Virginia’s Energy Future Is Fast Approaching

Two big energy news updates today:

Dominion files for large-scale offshore wind project. Dominion Energy has filed an application with PJM, the regional transmission organization of which Virginia is part, to interconnect 220 wind turbines off the Virginia Coast with the electric grid, the company announced this morning. Dominion has begun work already on the installation of a two-turbine demonstration project. The PJM filing for the $7.8 billion project represents “a vital first step to move forward in developing Virginia’s full offshore wind potential,” the company stated.

Apco to offer time-of-day pricing for EVs. Appalachian Power will offer residential owners of plug-in electric vehicles a discount for charging their cars when power demand is lower, the company announced today. A residential customer with a a typical car consumption will save about $86.50 annually for home-charging the vehicle during off-peak hours, generally during the night. Recent data indicate that nearly 700 plug-in EVs are registered to owners in Apco’s Virginia service territory.

Virginia’s Dark Money Legal Machine

Sen. Jill Vogel

When the deep-pocketed corporate backers of “Doctor Patient Unity” set up their dark money entity, they registered the partnership in Virginia. The State Corporation Commission filing listed the partnership’s registered agent as North Rock Reports, LLC, in Warrenton.

North Rock, reports the New York Times in an article about Doctor Patient Unity’s $28 million advertising campaign to influence Congress on legislation affecting surprise medical billing (see previous post), is common to more than 150 other political action groups. North Rock’s name surfaced a couple of years ago in news reports about “Protect America’s Consumers,” a group that attacked the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a creation of the Obama administration criticized by conservatives for engaging in regulatory overkill. The LLC also has ties to the Republican National Committee, Karl Rove’s American Crossroads super PAC, and the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

It turns out that North Rock Reports LLC has its own SCC registration filing, and North Rock’s registered agent is Jason Torchinsky, who, coincidentally enough, listed the very same business address as North Rock — 45 North Hill Dr., Suite 100, Warrenton — and is a partner of the HoltzmanVogelJosefiakTorchinsky PLLC law firm at the same address. The “Holzman Vogel” in the firm refers to founding partner Jill Holtzman Vogel, a state senator from Winchester and Republican candidate for lieutenant governor. Continue reading

National Dark Money Campaign Sloshes into Virginia

Rep. Ben Cline — one of 50 Congressmen targeted by $28 million dark money campaign

A lot of things are happening in our dysfunctional health care system outside the public view. But every so often, a piece of flotsam pops to the surface that reveals the rent-seeking behavior by private interests in a system regulated at every level by government. The latest revelation concerns two private equity-backed physician-staffing groups behind a $28 million national ad campaign aimed at pressuring members of Congress, including Rep. Ben Cline, R-Rockbridge.

This particular incident also illustrates the role of dark money in our political system. Rather than influence elected officials directly by contributing to their campaigns, this initiative sought to pressure them by influencing their constituents.

By way of background, many hospitals — including those in Virginia — staff their emergency departments with physicians who belong to TeamHealth, Envision Healthcare, or other groups that specialize in operating emergency rooms. Emergency medicine is a specialized niche, and these firms claim to do a better job of managing emergency rooms than most hospitals can themselves. This TeamHealth white paper describes how outsourcing can “transform” hospital emergency departments when “patient flow is crawling, outcome measures are flagging, and there’s bad blood among physicians.” Continue reading

Bad News at Richmond’s City Hall

Selena Cuffee-Glenn

Back in 2015, the City of Richmond was a managerial mess. Accusations flew of incompetence, conflicts of interest and revolving chair style management. One big problem was the deeply flawed installation of a financial computer system crucial to keeping the municipality functioning.

Then-Mayor Dwight Jones’s solution was to hire a ringer, Selena Cuffee-Glenn, who had earned a reputation for efficiency and competence as Suffolk’s city manager. She had a pair of degrees from the University of Virginia and a personable manner. When Levar Stoney succeeded Jones as mayor in 2017, he kept Cuffee-Glenn as the city’s chief administrative officer.

