Author Archives: Steve Haner

Energy Omnibus III: Race, Poverty and Justice

By Steve Haner

Unfortunately, there is nothing new about the Virginia General Assembly passing an energy development bill which overrides the authority of the State Corporation Commission or usurps its role in planning utility resources.

Where Governor Ralph Northam’s new clean energy transition legislation breaks ground is its immersion into questions of race, poverty and environmental justice.  Should it pass and be implemented, the large electric utilities will be charging means tested rates, exempting low income ratepayers from some charges entirely, submitting their construction plans to an environmental justice council and engaging in preferential hiring for at least some construction projects.

Reviewing the list of such instances in House Bill 1526 and Senate Bill 851, detailed below, raises the question of how long it will take for these to become common for all regulated public service companies.  If the General Assembly starts down this road, it will not stop here.  Continue reading

Energy Omnibus II: It Doesn’t Shut Gas Plants

Virginia City Hybrid Energy Center, St. Paul, VA. It survives until at least 2030 and perhaps 2045 in the clean energy legislation. Dominion Photo.

By Steve Haner

Will all of Virginia’s existing fossil fuel electric power plants be closed under Governor Ralph Northam’s new clean energy transition legislation? As we continue our detailed examination of House Bill 1526 (with line references), the answers may surprise some. Not many of them. Not the natural gas plants.

Dominion Energy Virginia has been on a building spree for more than a decade, financing new coal, natural gas and woody biomass generators around the state with “rate adjustment clauses,” specific charged for specific projects. All of them emit carbon dioxide. Monthly bills now include six separate RACs or “riders,” costing residential consumers $12.43 cents for every one thousand kilowatt hours of juice they consume.  Continue reading

Energy Omnibus: What it Does, How it Costs You

What will Virginians see due to the Virginia Clean Economy Act? “Lots and lots of solar,” said the patron, Del. Richard Sullivan, D-Arlington. Higher bills, added the State Corporation Commission.

By Steve Haner

The General Assembly adopted Governor Ralph Northam’s clean energy package Tuesday, with party-line votes in both the House of Delegates and Virginia Senate. Two House Democrats joined the Republicans in opposing the House version.

House Bill 1526 and Senate Bill 851 appear identical but amendments were being adopted at the last minute. Now that they have crossed over to the other chamber, they likely will become identical.  And expect furious efforts to recruit some Republican votes in favor, as this new vision for Virginia’s energy economy will be disruptive, expensive and politically explosive.

Using the House version as it passed, here is a tour of some (not all) highlights, with line references so you can follow on this PDF version of the engrossed bill. If you want to see it without line numbers, but with highlighting of the new language instead, look here. For that I’ve used the Senate bill.

The bill overrides State Corporation Commission authority to look out for consumers in too many places to count, but you’ll find the clearest and most important example of that on line 1399 of the House bill.  Continue reading

VA to Examine Company Payrolls, Hunting Bias

By Steve Haner

How bad is the climate for business in Virginia now? Just how much does this New Blue General Assembly detest and distrust evil capitalists? Let’s look at one little bill first noticed Monday in the long string of bills rushing toward Tuesday’s deadline for action. House Bill 624 won’t be the worst bill of the session, but it is very revealing of the new mindset.

Del. Chris Hurst, D-Blacksburg, sold this bill to the House of Delegates Monday with the common and debatable statistic that women earn 79 cents compared to every dollar earned by men. He wants the state to take on the role of ferreting that out worker by worker and devising a state-enforced solution. Doing so will mean $24 billion more paid to female Virginia workers, he claimed. Continue reading

SCC: Clean Energy Conversion’s Customer Cost

By Steve Haner

In the first ten years, Governor Ralph Northam’s signature zero carbon electricity legislation will add almost 20%, about $280 per year, to typical Dominion Energy Virginia residential bills. That was the low-ball estimate Sunday from a State Corporation Commission expert who quickly discovered that shooting the messenger is the normal General Assembly response to bad news.

Senate Commerce and Labor Committee Chairman Richard Saslaw, D-Fairfax, visibly scoffed as Kim Pate, the SCC’s director of utility accounting and finance, explained the SCC had no position on Senate Bill 851. She was there to talk about the likely consumer cost, just as she had earlier Sunday on other bills dealing with Dominion Energy Virginia’s massive offshore wind proposal. The last time this was in committee, no legislator even asked about cost.  Continue reading

Cabinet Officers: Assembly Decides on Carbon Tax

Delegate Poindexter

By Steve Haner

Thanks to the persistence of Del. Charles Poindexter, two members of Governor Ralph Northam’s cabinet are now on record stating the General Assembly will decide whether Virginia joins the carbon tax regime called the Transportation and Climate Initiative. In 2018 both of them had signed a letter endorsing the interstate compact to reduce the use of gasoline and diesel fuel for transportation.

