Category Archives: Regulation

Goodbye and Good Riddance to Goodlatte

Carpetbagger. Bob Goodlatte is the 13-term congressman from Virginia’s 6th Congressional District who has blessedly chosen to retire this year. In my opinion he represents just about everything that is wrong with the GOP. Born in Holyoke, Massachusetts and educated at Bates College in Maine, Goodlatte somehow avoids the “carpetbagger” moniker so quickly put on Terry McAuliffe by Virginia’s Republicans. He won his congressional seat at age 39 and has spent the last 26 years in Congress. Yet he goes uncriticized as a “politician for life” by the conservative Newt Gingrich types who claim to eschew such long running elected officials. He is a polluter’s best friend with apparently no concern for the property rights of those negatively affected by the pollution he justifies and defends. However, he’ll be gone soon and you’d think we’re past the damage done by this phony conservative. Oh no.  Even in his final days in office Goodlatte is actively denying people protection of their property rights despite “property rights” supposedly being a core tenet of conservative Republican dogma. What a farce.

Blowing up the blueprint. The Chesapeake Bay represents not only a national treasure but a working laboratory for the protection of property rights. Certainly right thinking conservatives must believe that allowing a small minority of people and corporations to pollute a public waterway unfairly takes away the property rights of non-polluters. In the case of a waterway that borders multiple states, one would think that sensible and honest conservatives would insist that the federal government protect the property rights of all the states.  Isn’t this both a core tenet of conservatism and a reasonable construct of property rights?  Not according to Bob Goodlatte.

The Chesapeake Bay watershed states have claimed to be working together to clean up the Bay for the past forty years. For 31 of those years the effort failed as various states simply ignored their clean up commitments. Then, in 2009, the EPA was authorized to provide scientific leadership and oversight for a new clean-up plan — the Chesapeake Bay Clean Water Blueprint. Progress has been substantial since that time. Despite Virginia being a major beneficiary of the blueprint, one of our own Congressmen has put forth an amendment to curtail the EPA’s role in this effort.  You guessed it, ole Bob Goodlatte sponsored an amendment to H.R. 6147 forbidding the EPA from spending money to provide firm, science-based accountability over the blueprint. As a press release from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation puts it, “Congressman Goodlatte’s amendment would keep EPA from using any funds to provide this “firm accountability” if a state fails to meet its pollution-reduction goals set under the Blueprint.” So much for preservation of property rights from this so-called conservative.

Hall of shame. Bob Goodlatte’s amendment for the protection of raw sewage in public waters passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 213 to 202.  Seven of Virginia’s Representatives (Wittman, Taylor, Scott, McEachin, Beyer, Comstock and Connolly) repudiated Sideshow Bob and his amendment by voting against it. However, four of our so-called representatives (Garrett, Goodlatte, Brat and Griffith) couldn’t find the mental acuity to understand how a clean Chesapeake Bay might help the Commonwealth of Virginia. While it’s no excuse for their buffoonery Garrett, Goodlatte and Griffith have districts far from the Bay. Brat, by comparison, has a district bordering the city of Richmond. What are the voters in the 7th district thinking? Will “Kepone Dave” get re-elected? Here’s a good article about the cleanliness of the James River in Richmond (warning: true but disgusting content)

Going forward. The congressional seat being vacated by Bob Goodlatte’s retirement will be contested by Ben Cline (R) and Jennifer Lewis (D). Cline is a member of the General Assembly and long time Goodlatte toady. Lewis is a bleeding heart liberal with minimal political experience. So far, Lewis has raised $72,000 to Cline’s $787,000. The Cook Partisan Voter Index for the district is R+13. Sadly, Cline will almost certainly win and continue the anti-conservative, anti-Virginia activities of his predecessor.

— Don Rippert 

Dominion Seeks Approval for Experimental Wind Turbines

Dominion Energy rendering of the experimental wind turbines.

Dominion Energy Virginia has submitted to the State Corporation Commission a proposal to build two wind-generating turbines 27 miles off the coast of Virginia Beach — arguably the most expensive research project ever funded by the Commonwealth. The experimental turbines will not produce 12 megawatts of electricity at a remotely economic cost. But they will provide data that could pave the way for a vast wind farm that would produce electricity far more economically.

