Category Archives: Regulation

“Strong Words” In Bills Give SCC Power On Rates

From Energy Burden Coalition flyer mailed to legislators.

By Steve Haner

One sentence, if it is the right sentence, can upset the machinations of the powerful. Two bills pending in the 2023 Virginia General Assembly contain such a sentence, and it could upset the plans of Dominion Energy Virginia.

Here is the sentence at the heart of both bills:

…if the (State Corporation) Commission determines in its sole discretion that the utility’s existing base rates will, on a going-forward basis, produce unreasonable revenues in excess of the utility’s authorized rate of return, then, notwithstanding any provisions of subsection A 8 of § 56-585.1, the Commission may order any reductions to such base rates that it deems appropriate to ensure the resulting base rates (i) are just and reasonable and (ii) provide the utility an opportunity to recover its costs and earn a fair rate of return.

The House version of the bill, House Bill 1604, has bipartisan sponsorship. The Senate version, Senate Bill 1321 has three Democrats listed as sponsors. It is the Senate version which at least has been aired in an open Senate subcommittee meeting, and the leading Dominion lobbyist in the room was not coy about his concerns. So far, the House version slumbers and has not been heard.

During the Senate discussion, William Murray, the firm’s senior vice president for corporate affairs, noted the presence in the bill of “strong words,” which he said included “notwithstanding” and “any.” He warned the legislators in the meeting that “our concern would be if you just mooted everything you did in Senator Saslaw’s bill.” The Richard Saslaw-sponsored bill he referred to is Dominion’s main effort to recast its regulatory environment, which had just been discussed in the same meeting on January 18. It was first reported here. Continue reading

Wojick On Whales IV: Deaths Spiked with Surveys

A Humpback carcass that washed up in New Jersey recently. Photo: Marine Mammal Stranding Center

By David Wojick

The recent deaths of seven whales off New Jersey, mostly humpbacks, drew national media attention. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Fisheries Directorate is responsible for whales. An outrageous statement by their spokesperson got me to do some research on humpback whale deaths.

The results are appalling. The evidence seems clear that offshore wind development is killing whales by the hundreds.

Here is the statement as reported in the press:

“NOAA said it has been studying what it calls ‘unusual mortality events’ involving 174 humpback whales along the East Coast since January 2016. Agency spokesperson Lauren Gaches said that period pre-dates offshore wind preparation activities in the region.” Gaches is NOAA Fisheries press chief.

The “unusual mortality” data are astounding. Basically, the humpback death rate roughly tripled starting in 2016 and continued high thereafter. You can see it here.  That data is just for humpback whales, with a dramatic acceleration in particular between 2016 and 2020. Continue reading

Is Unnamed Partner on Wind Project Driving This New Dominion Regulation Rewrite?

The late Lt. Gov. Henry Howell (D) and Virginia’s most famous campaign slogan.

By Steve Haner

Without fanfare and without awakening the drowsy Capitol press corps, Dominion Energy Virginia dropped in legislation last week to set up a partnership on its most massive capital investment, the Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind project.

Just who that partner might be, what if any benefits that provides to Dominion’s 2.6 million Virginia customers, or whether it instead adds cost and risk for them, remains unexplained. The bill does describe the equity investor as “non-controlling,” leaving the utility in charge.

Suddenly, many elements of the company’s other significant bill for 2023 make more sense. The most recent iteration is a pending substitute. In this other, wind-only bill, sponsored by Senator Lynwood Lewis, D-Accomac, the State Corporation Commission is instructed to disregard the capital structure of the partner, its debt to equity ratio, when determining the price to consumers.

That ratio is usually a key element when the regulators are deciding how much a utility can charge for a project, because only equity is allowed to earn profit.  In the longer bill, which has been previously discussed, Dominion is also asking the legislature to mandate how the SCC accounts for the debt and equity in its rate calculation.

The unnamed partner, perhaps already known to Dominion, may also have an interest in the debate over how a future SCC calculates the utility’s allowed return on that equity. It is equity this partner will be contributing, after all.  Virginia is the only state that sets utility return on equity by making comparisons to so-called “peer” utilities. The more complex bill changes the rules on that, too, and further limits SCC discretion. Continue reading

Free at Last

by Jim McCarthy

Compulsory K-12 education under state law is a fact often taken for granted since its enactment in 1908 in the Commonwealth of Virginia. In 1984, the state authorized homeschooling initiated by an earlier Supreme Court decision in 1972 (Wisconsin v Yoder), providing for a religious exemption from compulsory attendance in public schools.

At present, some 56,000 youth are homeschooled in Virginia. Enhanced empowerment of parents was a principal plank in Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s campaign for the statehouse and continues to be extolled even as he travels around the country in support of GOP candidates. The newly elected Speaker of the House of Delegates, Todd Gilbert (R-Woodstock), enthusiastically proclaimed upon his elevation, “We’re all about empowering parents.”

