by Karen Torrent, Esq. of Falls Church, Virginia. The author is an energy attorney who represented herself as a Dominion customer in challenging the constitutionality of Dominion’s rate freeze before the Virginia Supreme Court, which upheld the law. (See Old Dominion Committee for Fair Utility Rates v. State Corp. Commission.)
Not so fast, Virginia lawmakers. Senate Minority Leader Dick Saslaw’s Bill, SB 967, introduced last week to “fix” the rate freeze law, is a continuation of caving to Dominion Energy and ripping off consumers, ignoring the clear mandate from the 2017 election sweep.
SB 967, the “Dominion-approved” bill, offers consumers a token rebate, a mere fraction of the hundreds of million of dollars in unearned profits Dominion has retained as a result of the infamous 2015 “rate freeze.” In exchange for this small rebate, Saslaw’s bill further erodes the State Corporate Commission (SCC)’s ability and duty to regulate Dominion in the future and is bad public policy. In the words of John McEnroe, “you cannot be serious.”
SB 967, if passed, would extend the period of time between SCC rate reviews from two years to three years — with the SCC not even allowed to begin rate reviews until 2021. All of these delays allow Dominion more time to profit from overcharging ratepayers before any rate correction may be required. Worse, the bill strips away the authority and the duty of the SCC to order customer rebates from Dominion if there are overcharges – which is highly likely as every SCC biennial review since the first in 2011 has found that Dominion overcharged its customers. Instead of rebating customers, Dominion the “regulated” public utility, would decide how to “invest” the money it overcharged consumers in pet projects it wants.
SB 967 it is also bad public policy, making Virginia economically anti-competitive. There is, for instance, no incentive under Saslaw’s bill to prevent Dominion from continuing to massively overcharge its customers; in fact, the reverse is true. Dominion, as an investor-owned utility responsible only to its shareholders, will continue overcharging customers so that it can “invest” in what it wants/needs to – in order to continue to increase company profits without any regulatory oversight or penalty.
Not only is this bad policy for Virginia consumers; these overcharges and high electricity bills make Virginia economically anti-competitive. This is especially important at a time when the state is seeking to lure the Amazons, Googles and Microsofts — who have huge energy needs (plus corporate goals to go 100% clean energy) and pay millions of dollars in electricity bills — to bring jobs and locate in Virginia.
The serious legislative fix Virginian consumers deserve, and that the Virginia Constitution requires, would revive the authority and the duty of the SCC to conduct biennial rate reviews of Dominion now without diminishing the regulatory authority of the SCC. In addition, a serious legislative fix would fully reimburse consumers for the millions in overcharges they paid to Dominion in 2015, 2016, and 2017. That legislation is HB 96 (by Del. Sam Rasoul) and SB 955 (by Sen. Chap Petersen), not Dick Saslaw’s SB 967.
Tell your State Delegates and Senators: We’re tired of being ripped off for monopoly profits. Vote “no” on SB 967, and “yes” on HB 96 and SB 955.