Home Energy and Environment Dominion gets what it wants, but Virginia doesn’t get what it needs

Dominion gets what it wants, but Virginia doesn’t get what it needs


No, you can’t always get what you want.

You can’t always get what you want.

You can’t always get what you want.

But if you try sometime you find,

You get what Dominion Power wants.

–With apologies to the Rolling Stones

I guess there’s a reason I never made it as a songwriter. That last line is a disaster. But that, in a nutshell, is what happened to SB 1349, known as the rate-freeze bill, the ratepayer rip-off, or the Dominion bill, depending on whether you were pro, con, or still trying to figure it out.

The bill began and ended as a way for Dominion Virginia Power to shield excess profits from the possibility of regulators ordering refunds to customers. Along the way, Appalachian Power jumped on board, even though its president had already admitted the company had been earning more than it should.

When we last looked, SB 1349 was undergoing radical rewriting on the floor of the Senate, in real time. Conflicting amendments were being passed around. Outside the chamber, lawmakers from both parties were huddled in hallways with Dominion lobbyists. The coal caucus had already tacked on language making it harder to close coal-fired power plants. Now the Governor, progressive leaders and clean energy supporters were pushing amendments guaranteeing more solar and energy efficiency programs.

To get a sense of how impossible it was for the rank and file to follow, check out the bill history with its amendments offered and rejected, and the readings of the amendments waived.

With cameras rolling and the clock ticking, senators made speeches about provisions other people told them were now in the bill, but without anyone having the time to read the language they were expected to vote on.  That being normal, they voted on the strength of promises made and assurances given.  

With Dominion Power insisting on passage, the result was never in real doubt. Few legislators want to cross the most powerful force in Virginia politics, and the source of so much campaign cash, perks, and donations to local charities. But they needed to hear those promises made and assurances given; otherwise, what would they tell their constituents, when newspapers across the state had been blasting this bill?

The promises made and assurances given also quieted the environmentalists who had led the opposition. Consumers, we were told, would now see investments in solar and energy efficiency that would bring long-term savings, energy diversity and greater price stability, as well as lower pollution and new jobs. The bill would contain firm commitments and produce meaningful investments in energy efficiency and solar power.

The Senate passed the bill, and then finally everyone read what had been voted on. Yes, Dominion had gotten what it wanted, but then it had gotten . . . even more of what it wanted!

The bill contains a solar provision that smooths the way for utilities to develop or buy up to 500 megawatts of solar power, using Virginia suppliers. But it doesn’t require any minimum solar investment or contain a deadline for getting that solar power on the grid.

As for efficiency, SB 1349 does now contain a provision requiring utilities to create “pilot programs” for energy assistance and weatherization for low-income, elderly and disabled customers, but it doesn’t say how big a program has to be or how much money must be spent. A “pilot program,” by definition, is small and experimental. It is a baby step, when we were expecting adult strides.

While clean energy advocates were still trying to figure out what happened to the promise of firm commitments and deadlines on solar power, SB 1349 blew through the House.

In short, the final bill language now on the Governor’s desk gives Dominion the authority, but not the obligation, to make clean energy investments.  

Virginia law gives our governor an option that most states don’t offer: rather than sign it or veto a bill outright, he can amend it and send it back to the legislature for a final vote. That makes Governor McAuliffe the one person who can still salvage something from this miserable bill. He can put in the solar numbers and dates that went missing-or raise them further-and put hard targets into the efficiency programs. Doing so would finally put McAuliffe on the path to creating all those clean energy jobs he campaigned on.

Dominion will still get what it wants, but if McAuliffe will try, we might get what we need.

  • From the Virginia Sierra Club; I couldn’t agree more, this is a huge waste of money when energy efficiency and distributed solar are FAR cheaper than this ridiculous, taxpayer-funded boondoggle.

    New Reactor near site of 2011 Earthquake

    called Too Costly, Too Risky

    (Richmond, VA) Today 15 organizations announced they have come together to form Not on Our Fault Line, an alliance that will oppose Dominion Virginia Power’s plans for a new nuclear reactor in Louisa County adjacent to the site of the North Anna Reactors 1 & 2.

    “We are calling on Dominion Virginia Power to abandon its plans for the North Anna 3 reactor because this project is too costly and too risky,” said Jerry Rosenthal, a Louisa County resident, and member of the People’s Alliance for Clean Energy.