Under current regulations, homeschooling is authorized where parents demonstrate the following:

1. Possession of a valid high school diploma (or a higher degree, such as can be obtained through a university), which must be submitted to the district’s superintendent (a GED does not fulfill this requirement); or,
2. A valid teacher’s certificate as approved by the state; or,
3. Provide a distance or correspondence curriculum approved by the Superintendent of Public Instruction; or,
4. Provide evidence that they, as the teaching parent, can meet the Virginia Standards of Learning objectives.

Perhaps, under the excitement of the leadership of Youngkin and Gilbert, a newly woke conservative effort is emerging designed further to shed or minimize state control in this area. Del. John McGuire (R-Louisa) introduced House Bill 1454 to eliminate the existing qualifications for homeschool proctors. Evidence of student academic progress remains a requisite at the end of the school year and may be based upon a standardized test on a nationally recognized examination, or an evaluation by a licensed educator, or a report from a distance-learning vendor. Continue reading

SCC Term Bill Could Break Deadlock on Vacancies

SCC Commissioner Jehmal T. Hudson

By Steve Haner

A Northern Virginia state senator has introduced legislation to change the terms of the members of the State Corporation Commission, perhaps creating a path to compromise on picking two or more new judges. Political deadlock between the Republican-controlled House and Democratic-controlled Senate has stalemated that process for more than a year.

Democratic Senator Scott Surovell’s Senate Bill 1482 gives new commission members full six-year terms.  Without that, the two vacancies are for unexpired terms of one and five years, leaving the new members vulnerable to a change in the political wind after less than a full term. The discrepancy gives the two parties something else to argue about, so Surovell levels that field. Continue reading

After Federal Threat to Gas Stoves, Virginia Republicans Try Again on Right to Gas

Status by state of legislative efforts to preserve the natural gas option. The bill is again pending here in the 2023 General Assembly.  Click for better view.

by Steve Haner

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

Legislation to enshrine the right to use natural gas and propane in Virginia law, a repeat of a failed effort from 2022, cleared a House of Delegates committee Tuesday. The ultimate showdown will come not in the Republican-controlled House but in the Democrat-controlled Senate, where the effort hit a wall last year. Continue reading

Virginia Democrats’ Rent Control Bills Would Make Housing Scarcer

by Hans Bader

In Virginia’s legislature, rent-control legislation has been introduced by five Democratic delegates and a Democratic state senator. Economists oppose rent control because it makes it more difficult for people to find decent housing in the long run. In a 1992 poll, 93% of those surveyed said rent control reduces the quantity and quality of housing available.

But Democrat-run Loudoun County is now asking the Virginia legislature for the power to impose rent control. DC News Now reported in December that “New policies could soon be introduced in Richmond at the request of Loudoun County. One would place a limit on rent increases.”

This is surprising, because even left-leaning economists mostly think rent control is stupid, as expressed by Swedish economics professor Assar Lindbeck. He said, “Rent control appears to be the most efficient technique presently known to destroy a city — except for bombing.”

In 1989, Vietnam’s socialist leaders reluctantly admitted that their policy of rent control had destroyed the housing stock of Vietnam’s capital city, which had been sturdy enough to survive years of American bombing during the Vietnam War. Vietnam’s foreign minister said, “The Americans couldn’t destroy Hanoi, but we have destroyed our city by very low rents. We realized it was stupid and that we must change policy.”

Yet State Senator Jennifer Boysko, who represents Virginia’s Loudoun County, has introduced SB 1278, a rent-control bill. It would allow cities and counties to adopt rent control ordinances, under which rent increases would be limited to inflation or less. Her legislation states that such ordinances “shall prohibit any increase in the rent by such landlord of more than” the “percentage increase in the Consumer Price Index,” and “may allow rent increases … by an amount not to exceed” that inflation rate. The same bill has been introduced in the Virginia House of Delegates by Democratic socialist Nadarius Clark and four other Democrats, as HB 1532. Continue reading

Dominion Wants To Rewrite Its Own Rules Again

by Steve Haner

First published today by the Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy.

The headlines in the coming General Assembly may be captured by fights over abortion and taxes, but the deepest reach into your pockets will involve your energy bills. The state’s dominant electric utility appears to once again be seeking to amend Virginia’s regulatory and ratemaking process to its benefit. Continue reading

You’ll Have to Pry My Steering Wheel from My Cold, Dead Fingers

The latest from the Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy….

I don’t have any philosophical objections to electric vehicles. If they offer better performance for the price than combustion-powered cars, I wouldn’t hesitate to buy one. I do have public-policy reservations about government subsidies for EVs and EV infrastructure, and I do have concerns about the impact of a 100% electric fleet on the reliability of the electric grid. But none of that would dissuade me from buying an EV.

Here’s what would dissuade me: government mandates taking away my freedom of choice.

As the TJI clip highlights, current Virginia law essentially requires California EV mandates to apply to Virginia. That law anticipates banning the sale of new combustion vehicles within ten years. If you want to buy a new car, it’ll have to be an electric vehicle.

My reaction: Go Californicate yourself.

I’ll drive my Rogue Sport as long as it lasts, as long as spare parts can be scavenged from junk yards, and as long as there are still gas stations to sell me fuel.