The project will test new designs to anchor the turbines in seabed conditions found off the Virginia coast and to withstand hurricane-force winds. The feedback is necessary before anyone undertakes utilizes the technology in a wind farm with dozens of turbines potentially costing billions of dollars.

The power company has been trying to advance the two-turbine project for several years but refrained from filing with the SCC for fear that the Commission would reject it as too risky and expensive. What’s different this time? First, it has lined up an experienced partner, Ørsted, a Danish company that has installed more than 1,000 turbines in European waters, to manage the project. Second, it has brought down the cost to about $300 million, significantly lower than previous iterations. Third, with the enactment of the Grid Modernization and Security Act, the state has declared wind power to be in the public interest.

And fourth, Dominion says that it can build the turbines without increasing rates. The project, said CEO Thomas F. Farrell II at the announcement in Norfolk yesterday, “will not increase customer rates even a penny.”

Here’s how I understand how that works. Before enactment of the Grid Transformation Act, Dominion would have paid for a large capital project like this one through a Rate Adjustment Clause, in which capital costs would be passed along to customers. The selling point of the Grid Transformation Act is that rates remain frozen but Dominion will apply excess earnings, which normally would be returned to customers, to renewable energy, energy-efficiency and grid-upgrade projects instead. It’s a convoluted way to go about things, but it has the virtue of stability.

I’ll be interested to see how Steve Haner, Bacon’s Rebellion’s electric consumer advocate, responds to this development. 

One last point: Just because the General Assembly has declared wind energy to be in the public interest, that’s no guarantee the SCC will go along. The SCC still has to balance cost, reliability and environmental sustainability — along with risk. Three hundred millions dollars is a lot of money to spend on what amounts to a research project. In analyzing the pros and cons of the experimental wind turbines, the SCC presumably will look also at the pros and cons of the wind farm that the experimental turbines would make possible. Given the lack of an established wind-power infrastructure on the East Coast, how much would a full-fledged wind farm cost to build? How would the cost of electricity compare to other energy sources? And would such an intermittent energy source improve or diminish the reliability of Virginia’s electric power supplies?

Will Dominion Appeal Latest Loss At SCC?

Daily Press photo of Yorktown Power Station

Michael Martz has a good report in this morning’s Times-Dispatch on the State Corporation Commission’s opinion trimming Dominion Energy Virginia’s proposed transmission charge.  The SCC ordered the proposed Rider T going into effect next month reduced to reflect the lower federal income tax rates.  It also rejected the utility’s argument that a payment it was receiving from the PJM regional transmission entity was a generation cost it should be allowed to book against base rates instead of against Rider T.  Booking it against base rates would in effect make it profit.

The payments are made because PJM asked Dominion to continue operating its Yorktown plant for reliability reasons.  The SCC wrote: “Legally, these payments are part of the PJM Transmission Tariff, which explicitly states that — in this particular instance — the generator is providing a “transmission service” for which PJM is assessing “an additional transmission charge” of $12.7 million. Accordingly, the Commission finds that both (1) the charges assessed, and (2) the payments made, by PJM under the PJM Transmission Tariff for this transmission service shall be reflected in the Subsection A 4 revenue requirement.”

As the biggest beneficiary of that increased reliability, Dominion is actually providing about half of the money to PJM which is then repaid to Dominion.  How does it collect its share?  In Rider T.  These are all transmission dollars.

The adjustments ordered by the SCC will save more than $2 per month on the mythical 1,000 kwh residential customer bill.  The question now is, will Dominion appeal the decision to the friendly Supreme Court of Virginia?  In its final written arguments to the Commission it pointed to the legislative provision (which of course it wrote) that these costs are on their face “reasonable and prudent.”  Reading the SCC opinion (not yet up on its website) it is obviously laying the groundwork for its argument in any possible appeal.