    The price tag for the proposed North Anna 3 nuclear reactor would be “far north of ten billion dollars” according to Daniel Weekley, Vice President of Corporate Affairs for Dominion, who made that comment to legislators in testimony before a Special Joint Subcommittee of the House and Senate Committees on Commerce and Labor on January 13, 2015.

    “The North Anna 3 nuclear reactor is too costly because that $10+ billion price tag for a new nuclear reactor could raise our utility bills ‘far north’ of a 40% increase[1],” said Glen Besa, Virginia Director for the Sierra Club. “Dominion needs to be investing in efficiency, solar and wind energy all of which are far cheaper that nuclear power.” [2]

    The nuclear power industry has had a history of long construction delays and massive cost overruns in bringing new plants on line. Just last week, Georgia Power announced delays and costs overruns at it Vogtle nuclear reactor, now under construction, that could exceed $4 billion.[3]

    “A new nuclear reactor at North Anna is also too risky,’ said Erica Gray, Nuclear Issues Chair for the Virginia Sierra Club.  “This reactor would be built on an existing fault line and just 11 miles from the epicenter of a 2011 earthquake that exceeded the design standards of the two existing reactors and cracked the Washington Monument some eighty miles away. Additionally, it is a new reactor design that has never been built and operated commercially.”

    “When things go seriously wrong, a nuclear accident on the scale of Fukushima and Chernobyl is a human and an economic disaster,” said Gray.  “More than 21,000 people live within 10 miles of North Anna and 1.6 million live within fifty miles including the cities of Richmond, Charlottesville and Fredericksburg. We can’t even imagine the costs in human suffering and economic loss if we had to evacuate all these people for months or permanently.”    

    “The August 23, 2011, earthquake was a rude wake up call.  25 of 27 casks, weighing in excess of 100 tons, in which Dominion stores high level nuclear waste moved as much as 4 1/2 inches as a result of the quake,” noted Gray. “Dominion and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission may say there was no permanent damage, but numerous leaks and even broken fuel rods discovered since the quake suggest otherwise.”

    “Geologists are still studying the 2011 quake and the prospects that we could see future, possibly stronger earthquakes[4],” said Gray, “but Dominion and the NRC seem as concerned about this risk as they were in the 1970s when they hid information about a fault line from the public.”

    The questionable seismic suitability of the North Anna site has been known for over forty years[5]. In 1969, during construction of the two reactors that currently occupy the North Anna site, VEPCO, now known as Dominion Virginia Power, discovered that the site was underlain by an earthquake fault, but hid that fact from the public and federal regulators for nearly four years.  It was not until May 1973, that Dominion formally disclosed in a letter to federal regulators the existence the fault and that letter was not shared with the public for another three months. In 1975 the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board found that Dominion Virginia Power had lied about the fault and fined the company $60,000 which was later reduced to $32,000.  

    During the four years that Dominion covered up the fault, construction continued, and with construction so far along the Nuclear Regulatory Commission allowed the plant to proceed. Criminal charges were never filed in the case after the U.S. Justice Department concluded that the federal agency in charge of the permit had colluded with Dominion to cover up the discovery of the fault making the case too difficult to prosecute.

    Last week the Nuclear Regulatory Commission staff recommended that the Commission grant Detroit Edison a combined operating license for the proposed Fermi 3 nuclear power plant[6] which is based on the same new reactor design as North Anna 3.  

    “We are very concerned that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission could issue a permit to Dominion for North Anna 3, despite the risk of earthquakes, in the next 12 to 18 months,” said Gray.

    “The North Anna 3 nuclear reactor is just too costly and too risky,” said Rosenthal, and. Dominion needs to stop wasting their customers’ money on a project that will never get completed even if it is permitted by the NRC.”

    “While there are some who argue that nuclear power may be an alternative to fossil fuels in addressing climate change” observed Besa, “even if you are of that opinion, you would not knowingly build a nuclear reactor near an active fault line. That’s just dumb.”

    “We’re going to oppose Dominion, and we are going to stop the North Anna 3 nuclear reactor,” said Rosenthal.

  • Enki

    Since Dominion is pulling the strings on the General Assembly why should I send money to a Democrat or Republican campaign next year?  I may as well send it to Dominion as its very clear they are running the show and know how to get legislation passed.  And then the Virginia Senate thinks all this “ethics” talk is just to please the media?  

  • read this (“Public Utilities Should Embrace Renewable Energy Revolution, Not Get Run Over By It”). ASAP. Bottom line: “The sector will change dramatically-utilities cannot survive on their present models.”

  • kindler

    …be a tad skeptical.