The Mountain Valley Pipeline route on Brush Mountain, July 18, 2018. (Heather Rousseau/The Roanoke Times)
The building season is here, but for developers of Virginia’s two hotly-contested natural gas pipelines, activity is back in the government agencies and courthouses. The construction sites remain largely silent, delays running up the ultimate cost of the projects, including the cost of failure.
Here is my (probably flawed) attempt at a status report. And you thought Game of Thrones is a complicated plot.
Dominion Energy’s leadership told stockholders on March 25 that it is hoping to “recommence at least partial construction” on the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) in the third quarter of this year, and the Mountain Valley Pipeline is still talking about being in service by the end of this year on its website. One national rating agency expressed concerns about the ACP several weeks ago, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported. A few days later another analyst told Forbes readers about the challenges facing both pipelines. Continue reading
Expansion tracking on the Virginia DMAS website. Click to expand, web version is here.
Virginia makes is easy to track the growth of Medicaid enrollment since the decision a year ago to expand coverage but tracking the tax dollars behind the scenes is another matter.
The new enrollment expansion dashboard on the Department of Medical Assistance Services website is updated every couple of weeks, with the April 4 report showing just under 260,000 people added to the program since late last year. The City of Salem has added the fewest, only 34 new recipients, while Fairfax County has added the most at 18,220. The advertised goal for expansion was 400,000 persons, so probably there are more to come. Continue reading
The Numbers on Interstate 81: Tax First, Explain Later
When you approve a major tax increase with amendments proposed just a few days before the General Assembly’s reconvened session, as happened last week, discussion is limited and there is almost no hard data on the financial impact available to the public. You tax first and explain later.
The details appeared at this week’s meeting of the Commonwealth Transportation Board, which was given some charts on the six-year revenue and spending projections behind Governor Ralph Northam’s successful amendments. About 41 percent of the anticipated $1.5 billion over six years will support Interstate 81 projects, just a start on the $2 billion in planned improvements to that congested artery. Almost 60 percent is not for I-81. This is not a fix for I-81, but is something bigger than a Band-Aid. Continue reading
Virginia 529’s Tuition Monster
It is premature to declare victory in the effort to restore sanity to tuition decisions at Virginia’s state colleges, but several factors seem to be coming together to give students and their families a break for the coming school term. Repeat: For the coming school term.
One year’s pause, or “breather” to use a word bandied about during the General Assembly session, in tuition increases will not reverse the trends making Virginia higher education too expensive for many without a crushing level of debt. And this year’s pause, if it happens, took several years in a row of improving state funding to accomplish. Continue reading
VPAP graphic showing a uptick in “things of value” received and reported by Virginia legislators. You can find the full report here. Much is not reported.
It is always important to listen for the dogs that don’t bark, and the 2019 General Assembly showed neither bark nor bite on issues of money, politics and ethics. Everything in Virginia is just fine with the legislators themselves, apparently.
So fine that the only significant bill involving the Virginia Conflict of Interests and Ethics Advisory Council eliminated its quarterly meetings and left it to meet only on call. The only significant bill dealing with campaign finances to pass involves reporting requirements for elections in Virginia towns. We head into the decisive 2019 General Assembly races with the same rules that have served so well for so long. Continue reading
Dominion Energy Virginia’s proposed market-based pricing structure for large industrial customers has been criticized as a way for the utility to double collect, harking back to a key issue during the 2018 legislative push for its Grid Transformation and Security Act.
The criticism comes in an overall endorsement by Microsoft Corporation of the proposal pending at the State Corporation Commission. Microsoft owns a growing fleet of data centers in Dominion’s territory and is already eligible to seek electricity from a competitive service provider (CSP). The purpose of this new rate (the full case record is here) is to keep big customers happy, so they lose interest in third-party providers. One detail of the proposal has Microsoft unhappy. Continue reading
Government is much better at creating poverty than at curing it.
Yesterday the General Assembly voted to end the practice of suspending driving licenses for non-payment of fines or restitution or both and ordered Department of Motor Vehicles to restore driving privileges for hundreds of thousands of Virginians. If you need to do business at a DMV office in July, get there early. Restoring 600,000 licenses may take a while. Continue reading
Current RGGI States
Virginia’s Air Pollution Control Board will meet April 19 to consider the next regulatory step to limit CO2 emissions from Virginia electricity plants through membership in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.