Then, reports circulated that relatives of Cuffee-Glenn seemed to be getting prize positions. Her daughter got a job at the city’s human resources department. A niece didn’t even have to formally apply for her $70,000 a year position.

An Inspector General’s report showed that as many as six Cuffee-Glenn relatives were working in some city capacity. On Sept. 18, Stoney fired her.

She says that her hiring policies did not violate any rules. She says she had no role in helping relatives get jobs. Her husband, for example, works for the city Sheriff’s Department, which she does not oversee. On the other hand, one relative got a Public Utilities job at a higher than average hourly rate. Continue reading

Bacon Bits: River Preservation, Truth in Tuition, and Election Interference

Goat Island

Good deed of the day. Riverside Outfitters, which provides guided kayak, raft, tube, and paddleboard trips, has paid $11,000 to purchase Goat Island, a one-acre islet in the James River. The outfitting company will make the island openly available for public use as a destination for canoers and paddleboarders, reports Richmond BizSense. The company plans to rid non-native plants from the islet and, if legal, bring back some goats, but has no plans to develop it. The James River may not be as big and powerful as other rivers, but it is more beautiful than most. While other metropolitan develop their riverfronts, the Richmond region has moved to preserve the James as an environmental and recreational treasure. Smart move!

Truth in tuition. Randolph College has slashed its list price for tuition, room, and board from $54,101 to $36,000. Pursuing a high-tuition, high-discount model, the small liberal arts college near Lynchburg had been discounting heavily from that price. But administrators concluded that the high sticker price was scaring away potential applicants, reports the News & Advance. Not realizing that the average discount rate for freshmen at private colleges averages more than 50%, many families don’t even bother applying to schools with high list prices. Randolph College, which has 620 students enrolled, hopes to increase the entering class by 5% yearly over the next five years.

Dodge Challenger has become a verb. Daniel McMahon of Brandon, Fla., has been arrested for charges relating to cyber-stalking and threats that led to an African-American activist, Don Gathers, dropping out of a race for Charlottesville City Council. McMahon, a white supremacist, “was motivated by racial animus and used his social-media accounts to threaten and intimidate a potential candidate for elective office,” said U.S. Attorney Thomas T. Cullen, in a statement. “Hey Antifa, it’s simple,” McMahon wrote online, reports the Washington Post. “Wanna know how to not get Dodge Challenged or shot? Don’t attack Right Wingers ever.” James Fields, the white supremacist who killed Heather Heyer during the Unite The Right rally in Charlottesville two years ago, drove a Dodge Challenger. Disgusting.

— JAB

Dominion’s Move Against Green Competitors Fails

by Steve Haner

The verdict is in and green energy virtue in Virginia’s electricity market remains available in monthly increments. You do not need to be green twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, tracking every change of demand.

That was the requirement demanded by Dominion Energy Virginia in its recent effort to block competitive service providers who are taking away customers who want 100% renewable power. In a 22-page opinion issued today (here), the State Corporation Commission rejected every Dominion assertion across the board. It said the two companies, Calpine Energy Solutions and Direct Energy Business, are operating within Virginia law.

That result was predictable, but not guaranteed, after the SCC ordered Dominion to stop blocking those customers from leaving. Dominion had asserted its “24-7-365” standard for matching renewable energy to demand months ago, and then began to enforce it on its own, cutting off transfers to the two firms. The SCC stopped that first, and now has ruled on the underlying issue.  Continue reading

More Reason for Cynicism about Medicaid Expansion

Sentara Norfolk General Hospital: emergency room admissions up 7%

by James A. Bacon

More than 300,000 Virginians have something today they didn’t have last year — health insurance through Medicaid, observes Virginia Public Radio. What they don’t have is a primary care physician. Many are still seeking primary care treatment at hospital emergency rooms.

Admissions to the emergency room of Norfolk General Hospital have increased 7% this year. One hoped-for benefit of Medicaid expansion is that more patients would seek treatment outside the emergency room, one of the most expensive settings for medical treatment. Clearly, that benefit has not materialized. “There’s a whole behavior modification and teaching and education that needs to happen,” says Sentara Norfolk General President Carolyn Carpenter.

