Press Release: Senate rejects amendment to Dominion bill to bans double-charging

RICHMOND, Va. – Virginia customers will be effectively double-charged for future electric infrastructure if a bill advanced by the Senate is signed into law.

SB 966, patroned by Senator Frank W. Wagner (R-Virginia Beach), allows Dominion and Appalachian power companies to make customers pay twice for the same infrastructure.

According to the legislation, monopoly utilities would be able to use excess earnings from over-charges paid by customers during 2015-2019 to build new electric infrastructure like power lines or substations. The utilities could then bill customers twice for these capital projects by incorporating them into the company’s rate base for which customers are charged annually.

Senator Chap Petersen (D-Fairfax City) motioned to amend the bill to ban double-charging.[1]

The vote to amend SB 966 to strip out double-charging was 13 yes, 26 no, with one Senator not voting.

In this motion, a vote yes is a vote to ban double-charging.

Yeas: Senators Black, Chase, Deeds, Ebbin, McPike, Peake, Petersen, Spurill, Stanley, Stuart, Suetterlein, and Wexton.

Nays: Senators Barker, Carrico, Chafin, Cosgrove, Dance, DeSteph, Dunnavant, Edwards, Favola, Hanger, Howell, Lewis, Locke, Lucas, Marsden, Mason, McClellan, McDougle, Norment, Obenshain, Reeves, Ruff, Saslaw, Sturdevant, Surrovell, Vogel, and Wagner.

Not voting: Newman.

Following that vote, Senator Petersen attempted to amend the legislation to strip out a $50 million cap on future rate reductions. Repeatedly, at the moment of the vote, power surges crashed the voting machine, forcing Senators to cast a roll call voice vote.

The Senate of Virginia, along with most of the City of Richmond, buys its electricity from Virginia’s largest monopoly electricity provider, Dominion Energy.

[1] Analysis of the legislation by the State Corporation Commission (SCC) details the double-charging. See pages 5-6. Document attached. Feburary 7, 2018 letter from the SCC to members of the Senate.


Daily Progress: Campaign donor bill gets zapped

Give state Sen. Creigh Deeds credit for sticking to his convictions.

Mr. Deeds was one of only two lawmakers to vote for a campaign finance reform bill when it recently came up before a committee.

The bill would have ended campaign donations to lawmakers from public-service corporations like Dominion.

The objection to such donations is that customers have no choice but to do business with these public utilities, and therefore no choice in how a company translates customer payments into political lobbying. With other businesses, customers can just go elsewhere if they don’t like a company’s policies.

Additionally, some critics have argued that public utilities, which are semi-regulated by government, shouldn’t be lobbying government in any case.

These questions became more pertinent after the General Assembly passed a controversial bill in 2015 that temporarily relaxed regulations, preventing the State Corporation Commission from ordering refunds to customers if utilities earned more than an established base rate.

Lobbying likely played a large role in that decision. Hence, customers’ money, as passed along to utilities, was used to work against customers’ best interests by blocking rate refunds.

Sen. Bryce Reeves thanked the bill’s patron for bringing up these issues — but voted against the bill anyway.

Sen. Adam Ebbin of Alexandria was another nay vote. He said it wasn’t fair to pick on public service corporations: “I can’t support singling out one industry.”

But public service corporations already are singled out as a special category. That is why they are regulated by the SCC. Customers have to buy from them — just try going without electricity. Meanwhile, the companies operate as monopolies within their service areas; there is no competition and nowhere else for customers to turn (unless you’re the rare individual who can go totally off the grid). Monopolistic control gives the companies virtually all the power — which is precisely why the state imposes a level of regulation: Somebody has to protect consumers’ interests.

But when regulatory practices then are upended by the General Assembly … well, you can see why critics would be suspicious that lobbying money corrupted the established system.

Meanwhile, the utilities argued that freezing the base rate would provide budgetary stability, which in turn would allow them to better project the costs of expansion projects and then to plan financing for those projects. Among the expansion plans were several solar installations. The addition of solar and other projects was considered by those who approved the rate freeze as a fair reason for suspending the SCC’s review of consumer pricing.

The effort to reduce lobbying money in the political system is a noble one, but a hard fight. Lawmakers won’t easily give up access to a commodity that is vital to their own political futures.

This particular reform bill failed. But campaign finance reform remains a viable issue — increasingly so among voters disgusted with politics as usual. Stay tuned.

RTD: Senate committee kills bill to ban campaign donations from public-service corporations

By Patrick Wilson

Dominion Energy is the top corporate donor in Virginia politics, and lawmakers aren’t going to turn away the company’s campaign money anytime soon.

Just two of 14 lawmakers — Sen. Amanda Chase, R-Chesterfield, and Sen. Creigh Deeds, D-Bath — supported a bill in committee on Tuesday that would end campaign donations to lawmakers from public-service corporations like Dominion.

Senate Bill 10 from Sen. Chap Petersen, D-Fairfax, went down on a 12-2 vote in the Senate Privileges and Elections Committee.

Petersen said the bill was necessary because customers of public monopolies have no option but to do business with them.

“These for-profit companies make donations to assembly members and then they come in and seek laws for their own benefit.”

Petersen said addressing donations from public service corporations became more urgent after lawmakers passed a controversial 2015 law that froze the base electricity rates of Dominion Energy and Appalachian Power Co. and temporarily stopped state regulators from ordering refunds to customers if those companies earned above their agreed-upon profit.

The law is resulting in an estimated $1 billion windfall for Dominion.

