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.”
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: http://lis.virginia.gov/cgi-bin/legp604.exe?181+sum+SB9
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.”
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.”
Read More – http://bit.ly/2wr09Wo
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