If the appeal is filed it will have little to do with this issue and a great deal to do with the battles to come over Dominion’s massive grid investment plan, just getting underway.   The tax issue involved more money, but the argument over the payment from PJM for maintaining operations at the Yorktown power plant goes right to the heart of the legislative declaration of “reasonable and prudent” and the utility’s game of moving costs back and forth between base rates and rate adjustment clauses when it improves its bottom line.

Previous Bacon’s Rebellion posts on this issue can be found here and here.

A Mercifully Brief Coal-Ash Update

Coal ash at the Chesterfield Power Station. Photo credit: Richmond Times-Dispatch

A year ago, Virginians couldn’t open up a newspaper without reading about Dominion Energy’s coal ash controversy. Then the issue disappeared from view. Months passed without news of any kind. Then earlier this week, I noticed a stray phrase in Dominion’s 2nd quarter 2018 financial results: The company had written off $81 million to reflect the cost of closing its coal ash ponds at its Bremo, Possum Point, Chesterfield and Chesapeake power stations. 

Wondering if Dominion had written off coal ash-closure expenses in previous quarters, I contacted Dominion spokesman C. Ryan Frazier. He confirmed that the company had made three previous write-offs, bringing the total this quarter to $377 million so far.

The write-offs reflect the cost of two things mainly: (1) treating and draining the coal ash ponds of water, and (2) consolidating the ash at each power station in a single containment basin. Dominion’s preferred plan has been to cap those basins with an impermeable synthetic liner covered by vegetation. However, environmental groups and neighbors fear that groundwater will migrate through the coal ash, pick up heavy metals and leak into public waters.

In April 2017, the General Assembly passed a law ordering the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality VDEQ not to issue solid waste permits for closure of the coal ash ponds until Dominion had conducted an assessment of closure alternatives. Depending on the option chosen, concluded the report written by Dominion’s consultants, landfilling the coal ash could cost between $1 billion and $3 billion. Environmental groups argued that Dominion had significantly overstated the costs and had not given serious consideration to recycling the combustion residue into concrete and other products.

In April Governor Ralph Northam signed legislation into law extending the permit moratorium until July 2019. The law, says Frazier, requires Virginia Power to compile by November 2018 “information from third parties on the suitability, cost and market demand for beneficiation or recycling of coal ash from these units.”

So, there you have it, folks. The coal ash fracas now can safely fade from view again for another three or four months.

What a Tangled Analysis We Weave

Dominion Energy Virginia does not want state regulators to require a formal cost-benefit analysis of its plan to spend $3 billion on grid modernization over the next decade, reports the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

“I do not believe it would be appropriate to impose such a requirement for its approval,” said Edward H. Baine, senior vice president of distribution for Dominion Energy’s power delivery group. In testimony filed with the State Corporation Commission. He urged the commission to consider “the many qualitative or otherwise unquantifiable benefits” of the plan.

At first blush Baine’s remarks sound like Dominion is asking for a blank check –“Give us permission to spend a bunch of money, but don’t look too closely at how we spend it.” Predictably, Dominion’s critics of all stripes have been quick with criticisms. Some say the grid modernization sacrifices the interests of rate payers with unnecessary spending, others that the plan is insufficiently transformative of the electric grid. In today’s political environment, Dominion makes an easy target. In the T-D article, even the utility’s friends had qualms about the company’s wish to avoid a traditional cost benefit-analysis.

My intention in this post is not to defend the plan, the details of which I have yet to see. As a general rule, I am a huge proponent of conducting cost-benefit analyses for any public expenditures (or in Dominion’s case, expenditures that require public approval). Indeed, some criticism may be justified. As Steve Haner has pointed out, some of the tap-lines in the proposed undergrounding project sound absurdly expensive. And as Walton Shepherd with the National Resources Defense Council has blogged, the strategic thrust of the $3 billion spending plan, a grab bag of initiatives, could use sharpening.

So, by all means, let’s have a vigorous public debate over Dominion’s grid modernization plan. But let’s have a better debate than the one that seems to be shaping up. To start, let’s admit that some benefits to Dominion’s plan are, in fact, difficult or impossible to quantify. Then, permit me to introduce two critical concepts — (1) risk and (2) the time value of money — without which we cannot have an intelligent discussion.

