Author Archives: Steve Haner

Shellenberger’s “Apocalypse Never” Lessons for VA

HarperCollins, 2020

“Climate change is real but it’s not the end of the world.  It is not even our most serious environmental problem.”

By Steve Haner

That statement opens the dust jacket summary for “Apocalypse Never:  Why Environmental Alarmism Hurts Us All” by Michael Shellenberger, once named “Hero of the Environment” by Time magazine. It remains the number one best-seller in Amazon’s Climate or Environmental Policy category, competing with alarmist sermons such as “The Uninhabitable Earth” by David Wallace-Wells and “How To Avoid A Climate Disaster” by Bill Gates. Anybody interested in the topic should seek it out.

The themes of the book also align well with views previously featured from a 2019 newspaper column by retired University of Richmond biology professor, R. Dean Decker. Both are totally at odds with the wild predictions of Climate Armageddon that drive the Virginia Clean Economy Act, the upcoming Virginia debate over the Transportation and Climate Initiative carbon tax, and just about every Democratic political campaign in the Virginia and the U.S.

Shellenberger’s book is particularly important for the debate over carbon taxes such as the TCI compact, and the VCEA’s energy cost inflation, because with his worldwide experience and perspective he has seen the interrelationship of income poverty, energy poverty and damaging environmental exploitation. Saving the Earth and its flora and fauna require energy sufficiency – from more than just renewables – and energy-intensive modern agriculture.  It requires wealth and economic growth.  Continue reading

Assembly Protected Utilities, Not Other Businesses

First published this morning (with some slight differences) by the Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy.

By Steve Haner

Now that the Virginia General Assembly’s “Cops and COVID” special session is all but finished, will it be easier or harder for the state’s struggling economy to recover in 2021? It will be harder, probably, except for the utilities.

The initial reason Governor Ralph Northam recalled legislators starting August 18 was to review the state budget for COVID recession-related changes. Then a series of confrontations between police and Black Americans added law enforcement and criminal punishment to the agenda.

But the legislators reached far beyond those issues in the 270 pieces of legislation introduced, of which 56 have now passed (many of them duplicates).  The Assembly recessed October 16, but did not adjourn, and that will delay the effective date of the various new laws until perhaps March 1.

What did the legislature do for or to the business climate in Virginia? Continue reading

Lost Absentees, Found Roll Call, Missing Statues

By Steve Haner

Faulty Absentee Ballot Tracker Still Losing Track

Complaints continue about an absentee ballot tracking system on the Virginia Department of Elections website. Someone with a problem similar to what I encountered in September reached out to Richmond’s WTVR-TV 6 News, which reported that the problem lies with the United States Postal Service. The tracking system is provided by an outside vendor.

Jessenia Eliza, the Director of Government Initiatives at Democracy Works (the outside vendor), told CBS 6 the issue the Duszaks were facing was as a result of their ballot barcodes not being scanned by USPS.

“Ballot Scout relies entirely on USPS data in the state of Virginia. How it works is that as the intelligent mail barcode on ballots are scanned, that information is sent to our tool, and it updates the associated voter record,” explained Eliza. “We’re seeing this here and there with ballots that aren’t moving beyond that ‘in-transit’ status. That typically means just that the USPS didn’t scan it further, not necessarily that the ballot isn’t moving.”

The reporter then spoke with somebody at the state, who said: Continue reading

Energy “PIPP” Proposal Just the TIP of an Iceberg

The initial “PIPP” tax added to Dominion and APCo bills in 2021 may hide the full impact of the program.

By Steve Haner

As the State Corporation Commission prepares to set up Virginia’s first electricity cost shifting program, using a tax on all electric bills to provide discounts to low-income customers, advocates are already pushing to expand and enrich it.

An expert hired by an environmental group argues in testimony that the General Assembly erred when it capped electricity payments from poorer households at 6% of their monthly income if they did not have electric heat, and 10% if they did. Appalachian Voices’ expert wants the SCC to lower the rate to 5% and 8% respectively, greatly increasing the amount of revenue that must be extracted from other customers.  Continue reading

Is DMV Hiding 26% of Virginia’s Fuel Tax?

DMV Table.  Missing is the additional 7.6 cents per gallon collected in every county and city as a “wholesale tax” but still passed on to consumers. Oversight?

By Steve Haner

The Division of Motor Vehicles website is not honestly reporting fuel taxes in Virginia on that table above. This cannot be an oversight.  Continue reading

VA COVID Deaths Drop Again. Distrust the Data.

By Steve Haner

The Google satellite photo shows Rhine River cruise boats parked recently at Basel, Switzerland, probably including the one that my wife and I would have been boarding tomorrow morning. Losing a scheduled cruise is of no concern against all the other human and economic costs of this pandemic, but it provides a slightly different illustration for a COVID story.

