Governor directs Virginia agencies to develop GHG reduction plan

Virginia agencies will develop a "trading-ready" greenhouse gas reduction plan for power plants that would allow the state to join a regional program under an executive order signed by Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat.

The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality was directed on Tuesday to develop a greenhouse gas regulation for consideration by the State Air Pollution Control Board that would allow the state to participate in a multi-state program such as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.

The plan, set to be filed with the Air Pollution Control Board by the end of the year, must also set greenhouse gas emissions limits that match the level set by other states.

McAuliffe's term expires on January 13 so Virginia's next governor will likely determine whether the state continues down the path set by the current governor.

The executive order implements one of the main recommendations from a report released earlier this month by a group of state agencies. About a year ago, McAuliffe asked the agencies to make suggestions on how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from Virginia's power sector.

In a May 12 report delivered to McAuliffe, the group declined to propose specific emissions limits. "The work group believes that it is important and necessary that Virginia work through a regional model, like the established and successful RGGI, in order to both achieve lower compliance costs and address the interstate nature of the electric grid," the report said.

Emissions from Virginia's power plants account for about 30 percent of all greenhouse gas releases in the state, according to the report.

RGGI uses a cap-and-trade approach to lower carbon emissions from power plants. The cap, set at 84.3 million tons this year, falls 2.5 percent a year through 2020. The RGGI states - Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont - are reviewing the program and considering new emissions targets for 2030 and 2050.

The RGGI review and the action in Virginia is coming at the same time that the Trump administration is pulling back from the Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Power Plan.

President Trump earlier this year signed an executive order directing the EPA to start the process of re-evaluating and rewriting the Clean Power Plan - the EPA's rule, issued in final form in late 2015, to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel-fired power plants.

Virginia has about 26,621 megawatts in installed capacity, including 17,948 MW in coal-fired and natural gas-fired generation, 3,568 MW in nuclear capacity and 1,864 MW of renewable capacity, according to the Energy Information Administration.