by Jason Rylander, an environmental lawyer and activist from Northern Virginia. Jason was a member of the Governor’s Policy Council on Natural Resources and is a former advisory board member of the Virginia League of Conservation Voters.
It’s time we said it loud and clear: Virginia has a Dominion disease.
Dominion Energy’s political juggernaut is no secret in Richmond. Our lawmakers have deferred to the energy giant’s political agenda for years, making Virginia one of the most backward states in the country when it comes to energy efficiency and jobs in renewables. It’s not hard to understand why. Dominion’s executives, lobbyists and PACs can spend unlimited amounts in political gifts and campaign contributions to our legislature. When they pull the purse strings, they call the shots, and Virginia loses out.
This year’s legislative odyssey around utility regulation is just the latest symptom of the unhealthy relationship between Dominion Energy (the private company), Dominion Virginia Energy (the public utility), and our lawmakers. In 2015, the utility pulled the wool over our eyes with a flimsy story about freezing rates at artificially high prices to prepare for the Clean Power Plan. Over the past three years, this regulatory joyride has allowed Dominion to pocket an estimated $1 billion in overcharged electric bills. Dominion currently owes you about $400.
If there were checks and balances in our system – if a private corporation weren’t allowed to own a public utility, if our legislators did not accept their money, if lawmakers regulated the utility on our behalf – the General Assembly would have repealed the bill and refunded consumers. Instead, Dominion’s allies in the General Assembly are trying to ram through Dominion’s latest legislative boondoggle. Senate Bill 966 would allow Dominion to keep the majority of the $1 billion they owe us in overcharges, and write the utility a blank check from our pocketbooks via unlimited investments in infrastructure projects, without approval by the State Corporation Commission (SCC).
This egregious corporate giveaway became only slightly less outrageous last week, when the freshman Delegates held their ground and the public raised a colossal stink. Del. David Toscano introduced an amendment to remove the bill’s double dipping provision. It passed with bipartisan support, as Delegates temporarily saw through Dominion’s fog in the General Assembly and seized the opportunity to support an attractive consumer protection measure.
This was our first David and Goliath moment, and that’s a victory worth celebrating. But even without the double dipping provision, the bill is still far from fair. Now, consumers have been thrown a lifeline: today, the House of Delegates will vote to accept or reject Del. Sam Rasoul’s floor substitute to SB966. The amendment makes the deal a lot better. We will be refunded 100% of what we are owed, and the SCC’s authority to review rates on a biennial basis will be restored. It still includes the energy efficiency package that green groups have fought for and provisions for 5,000 megawatts of solar.
All Democrats and Republicans who care about consumer protection and clean energy should vote for the floor substitute. At the end of the day, they should support legislation written by our representatives to protect us, not enrich Dominion’s shareholders.