It’s time for another check on how Virginia is doing.    Continue reading

Transportation Carbon Tax Debate Starts Again

First published this morning by the Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy.

By Steve Haner

Having imposed a carbon tax on Virginia electricity generation in 2020, the General Assembly starting in January 2021 will consider adding a similar tax on every gallon of gasoline and diesel sold for vehicle use. The Transportation and Climate Initiative, an environmentalist dream for a decade, is finally ready for its close up.

Advocates in the 12-state region that would make up the proposed interstate compact held two webinars in September, one focused on additional modeling on the project and the other discussing all the racially and environmentally just ways they believe states can spend the billions in new taxes.

The new modeling results did not change the basics of the program. TCI is a cap, tax and trade system that imposes a dollars-per-ton cost on the carbon dioxide emissions released by burning the fuels. The tax rate is set by an interstate auction, and the tax itself is imposed on the fuel wholesalers. The amount of fossil fuel emission credits that wholesalers may bid for will be capped and then will shrink a certain percentage every year.  Continue reading

Dominion Green Energy Costs Continue to Grow

Dominion Energy Virginia’s major capital projects, listed in its pending integrated resource plan. The SCC staff added the lifetime revenue requirement, the total dollars extracted from ratepayers over time which includes financing costs and the company’s current profit margin. Source: SCC

by Steve Haner

As sobering as they were, the initial estimates of how a green energy conversion will explode Dominion Energy Virginia rates have now been revised up. The State Corporation Commission staff now sees it costing an additional $800 per year for a residential customer to purchase 1,000 kWh per month by 2030, an increase of just under 60%.

The main drivers of the higher costs will be all the offshore wind and solar generation Dominion proposes to build, as outlined in its most recent integrated resource plan. That plan is now being reviewed by the SCC, and the staff filed its analysis late last week, summarized here on pages 4-5.

The separate cost analysis by Carol Myers of the SCC’s Division of Utility Accounting pushed up the utility-issued estimate by disputing assumptions the utility made. Staff disagrees with the utility projection that by 2030 less than half of its electricity will be used by residential customers. It is now about 55%. Should the portion shrink as Dominion projects, more of the project costs would be imposed on commercial users.

Myers reported it is also unrealistic to assume most residential households use 1,000 kWh per month, when the history show usage at or above 1,100 kWh.  Plugging that into the data would increase the projected cost to families even beyond $800. Myers’ testimony also shows huge increase in commercial (60%) and industrial (65%) power costs by 2030, even larger on a percentage basis than residential. For the state’s economy, they also matter. Continue reading

All Leader Saslaw Cares About: Is Dominion OK?

Senate Majority Leader Richard “Is Dominion okay with this?” Saslaw

By Steve Haner

Every now and then you can actually see the strings, see the puppet master that is Dominion Energy Virginia calling the shots at the Virginia General Assembly. Senate Majority Leader Richard Saslaw, D-Fairfax, provided a glimpse of its power during a floor debate Thursday.

Republican senators were in revolt. Two days after the House of Delegates had approved a plan to force all utility ratepayers to cover the unpaid bills and late fees for those who have fallen behind, the same language amendment was before the Senate for adoption.

“Once again, we have cast the ratepayers aside here in Virginia,” Senator Richard Stuart told his colleagues assembled in their spread formation at the Science Museum of Virginia. The average ratepayer is struggling to pay their own bill in this recession and did not sign up to pay the bills for those others who for whatever reason do not. “This is immoral. This is not right,” Stuart concluded. Continue reading

Absentee Tracking System Already Breaking Down?

Tracking on my ballot as of September 30, eight days since the last update.  Click for larger view.

Okay, so where is my absentee ballot? The Virginia Board of Elections tracking system is falling down. This does not inspire confidence and needs to be fixed.

I had the application in well in advance. The ballot was mailed on the first day, a Friday, and our local Postal Service delivery lady worked long hours on Saturday to get them delivered. I assume the absentee ballots were the reason mail was delivered at 8 p.m. that day. Thank you, Ma’am.

I had it back in the mail Monday morning and as you can see above, the tracking service had it on its way to the Henrico Board of Elections by Tuesday, September 22. But the tracking has not been updated since that time. I’ve given it a week.

UPDATE: It turns out there are two trackers, and the other one (here) does show my ballot as received by the county Sept. 23.   That is the tracker I remember from before.  So now the mystery is, why the second one?  And why is it not updated when the other one is?  The confusion this might create could be substantial.  The person who sent me the link to the correct tracker reported a similar problem on the newer one for his own ballot.

The second process is being run by an outside vendor, Ballot Scout, and I don’t know when that started. Last June I cast a mail absentee (as a poll worker away from my home precinct I had that legitimate reason) and the tracking was prompt. It will need to be prompt this time if you want confidence in Virginia’s results. Another little wrinkle on this that should raise eyebrows — anybody can check the status of anybody else’s mail absentee on the second one, if you have their first and last name and the address. Huh? Anybody can see in real time if I’ve requested and mailed a ballot or not?

