By Alan Suderman
RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — The Virginia Supreme Court issued a ruling Thursday upholding a state law that has blocked millions of dollars in refunds to electric customers.
The court ruled 6-1 that the General Assembly is within its constitutional authority to temporarily suspend state regulators’ ability to adjust a portion of electric rates.
The 2015 law, which was shepherded through the General Assembly by Dominion Energy and passed with broad bipartisan support, was touted by proponents as a way to prevent rate spikes due to uncertainty around carbon regulations.
The legal challenge was brought by a group of large industrial electric customers and advocates for the poor. They and other critics of the law said it guts the State Corporation Commission, which is tasked with setting electric rates and was established more than a century ago as a bulwark against the politically powerful railroad companies. Dominion, the largest corporate donor to state lawmakers, is now the top power broker at the Capitol.
There is little dispute the law has helped the utilities’ profits. Using Dominion’s own figures, state regulators calculated in a recent report that the company’s customers would be due about a $130 million refund on bills paid in 2015 and 2016. Appalachian Power, the state’s other large regulated monopoly, had overearnings of more than $20 million in 2016, according to report.
The investment bank Goldman Sachs issued a report in June saying that the legal challenge to the law presented a “downside risk” to Dominion’s bottom line.
Democratic state Sen. Chap Petersen, a critic of the 2015 law, said the court’s ruling was disappointing. He plans to try and overturn the law during next year’s legislative session.
“There’s a lot more public scrutiny on these laws and on these votes,” Petersen said. “Now people are seeing exactly what they voted on in 2015.”
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