Author Archives: Steve Haner

PG&E Efficiency Program’s Contrary Results

From Opinion Dynamics report on PG&E’s Home Energy Report program, showing most in the program did not change their consumption of energy.

Okay, for the wonks among you: At my request, the State Corporation Commission staff directed me to the full report on Pacific Gas and Electric’s Home Energy Report (HER) Program, which found that more people in the program increased their consumption of electricity and gas than decreased it.

The SCC staff had reproduced two pages of the report in its comments on Dominion Energy Virginia’s proposed demand management programs. I cited their citation at the beginning of a Bacon’s Rebellion report a few days ago. With the original report, I could extract the chart used above, which was used by the SCC staff but with a copy too blurry to reproduce.

Along with the static data for 2016, which is bad enough, the report by Opinion Dynamics also tracked various waves of participants over time and found the trends held: “For electric participants, the percent of negative savers appears to increase annually for all waves. For electric participants, the percent of negative savers increases with duration of treatment.”

 The report never discusses people who increased consumption of electricity or natural gas. These customers are referred to as “negative savers.”   Continue reading

Taking Some Pain Out of Eminent Domain

Senator Frank Ruff of Clarksville. Taking some of the pain out of eminent domain.

Four successful bills heading for Governor Ralph Northam’s desk may combine into a measurable shift in Virginia’s condemnation laws in favor of the targeted landowners.  They may also spark a race to the courthouse between now and when some go into effect July 1.

The biggest financial impact may come from Senator Frank Ruff’s Senate Bill 1256, which eliminates state tax on any capital gain resulting from the forced sale.  The subtraction for any capital gain applies to both individual and corporate landowners and applies to any transaction after January 1 of this year.  Too bad if you took that check in December.   Continue reading

Three Lessons From Dominion’s Income Tax Case

If you thought the tax conformity debate took too long at the General Assembly, check out the fight at the State Corporation Commission over Dominion Energy Virginia’s corporate income tax bill.  The SCC still hasn’t decided how much to cut Dominion’s base rates to reflect its lower income tax payments, but a decision is close.

There are three reasons why this case is worth exploring.

First, a battle over how to account for a small amount, $67 million, is a wonderful demonstration of how obscure phrases buried in legislation written by the utility come back to bite its customers in their wallets.   Continue reading

Fresh RAC Tracker Doesn’t Reflect What’s Coming

Bill impact table included in SCC staff testimony on demand management programs case, showing impact of all pending Dominion requests. Click for larger view.

The State Corporation Commission staff has provided an updated version of a table tracking the possible rate impact of various Dominion Energy Virginia cases pending before the commission, most creating or adjusting rate adjustment clauses (RACs).  It starts with a baseline of $117.64 for the February monthly cost to that famous 1000-kilowatt hour typical customer, who of course does not exist.

The largest cost increases visible on the horizon are not included.

Some of the cases which are tracked have been decided and some are pending.  The table was included in the staff testimony about the proposed demand management programs paid for with Riders C1A and C2A and includes the $0.61 per month increase in them Dominion is requesting.   Continue reading

But The Idea Is To Cut Power Use, Isn’t It?

California’s giant Pacific Gas and Electric has a major program providing energy audits for its customers, and recently retained an outside firm to study the results.  While quite a few customers did reduce their energy usage after the audits, it turned out a larger number increased demand.

The report, dated December 2018, noted 19 percent of PG&E electricity customers reduced usage but 27 percent of them increased it following the audit.  On the natural gas side, 25 percent reduced usage and 31 percent increased.   Continue reading

Assisted Conception Option For The New Realities

Rick Olson, Jay Timmons and children at their McLean home.

A major revision of Virginia’s assisted conception laws has fought its way through to a final vote in the State Senate Monday, pushed by a former Virginia official who has gone public with his unconventional and very 21st century family.

Jay Timmons and his husband Rick Olson faced a major legal battle in Wisconsin a few years back over the surrogacy agreement they had with the mother of their third child.  The child was conceived using a frozen embryo from a couple that had used a similar method to build a family of four, didn’t want to use the remaining embryos themselves, but also didn’t want them destroyed.   Continue reading

Virginia Goes Wet With Nary A Whimper

“Dry Messiah: The Life of Bishop James Cannon” by Virginius Dabney

It has only been a century since Prohibition was approved with ratification of the Eighteenth Amendment in 1919.  Is it finally over in Virginia?  For Virginia, a century is but a moment.  Are we rushing this?

A bill is sitting on Governor Ralph Northam’s desk that would not have been successful ten years ago, would have been political suicide fifty years ago and even now deserves attention.  It makes all Virginia localities wet, allowing ABC stories and mixed drinks in restaurants within their boundaries.  The 31 counties that remain dry or partially dry can only maintain their restrictions on demon rum if a local referendum approves continued prohibition.   Continue reading

GA Bills You For Industrial Electricity Discount

The people who make the real decisions about what we pay for electricity in Virginia, which would be the members of the General Assembly, have just cut electricity costs for large Dominion Energy Virginia customers by up to $10 million and shifted those costs over to other customer classes, including residential.

