Front Porch Blog

Heading into the final stretch on Va. electric rate bill

TAKE ACTION

Call your delegate and senator now (weekends and after-hours are fine—just leave a clear message).

  • Ask your delegate to support Del. Rasoul’s substitute bill
  • and

  • Ask your delegate and senator to restore all SCC authority
  • Tell them if SCC authority is not restored, they must vote NO on Dominion’s bill
  • When in session, the Virginia General Assembly moves at a dizzying speed, with legislators considering thousands of bills and amendments in a matter of 60 days. The rapid-fire pace is particularly intense this year, due to some new power dynamics.

    In January, Dominion Energy put forth a massive legislative overhaul to change how electricity rates are set. But in a historic shift from the utility’s usual omnipotence in the political sphere, the proposal has been met with significant resistance.

    The motives of the company behind the unneeded fracked-gas Atlantic Coast Pipeline, which would commandeer the land of countless families, have always been suspect, but Virginians are now more skeptical than ever.

    As a result, Dominion has been changing its bill up to several times a week, each time a new attempt to cajole lawmakers into allowing the legislation to advance to the governor’s desk, despite provisions that would strip regulatory oversight of the monopoly and put customers on the hook for billions of dollars in unnecessary charges in years to come.

    Both the House of Delegates and Senate are slated to cast their final votes on this bill this coming week. And the problems remaining in the latest draft are enormous.

    • The bill claims to end the controversial 2015 “rate freeze,” but it effectively continues the “rate freeze” by allowing Dominion and Virginia’s other investor-owned utilities to manipulate their accounting of costs. This means that for the next ten years, it is unlikely that customer refunds will be issued (except for a modest one-time refund in the first year), despite Dominion’s chronically overcharging ratepayers. And it is unlikely that the State Corporation Commission (SCC) will be able to order a reduction in utility rates, which are already too high and have been for years.
    • The bill sets a dangerous legal precedent by stripping the SCC of its responsibility and authority to determine whether or not the multi-billion costs of burying power lines underground are, as required by statute, “reasonable and prudent” uses of ratepayers’ hard-earned money. This matters because Virginia grants utilities the privilege to operate as monopolies. If the SCC cannot regulate costs, there is nothing left to protect consumers from paying monopoly prices.
    • The SCC has highlighted these concerns in its own analysis, concluding that the legislation could cost ratepayers billions of dollars in unnecessary investments.
    • This attempt to seize SCC authority appears to be a direct response to the SCC’s rejection of a recent multi-billion dollar undergrounding proposal from Dominion. When the legislature overrides the judgment of this independent expert agency, it has a chilling effect, essentially warning the SCC: “Don’t do your job.”
    • The only limit on the amount of ratepayer money Dominion could spend on undergrounding without SCC oversight under its bill is about $200 million per year. For context, the one- time refund to customers proposed by this legislation for past overcharges has also been set around $200 million. So the bill refunds $200 million back to Dominion customers in the first year, but then immediately cancels the refund by allowing the company to charge up to $200 million per year for these projects at our expense, regardless of whether or not they are cost-effective

    What’s clear is that this bill should not be passed as written. Many lawmakers have worked diligently to improve it, but their work is not done. Fortunately, there are solutions. Delegate Sam Rasoul has put forward a substitute bill. It starts with a “clean” repeal of the “rate freeze,” allowing the SCC to immediately commence reviewing electricity rates every two years. Del. Rasoul’s substitute also includes the provisions from Dominion’s bill that various citizens’ groups support, including mandatory energy efficiency investments, and declarations that 5,000 megawatts of new solar and wind are in the public interest.

    Dominion’s bill is dense and complicated but it didn’t have to be. The “rate freeze” should simply have been repealed, restoring full authority to the SCC over monopoly utilities. Policies that advance renewable energy, energy efficiency, and grid modernization are crucial, but because they are inherently good policies, the General Assembly should approve them on their own merit. Instead, Dominion is using them to cover up a massive repeal of SCC authority so that monopolies can operate not only without competition, but also without basic regulatory safeguards.

    Now, in the final stretch, it is crucial that you contact your elected officials and voice your concerns.

    Call your delegate and senator now (weekends and after-hours are fine—just leave a clear message).

  • Ask your delegate to support Del. Rasoul’s substitute bill
  • and

  • Ask your delegate and senator to restore all SCC authority
  • Tell them if SCC authority is not restored, they must vote NO on Dominion’s bill
  • A native of northern Virginia, Peter holds a J.D. from George Mason University and is a member of the Virginia State Bar. He joined Appalachian Voices in 2016 as our Virginia Program Manager with a keen passion for transitioning the region from fossil fuels to a clean energy economy.


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    One COMMENT
    1. Basil Akers says:

      The infrastructure of the distribution of electricity should be a legitimate function of state governments or the federal government when two or more states are involved. However the content of electrical kilowatts should be for private firms who bid for the contracts to deliver electric kilowatts. This requires a rethinking and restructuring of the GRID under Federal guidance.

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