The Franklin County Republican was addressed by Secretary of Natural Resources Matt Strickler in a meeting of a House Labor and Commerce Committee subcommittee January 30, and Strickler dismissed Poindexter’s use of the word rationing to describe TCI. “I’m not sure where the idea of rationing comes from. I think that’s pretty hyperbolic language,” he scoffed.  Continue reading

A PIPP of an Idea: Electricity Transfer Payments

By Steve Haner

Green energy advocates never tire of telling us that accomplishing their zero-carbon electricity supply will lower our costs. If so, why does their dream bill include a new income transfer entitlement program for low-income customers?

It is called the Percentage of Income Payment Program with a handy acronym PIPP. It first appeared in Delegate Lamont Bagby’s House Bill 1483. The Henrico County Democrat saw his bill pass the House Labor and Commerce Committee February 4, but for good measure it is now enshrined on lines 1828 through 1909 of the omnibus clean energy bill revealed February 6, House Bill 1526.

B. The monthly electric utility payment of any person participating in PIPP shall be capped at six percent, or, if the participant’s home uses electric heat, 10 percent, of the participant’s household income. A participant may further reduce his monthly electric utility payment through a conservation program incentive. Under this program incentive, if a participant lowers his monthly electricity usage below his historical baseline average, the participant’s electric utility bill for such month shall be reduced by 50 percent of the monetary amount by which such participant lowered his usage.

…Participants who transition to a budget billing system in accordance with this subsection shall be forgiven of any arrearages on electric utility bills accrued prior to participation in PIPP upon making timely and full PIPP payments to the electric utility provider for 12 consecutive months; all other PIPP participants shall be forgiven of arrearages accrued prior to participation in PIPP after making timely and full PIPP payments to the electric utility provider for 12 consecutive months.

Continue reading

The Energy Whirlwind: Here Finally are the Bills

The House Labor and Commerce Committee has now seen (sort of) and passed out two major revisions to Virginia’s energy policies, promising a new clean energy economy and demanding that the two dominant electric power providers reach 100% renewable status in a few decades.

Delegate Richard Sullivan, D-Arlington, is patron of both House bills, which were were the product of furious private negotiations.  His House Bill 1451 is the shorter (12 page) RPS bill and his House Bill 1526 goes into more detail on how Virginia’s energy economy will change.  Buried deep in that 75-page bill are provisions on building offshore wind and a new income transfer program to subsidize the electricity bills of lower-income customers with other customers’ funds.

Let’s all start reading together.  I certainly am not ready to comment.  Here is Virginia Mercury’s take, which provides the headline talking points from proponents. Continue reading

Bill Changing Rate Rules on Dominion Advances

Will the General Assembly unshackle the SCC so it can grant refunds or lower rates?

By Steve Haner

As the energy whirlwind continues to spin at the General Assembly, changing the landscape the way a twister changes a trailer park, one proposal that should be a boon to Dominion Energy Virginia ratepayers passed a notable hurdle late Tuesday night.

House Bill 1132, the chance for legislators to repent and make amends for earlier sins against their constituents, cleared the House Labor and Commerce energy issues subcommittee on a 6-4 vote, following a long and instructive debate. Two versions of the bill were introduced, one by Powhatan Republican Lee Ware and the other by Norfolk Democrat Jay Jones. It was the Jones version that passed, but Ware was also at the podium sharing credit.

The subcommittee meeting, which ran until about midnight again, included many party-line votes, but this one had Democrat Steve Heretick of Portsmouth siding with Dominion along with several Republicans, while Ware joined the rest of the Democrats in support of the bill.  “Nay” was the wrong vote on this one. Very wrong. As wrong as the votes which enriched Dominion in 2014, 2015 and 2018.

As previously discussed, the bill will allow the State Corporation Commission to review and adjust Dominion’s rates and profits in 2021 without the handcuffs, leg irons, blindfolds and barbed wire fences previous General Assemblies have built into various laws to injure consumer rights and protect utility profits. It will use the traditional rate-making rules the State Corporation Commission applies to other companies, and most other states’ regulators use for their monopoly power companies (who also thrive, by the way).  Continue reading

Consistency? Seek it Not at the General Assembly

The Virginia Constitution grants exemption from local real estate taxes for veterans with 100% service-related disability and for the Gold Star families of those killed in action, a move enthusiastically endorsed by voters in 2010. But in a House Finance Committee subcommittee this morning Virginia’s local governments presented the General Assembly with a bill.

The subcommittee endorsed two bills to provide localities reimbursement from the state treasury for the real estate taxes foregone. House Bill 363 from Del. Mark Cole, R-Fredericksburg, would allow the reimbursement once the tax exemption amount exceeds one percent of the overall local real estate tax revenue. House Bill 1496 from new Del.Martha Mugler, D-Hampton, did not set a threshold and would reimburse all lost revenue.  Continue reading

Updates: Electoral College, Carbon Tax, Tax Reform

The benches along this sidewalk are still missing, having been removed for the gun rights rally. Can we have them back for next week’s February Thaw?  Please.

