have always been under state control, should be debated publicly and openly by the people’s elected representatives.

I say all this knowing I disagree with many of the energy policies of the current majority in the General Assembly. But this past session provides a perfect illustration of why decisions should still be made in Richmond by elected leaders instead of unelected folks in Washington.

During discussions over a major energy reform bill, members of the Southwest Virginia delegation negotiated an agreement to allow the Virginia City Hybrid Energy Center to remain open. The bill would have closed it in 2028, but now it can remain open – providing jobs and tax revenue to our region – for several more decades.

Southwest Virginia will not have that kind of leverage at FERC. We will not be able to go and fight for our jobs and our people. We will have to sit back, wait and see what Washington decides for us.

The bottom line is we should not allow some New England group to concentrate policymaking power in the hands of bureaucrats in D.C.

Important energy questions like this one and others should be decided here in the commonwealth by those accountable to the people.