This morning, Vice Chair of the Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club Ivy Main wrote scathingly about a just-passed bill “that will cost Dominion Power’s customers more than half a billion dollars as a down payment on a nuclear plant that hasn’t been approved and isn’t likely to be built.”
As Main notes in her article, “environmental groups and good-government advocates have long decried the influence of corporate money in Virginia politics,” including a “rising tide of utility and coal company contributions to Virginia politicians, coinciding with a series of votes enriching these special interests.” Dominion Virginia Power is, by almost any standard, at the head of this tawdry list, having spent over $6 million since 2004 to essentially purchase Virginia’s political system for the benefit of…well, not you and me, that’s for sure.
The result, as Main points out, “has been spectacularly successful for Dominion, which rarely fails to get its way” on anything it wants. That includes this latest monstrosity of a bill, which “lets the company charge ratepayers for expenses it isn’t entitled to pass along under current law,” with ratepayers (that’s you and me) getting “the satisfaction of assuming the sunk costs of a new nuclear reactor that will probably never be built, plus whatever more money the utility spends on it going forward.” Great deal, huh?
Making matters even worse, if that’s possible, is that this corporate welfare is going towards a really bad company (dirty energy Dominion) and a power source – nuclear – which is extremely expensive, thus can’t compete economically and must rely on enormous government subsidies. Which is why there hasn’t been ground broken on a new nuclear power plant in the U.S. since 1974. That’s right, 40 years ago, when disco was all the rage, Gerald Ford was taking over from Tricky Dicky, the Soviet Union was still going strong, and the Vietnam War was winding down. This power source is just outrageously expensive, not even close to competitive at this point with other alternatives – including solar, wind, energy efficiency, you name it pretty much.
I’ve written about this subject extensively over the years (and worked for 17+ years at the U.S. Energy Information Administration as an energy economist), but it bears repeating: nuclear power is at the bottom of the energy heap in terms of cost-effective energy solutions (it trails energy efficiency, wind, solar, geothermal, natural gas…pretty much everything.
So, why on earth did a bunch of Democrats – including strong progressives and environmentalists – vote for this corporate welfare bill to help subsidize Dominion’s costly nuclear boondoggle? I asked around, and got a few responses.
*Virginia environmental groups inexplicably didn’t raise the red flag on this bill, with the Virginia League of Conservation Voters actually marking this one down in the “monitor” (not “oppose,” as it should have been) category. Huh?
*Virginia’s part-time legislators are forced to deal with thousands of bills in a few weeks each year, meaning that they “go by in the blink of an eye,” with “no time to sit and study bills” – including highly technical, complicated ones like this. That’s why “ethics reform” should include a complete re-think about how we run our government here in Virginia. Right now, it’s pretty much government of the lobbyists, for the corporations, by the super-wealthy people.
*I heard from multiple sources that this nuclear bailout bill somehow got linked to another bill dealing with wind power, and that apparently confused the heck out of legislators (clever, clever, Dominion lobbyists!).
*There’s an almost total lack of expertise on energy issues among Virginia legislators, leaving Dominion’s expert lobbyists to happily write the legislation, tell legislators how to vote, and generally game out the best strategy for getting what they want.
*To sum it all up, as one person told me: “there wasn’t a concerted effort by the environmental groups, and the progressive lawmakers, particularly in the Senate, are not accountants” (or energy experts)…A total f@#@ up by the environmental movement, progressives, etc. This is perhaps the worst legislation to pass this year.”
Great, huh? I know I’m feeling inspired and idealistic today, how about you? Nope, didn’t think so. The last hope? Gov. McAuliffe should veto the “worst legislation to pass this year.” But will he? After what we just saw in the Virginia General Assembly, and having seen the same type of thing for so many years now, I’m most definitely not optimistic.