By Steve Haner

Catching up on several issues previously discussed, with links to the original posts:

Virginia’s 2020 Electoral Votes Still Ours to Award. Pending legislation to enact the National Popular Vote regime has now failed in both House and Senate committees, although nothing is really dead in this process until final adjournment in March.  The House bill died in House Privileges and Elections Friday, with three Democrats joining nine Republicans to reject. The Senate version was stricken at the request of the patron a few days earlier. The National Popular Vote is an interstate compact of states agreeing to grant their electoral votes to the presidential candidate with the highest national total vote, but it only kicks in once enough states to control the outcome have joined. Perhaps the idea of Virginia’s electoral votes going to Donald J. Trump, without regard to Virginia’s vote, finally occurred to some Democrats. But complaints about the Electoral College persist and so will this idea.

Secretary of Natural Resources on Transportation and Climate Initiative. Twice last week Secretary of Natural Resources Matt Strickler faced questions from Republican legislators about the state’s plans with regard to the proposed interstate compact on fossil fuels used in cars and trucks. Continue reading

High Cost Detailed, Offshore Wind Support Fades

Delegate Mark Keam, D-Vienna. He voted against a bill eliminating SCC oversight on an $8 billion wind investment, then abstained to save the bill. Watch it here.

By Steve Haner

Dominion Energy Virginia’s massive $7.8 billion offshore wind project received a tepid 5-4 endorsement late Thursday night in a House subcommittee, after legislators were told it would add $13 per month to typical residential bills starting in 2027. In stark contrast to a similar hearing in the Senate Wednesday, both the State Corporation Commission and Office of the Attorney General staff spoke forcefully.

That 5-4 vote to report the bill came on a second try, as the first roll call was scrambled by legislators changing their votes before the chairman closed the roll. At times on the first roll call the proposal was failing by 6-3 or on a 5-5 tied vote, but that roll call was discarded. The final vote was 5-4, with Delegate Mark Keam, D-Vienna, abstaining. He had voted “nay” before but can be heard on the video tape saying he didn’t want his vote to kill it.

The basis for his abstention, normally used when a legislator has a conflict of interest, was not stated.

The bill in question is Chesapeake Democrat Del. Cliff Hayes’ House Bill 1664 but pay no attention to the introduced bill.  There was a substitute.  It was a dream bill for Dominion’s plans, once again dictating to the SCC that “all costs” of the project would be “deemed to be reasonably and prudently incurred.” Those are the magic words one opponent labeled “a blank check.”  Continue reading

Offshore Wind Mandate Advances, Cost Ignored

By Steve Haner

Smart lawyers, and the General Assembly is full of them, don’t ask questions unless they know the answer already and want the information included in the debate. Nobody down at the General Assembly is asking what it will cost Virginians on their monthly bills to build massive offshore wind facilities to generate electricity.

Case in point, a meeting of a Senate subcommittee still underway as this is being written. The Energy Subcommittee of the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee has endorsed two Senate bills that will dictate to the State Corporation Commission that it must allow Dominion Energy Virginia to build its proposed 2,600-megawatt turbine farm and pass the costs to ratepayers.

Senate Bill 860 actually dictates that up to 5,200 megawatts shall be found “in the public interest,” including projects built off the shores of neighboring states, and covers power purchase agreements. Senate Bill 998 is tightly focused on the Dominion-built project off Virginia Beach, but goes beyond the “public interest” declaration. It tells the SCC to accept the full cost as “reasonable and prudent” and pass those costs on to ratepayers. Probably over 30 years. With an enhanced double-digit all-but-guaranteed rate of return.  Continue reading

“Fair Share” Extracts Dues From 20,000 Workers

By Steve Haner

Twenty thousand working families forced to pull $450 per year out of their tight family budgets may not think it “fair” that they are forced to “share” their earnings with a union they chose not to join.

The debate over repealing Virginia’s Right to Work statute, or the more likely step of forcing non-union members to pay partial dues, has largely been academic. Some defenders of Virginia’s Right to Work status have now produced some new data on the dollar impact on real people.

According to the most recent reports Virginia’s unions must file, there are about 118,000 Virginians actively working in private companies covered by a union contract, with about 98,000 in the unions and another 19,400 union-eligible employees who have exercised their “right to work” without belonging.  This is 2018 data.  Continue reading

“No Kill” Bill Returns to Reignite Animal Wars

Richmond’s Tommie during the five-day effort to save him from horrible burns a year ago. The man who burned him said he tried to put the dog in a shelter but was refused.  Photo: The News and Advance.

By Steve Haner

Another attempt to impose the “no-kill” philosophy on Virginia’s animal shelters is pending in the Virginia Senate, sponsored by a rural Republican who is the great champion of that (so-far) failed cause. After a long subcommittee hearing Thursday, his bill was put back in the shelter pen to await its fate for another week.

If you think gun control is the most contentious issue facing legislators year in and year out, sit in sometime on a meeting of any subcommittee dealing with animal bills. Read the emails generated by the passionate advocates, which can be among the nastiest in inboxes. Legislators dread these issues.

For five years I was in the middle of the Animal Wars as the lobbyist for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. Its world headquarters is in Norfolk and as part of that it runs a regional animal care operation that includes a private shelter with a wide-open admission policy. That means PETA’s licensed shelter has a high euthanasia rate, making it a national and even international hate target for the no-kill movement.  Continue reading