By Karen Torrent
Why does Dominion Power rip off customers, jack up rates, charge us to clean up their coal-ash pollution mess, and call their environment-destroying natural gas pipelines “clean energy”? While stifling real clean energy choices our families, businesses and climate are demanding?
For the same reason squirrels cavort all day: Because they can.
In Dominion’s case, the multibillion energy corporation with its multi-millionaire CEO can do virtually anything it wants because—we all know—your electric company has essentially bought and paid for the Virginia legislature in Richmond.
With its big-dollar campaign spending, slick DC political PR firms and revolving-door lobbyists banking on cozy relationships with legislators—while using our money—Dominion has flipped the script on us. Instead of serving as an energy utility owned by the public, they think they own the public.
But sick and tired Dominion customers have good news. Dominion’s favorite politician, Senator Dick Saslaw of the 35th Senate District, is on the June 11 Democratic primary ballot. He’s ready to be retired.
After 45 years in Richmond, Saslaw cares a lot about Dominion’s power and politics in the capital. This year Saslaw is seeking more than reelection to his 11th term to stay in power. Saslaw is running to become Virginia’s Senate Majority Leader, the most powerful politician in our commonwealth. He’s claiming he’ll make Virginia blue.
Good for him. But if Saslaw is reelected, Dominion’s customers will see red. It’ll mean Dominion will have even more power to rip us off, stifle energy innovation and hurt Virginia’s economy and environment.
People frustrated with Dominion’s power over consumers have a choice. They can vote for Dominion by voting for Saslaw. Or send a message to Dominion and the old power politics by sending Saslaw home.
This makes the June 11 primary not the usual local Virginia Senate election. It’s a statewide referendum on Dominion. And voters in the 35th district have the power to help the rest of Virginia. It’s a chance to break Dominion’s power over the public and Richmond, jolt Dominion to serve the public, and send a message: You don’t own us. We own you.
Dominion and its friendly lawmakers clearly are worried voters are wise. They’re spending big money on “greenwashing” political and consumer advertising campaigns, hoping to fool people into thinking Dominion cares about customers and the environment. The facts belie Dominion’s claims.
Claim: Dominion provides cheap energy.
Fact: After overcharging and raising rates on Virginia families and business for decades without any real public justification, Dominion just filed to raise our rates again next year. Instead of making Dominion reimburse ratepayers for years of overcharges, Saslaw and other Dominion friends let the utility keep the money for unspecified “grid modernization”—a classic pig in a poke.
Claim: Dominion cares about clean energy.
Fact: ROFL. Behind its slick PR campaign and rebranding picturing solar panels and wind turbines, Dominion is flexing its monopoly power to control and stifle clean energy innovation, development, competition and choice in Virginia.
Get this: Saslaw and fellow lawmakers have allowed Dominion to dictate how much solar you can install on your own home or business, how much clean energy you can sell back to the grid, and even how you can finance your private solar project.
Dominion even wrote a law called a “green tariff,” which Saslaw supported, dictating if you want renewable energy, you can only buy it from Dominion.
As Dominion keeps Virginia in the energy dark ages, we rank 33rd out of 50 states in solar deployment. Unlike 29 other states, Virginia has no law mandating a set percentage of energy comes from renewables by date certain, for example, 80 percent by 2050. Virginia merely has a voluntary standard of 15 percent by 2022—which Dominion satisfies by buying certificates for out-of-state renewable projects.
Claim: Saslaw’s “Grid Transformation Act” requires Dominion to develop or operate 5,000 megawatts of solar and wind by 2028.
Fact: Another pig in a poke. Not a single word of Saslaw’s legislation, or any Virginia law, mandates Dominion to develop or operate any specified amount of solar or wind by any date. If Dominion fails to develop 5,000 megawatts of renewables by 2028, nothing happens.
Saslaw’s act merely creates a $10 billion slush fund Dominion can spend on whatever projects or assets it chooses—while also allowing Dominion to keep its rates high.
Claim: Dominion will reimburse customers $125 million from its Trump tax reform windfall.
Fact: Customers will never see the reimbursement. Dominion will use the windfall to pay for fuel and regional transmission costs and burying electric distribution lines.
Claim: Dominion needs ratepayer money to modernize the electric grid
Fact: Saslaw and fellow lawmakers are letting Dominion keep $1.5 billion of ratepayer overcharges to pay for “grid-hardening,” not grid modernization. It’s just the usual routine upkeep and maintenance that offers minimal if any increase in grid resilience, reliability, or the ability to bring deploy residential, commercial or industrial renewable energy.
Thanks to Dominion’s power, Virginia is the only state that allows a utility to dictate how to modernize the grid, establish renewable targets, roll out smart, energy- and cost-saving meters, and other spending of ratepayer money.
Other states are investing in real grid modernization, setting real carbon targets, determining incentives and the deployment of smart meters and other measures using a stakeholder process that includes citizens. Dominion doesn’t like to include citizens that pay its bills and salaries.
Claim: Dominion has to invest $870 million over ten years to promote energy efficiency and reduce energy consumption.
Fact: While Virginia ranks 50th in terms of state energy efficiency programs, Dominion has offered no specific program or plan the public can see to carry it out.
Worst of all—Dominion has sought regulatory permission to charge customers for lost electricity revenue if Virginians use less electricity.
As Saslaw’s toughest challenger on June 11, I’m not the most objective person to question his loyalty to Dominion Power, his number-one campaign funder.
But after standing up for consumers, commuters, the environment and energy users before the U.S. Supreme Court and the Virginia Supreme Court, in staffing Congress to pass landmark energy-environment legislation, and in the private sector bringing investment capital to deliver reliable solar power to schools and municipalities, I’m the only candidate in the 35th Senate District primary that brings the passion, experience and expertise to take on Dominion.
This race is not really about Dominion Power, however. It’s about challenging Dominion’s old school political power, changing Richmond, and returning the power to the people.
Karen Torrent is seeking the Democratic nomination in Virginia’s Senate District 35.