Yeah, that…. and there’s a Medicaid-patients-finding-a-doctor thing that needs to happen, too. Due to low reimbursement rates, many primary care physicians cap the number of Medicaid patients they treat.

One would think that Governor Ralph Northam, a physician, would appreciate this. But other than allowing more latitude for nurse practitioners to treat patients, I have seen no remedies proposed by Virginia’s ruling class to address the most significant of all barriers to health care. The inaction calls into question how serious people really are about expanding real health care coverage for the poor. Continue reading

What Does It Mean to Be “White” or “Black” These Days?

Texas Senator Ted Cruz and family. Using Census definitions, three of the four Cruz family members picture here are “people of color.”

by James A. Bacon

As President Bill Clinton famously predicted in 1998 based on Census Bureau forecasts, white Americans would lose their majority status in the United States by the 2040s. The prospect of “people of color” comprising an “emerging Democratic majority” has undergirded the Democratic Party strategy of making racial/ethnic identity politics the core of their appeal. In parallel, fear of becoming a minority has inflamed the passions of many white voters. Ironically, due to an increase in the number of Hispanics and the offspring of inter-racial marriages, the percentage of Americans identifying as white is barely declining.

It is increasingly evident that the U.S. government’s system of racial classification is archaic. Indeed, recent numbers call into question what it even means to be “white” or “black,” both of which are classifications reflecting the obsessions of a by-gone era.

“The same Census projections that predict Americans who identify as white alone will become a minority during the 2040s also predict that about 75 percent of the U.S. population is expected to mark the box next to White on their Census form, either alone or in combination with another race or ethnicity,” writes Hamilton Lombard, a University of Virginia demographer, on the StatChat blog. “The race categories we use are struggling to keep up with our changing population.” Continue reading

An Ignominious Footnote to Bacon-Related History

One of America’s founding fathers is finally getting his due: Old Bacon Face. That was the moniker bestowed upon Samuel Chase — an Annapolis, Md. lawyer, signer of the Declaration of Independence, and member of the U.S. Supreme Court — whose mug had a reddish-brown complexion. The House of Representatives voted to impeach Chase in 1805 for his outrageously partisan behavior on the bench, but the Senate could not muster two-thirds majorities to convict him.

This history lesson comes from the Washington Post in the wake of Democratic presidential candidates calling for the impeachment of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. Chase was the only Supreme Court Justice ever to be impeached.

— JAB

Northam: 100% Clean Energy by 2050

by James A. Bacon

Governor Ralph Northam has issued an executive order outlining how Virginia can reach the goals of producing 30% of its electricity from renewable energy sources by 2030 and 100% from carbon-free sources by 2050. The governor’s vision relies heavily upon solar power, offshore wind, and energy storage, while emphasizing “energy equity” for “communities of color” and lower-income Virginians.

Northam’s plan relies heavily upon Virginia’s investor-owned utilities, Dominion Energy and Appalachian Power Co., to make investments in solar, wind, and energy-storage, and contemplates no significant changes to the existing electric-utility framework. The plan also has won the blessing of at least one of Virginia’s leading environmental groups.

“Governor Northam’s announcement today shows real leadership on climate change in the face of its absence at the federal level,” said Will Cleveland, a senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center in a prepared statement. “It’s time for this kind of cost effective, smart and modern solution to bring Virginia into the future.” Continue reading

Richmond’s Progressive Petri Dish…. Where Black Kids Are the Science Project

by James A. Bacon

One of the more interesting questions of 2019 is whether public figures like Governor Ralph Northam and Richmond Public Schools Superintendent Jason Kamras are more interested in striking poses that make them look enlightened on racial issues or in actually bettering the lives of African-Americans. In many cases, I would argue, progressive social policies are all about making educated elites feel righteous, not about the people they purport to help.

The latest example is a proposal under study by Richmond schools to “spread the cream,” so to speak — to distribute the relatively small percentage of white students among a larger number of of schools. The justification for scrapping the neighborhood-based school system, according to Kamras, is that “diverse” schools improve academic performance. The plan, he has said, “will provide academic and social benefits to all children of all backgrounds.”

