Big Coal, Utilities Dominate Virginia Energy Policy, Report Says

Citizens Highlight Money in Politics on Eve of Governor’s Energy Conference

Appalachian Voices * Sierra Club Virginia * Chesapeake Climate Action Network

For Immediate Release
October 2, 2012

Tom Cormons, Appalachian Voices, 434-981-6506,
Glen Besa, Sierra Club Virginia, 804-387-6001,
Beth Kemler, Chesapeake Climate Action Network, 202-641-0955,

Richmond – In advance of the Governor’s Energy Conference beginning tomorrow, clean energy groups today released a white paper highlighting the influence that coal companies and utilities wield over Virginia energy policy. The top sponsors of the governor’s conference are Dominion Virginia Power, Alpha Natural Resources and Appalachian Power Company, who combined contribute millions of dollars to state election campaigns.

Appalachian Voices, Sierra Club Virginia and Chesapeake Climate Action Network analyzed more than a decade of publicly available data. The groups draw the connection between the campaign contributions and corporate gifts from these and other dirty energy companies, and the poor record of Virginia in advancing energy efficiency and renewable programs compared to other states.

>> Dirty Money, Dirty Power (PDF, 12 pages)

“The top sponsors of the energy conference are also top sponsors of Virginia’s election campaigns,” said Tom Cormons, Virginia Director for Appalachian Voices. “Unfortunately, these companies dominate Virginia’s energy policy, just as they dominate the conference agenda. This harms consumers and taxpayers, and it may be the single greatest impediment to transitioning the commonwealth to a cleaner, healthier energy future.”

“Most Virginians want more energy efficiency, wind and solar power, but corporations like Dominion and Alpha pay for the privilege to write our energy policy, and they want us to continue to rely on dirty fossil fuels because that adds the most to their bottom line,” said Glen Besa, director of Sierra Club Virginia.

Dominion Virginia contributed more than $750,000 to state-level politicians in 2007 alone. That year, an energy utility re-regulation bill, which provided an enormous rate of return for the utility, was rushed through the General Assembly, the groups say. While the rest of Virginia suffered in the economic downturn, Dominion was guaranteed by law to make a significant profit. That law also introduced the state’s voluntary Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS), which Dominion has proven can be easily met without building any wind or solar projects in Virginia. By meeting the RPS goals, Dominion qualifies for a bonus that will end up costing customers approximately $76 million over two years.

“Virginia’s Renewable Portfolio Standard law is the holy Grail of corporate handouts, ” stated Beth Kemler Chesapeake Climate Action Network Virginia State Director. “Instead of requiring utilities to generate renewable energy, like many states do, our legislators were convinced by Dominion and other utilities to offer prize money for the task. And the law was written so loosely that Dominion can get the bonus by doing little more than fill out some paperwork.”

The groups also criticized Virginia politicians for backing an arrangement between VDOT and the Virginia-based coal company, Alpha Natural Resources. The “coal synergy” project attempts to justify 51 miles of leveled ridge tops by promising to leave behind a highway called the Coalfields Expressway. The biggest red flag is that the coal industry, not VDOT, proposed the route.

“Alpha designed the route to get to the most coal possible and because, in theory, they are clearing the way for VDOT to build a highway, they will be using taxpayer dollars and taking private land from citizens along the route by eminent domain,” said Besa. “They say the highway is needed to bring economic development to the region, but it is unlikely to deliver on that promise because it bypasses many already economically depressed towns.”

The groups are planning a rally outside of the Governor’s Energy Conference on Wednesday evening to call attention to the influence of corporate money and to promote renewable energy. Speakers and topics for the two-day event are heavily focused on fossil fuels, mirroring the sponsorship by coal companies and utilities.