RTD: Powerful Senate committee kills rate-freeze repeal; awaits Saslaw’s bill

By Robert Zullo

Don’t call it Dominion’s bill.

Sen. Dick Saslaw of Fairfax, the senior Democrat on the Commerce and Labor Committee, took issue Monday with the idea that his yet-to-be introduced legislation on overhauling a regulatory regime that has allowed Dominion Energy and Appalachian Power to pocket hundreds of millions of dollars in excess profits since 2015 was not entirely his own.

The powerful panel stacked with utility-friendly lawmakers voted 13-1 to kill a bill by Sen. Chap Petersen, D-Fairfax City, who was pushing to restore the power of state regulators to review base electric rates and refund money to ratepayers.

The vote was in deference to coming legislation by Saslaw and Sen. Frank Wagner, R-Virginia Beach, that has the backing of the influential utility.

“Let me be as clear as I can,” Saslaw said in response to a plea from a representative for large industrial electric customers that Petersen’s legislation survive long enough for a side-by-side comparison. “There is no Dominion bill. That bill is being sponsored by Senator Wagner and myself, and what goes into that bill, we’re putting in that bill. Are we talking to them? Yes, we’re talking to them. But that is not Dominion’s bill; that’s our bill.”

Yet in remarks that hit many of the same points Dominion has made since it announced last month that it was time to “transition away” from the 2015 rate freeze, Wagner, the committee chairman, cited the need to harden the electric grid against outages and cyberattacks and incorporate more renewable energy.

“We understand that there’s money to be returned and we have legislation that will do that,” Wagner said. “We’ll be ready to talk in detail at a later date.”

In September, the State Corporation Commission reported that Dominion could have “overearned” by as much as $426 million in 2016.

Last month, it told a General Assembly commission that a typical Dominion customer has seen bills go up nearly 30 percent over the past decade, largely the result of rate-adjustment clauses, or riders, which are extra charges tacked onto bills to pay for new power plants, transmission projects and other costs.


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