Writing in the Commentary section of the Times-Dispatch today, Robert M. Blue, CEO of the Dominion Energy Power Delivery Group, discusses the benefits of the plan’s priorities — investment in renewable energy and energy-efficiency; resilience in the face of sabotage, cyber threats and natural disasters; more assistance to lower-income Virginians — without offering a cost-benefit justification.

In his SCC testimony, Baine has said the plan will save the company more than $2 billion over 20 years. In other words, $3 billion invested over 10 years will save only $2 billion over 20 years. On its face, that seems like an indefensible assault on the rate payers. But, as he made clear, the numbers exclude “unquantifiable benefits.”

Let’s take the undergrounding program as an example. In March Dominion filed to recover $284 million to bury 660 miles of its most outage-prone tap lines. Those lines accounted for 9,368 outages over the past 10 years. Dominion should be able to quantify the estimated cost of continuing to repair these tap lines over the next 10 years. I don’t know what the cost is, but it’s certainly in the tens of millions of dollars, perhaps in the hundreds of millions of dollars. What Dominion cannot quantify is the value to customers of having their electric service restore more quickly. When your power goes out, how much is it worth to get it back on? The loss of an hour or two is a minimal hardship. But the loss of electricity for three, four, or five days — I’ve had mine go out for 10 days — spikes as food spoils, working at home is impossible, or as extreme cold or heat makes houses uninhabitable.

Alternatively, let us consider investments in hardening infrastructure against the sabotage of physical facilities or corruption of IT systems. These may be investments for which we never see a benefit. Dominion can spend tens of millions of dollars upgrading its IT computers and communications and never come under cyber attack. Without making the investment, however, there is an increased risk of system-wide collapse. How much will Dominion decrease the risk of catastrophe by making those investments? That’s impossible to measure. What would the cost be if the grid experienced an extended blackout? Also impossible to measure.

While the risk of sabotage on an electric sub-station, a cyber-attack on grid IT systems, or a Category 3 hurricane overwhelming coastal infrastructure may be remote, it would be irresponsible not to guard against them. How much should Dominion spend to protect against them? There is no measure. The decision requires a judgment call.

Next, let’s address the time value of money.

In his T-D article Michael Martz makes the following statement:

The company plans to spend $2 billion on the Strategic Undergrounding Project, which the SCC estimates will cost $6 billion over the life of the buried lines, including the financing expense and utility profit.

I am seeing this total-cost number — initial cost + profit + financing costs — quite often. The purpose, of course, is to make the cost to rate payers look as large and frightening as possible. We never see this with other types of infrastructure expenditure, as in, to make up an example, “The Virginia Department of Transportation plans to spend $2 billion to build Superhighway X, which will cost $6 billion after operations, maintenance and interest expense on bonds are taken into account.”

When a private-sector company examines its capital-expenditure alternatives, it looks not only at the up-front cost, it looks at the time value of money. The basic principle is that a dollar spent today has greater economic value than a dollar spent twenty years from now. Why? Because a dollar put to work today will have twenty years of compounded returns compared to a dollar invested two decades from now. In simplified terms, a dollar spent today is worth two dollars spent twenty years from now.

To compare the value of projects with long expected finance costs and financial payback, financial people calculate what they call net present value. To include the financing expense of the Strategic Undergrounding Project (or any other project) without taking into account the time value of money is highly deceptive.

Do these qualifiers mean that Dominion’s proposed $3 billion grid-modernization investment is totally justified? Not at all. The SCC needs to give each component a good, hard look. But it is fair to say that any analysis of costs and benefits is meaningless without taking into account unquantifiable benefits, risk and the time value of money.

The Underground Saga Continues: I-66

October 2017: Legislators and Prince William County supervisors announce support for an underground transmission line paid for almost in full by other people’s constituents. U.S. Senate nominee Corey Stewart is second from left, Hugo fourth from left.

The saga of expensive underground transmission continues:  Now comes the Dominion Energy Virginia 230-KV line along I-66 which is needed for an Amazon facility and the growing data center industry. The State Corporation Commission has signed off and reports in the order a cost of $170 million or more to build it.

