Standing up to the utility giants

In a testament to the power that Dominion Energy, Virginia’s largest corporate political campaign donor, is accustomed to wielding, the state has earned a dubious distinction: “One of the top state regulatory environments for utilities in the U.S.,” according to Goldman Sachs.

The key phrase here is “for utilities.” But what’s best for these companies’ bottom lines is not necessarily best for the rest of us, who are known in utility-speak as “ratepayers.” The same goes for the citizens literally standing in the way of massive corporations’ quest for continued dominance over energy markets — the farmers, homeowners and small businesses in the paths of the proposed fracked-gas Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley pipelines.

Monopoly utilities like Virginia’s Dominion Energy make large profits by investing billions in electricity generation, transmission and distribution projects, then charging ratepayers to recoup costs, plus a guaranteed rate of return generally between 10 and 13 percent — with virtually no risk.

So it’s essential that state utility commissions review every expenditure the company proposes to ensure that it serves the public interest.

But in the face of a changing energy landscape where solar power generated by homeowners and small businesses threatens its business model, and widespread public outrage over the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, Dominion is once again asking the Virginia General Assembly for special favors. It’s asking legislators for an end-run around utility commission review, opening the gates to unnecessary projects, increased electricity rates and more big utility profits.

In short, utilities need this kind of special treatment from the government to maintain their excessive profits on the backs of ratepayers. And if Dominion succeeds in obtaining permits to build its controversial $5 billion pipeline, it plans to use the government’s power of eminent domain to condemn the property of landowners along the route who refuse to sell. These extraordinary powers are dangerous if misused, and we rely on our democracy to ensure that they are not.

It’s high time for our elected representatives to finally say “no” to utility giants like Dominion when they demand more power over our lives and future for the sake of shareholder profits.

Tom Cormons, Executive Director


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