Petersen last year and again on Monday tried to undo the law but got little support.

“One of the root causes why my legislation was not successful, why we passed these underlying bills, was money had corrupted the process,” he said.

Petersen said he didn’t expect his campaign finance bill to pass. But he told his fellow lawmakers that until they take the money from public service corporations out of the General Assembly, “you will continue to get flawed legislation like the rate freeze.”

Read More –

NPR: Committee Rejects Ban on Public Utility Campaign Contributions

By Saraya Wintersmith

The Senate committee that deals with elections and conflicts of interest has voted down a measure that would’ve blocked campaign donations from public service corporations. The bill, SB 10, was a second attempt by Fairfax Senator Chap Petersen. When rolling out his legislative agenda last May, he said the donation ban would be a priority issue or him for this session.

“We need to step back and look at how much power and influence is being wielded by these monopolies,” he said. Back then, Petersen stressed that even-though Dominion Energy is often cited in talks about the issue because of its frequent, bi-partisan political campaign contributions, he doesn’t mean to bad-mouth the company or its employees.

“Let me dispel any inference – ANY inference – that Dominion or the people that work for Dominion is a bad company or that they’re doing anything nefarious. It’s not true. They’re following the law and their lobbyists are representing their clients’ interests and that’s exactly what they’re supposed to do and my hat is off to them for the great work that they’re doing. My problem is with the system that gives them too much power.”

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, Virginia is one of 6 states that allows corporations to contribute an unlimited amount of money to state campaigns. 22 states bar corporations from contributing to political campaigns, and another 22 impose the same limits for individual and corporate contributions.

During the 2017 campaign season, more than a dozen House of Delegates candidates pledged not to take money from Dominion or Appalachian Power. 13 of those candidates won their races. Additionally, then-candidate Ralph Northam called for a ban on corporate campaign contributions in Virginia and a $10,000 cap on individual donations. Petersen echoed those thoughts when he presented the bill to the Senate Privileges and Elections Committee Tuesday evening. He bought no witnesses and said he didn’t expect the bill to pass.

“But I’m here today to tell you that I think this is an important issue and I’d appreciate your consideration,” he said. “If you could poke holes in this bill saying there are ways to get around it, you are absolutely correct – absolutely correct. I will also say that, are there first amendment issues? I’m sure someone’s going to bring that argument up, I’d say we have limits on contributions in every state, as well as at the federal level – we had someone who just ran for governor talking about prohibiting ALL corporate contributions, okay. I’m not looking to do that, I am looking at prohibiting contributions from this class of companies.”

Read More –

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.

Critics of Dominion see unexpected wins in 2017 elections

By Ned Oliver

Why you know him: State Sen. Chap Petersen, D-Fairfax City, began the year as one of the few voices in the General Assembly to publicly challenge Dominion Energy’s powerful influence on the state legislature.

He submitted legislation to end a rate freeze the power company won in 2015 and restore state oversight of the monopoly.

It went nowhere, and Petersen said he was laughed at by some of his colleagues for even raising the issue.

“It was pretty lonely there for a little while,” he said.

Since then, a lot has changed: A wave of Democrats elected to the General Assembly included 13 who had signed pledges refusing to accept donations from the monopoly.

Less than a month later, Dominion, after defending the freeze for two years, said it was “time to transition away” from the controversial 2015 law.

What’s new: Petersen said that with new allies in the House of Delegates, he expects to pick up more ground in the coming session, where he will present a package of utility reform legislation, which includes restoration of rate reviews and a ban of campaign donations from state-regulated monopolies.

“Since I was elected to the House of Delegates in 2001, Dominion has always been in control,” he said. “That era is over.”

Petersen introduces 2018 legislation to restore electric bill refunds

RICHMOND, Va. – On Tuesday, November 21st, Senator Chap Petersen (D-Fairfax City) introduced his 2018 consumer protection legislation to restore electric bill refunds.

In 2015, the General Assembly passed, and the Governor signed SB 1349, which banned rate review of electric monopolies, and prohibited refunds for electric consumers. Petersen’s bill reverses SB 1349.

Petersen’s bill, SB 9, has broad bipartisan support in the Senate. The bill can be viewed here:

Senators David Suetterlein (R-Roanoke County), Amanda Chase (R-Chesterfield), and Jennifer Wexton (D-Loudoun) will sign on as chief co-patrons of the legislation, bringing bipartisan and geographic support.

Sen. Suetterlein: “‪Gov. McAuliffe acknowledged that the rate freeze was wrong last session but refused to help overturn the bill he signed in 2015. I’ve always opposed the freeze and am looking forward to ensuring that the SCC reviews electric rates and that Virginia’s families and businesses receive refunds when they are overcharged.‬”

Sen. Chase: “Reliable, efficient, and affordable energy is essential for small businesses and families in Virginia. As a co-founder of the Transparency Caucus, I think it’s important that energy costs are transparent for the consumer. Restoring electric bill refunds for consumers is an important measure the General Assembly should adopt in 2018.”

Sen. Wexton: “I opposed the rate-freeze bill in 2015 because the Commonwealth shouldn’t be serving as Dominion’s accomplice as it picks Virginians’ pockets. I’m proud to continue this fight and I’m ready to bring back refunds in 2018.”

Sen. Petersen: “Banning refunds was wrong in 2015. And its still wrong. Virginia consumers deserve a refund, and repealing SB 1349 will put money in the pockets of every Virginian who uses electricity.”