Every step in this process has been heralded by press releases from Delegate Tim Hugo, R-Centreville, who sponsored legislation to order the SCC to approve the underground approach, which then became a major chip in the poker game behind the 2018 Dominion Energy legislation. The power line to serve the data center was first opposed outright, and then the push was to bury it. The parties reached an agreement on this route a few months ago.

“Now that the State Corporation Commission has accepted Dominion’s application, western Prince William County residents can be assured that the Haymarket power lines will be buried,” said Del. Tim Hugo, R-Centreville, in  a release Friday. “This community-led effort, which I was proud to contribute to, will ensure the quality of life in western Prince William County is maintained. Last year, I promised to pass legislation to bury the power lines, and working together, we did.”

The SCC estimated the cost of the 5-mile overhead project, which includes a new substation, at $51 million. So, that’s our cost to deliver reliable power in that region to Amazon and others, and $120 million extra is charged to maintain the lustrous beauty of I-66 through three miles of the  route. Much of the route east of Haymarket is lined by subdivisions and 100-foot towers would be hard to miss.

Again, as with the previously-discussed plan to place 4,000 miles of small residential tap lines underground, the cost is paid by all company ratepayers,  it is paid off over a very long period with a comfortable profit margin, thus the final all-in cost is more than twice the initial window sticker. As seems to be the rule now and not the exception, the General Assembly and Governor overruled the decision made by the commission to go with a lower-cost option. What the SCC “accepted,” to use Hugo’s word, is its reduced circumstances.

Utility transmission improvements should be paid for by ratepayers across the system, but the trade-off is that the regulator should be zealous about demonstrated need and reasonable cost. The idea is to prevent the raw political horsetrading on display here.

The neighborhood underground program is paid for with a special rider on everybody’s bills, Rider U, but this Haymarket transmission project will eventually be incorporated in the larger Rider T. The enactment clause in the 2018 bill that ordered the SCC to approve the underground approach also authorized a second “pilot project,” yet unnamed (a card still face down on the table.)

A powerful precedent has been set and those two projects may be followed by more. Large overhead power lines are very unpopular and the path to force them underground has been found. The added cost also adds profit for the utility. This is just another skirmish in the overall battle plan to leave the SCC and anybody else putting consumers first dying in a ditch.

Want more evidence? I commend to your reading a report in the Times-Dispatch that, buried in the recent 200-plus application by Dominion Energy Virginia on its grid enhancement plan, is a request to avoid any cost-benefit analysis of that at all.

Protestants, Progressives and Paternalism

If you’re a freedom lover, high scores are good. If you like telling people how to live their lives, low scores are good. Virginia ranks 39th. Source: Mercatus Center.

To put Steve Haner’s recent post about the Virginia lottery in broader perspective, I have displayed the “freedom from paternalism” ranking of the 50 states published this year by George Mason University’s Mercatus Center. Virginia ranks 39th in freedom from paternalism. The flip side of that finding is that the Old Dominion ranks as the 12th most paternalistic state in the country.

By “paternalistic,” Mercatus researchers Russell S. Sobel and Joshua C. Hall, professors at the Citadel and West Virginia University respectively, mean state policies that the political class has decided are for your own damn good.

If you don’t like a busybody government, then New York is the state from hell, with a ranking in a class all by itself. Vermont, Washington, and California are other hard-core busybody states. If you’re a freedom junky, head to Wyoming, the least meddlesome state in the country. Arizona, Nevada and Kansas also are among the least intrusive.

The Mercatus ranking breaks down paternalism into three buckets of policies — selective taxes, “saint subsidies,” and miscellaneous bans and regulations. Virginia scores pretty darned meddlesome across the board. On the less paternalistic side, Virginia has no soda tax and a low cigarette tax but it has a killer tax on distilled spirits.

The ranking encompasses such policies as plastic bag bans, happy hour restrictions, mandatory motorcycle helmets, fireworks restrictions, blood tests, social gambling and Internet gambling. To the point of Steve’s post about the state lottery, Mercatus does not include the presence of state lotteries, horse race betting, or casino gambling.

