by Glen Besa
ALERT: Note that the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee is set to hear and likely kill Chap Petersen’s SB 9 (“Electric utility regulation; suspension of reviews of earnings, transitional rate period.”) on Monday, Jan 15th, that would restore the authority of the State Corporation Commission to refund the hundreds of millions in excess profits that Dominion Energy is now pocketing. Call your Senator to urge support for SB 9 and real utility reform.
Regular readers of Blue Virginia appreciate that Dominion Energy has a stranglehold on a majority of our General Assembly members, and especially Senators like Tommy Norment, Frank Wagner and Dick Saslaw, who never question the cockamamie ideas that Dominion puts forth to maximize its profits at ratepayers expense.
The biggest swindle came in 2015, when Senator Frank Wagner carried Dominion’s bill (SB 1349) to revoke the State Corporation Commission’s authority to review utility rates and order refunds of overcharges where Dominion realizes excess profits. It seems that Dominion’s stock price was taking a hit every time the SCC did its job and ordered refunds. Wall Street analysts weren’t happy with this arrangement, and Dominion decided it would just get rid of the meddlesome SCC rate review authority.
Of course, Dominion could not state that as its reason for keeping excess profits, so its clever lobbyists like Bill Murray struck upon the idea to blame the environment. During the 2015 General Assembly Session, President Obama’s Clean Power Plan to address climate change was still in draft form, and its potential impact was not at all clear, but Dominion and Frank Wagner claimed (without any evidence) that the costs would be staggering. Out of the goodness of its corporate heart, Dominion would assume these compliance costs – but ONLY if the General Assembly would throttle the SCC’s authority to stop Dominion from overcharging its customers. The suspension of the SCC’s authority was linked to a so-called “rate freeze” so these imaginary climate compliance costs would be borne by Dominion rather than passed on to its customers.
Not surprisingly, the ever-corporate-compliant General Assembly passed SB 1349 on a 32-6 vote in the Senate and 72-24 in the House, and the bill was then signed by Governor McAuliffe without objection.
It is important to note that six Senators, including Senator Chap Petersen, voted against SB 1349, and that Chap has remained an outspoken opponent of SB 1349, introducing legislation in the last three sessions to restore the SCC’s authority and return Dominion’s excess profits to its customers. This year, that legislation is SB 9.
It is hard to steal a billion dollars and get away with it — even in Virginia. The fact that even the flimsy rationale for the bill in the first place, the anticipated expense of implementing the Clean Power Plant, was deep sixed by the Trump Administration, made it clear that Dominion’s credibility was seriously compromised.
As a result of all the bad publicity Dominion has garnered, in this 2018 Session it is proposing to restore the SCC’s authority and do something creative with the excess profits. Senators Frank Wagner and Dick Saslaw are only too happy to help Dominion out. This time, instead of blaming climate regulations, Dominion is claiming it needs to retain excess earnings to reform the electric grid without explaining exactly how it plans to do so.
Even though we’ve not even seen Dominion’s “solution,” Senator Wagner (as Chair of the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee) is having a hearing on Chap Petersen’s legislation, SB 9, where we anticipate he will kill Chap’s commonsense approach.
It is up to Virginians to raise hell with their Senators and Delegates who may be inclined to defer to Dominion once again to the detriment of their constituents and customers of Dominion. We can’t let that happen. Instead, we need to demand real utility reform, not another Dominion scheme to fleece its customers aided and abetted by the General Assembly.