The Northern Virginia Electric Co-opeative's biomass plant in Halifax County. Courtesy of NOVEC.
The Northern Virginia Electric Cooperative's biomass plant in Halifax County. Courtesy of NOVEC.

A Virginia electric cooperative remains unable to sell renewable energy credits from its Halifax County biomass plant in the commonwealth after an effort to change state law lacked sufficient backing this year.

The approximately 50-megawatt NOVEC Energy Production Halifax County Biomass Plant, which is run by a subsidiary of the Northern Virginia Electric Cooperative and burns wood as fuel, has not been able to sell renewable energy credits, or RECs, in the commonwealth since it began operating in 2013. Unlike Virginia’s investor-owned utilities, the co-op isn’t required by state law to maintain a certain minimum percentage of renewable energy in its portfolio, but it also isn’t allowed to sell credits.

New legislation about biomass facilities cleared the House and Senate during this session of the General Assembly. Gov. Glenn Youngkin then recommended four amendments, one of which would have allowed NOVEC to sell its credits in Virginia as long as it could find another 148 megawatts of renewable energy to add to its portfolio, a task that NOVEC President and CEO Dave Schleicher has said likely would take at least several years.

State lawmakers reconvened Wednesday in Richmond for a one-day session to consider Youngkin’s recommended amendments and vetoes.

While the Senate’s Democratic majority rejected three other recommended amendments to the biomass legislation on a party-line vote, the amendment that would have benefited NOVEC was “passed by” for the day, meaning that while it wasn’t outright voted down, it also wasn’t approved.

“NOVEC appreciates Governor Youngkin’s amendment and thanks those who supported the effort,” Schleicher said in a statement Thursday. “We are disappointed bipartisan support could not be found, as we believe biomass will remain an important part of the Commonwealth’s long-term energy mix. We remain committed to providing our customers with affordable, reliable energy, and having our biomass plant be an economic engine in the Southside region. We will continue to work with lawmakers to strengthen Virginia’s REC market, while increasing the supply of renewable energy generation.”

Biomass facilities, which in general burn organic matter as fuel, have both backers and detractors.

Opponents say such facilities are expensive and polluting and shouldn’t be considered renewable energy in the same way that cleaner sources such as solar and wind are.

Proponents say biomass electricity generation reduces dependence on fossil fuels, and NOVEC says its Halifax plant in particular was designed with the environment in mind, burning only wood left over from forestry operations while also meeting strict air-emissions requirements.

NOVEC currently sells the Halifax plant’s renewable energy credits in Maryland, though some lawmakers there are trying to phase out biomass as a qualifying source of renewable energy.

Matt Busse is the business reporter for Cardinal News. Matt spent nearly 19 years at The News & Advance,...