Why is Virginia so paternalistic? It is often observed that Virginia is either the southernmost Northern state or the northernmost Southern state. I’d hypothesize that we have incorporated the most meddlesome traits of both North and South — Bible Belt blue laws inherited from our Protestant past and the Northern progressives’ instinct for economic regulation on environmental, consumer and other grounds. One way or the other, if you’re a libertarian, you live in enemy occupied territory.

Dominion Files 10-Year Grid Modernization Plan

Dominion Energy today filed a plan with the State Corporation Commission outlining how it intends to comply with the Grid Modernization and Security Act of 2018. The filing asks the SCC to approve the programs and investments included in the first three years of a 10-year grid modernization initiative. The filing can be viewed here.

Features of the plan highlighted in a Dominion press release include:

  • $200 million in bill credits to customers, and $125 million in annual rate cuts due to tax relief;
  • Modernizing the energy grid to improve reliability, resiliency and the ability to integrate more renewable energy and emerging technology;
  • Significantly expanding the company’s renewable energy fleet in Virginia;
  • Future testing of wind turbines off the coast of Virginia Beach.

Dominion emphasizes that the improvements will not require any rate increases. Rather, the upgrades will be paid for through earnings over and above its normally allowed Return on Equity, which will be retained for the purposes of reinvestment in grid modernization. This particular provision, the most controversial aspect of the 2018 legislation, was criticized as a form of “double dipping” that allowed Dominion to earn money on its original investment and then to earn more money on the profits that otherwise would have been returned to rate payers. The legislation was said to have fixed the double-dipping issue, but it is not clear how that will work out in practice.

In the meantime, Virginians can look forward to aggressive investment in solar power, wind power, and energy efficiency. Dominion is committing to having 3,000 megawatts of wind and solar in operation by 2022, adding to what the company touts as the sixth largest solar fleet in the nation. (It’s not clear from the press release if that includes solar resources outside of Virginia.)

The plan asks the SCC to include the Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind (CVOC) project: two experimental turbines generating 12 megawatts of power in a federal lease area about 27 miles off the Virginia Beach coast. Experience and data gained from operating those turbines could pave the way for widespread deployment of wind turbines in the future.

Dominion also is asking to install 2.1 million smart meters at a cost of $450 million. These meters, in conjunction with a new customer information system, will enable customers to better manage their energy bills. Additionally, the utility is proposing to spend $870 million in energy efficiency programs over the next decade. The programs are “designed to help customers save energy and manage the demand on Virginia’s electric system.” At least 5% of these programs must benefit low-income, elderly or disabled individuals, “most likely through weatherization upgrades.”

Proposed new construction and material standards will improve grid resiliency by hardening infrastructure and protecting against cyber-attacks. The burial of outage-prone distribution lines and the deployment of intelligence devices and control systems will are meant to speed the re-establishment of electric service.

There is no mention in the Dominion press release of a much talked-about pumped-storage facility in Southwest Virginia, which previous legislation had declared to be in the public interest. The pumped-storage facility would use electricity in off-peak hours to pump water from a lower-elevation containment lake to an upper-elevation lake, and then generate electric power during peak hours.

The State Corporation Commission has been skeptical of some of these investments in the past, but the Grid Modernization Act declares them to be in the public interest. It’s not clear exactly how that assertion of General Assembly priorities will play out in the SCC decision-making process. The next few months should tell the tale.

Ratepayers Cover $760,000 Line for One Customer?

Highest cost projects from DEV underground line program phase three,with lifetime revenue requirement from ratepayers. Source: SCC pre-filed testimony.

The State Corporation Commission staff audit of Dominion Energy’s ongoing effort to place residential and small business electric service tap lines underground has turned up some expensive examples.  A handful of lines will cost ratepayers hundreds of thousands of dollars over time to serve a single residence.

The average cost for the first 18,000 customers getting new lines is about $50,000 each based on my own calculation.