The agenda packet for the meeting, on-line here, contains more than 330 pages on the complicated issue, probably the best point counterpoint discussion on that already-voluminous record. The entire record from the two comment periods is summarized, with DEQ staff politely thanking those who praise the regulation and vigorously disputing those who oppose it. Continue reading
Ain’t This A Kick
Look, we conservatives understand that as far as the media is concerned, we are second-class citizens. But for giggles let’s just demonstrate the most recent case. When I write about the new hemp bill on Bacon’s Rebellion last month, it gets good readership for Bacon’s Rebellion but of course there is no reference to it on the widely-circulated daily news summary for the Virginia Public Access Project.
Today Virginia Mercury publishes a very similar story, even using some of the same sources, and of course it makes the VPAP summary. Oh, give me a break. Why didn’t mine get used, again? Continue reading
The large retail establishments seeking to aggregate their electricity demand and take their business away from Dominion Energy Virginia have not been dissuaded by a February ruling that went against them. One of the petitioners in that case is seeking reconsideration, and the petitioner in another major case has sharpened its argument that the State Corporation Commission erred.
If the policy goal is now to slow demand, to prevent the need to build more utility-owned plants in Virginia, isn’t this the better and more reliable path? The utility-managed demand response efforts funded by ratepayers aren’t having much impact, as previously reported. Continue reading
Third generation Nest programmable thermostat. You may be asked to buy one for your neighbor, with a sweetener for Dominion.
Buying yourself a kilowatt hour of electricity costs about twelve cents. Persuading your next-door neighbor or the store at the corner to use less electricity is three times as expensive, costing about 35 cents per kilowatt hour.
That figure comes from a fresh exhibit filed by Dominion Energy Virginia with the State Corporation Commission, an exhibit only filed because a member of the court asked a simple question from the bench: What has all the spending on energy efficiency programs cost to date and what has been the result? If that information was buried in the thousands of pages of data on the case, he hadn’t found it. Continue reading
Fellow electricity ratepayers, we just took it in the neck again.
This morning’s Richmond Times-Dispatch brings the news that Dominion Energy Virginia will not seek to count lost revenue as one of the cost elements in the energy efficiency program it was ordered to undertake by the 2018 Ratepayer Bill Transformation Act. This follows an earlier story, also by the Associated Press, that Governor Ralph Northam has written the company to insist on that position.
Missing from both stories is a key fact: Dominion won’t spend a dime. It is all your money. When the 2018 General Assembly mandated $870 million of spending on energy efficiency and demand response programs, it was the same as a near-billion dollar tax increase. One of many in the bill. Now the $870 million customer cost will get larger. Continue reading
The so-called Taxpayer Relief Fund to be created with the residual dollars from the 2019 state tax legislation has not seen the first dollar deposited and Governor Ralph Northam is already proposing to spend some of it, seeking to expand the refunds which were part of that bill to all Virginians.
The Richmond Times-Dispatch story on the proposal, which you can read here, quotes state officials as pegging the cost at a modest $18 million, with 98 percent of the recipients being exactly the people Northam sought to reach with his proposal to make the Earned Income Tax Credit into a grant program. Continue reading
Angry consumer complaints are starting to appear on a growing case record at the State Corporation Commission, which opened the case on its own authority to demand insurance company presentations on the long-term care product market and its history of massive rate hikes.
A typical comment so far: “This frankly, appears to be a ploy of the insurance providers to raise rates so high that they will be completely unaffordable, everyone will drop their policies and the insurers will be able to exit the long term care industry. Consumers must be protected from these predatory practices and these rate hikes must be denied by the SCC.” Others (the record is here) detail years of steady premium increases and benefit reductions. Continue reading
Source: Purdue University
Two years of trade-dispute induced tariffs have decimated Virginia’s tobacco farmers, the president of Virginia’s Board for Agriculture and Consumer Services told his fellow board members Thursday. As he spoke Governor Ralph Northam was upstairs in the same building preparing to sign legislation the industry hopes provides a path forward for those same farmers.
Hemp. Industrial Hemp. Not for smoking but for squeezing out the oil.
Robert J. Mills of Pittsylvania County is already in the business of growing hemp, some of which he says is being grown to meet organic standards for the state of California. The production schedule for hemp is like tobacco’s, he said, it works well in the same soils, and tobacco curing barns can be used to dry the product. Continue reading