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Democratic Delegates Square Off With Dominion Over Clean Energy

Dominion Energy is gradually retiring its high-emissions coal-fired plants in favor of more efficient natural gas plants. But some Democratic delegates say those facilities are still  heavy polluters and are advocating a statewide push to renewable energy.

Delegates Sam Rasoul and Elizabeth Guzman are sponsoring legislation for the upcoming General Assembly session that would require the state’s energy suppliers to move to 80 percent renewable energy by 2028. It would also place a moratorium on state approvals for almost all new energy infrastructure related to fossil fuel beginning in 2020.

The bill faces long odds; a similar one died in committee last year.

Rasoul says the innovation is there to reach those targets, but Dominion's clout impedes the implentation.

“What we need to be doing is limiting their influence on legislators like me and making sure that we’re returning that power to the people,” he said.

Rasoul made the remarks in a press conference last month with the environmental group Food & Water Watch, which published a report accusing Dominion of lavishing lawmakers with campaign cash and gifts at the expense of consumers and the environment.

The company is the top corporate donor in the state since at least 1996, according to the Virginia Public Access Project.

“The entrenched political power of Dominion is the single greatest obstacle to charting a clean energy future in Virginia,” the report says.

Dominion has donated to Democrats as well as Republicans--a sore point among left-leaning delegates like Rasoul. He and 12 other Democrats have signed a pledge refusing to take money from Dominion or Appalachian Power.

Dominion spokesman Rayhan Daudani said that there was nothing exceptional about Dominion’s political giving, which he said was done transparently. He said groups opposed to the company’s policies “do not always disclose the sources of their donations or funding.”

Dominion says it’s aiming to have 3,000 megawatts of solar and wind energy under development or in operation by the beginning of 2022, including a pilot plant of two 6-megawatt wind turbines 27 miles off the Virginia coast. The company also says it has reduced its air emission rates by 90 percent from 2000 to 2017.

But the Food & Water report notes that Dominion’s total carbon dioxide emissions are up even as its technology becomes more efficient. It says the the wind and solar farms are a drop in the bucket compared to the company’s other, higher-polluting plants.

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Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Delegate Delores McQuinn is co-sponsor of the clean energy bill. The bill is sponsored by Delegates Sam Rasoul and Elizabeth Guzman.