Those are the all-in costs for planning and constructing the lines, then adding the interest cost or profit margin depending on how the utility financed it. The projection uses the current 9.2 percent return on equity. The money is collected over the estimated useful life of the new lines, about 40 years.  For phases one, two and three the total cost with financing is about $921 million, according to the SCC staff analysis.

The SCC staff compared the full capitalized cost of installing the highest-cost lines to home values.  “This means it is possible in some instances that the company could have purchased the customer’s homes at a lower cost than undergrounding their tap lines,” testified David J. Dalton of the SCC staff.

This program to expand underground lines is something else paid for with a specific monthly charge on everyone’s bill, a rate adjustment clause known as Rider U.  It is also something else that the General Assembly has deemed to be in the public interest and virtually off-limits to SCC challenge.

Photo: Dominion

The annual review of the program to adjust the billing charge is underway now and was the subject of a hearing at the SCC Tuesday. With big questions settled by the legislature, the discussion is focused on minor issues such as accounting changes or how the costs are allocated between various classes of customer.

The largest industrial customers are exempt but everybody else under the SCC’s jurisdiction pays, including the 600,000 customers who already have underground service (and paid for it themselves) and the unknown number who will never get underground service.  For that mythical average residential customer using 1,000 kwh per month, the current charge is 55 cents per month and Dominion is asking to raise it to $1.98 as of next February.

The legislature has authorized this to go until at least 2028, and Dominion expects to place 4,000 miles of lines underground in 12 phases at a direct cost of $2 billion and a fully-capitalized cost of almost $6 billion.  At that point the residential charge will be more like $5 per month.  The charge for commercial or small industrial customers was not reported.

Spending other people’s money is very popular.  The record on this case includes favorable comments from Senator Glen Sturtevant (R-Richmond), Delegate Vivian Watts (D-Fairfax) and several local officials where the program is active.  A spokesman for the American Red Cross attended Tuesday’s hearing in person to testify about that organization’s support, noting how wonderful it is not to have your power go out.  At the end he said his own house has already been upgraded under the program.

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You Can End this Folly, Governor Northam!

Children at the Virginia Tech Graduate School Child Play Group

At the Annandale Cooperative Preschool, parents volunteer three to six hours a month to serve as teachers and class assistants. One big benefit is the pleasure of watching their toddlers mature. Another is more affordable tuition.

Now comes a proposal from the Virginia Department of Social Services that would require school staff, including the parent volunteers, to take up to 30 hours of training. The purpose of the requirement is to align preschool standards with federal requirements for providers receiving money under the Child Care and Development Block Grant Act of 2014. Here’s the kicker: Cooperative preschools don’t receive block-grant funds.

Reports the Washington Post:

Parents and school directors say the training commitment would be disproportionate to the amount of time parents spend helping in classrooms, which administrators said equals about three to six hours a month.

Working families would be hard-pressed to find time to complete the training, said Marie Sloane, director of education at the Annandale school.

Without enough parents, the school would have to hire four assistant teachers for part-time slots that Sloane said are already difficult to fill — nearly doubling her six-teacher staff and probably increasing tuition. Cooperative preschools, she said, generally cost less than comparable schools because of parental participation. Monthly tuition at the Annandale Cooperative Preschool ranges from $233 to $416.

Bacon’s bottom line: What madness is this? There is a shortage of daycare workers and daycare facilities in Virginia, and even when the service is available, paying for it is financially burdensome for many families. Cooperatives that tap the volunteer labor of parents are a fantastic way to make daycare more affordable.

Regulators want to regulate. Bureaucrats want to expand their power. To borrow a phrase from GEICO, that’s what they do. Once in a while, when public safety and health is at stake, regulations are justified. But this is not one of those instances. There are 35 to 40 cooperative preschools in Virginia, a type of collaborative that has existed for at least 70 years. Parents undergo background checks and must meet health requirements, including tuberculosis testing. Social Services has proffered no evidence whatsoever that the children in these cooperatives are at any additional risk. What possible benefit can come from this?

Does Ralph Northam want to be known as the governor who presided over the demise of cooperative daycare in Virginia? Does he approve of the relentless advance of the administrative state into every sphere of our lives? I can’t imagine that he does. He needs to shut down this initiative right now.