— JAB

SCC Drops Wind Energy Performance Standard

The 14.7 megawatt turbines to be used in CVOW. Click for larger view.

by Steve Haner

The Virginia State Corporation Commission (SCC) has abandoned its push for an offshore wind performance standard fiercely opposed by Dominion Energy Virginia. It agreed instead to some capital cost limitations for its project that the utility has endorsed . 

In a decision released today, the two commissioners accepted in full a stipulation put forward several weeks ago by Dominion, Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares, Walmart and several environmental groups. Should the capital costs of the project and related transmission lines exceed $10.3 billion, customers will only have to finance a portion of the excess. Beyond $11.3 billion the utility will finance the excess. Continue reading

Virginia Agrees To Compensate Fishing Industry For Damage From Offshore Wind

by Steve Haner

Nine states, including Virginia, have agreed to establish a major compensation fund to pay their private commercial and recreational fishing companies for damages caused by offshore wind turbines.  

Three guesses where the money comes from. The announcement, made December 12, hints at it coming from project developers, but in Virginia of course that is a monopoly utility guaranteed by law to collect all costs from its customers. Dominion Energy Virginia’s planned 176-turbine Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind (CVOW) just got more expensive. In other cases and other states, also expect the bill to end up with energy consumers or taxpayers. Continue reading

RGGI Tax, On Path to Repeal, Reaches $524 Million

Virginia’s two year take of carbon taxes under RGGI. RGGI table.

by Steve Haner

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

The tax on each ton of carbon dioxide emitted by Virginia electricity plants dropped to below $13 a ton in the most recent sale of CO2 allowances conducted by the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). That meant Virginia collected only $71 million in tax revenue for the fourth quarter, the lowest amount of the four auctions in 2022. Continue reading

Youngkin Reacts To Raid By An ABC Goon Squad

by Kerry Dougherty

In one of the most bizarre actions in recent memory, law enforcement on Friday raided Gourmeltz, a popular Fredericksburg restaurant, and confiscated its liquor and sales records because the owner in 2021 defied former Governor Ralph Northam’s long-defunct executive order that required liquor-selling establishments to abide by a host of nonsensical COVID-related rules.

You remember Northam’s anti-science magical regulations, don’t you?

No liquor could be sold, served or consumed after 10 p.m., no seating was allowed at bars — tables only, all patrons over the age of five had to wear a mask unless they were seated and eating or drinking, all employees had to wear face diapers and restaurants had to close by midnight.

Authoritarian insanity. All of it.

I get COVID PTSD just thinking about the Northam regime.

Gourmeltz owner, Matt Strickland, refused to comply with Northam’s idiocy and was cited for not forcing his employees to wear face masks. His liquor license was suspended. He continued to serve booze anyway.

Pity all holding Virginia ABC licenses didn’t join Strickland in ignoring the power-drunk little governor. Instead, Strickland was on his own and easy to target. Continue reading

Feds: Whales Must Be Protected from Turbines

Two right whales photographed off the Virginia coast last month on their way south toward the calving grounds. U.S. Navy Photo

by Steve Haner

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

Soon after a group of opponents to proposed East Coast offshore wind projects hired a law firm with environmental regulation expertise, the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) announced a new plan to protect North Atlantic Right Whales and put it out for public comment.

The opponents, with Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy as part of the coalition, had been pointing to the impact of the project on the whales for months and this protection and mitigation plan admits the problem is significant.

One apparent result of the announcement will be a major delay in publication of the draft environmental impact statement (EIS) on Dominion Energy Virginia’s Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind (CVOW) project off Virginia Beach.  The EIS was supposed to be available this past August, and once published is expected to be the focus of extended comments and perhaps litigation from opponents.

The ongoing debate at the Virginia State Corporation Commission over consumer price protections (a decision should come soon) is not the last hurdle to construction of the $10 billion project, with a much higher cost now under discussion.  That EIS clock is not even running yet. Continue reading

No Climate Crisis. Very Little Climate Change.

NOAA data, and NOAA notes that pre-1900 data is probably missing some storms. Click for larger view.

by Steve Haner

Wednesday’s climate propaganda sermon in the Richmond Times-Dispatch focused on the most recent failure of alarmist media messaging concerning the now-completed Atlantic hurricane season, which turned out to be average. It was predicted to be far more active than average, so once again the prophets of doom were wrong.

Folks in Florida certainly had a bad year, with two of the eight U.S. hurricanes hitting vulnerable and heavily populated beaches and barrier islands. But in the Atlantic region overall, looking at decades of records, it was a typical year. There is no sign in long-range data of any increase in storm activity or intensity over time.

Predicting increased extreme weather is now the go-to move for the alarmist media. Just about every local or wire story about flood or drought or fire, extended hot days or record snows, includes a claim that climate change will bring more extreme weather. In every case, the long-term trends do not agree.  Sometimes the trend lines are down, as is the case with wildfires.

You will never read that admission about wildfires. The fact that the Times-Dispatch revisited and sought to explain away the failed hurricane prediction displayed more honesty than is usual in the media. But, then, it used an illustration that shamelessly started the storm count in the 1980s, intending to mislead readers by ignoring the whole data set you see above. Continue reading