|RICHMOND (September 29, 2020) – Attorney General Mark R. Herring today sent a letter to the General Assembly in support of Governor Northam’s budget proposal that utilizes Dominion’s overearnings toward utility relief for Virginians and “ultimately provide more relief to a larger number of Virginians during this difficult financial time” by “deliver[ing]…economic relief and customer benefits to Virginians.” The State Corporation Commission initially halted utility disconnections for non-payment and suspended late charges following Attorney General Herring’s emergency petition requesting a moratorium on disconnections.
The Governor’s proposal sought to distribute Dominion’s overearnings between 2017-2019 to:
- Forgive unpaid residential utility accounts to provide economic relief and to further prevent Dominion from shifting those unpaid amounts onto its other customers currently in good standing
- Provide a direct refund of a portion to all customers, not just residential customers
“The COVID-19 pandemic has through Virginia into an economic and unemployment crisis the likes of which none of us have ever seen. Thousands of Virginians are struggling to make ends meet and put food on the table for their families and we should be working towards giving them some relief during these unprecedented times,” said Attorney General Herring. “The Governor’s budget proposal would give Virginians substantial economic and utility relief without putting that burden on the ratepayers, which is why I am urging the General Assembly to approve it. The only way we are going to get through these tough and uncertain times is by working together and helping each other.”
In the letter, Attorney General Herring highlights that “[t]he COVID-19 pandemic has created an unprecedented economic downturn that has resulted in massive business closures, layoffs, and unemployment, and thousands of Virginians are now struggling to make ends meet.” Because of these tough financial times “[his] office filed a petition with the SCC seeking an emergency order for a moratorium on utility service disconnections to ensure that Virginians continued to have access to electricity, heat, water and other utilities, while we navigated our way through these unforeseen challenges.”
As Attorney General Herring notes that the current budget “seeks to forgive only $74 million in customer debt” and that “while there is no doubt that…$74 million would help those customers who are eligible for relief, that relief should not be funded at the expense of other ratepayers, but instead at the expense of the utility’s shareholders.” He adds that “[t]he Commonwealth should require this state-sanctioned monopoly, that earned exceedingly more over the last three years than authorized, to share the economic burden brought on by this pandemic with its shareholders and provide Virginians with the relief that they so desperately need right now.”
Attorney General Herring concludes the letter by saying “[d]uring your deliberations in the coming days, I urge you to reconsider the Governor’s proposal. It clearly provides more relief to a broader segment of Virginians that need our help in this time.”
Additionally, Attorney General Herring supports the 12-month payment plan for residential customers who have not been able to pay their utility bills because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Last week, the Senate passed the legislation with bipartisan support that codifies part of the State Corporation Commission’s extension of its moratorium on utility disconnections as a result of nonpayment of utility bills because of the pandemic. The payment plan applies to all utilities except those that are controlled by municipalities.