But will it? Remarkably enough, that proposition can be tested with data from Richmond public schools. John Butcher, of Cranky’s Blog fame, has pulled Standards of Learning pass-rate data for white-majority Mary Munford Elementary and William Fox Elementary with that for two predominantly black elementary schools, Barack Obama Elementary and John B. Cary Elementary.(Cary would be merged with Munford under one of the proposals.) Continue reading

Disregard that Law

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

Well, Virginia made the national headlines again last week and over the weekend.  This time it was over the requirement that couples applying for a marriage license list their race on the application. And Attorney General Mark Herring was the hero, saying that, despite what the law said, the couples did not have to do that.  (NYT, WP, RTD, as well as all the networks).

On the face of it, the state could make a case that gathering information about the race of people getting married serves a legitimate purpose by providing data for state demographers and sociologists. But, because “race” can be a vague concept and applicants self-identify their race, any data collected has become meaningless. Apparently, each county can compile its own list of categories from which applicants choose.  According to newspaper reports, Rockbridge County had a list of  approximately 200 “races”, including American, Aryan, Hebrew, Islamic, Mestizo, Nordic, Teutonic, Moor, and White American. Continue reading

Big Money Update

by James A. Bacon

Looks like my post of a few days ago arguing that the Democrats were the party of Big Money in Virginia requires an update. The Richmond Times-Dispatch reports that Republican state Del. Nick Freitas, R-Culpeper, will report a $500,000 campaign donation from top GOP contributor Richard Uihlein, an Illinois industrialist.

Taking this monster contribution into account, instead of out-raising Republicans in Big Money donations by a 3½-to-1 ratio, Dems are out-raising them by a mere 3-to-1 ratio. Any authoritative conclusions will have to await the final filings after the election.

Richmond Schools: Changing Names, Acting White, and Serving Hispanics

by James A. Bacon

Look, there’s nothing wrong with re-naming public schools. I take no issue with the Richmond Public Schools changing the name of one of its predominantly black schools from J.E.B. Stuart Elementary to Barack Obama Elementary. And if Richmond school officials want to swap out the name of slave-owner George Mason for an African-American hero, that’s up to them. Personally, I feel that Mason’s positive contributions warrant recognition, but inherently local decisions should reflect community values.

“Mr. Mason obviously made many contributions to the country, but I think it is time to move beyond naming schools for individuals who were slave owners,” Superintendent Jason Kamras told the Richmond Times-DispatchThere are five city schools named for slave owners and three for Confederates. 

It’s good to know that Kamras is fearlessly tackling the big issues that afflict Richmond Public Schools, one of the worst-performing school districts in Virginia even after adjusting for the large disadvantaged student body. OK, I was being sarcastic there. But at least renaming schools does no harm, you say. That’s true. When social justice progressives are diverted by purely symbolic issues from actively undermining the educational system, one can argue that is a good thing.

Still, there are many other problems that the school board could be dealing with. We could start with issues raised in separate op-eds and news articles published today. Continue reading

A Cautionary Note to the Drive to Legalize Pot

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

In response to some of the comments to my recent post on crime and drug data, as well as to a running theme on this blog, I want to share a thought-provoking article that I recently encountered.

I have long felt that the use of marijuana should not be a criminal offense.  However, a recent New Yorker article caused me to have second thoughts.  The author does not take a stand on whether pot should be legal or not.  He is questioning one of the basic premises behind the drive to legalize it: that it is safe.  He points out that we really don’t know how safe it is because relatively little research had been done in this field.

The point that stood out for me is that there is some evidence linking the heavy use of pot to mental illness, particularly schizophrenia.  Also, some researchers have shown links between the use of pot and increases in violence.

All of this research is preliminary and much more needs to be done before any definitive conclusions can be reached.  In any event, it is important to keep in mind that THC is a potent chemical and that the human brain chemistry is a delicate balance that can be affected, in good and bad ways, by the introductionof “foreign” substances.