In March, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam signed an omnibus spending bill bringing significant changes to energy policy. The law was widely criticized by legislators and grassroots organizations — including Appalachian Voices, the publisher of this newspaper — as being heavily influenced by and largely benefiting Dominion Energy.
Although the law ended Dominion’s 2015 rate freezes that had allowed the utility to overcharge customers by hundreds of millions of dollars, it restricts the ability of the State Corporation Commission to regulate future rates that utilities charge their customers. The commission is tasked with ensuring that regulated monopolies like Dominion act in the public’s best interest.
Additionally, the law allows Dominion to keep most of the customer overcharges to spend on new infrastructure. Opponents of the law argue that this will prevent the SCC from issuing customer refunds and lowering Dominion’s artificially inflated rates.
“This means that SCC’s job going forward will simply be to rubber stamp Dominion’s decisions rather than independently scrutinizing the proposals’ merits,” Del. Mark Keam wrote in a Washington Post op-ed. Additionally, Del. Keam called for a “prohibition” on political campaign contributions from Dominion.
The law also eased the regulatory path for 5.5 gigawatts of new renewable energy projects, but did not make them mandatory.