This is yet another small but significant gift to you from the 2018 Ratepayer Bill Transformation Act, which really had little to do with transforming Virginia’s electricity distribution grid.  Dominion’s plans for the grid remain stalled, but this little add-on provision from the same legislation just got approved by the State Corporation Commission on February 8.

Cost allocation and rate design are major points of contention at the Commission sometimes, involving economists, accountants and reams of data.  Now you can just slip a paragraph into complicated bill and bypass all that.

This was ordered by an enactment clause (number 11 of 24) at the tail end of last year’s bill and may be the first example of the General Assembly dictating the fine points of cost allocation among rate categories.   The Assembly is deciding what plants to build, which transmission lines should be buried and when federal environmental regulations are inadequate.  Why not move into rate design? Continue reading

Revised Again, Tax Bill Envisions Future Reforms

The possibility of additional future state tax reform or tax cuts improved Monday under a new version of the pending bill that puts Virginia into conformity with the federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.  The resulting tax revenue not returned by the modest policy changes in this bill are to be held in reserve for future action.

The language in the bill now better matches the earlier rhetoric about preventing a huge inflow of new income tax revenue.

The legal reality is no General Assembly can bind a future one, so the 2020 session could disband this new fund and just spend the money.  But it is a stronger statement of policy and intent, and perhaps will add focus to the debate over tax policy which is inevitable in the 2019 legislative elections.  Continue reading

You May Pay A North Carolinian’s Coal Ash Costs

An illustration of the coal ash de-watering and treatment process at Bremo Bluff power station, which is now out of favor. Source: DEQ website.

The cost to Dominion Energy Virginia customers for recycling coal ash or moving it into more secure landfills is growing, because the proposed bill now recognizes that Dominion’s North Carolina electricity customers cannot be forced to pay by the Virginia General Assembly or the State Corporation Commission.

This phrase has been added to the current substitutes for House Bill 2786 and Senate Bill 1355: (v) any such costs that are allocated to the utility’s system customers outside of the Commonwealth that are not actually recovered from such customers shall be included for cost recovery from jurisdictional customers in the Commonwealth through the rate adjustment clause.  

Dominion Energy North Carolina’s customers in the northeastern part of that state depend on Virginia-based generation, including those coal plants, but the General Assembly so far seems fine with billing us for their share of these costs.  Why?  Absent that the company’s shareholders might have to pay it.   Continue reading

State Cap on Deductions Added To Tax Bill

The compromise income tax bill hailed for preventing a tax policy train wreck in Virginia includes one new provision not included in earlier bills, not mentioned in any of the Republican press releases and not yet included in any fiscal impact statements.  Democrats wanted it.

It is yet another departure from the new federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.  The bill maintains a formula to reduce or cap itemized deductions known as the Pease limit.  TCJA removed the Pease limit at the federal level but the substitute tax bill voted on in committee Friday restores it at the state level.   Continue reading

Senator Confesses to Post: 72 Years of Blackface

The media gauntlet outside the Virginia State Senate Friday morning.

To: Nomination committee, 2019 Pulitzer Prizes. I know somebody will be winning your prestigious award for the deep and insightful reporting we’ve all seen in Virginia over the past week. To finish out the most amazing week in my 35 General Assembly sessions, I have enjoyed the following example of the fine trade of journalism, which I once practiced myself.

I am in possession of a copy of the following email string and would be pleased to share it. Keep reading until you see the Virginia State Senator’s response. I’m sure the prize is now won. The following initial email apparently went to all 140 members of the Virginia General Assembly (and perhaps uncounted local officials statewide).

Subject: Blackface/The Washington Post   Continue reading

RGGI Debate Continues With New Comment Period

The clock is ticking toward a March 6 deadline if you are burning with a desire to comment on the latest version of Virginia’s proposed Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative regulation. Perusing the hundreds of comments from the 2018 round of comments, there may not be much to add.

If you liked the first version, you’ll love this revision. If you hated the first version, you will see this one as worse. It is very much the same, only more so – starting with the new beginning target for carbon dioxide emission from power plants of 28 million tons per year, down from the first proposal’s target of 33 million tons per year.   Continue reading

ACP Cost Bill Passes House With Bipartisan Vote

Five House Democrats joined 35 House Republicans in voting against the legislation reinforcing the State Corporation Commission’s authority to decide just how much captive electricity customers must pay once the Atlantic Coast Pipeline is supplying Dominion Energy Virginia generators.

Delegate Lee Ware’s House Bill 1718 passed Tuesday with 57 positive votes, 42 from Democrats and 15 from Republicans, including Ware. The bill now moves to the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee, which has proven a challenging environment for bills Dominion does not want.  Continue reading

TCJA Remains A Big Revenue Gain for State

Neither the House nor Senate Republican tax plan returns more than half of the TCJA windfall.  The House GOP does propose to set aside another $517 million in the first year for some form of added tax relief, to be determined later this year.

The tax relief proposals advancing in both the Virginia House of Delegates and Virginia Senate return at most half of the estimated additional state revenue created by the federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) over six years.

As Virginia leaders have debated what to do about the situation, all have been working off an estimate of the additional revenue provided by an outside economic consultant last year.  It projected $1.2 billion in the first two years and more than $4.5 billion in the first six years as the addition revenue Virginia would collect from conforming to the TCJA, absent changes in Virginia tax policy.  Continue reading