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Dear Senator Surovell: Your Defense of Dominion’s Welfare Dependency Perfectly Illustrates the “Virginia Way”

Author Challenges Surovell to Refuse Further Campaign Contributions from Dominion

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Virginia Capitol, ground view.

Dear Senator Surovell,

Thank you for your response to my column about how campaign contributions and a reverence for the “Virginia Way” corrupt politicians.

As I wrote:

“Dominion Power’s business interests in raising electricity rates run directly counter to the citizenry’s interests in keeping rates low. Dominion is guaranteed a 10% return on investments by the taxpayer, as if every time you went to the store, you spent a hundred dollars, and the government gave you a hundred and ten. Dominion is the state’s largest campaign contributor (internal party transfers don’t count): therefore, they write the state’s energy policies.”

You replied:

“I think some of what Mr. Thomas says has merit, but the idea that Dominion’s “rate increases” is a prime example of the failure of the “Virginia Way” is lazy thinking. Virginia has some of the lowest electricity rates in the United States – that point is not debatable.

Now one could argue that’s because the USA doesn’t correctly price the cost of carbon, but that doesn’t explain the situation. If you take Mr. Thomas’ point and play it out and assume Dominion was completely in control of the legislature/SCC, etc. then our rates would be massive and they’d be leveraging the crap out of ratepayers and cash flowing like crazy. There’s an inconsistency there.

Their “low rates” are not the correct example – the lack of solar, wind, renewables, and the lack ***HIGHER*** rates is what Mr. Thomas should be citing as the example of corporate influence if he wants to make his point, not how much ratepayers are actually paying.” [sic]

As the source I cited noted, unlike private corporations, the government guarantees Dominion a rate of return of 10% or more.

You note that the “point is not debatable” that Virginia has some of the lowest electricity rates in the United States. Our electricity rates (“All Sectors” column, December 2016) are 17th out of 50, and, obviously, they would be lower if Dominion was not guaranteed a 10% return on equity. North Carolina, where Dominion also operates, has lower rates. Why?

It is unsettling that you would lash out at a citizen for “lazy thinking” without even familiarizing yourself with the basic facts, and it is a dereliction of duty for an elected representative not to be aware of the government-imposed burdens faced by his constituents. These state-monopolistic electricity payments come out of our pockets as easily as taxes, and they are unnecessarily high.

You write that “some of what Mr. Thomas says has merit.” I wrote about the lies told to the populace to mask the selling of the reins of government by politicians to their campaign donors. What parts have merit?

You write that “our rates would be massive and they’d be leveraging the crap out of ratepayers and cash flowing like crazy” if Dominion was a more effective crook. As you know, Dominion wrote and passed a bill through the legislature in 2015 that canceled the refunds due to customers from overcharging us even beyond the overly generous 10% return on equity. Attorney General Herring’s office estimated that this would cost Virginia ratepayers $280 million in lost refunds for 2013-2014 alone, and the refunds were canceled until 2023. So, let’s be conservative and estimate the cost for this is $1 billion.

Is there any other company in Virginia that gets a $1 billion handout from the state legislature, and is it just a coincidence that they are also the state’s largest campaign contributor? I’m glad you voted against that bill, but how much money does the Dominion-government cartel have to take from Virginia citizens before it crosses your threshold for “cash flowing like crazy?” $10 billion? $100 billion?

Noting that things could be worse is a tautology.

You do have a point that Dominion is a socialist corporation dependent on government, and, therefore, there is a limit to how much they can take. Dominion will take however much it can get away with taking, and with our current legislature, that is a lot, although you are either ignorant of the basic facts of the matter, or do not think a $1 billion corporate welfare check from our pockets is a “crazy” amount of money.

Do you think that our rates would be lower if the government guaranteed Dominion a 3% return on equity rather than 10%, or if the legislature gave them $100 million instead of $1 billion? How much money do you think it is reasonable for Dominion to take from us unnecessarily?

It troubles me very much that Dominion has used ratepayers’ money in part to become one of your top campaign donors, and has given you more than $12,500.00. How much money did they give you before you became a politician, and why do you think they give it to you? Virginia is one of six states that permits unlimited campaign contributions. As you know, these can be used for personal expenses, and almost all campaigns are uncompetitive. For the first time in history – in history – all incumbent legislators on the ballot in November 2015 won reelection

Since campaign contributions are irrelevant to your reelection chances, will you, Scott Surovell, refuse campaign contributions from Dominion?

  • Scott A. Surovell

    Thanks for the article Jeff.

    First, per VPAP, I’ve raised about $1.55 million in the last five election cycles. Dominion was responsible for 0.903% of that. In fact, the Washington Post reported that after my second session in 2011, I had received less support from Richmond interest groups on a proportional basis than any other member of the legislature.

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/dc-politics/groups-that-lobby-virginia-assembly-have-donated-millions-to-candidates/2011/07/25/gIQA3sj2yI_story.html?utm_term=.059b09d8514d

    Second, you’re pointing to national data. In fact, Dominion’s rates are some of the lowest on the East Coast, the D.C. Region, and they are 20% below the national average.

    The point I made was that their RATES did not make your point – the lack of renewables DID.

    So just so I’m clear:

    – One donor contributes 0.8% of all contributions received over 8 years,
    – I voted against that donor’s primary bill (rate freeze) in the last 3 years,
    – I mention that you should have used lack of progress on renewables as your example instead of their low rates, and
    – I’ve also been the Chief Sponsor of four bills the last two years – one of which waiting to be signed – to require them to assess and/or clean up coal ash (which you didn’t even mention).

    You think that “Perfectly Illustrates The Virginia Way”?

    • Jeff Thomas

      Yes.

      Even progressives like you and anti-tax tea party folks reflexively come to Dominion’s defense in the face of evidence that using their monopoly power to rip us off. Obviously, our electricity rates will be lower than northeastern states, just like every southern state has lower rates than the northeast. The fact that some states have higher electricity rates doesn’t justify Dominion ripping us off through a 10% rate of return or a $1 billion giveaway, or many other examples. Rates would be lower without these government handouts.

      I agree that they stonewall a lot of other good ideas through control of the legislature. Do you think that they control the legislature through campaign donations? $12,500.00 is a lot of money! Why do you personally believe that they give you that money? Do your constituents want you to?

      Since you seem to believe that campaign donations affect politicians’ judgments (I agree), why do you take their money, especially when it doesn’t affect your chances of election? Shouldn’t you apply the same standards to yourself that you apply to others?

      You note in the Washington Post article you cite that “I don’t have to rely on Richmond to fund my campaign.” When did that change?

      You could stop taking their money and being criticized by citizens for it, and it would be the right thing to do.

      I’m sincerely curious.

  • Mark

    In the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Ken Cuccinelli and Chap Petersen write that “according to the Energy Information Association, Virginians statewide pay the 10th highest electricity bills in the nation.” This seems to directly contradict Senator Surovell’s point that “Virginia has some of the lowest electricity rates in the United States,” which he emphasizes by adding “that point is not debatable.” I don’t personally know the facts, but it does seem to be debatable by leading VA politicians. One side or the other is manipulating statistics to bolster false claims. I have to admit, that I am inclined to believe it is more likely to be Dominion Power that is benefitting, given their significant campaign contributions and lobbying efforts.