Would you be at all surprised if I told you there was an extremely powerful (e.g., its authority “encompasses utilities, insurance, state-chartered financial institutions, securities, retail franchising, and railroads”), almost completely unaccountable, Virginia government agency which almost no Virginians have ever heard of, let alone know what it does? What about if I told you that this body has been described as Virginia’s “fourth branch of government” and “the most powerful regulatory body in America?” Would you be at all concerned? How about if I told you they just issued the following, absurd ruling:
The State Corporation Commission (SCC) has approved a demonstration project for Dominion Virginia Power which will result in the construction and operation of company-owned solar generation facilities at various commercial, industrial, and public government locations. The purpose of the demonstration is to assess the benefits solar distributed generation has on the company’s distribution system.
The SCC order caps the cost of the solar distribution generation program that can be charged to customers at $80 million. The company was seeking authorization to spend $111 million, a figure that did not include financing costs.
We find that the proposed demonstration Solar DG Program – the benefits of which are unknown at this time – at the level of cost proposed by Dominion is not in furtherance of the public interest.
So, on the one hand, the SCC did end up approving this tiny solar project. Yay. On the other hand, it took the SCC 18 months (!) to do so. In addition, the SCC actually claimed that the benefits of solar power are “unknown at this time,” even as solar power is growing by leaps and bounds around the world, and even as the need for solar power is more urgent than ever.
Finally, what the SCC did finally ended up approving was a mere pittance compared to many other states, not to mention countries like Germany, which are racing ahead with clean energy. So, congratulations SCC, for slowing down Virginia’s transformation to a clean energy economy, for doing the bidding of the entrenched fossil fuel interests in this state, and for putting greed and profit ahead of people and the planet. Heckuva job!
So who on earth is responsible for this pathetic situation? Let me introduce you all to the SCC’s three commissioners — Mark C. Christie, Judith Williams Jagdmann, and James C. Dimitri.
First, there’s Mark Christie, who was “counsel to the speaker of the House from 2000 to 2004, and a former gubernatorial staffer.” On the former, the Virginia House Speaker from 2000 to 2004 was, of course, a Republican – Vance Wilkins (got a ZERO rating from the Sierra Club for being rabidly anti-environment, also a total slimeball, forced out for corruption and sexual scandal) through 2002, then the abysmally anti-environment ALEC tool Bill Howell since then. ‘Nuff said on Christie.
Then there’s James C. Dimitri, who even Republican Congressman Frank Wolf noted “has been representing Dominion Power in its efforts to build huge transmission power lines across much of the northern part of the Commonwealth.”
Finally, there’s Judith Williams Jagdmann, formerly top deputy to Virginia Attorney General Jerry Kilgore (R), himself a puppet of Big Coal (see here, for instance).
In sum, we’ve got three people on the State Corporation Commission who are all big fans of big coal, and of (ironically) Dominion Power. We’ve also got three people who most definitely do not appear to be friends of clean energy alternatives like solar power. Thus, I suppose we shouldn’t be too surprised that these three people somehow managed to take 18 months to (reluctantly) approve a tiny, solar demonstration project, when what we obviously need at this point is an all-out, urgent push for clean energy on a massive scale.
As if that’s not bad enough, the SCC still has not approved Dominion Power’s request (made in November 2011) to start up a Community Solar Power Program. Again, this isn’t a huge deal compared to the magnitude of what we need, but it’s positive in that it would allow Dominion to buy back a lot more energy from people who want to place solar on their homes (e.g., allow Dominion to provide incentives to people to put solar on their home). So why’s the SCC taking so long on this apparent no-brainer? I can’t prove this, but given the backgrounds of the three SCC commissioners, I can’t help but wonder if it has anything to do with their friendliness to coal, and to coal’s vicious opposition to clean energy, which it knows is increasingly an economically competitive option, not even counting all the “negative externalities” (pollution, adverse health consequences, mountaintop removal, etc.) coal brings to the table. #FAIL
P.S. By the way, what surprised me the most in researching this blog post is how LITTLE information there is out there publicly about these three extremely powerful individuals. That, in and of itself, speaks volumes – none of it good.