–SDH

Dominion ❤ New Utility Bill Payment Plan

This time you get touched.

By Steve Haner

Dominion Energy Virginia loves the General Assembly’s most recent proposal on how to deal with mounting unpaid utility bills in the COVID-19 recession. You might not.

The state’s dominant utility has activated its network of grassroots lobbyists (including company retirees and stockholders) to express their personal support to their hometown delegate and senator, in an email that a recipient shared:

Last week the Senate Finance and House Appropriation committees passed budget bills that included assistance to those utility customers who have experienced economic hardship due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. All utilities have been impacted and the legislation recognizes that relief to those citizens most at risk will be different from one region and utility to the next. The direction adopted by both Chambers have been consistently supported by Dominion Energy…

As predicted more than once, the unpaid bills ultimately come to all utility consumers. The approach outlined in the new budget language is a variation on earlier themes, but the bottom line is unchanged.   Continue reading

House Offers $330 Million Utility, Unemployment Aid

By Steve Haner

Virginia’s House of Delegates has proposed spending $120 million from federal COVID-19 relief funds to help at least some Virginia families catch up on their utility bills and wants to pump $210 million from the same source into the state’s unemployment insurance program.

Both ideas surfaced when the House Appropriations Committee approved a set of budget amendments September 25 (more details here). Neither idea is matched in the Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee amendments, also revealed Friday and summarized here. That $330 million in COVID assistance for individuals is a serious difference of opinion to be resolved in the coming conference process.

The General Assembly so far is following Governor Ralph Northam’s advice to show restraint on state spending in the midst of the COVID-19 recession. Neither the House nor the Senate are proposing to raid state reserves to restore spending priorities frozen during the emergency. Neither is looking to increase any tax rates.

However, both have plenty of ideas for spending the $1.3 billion in unallocated federal COVID funds provided to Virginia. And both combed through the budget looking for places to cut or unnoticed revenues, creating available money to be spent on their own priorities.  Continue reading

Permanent COVID Reg Called “The Fifth Dragon”

By Steve Haner

Most Virginia employers probably have not read, let alone fully complied with, the emergency temporary standard on protecting their employees from COVID-19 adopted back in July. Yet the public comment period on the permanent version of the rules, which can carry major sanctions, closes this Friday.

Only twenty comments had been filed as of Monday morning, half of them anonymous. So far, the proposed permanent version is not generating the level of activity that surrounded the proposed temporary rule. The Department of Labor and Industry’s Safety and Health Code Board allowed no public hearing before adoption, only written comments.

File a comment on the proposed permanent standard here. You can read the comments to date here. The proposed permanent standard can be read here.

Continue reading

Special Interests Behind the Anti-Interest Candidate

MONEY IN POLITICS

By Steve Haner

Welcome to the current state of politics, where an incumbent preens as being free from special interest funding and their sworn enemy, all while the special interests spend millions seeking to tear down the challenger.

House Bill 827, approved by the 2020 General Assembly, did not really provide additional employment protection for Virginia’s pregnant women. It created a new state-level bureaucratic shillelagh to use if they felt aggrieved, backed up by the threat of state lawsuits and punitive damages.  Continue reading

Assembly May Add Unpaid Power Bills to Yours

By Steve Haner

The General Assembly is moving toward a second method of transferring money from electricity customers who can pay their bills to those who cannot. A Senate bill up today will allow Dominion Energy Virginia and Appalachian Power to simply add yet another “rider” to everybody’s monthly bill for their uncollected accounts receivable.

It is still possible the Assembly will reach into assumed excess profits on the part of Dominion and use $320 million of that to cover payments which have been allowed to lapse during the COVID-19 pandemic. As reported here a while back, that idea is being proposed as an amendment to the state budget, still being written behind closed doors.

But only Dominion has such a pot of cash hanging out there to raid, not the other utilities with hundreds of millions of unpaid electricity, gas, and water bills. And that approach may indeed not appear in the budget after all, leaving Senate Bill 5118 as the main path forward. The link is to the substitute, to which the following was added by a Senate Committee last week:

The Commission shall (emphasis added) allow for the timely recovery of bad debt obligations, reasonable late payment fees suspended, and prudently incurred implementation costs resulting from an (Emergency Debt Retirement Plan) for jurisdictional utilities, including through a rate adjustment clause or through base rates. The Commission may apply any applicable earnings test in the Commission rules governing utility rate applications and annual informational filings when assessing the recovery of such costs.

 “Shall” is the key word, of course.  If asked, the State Corporation Commission must say yes.  And the provision allowing collection “through base rates” in effect does the same thing as the proposed budget language, allowing the SCC to apply any cash the utility has lying around during a rate case. It also could lead to an increase in base rates to cover the unpaid bills.  Continue reading