Category Archives: Environment

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

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

Deer, Cars, Wildlife Corridors… and Coyotes


by James A. Bacon

Egads! Vehicle collisions with deer accounted for 61,000 traffic accidents, in Virginia in the year ending June 30, 2016, according to the Virginia Transportation Research Council. The hoofed critters contributed to one in six of all accident claims. And, judging by the number of deer carcass removals, the number of accidents may be under-reported. There are more deer-related accidents than alcohol-related crashes. As a menace to Virginia motorists — roughly 10,000 injuries and 200 fatalities a year — deer are second only to distracted drivers.

I first read the astonishing deer-collision numbers in a Washington Post op-ed by Richmond journalist (and friend) Steve Nash. Nash is a careful reporter, but so amazed was I by the magnitude of the problem, I had to double-check the data. It’s accurate.

Lawmakers have tackled drunk drivers, and they’re working on distracted drivers. But I can’t think of any laws the General Assembly can enact that deer are likely to obey. There are almost as many deer living in rural Virginia (an estimated one million), and they are even less inclined than the human inhabitants of Second Amendment Sanctuary country to hew to legal diktats handed down from the legislature. 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

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

Bill to Expand (Pack?) SCC a First Test of Change

by Steve Haner

Legislation to increase the size of the State Corporation Commission from three to five judges, giving majority Democrats a chance to pack the panel with their appointees, may provide the first real test of how much things have changed in New Blue Virginia.

Freshman Delegate Dan Helmer, D-Fairfax, introduced House Bill 1297, which is on the docket for the full meeting of the House Labor and Commerce meeting Thursday afternoon. One of the three existing SCC judges, Patricia West, could be re-elected this session and is not expected to be, giving the new majority one seat to fill by March. As introduced, Helmer’s bill creates two more seats to be filled at some future special or regular session.

Energy issues, and the SCC’s perceived hesitance to charge forward and save the planet from climate catastrophe, are front of mind with many of the new (and some of the old) legislators. But a reconstituted SCC could also change direction on insurance, banking, corporate governance, pipelines and other areas of regulation under its purview. Its key role on those is often overlooked.

Once the full committee rises, in a meeting of the newly constituted energy subcommittee of House Labor and Commerce, more than twenty energy bills will face their first hearing. The meeting will probably start late and run long, but Friday’s dawn may mark a new green energy age, at least in the House of Delegates.    Continue reading

Analysis: Only Assembly Can Impose Carbon Tax

By Steve Haner

It is illegal in Virginia for a petroleum wholesaler to arbitrarily reduce the amount of product it provides to retailers. The General Assembly has intervened in that marketplace, probably for the reasonable public purpose of preventing price gouging. Regulating the sale of fuel for some other purpose should also require action by the General Assembly.

The “other purpose” under scrutiny at this time would be reducing carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere. David Schnare of the Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy was researching whether the governor could impose the Transportation and Climate Initiative on Virginia without General Assembly action. He found and cites the existing state law against rationing gasoline and other legislative oversight of that market in an analysis published today.

Schnare holds both environmental and law doctorates and served 34 years with the federal Environmental Protection Agency. His conclusion is the Governor lacks the authority to act arbitrarily through an executive order or agency decision.  t was the same conclusion reached recently by the Supreme Court in Washington state in reviewing and rejecting a cap-and-trade effort from that state’s governor, Jay Inslee.

Here’s the take on that from the Wall Street Journal editorial board:

Good news: The political panic over climate change doesn’t justify one-man rule. That’s the message the Washington Supreme Court delivered this week to Governor Jay Inslee, who tried to impose his command-and-control agenda by fiat.

Perhaps you heard Mr. Inslee for a millisecond in the presidential race last year declaring that climate change is “the most urgent challenge of our time.” He failed to galvanize the masses, much as he failed to persuade the Washington Legislature in 2015 when it rejected his cap-and-trade proposal.

Continue reading

Electoral College Vote, Carbon Tax, Labor’s Wants

By Steve Haner

The End of the Electoral College Looms

The legislature’s new ruling Democrats, having celebrated their adoption of the national Equal Rights Amendment, may continue their Constitutional aspirations next week and try to kill the federal Electoral College. Some believe the will of Virginia voters in choosing presidential electors should be overridden by the popular vote total in all fifty states plus the District of Columbia combined.

This idea is known at the National Popular Vote. Objections to the Electoral College process have a long history but were reignited when former Senator Hillary Clinton became the fifth presidential candidate who won the popular vote but lost the Electoral College. As predicted by Bacon’s Rebellion, the proposal to grant Virginia’s votes to the national front runner is back in three bills, with far longer lists of patrons and co-patrons. The two House bills are here and here, and the Senate version here. All now rest with firmly Democratic Privileges and Elections committees.  Continue reading

2020 Assembly May Not Vote on Carbon Car Tax

By Steve Haner

It now seems unlikely the 2020 General Assembly will act directly on Virginia’s membership in the proposed Transportation and Climate Initiative, an interstate compact to cap, tax and then start to ration fossil fuels that add carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. Virginia would be the southernmost member.

While six pieces of pending legislation (so far) mention the similar Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, which caps, taxes and rations CO2 from power plants, the silence continues on TCI. It has been conspicuously absent from gubernatorial pronouncements on these issues. A Virginia Mercury story this week on various environmental proposals cited a December statement from him that “no decisions have been made,” although it wasn’t clear on what.

When organizers of the TCI compact released their draft memorandum of understanding last month, they clearly were pointing to action in the various states in the near future. But the MOU itself is only an outline, with many blanks to fill in. An argument that the issue is not ripe for the legislature could be valid. What is the actual goal or schedule for forced supply reductions?

An argument that it doesn’t need legislative blessing at all, however, would not be valid. Virginians should not be subjected to this tax, cap and ration regime without a recorded vote by their elected representatives.

What people can do now, if they care, is register an opinion with the TCI organizers on their public input portal. Their last round of comments included many who dislike this idea, so they are asking again now that more details are out.

Continue reading

The Wildest Energy Whirlwind Ever is Underway

by Steve Haner

If Bacon’s Rebellion at times has been “Dominion Pravda,” providing a window into that corporate giant’s C suite, our friends at the Virginia Mercury sometimes take the opposite role of “Environmental People’s Daily.”

Its story today is a good example, for what it includes and what it does not. The long, detailed and worthwhile summary of energy and environment issues coming to the 2020 General Assembly has a glaring omission. It makes no reference to the Transportation and Climate Initiative. If anybody could get a straight answer out of the Northam Administration, you’d think it would be Virginia Mercury. The silence is deafening and perhaps significant.

At some point soon somebody has to say something, wouldn’t you think? In others states in the proposed interstate compact, governors are being pinned down, actual TCI bills are pending, legislators are taking positions, coalitions are forming. This will have to happen in Virginia soon if the organizers of TCI want their proposed memorandum of understanding signed by enough states to actually impose the carbon caps and taxes by 2022.  Continue reading