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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By Alan Suderman
A new report says customers of Virginia’s two largest electric monopolies would be paying lower bills if not for a 2015 law that temporarily blocks state regulators from reviewing and adjusting rates.
The State Corporation Commission issued a report last week that shows Dominion Energy and Appalachian Power are earning higher profits than they would be entitled to prior to passage of the 2015 law.
Dominion customers would be due about a $130 million refund on bills paid in 2015 and 2016. And the state’s largest electric utility’s rates would have been lowered so that it would earn upwards of $400 million less in 2018, depending on how the commission calculated the costs for coal ash clean up.
Dominion helped usher through the 2015 law, saying it was needed to provide rate stability in the face of potentially expensive federal carbon emission rules. Critics said at the time that the law was an unnecessary giveaway to the state’s most politically powerful company.
The law shields electric utilities from having to give refunds or lower their rates for several years even if regulators have found their base rates — which make up a majority of a customer’s bills — are too high. During the same period, it also bars utilities from raising their base rates if they aren’t enough to cover their costs.
Democratic state Sen. Chap Petersen, an opponent of the law, said Dominion helped write the legislation because it knew its rates were too high and the SCC’s report is unsurprising.
“The law worked as the authors intended,” Petersen said.
Read More – http://wapo.st/2xKLh5p
By Michael Pope
Ask voters what issues they are concerned about on the campaign trail, and one that comes up again and again is the cost of college debt. Michael Pope reports that’s because of a sharp increase in the cost of college.
Hold your wallet, folks. The cost of tuition at state colleges and universities has increased 71% over the last decade. 71 %. One reason for that is reduced funding from state government. Another is rising enrollment. Quentin Kidd at Christopher Newport University suspects competition for students plays a key role.
“It’s almost like an arms race. If you don’t have the best dorms, if you don’t have the best recreational facilities, if you don’t have all the technology that everybody else has in the classrooms, you risk losing students in that race to get students.”
Colleges and universities have to pay for all those upgraded dorms and recreational facilities and classroom technology. So they turn to out-of state students, who pay about twice as much in tuition as in-state students. State Senator Chap Petersen says that creates a burden on Virginia students who can’t get into schools strictly because the colleges and universities want those out-of-state tuition checks.
“These are state universities and once you get a certain critical mass of out of state students the General Assembly is going to step in and put restrictions on it. And I support that.”
Petersen says he plans on raising this issue when he returns to Richmond for the next General Assembly session.
Read More – http://bit.ly/2tR6AjQ
By Laura Vozzella and Ovetta Wiggins
Maryland can claim a first on Saturday, when it stands ready to pay Planned Parenthood clinics for their services if Congress defunds the organization.
Next door in Virginia, the day will bring good news for ticket scalpers and people with unpaid court fines, but bad tidings for university boards that want to jack up tuition while no one is looking.
A slew of new laws are coming to both states, some consequential, some quirky, all united by their July 1 effective date.
State-funded colleges and universities planning to increase tuition will not be able to do so in the dark of night, under a law meant to boost transparency in higher education. Proposed by Sen. J. Chapman “Chap” Petersen (D-Fairfax), the measure requires university governing boards to provide 30 days’ notice to students and the public before boosting undergraduate tuition or mandatory fees. The notice must include a projected range for the increase, a rationale for it, and the date and location for the vote.
Read More – http://wapo.st/2sGEOWW
RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Virginia’s largest regulated electricity monopoly says it overcharged some of its customers for years by not properly reading their meters, but isn’t sure how far back the problem may go.
Dominion Energy recently filed a motion with the State Corporation Commission saying it may have overcharged 24,000 small to mid-sized commercial customers between 2013 and 2016 because Dominion’s meter readers were not resetting meters each month to track peak demand. Commercial customers are charged monthly, based on a combination of how much electricity they use and their highest demand for electricity, and some meters need to be physically reset.
State Sen. Chap Petersen, a frequent Dominion critic, said the overcharging “goes to show” the need for greater consumer protections in Virginia. He recently unveiled plans for legislation to create a type of ombudsman to represent Dominion customers.
Dominion serves the eastern two-thirds of Virginia, where its rates, natural gas pipeline plans and outsized political influence have been frequent talking points in Virginia’s closely watched gubernatorial race.
Read More – http://apne.ws/2qU9EKV
One of the few legislators pushing back against Dominion Energy Virginia’s influence over state government said Thursday that he hopes to harness a populist wave against the energy giant to pass major reforms in Virginia.
Those include a new ban on campaign contributions from Dominion and other public service corporations, as well as an upheaval at the State Corporation Commission, the government branch tasked with regulating utilities and other businesses.
State Sen. Chap Petersen, D-Fairfax, wants to add two members to that commission, which is elected by the General Assembly and decides whether electric rate increases are merited. That would bring it up to five members.
Petersen also wants to add a layer to that process, empowering new “intervenors” to represent consumers before the commission as it weighs rate hike requests. It was unclear Thursday how this would differ from what the Attorney General’s Office does now in commission rate cases, as it’s tasked with representing consumers at the SCC.
Petersen laid out five proposals in all Thursday, including a pitch he made last year to undo rate freezes that passed the General Assembly in 2015 and may allow Dominion to exceed the profit margin laid out for the company by state regulation. That freeze was pitched as an answer to uncertainty created by Obama-era clean power regulations, but legislators balked at a rollback this year, despite the Trump administration jettisoning those rules.
Petersen said all these proposals will be ready for the 2018 legislative session. He said the donation ban is more important than all the others combined.
Read More – http://bit.ly/2rziVEH