Category Archives: Regulation

If Assembly Wants SMR Bill, Then Fix It

By Steve Haner

This is progress. Only twenty members of the Virginia Senate voted Tuesday to ignore a key tenet of utility ratemaking and put utility stockholders and profits ahead of consumer protection. Usually when the utilities persuade the General Assembly to do that to Virginia consumers, they get a bigger vote margin than 20-16.*

Senate Bill 454 allows Virginia’s two monopoly electricity providers to spend undetermined millions of dollars on planning and developing small modular nuclear reactor projects and get it all paid by consumers, with a profit margin. But there is no guarantee any such plants will ever be built, and no other power plants built in Virginia have gotten this kind of up-front financial guarantee before the State Corporation Commission ruled them in the public interest. Continue reading

Rare SCC Deadlock Sinks Dominion’s Energy Plan

By Steve Haner

The year long debate over Dominion Energy Virginia’s proposed integrated resource plan, which threw climate catastrophe activists into a frenzy because it added a new natural gas plant, is ending with no decision.  Two State Corporation Commission judges split on whether to approve it, basically a win for the anti-fossil fuel forces.

In December, a hearing officer assigned to study the case had ruled that Dominion’s plan should be rejected because it included the expansion of gas generation, when the anti-natural gas forces in the General Assembly had passed laws against that 2020 and 2021.  Those laws did include provisions for maintaining or adding fossil fuel generation on the basis of a threat to reliability, but only under limited circumstances. Continue reading

NJ Greenmailed Into Massive Wind Energy Costs

By Steve Haner

New Jersey just agreed to two ocean wind projects with astronomical guaranteed power prices. The price demanded and received by independent competitive suppliers shows there is at least some upside to the utility-owned, captive ratepayer-financed model behind Dominion Energy Virginia’s massive offshore wind facility.

In late 2023 the news was full of reports that independent wind developers were pulling out of various projects along the East Coast because the projects were no longer economically viable. Those who thought the future of the industry was in jeopardy were wrong. Continue reading

The Aggressive Progressive Democratic Agenda

From tiny acorns grow the mighty oaks of government.

By Steve Haner

The Democrats now running Virginia’s General Assembly are not just more progressive, but far more ambitious than their predecessors. To fully understand how ambitious you must compile the entire list of progressive bills advancing in the 2024 session and consider their total impact on the cost of living and cost of doing business in the commonwealth. Individual news stories miss the big picture.  

The push to radically regulate Virginia’s energy future discussed earlier is being mimicked with equally aggressive legislation throughout the rest of our economy. None of the ideas below are new, and most are already in law in places like California, New York or other more liberal states. What has changed is that when proposed in the past, they usually were rejected in Virginia on a bipartisan basis. Democrats now march in lockstep.  

The Assembly is still in its first phase and adjournment is set for early March. Which of the following will pass remains to be seen, and in many cases, amendments are already appearing. Most may also face gubernatorial veto or amendment, but that just underscores that Virginia is only one election of one official away from total transformation.   

In the case of the bills to increase the minimum wage (here and here), Democrats are simply building upon what they did during their last period of control. But if they succeed in setting future wage increases to automatically grow with inflation, the impact just builds and builds. Classes of employees reasonably exempted from the law currently, such as farm workers, may now be covered, as well.   

Likewise, the previous Democratic majority also took the first steps toward collective bargaining for limited groups of local employees, but only after elected local officials gave a green light to negotiate a contract. This year’s bill expands the right to bargain to almost all local and now most state employees, with no vote needed by a school board or city council. It was revealed that the most recent version does conveniently exempt employees of the General Assembly, however. Continue reading

Great Judges Can’t Fix Bad Energy Laws

Former SCC Commissioner Mark Christie communicated his enthusiasm for Kelsey Bagot’s election with this photo on X.

By Steve Haner

The General Assembly has now filled the two open seats at the State Corporation Commission (SCC), ending two years of gridlock.  Unfortunately, the same legislators, on both sides of the aisle, are still working overtime to dictate and micromanage the state’s energy policy, reducing the discretion and authority of the independent, non-partisan regulators. 

Samuel T. Towell, elected to the SCC last week, fits the expected mold for such positions.  His legal career has been inside and outside the Virginia government, with his term as the civil litigation deputy under Attorney General Mark Herring (D) as the highlight of his resume.  In that role he supervised the consumer counsel functions under Herring, participating in SCC matters.  Since then, he has been working for Smithfield Foods.  

Breaking the mold is Kelsey Bagot, only a decade out of Harvard Law and with no real Virginia-specific experience.  She spent much of her career so far at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), working part of that time for former SCC Chairman Mark Christie.  Christie’s expressed enthusiasm for her qualifications makes her about as close to a bipartisan choice as was possible.   

They join current Commissioner Jehmal Hudson, also a veteran of FERC, who has been serving by himself for more than a year.  Towell and Hudson, less than 20 years out of law school, and the younger Bagot form a trio that could be in office together for decades.  That had to be on the minds of the legislators (all Democrats) who made these choices.   

Fully qualified and engaged judges are still bound to follow the law.  Virginia’s headlong rush into an economically foolish war on fossil fuels is being directed by the bills flowing from the General Assembly, not by rogue judges.  If the last two sessions controlled by Democrats, 2020 and 2021, were a two-alarm EV battery fire, the 2024 session could be the equivalent of the Maui apocalypse.    Continue reading

Two Excellent Nominees Emerge for SCC

Kelsey A. Bagot, now nominated for the Virginia State Corporation Commission.

By Steve Haner

The new Democratic majority in the Virginia General Assembly is moving rapidly to fill the two State Corporation Commission vacancies with excellent, qualified choices. One is well known in Virginia and the second is new to our hallowed Capitol, but with a decade of energy law experience on the federal level.

Former Virginia Deputy Attorney General Samuel T. Towell has degrees from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (engineering) and the University of Virginia (law).  Kelsey A. Bagot just got her Harvard Law degree a decade ago, but she had the opportunity at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to work for former SCC Chairman Mark Christie.

Former Deputy Attorney General Sam Towell, also nominated today.

Both appeared this afternoon before a brief, perfunctory really, joint meeting of the relevant House and Senate committees. Within a couple of minutes, with only one question asked, both were unanimously certified as qualified. Which they are.

It will be up to the full House and Senate to formally elect them at some point in the next few days. The two seats they will fill have been vacant for a long time and they will start with desks piled high. Members of the SCC are actually judges, subject to Virginia judicial canons. The pending state budget sets the salaries as of next July 1 at $214,000 for the chair and $212,000 for the other two members. Continue reading

Will Democrats Revisit Virginia Net Zero Laws?

Senator David Marsden, D-Fairfax, sees “serious problems” in Virginia’s net zero laws.

By Steve Haner

For the third year in a row, Democrats in the Virginia Senate have shot down an effort to divorce Virginia’s auto dealers from California’s impending mandates on electric vehicle sales. But before the predetermined vote went down, the new chair of the committee made a surprise announcement that he and his colleagues are open to revisiting Virginia’s legal rush to end fossil fuels.

Senator David Marsden, D-Fairfax, said he and Senator Creigh Deeds, D-Charlottesville, have discussed using the period between the 2024 and 2025 General Assembly sessions to convene a conference on the 2020 Virginia Clean Economy Act (VCEA) and the many other statues they passed to suppress coal, oil and natural gas use.  Republicans later shared his musings on X.

What serious problems, Mr. Chairman? Tell us more.

Marsden is the new chair of the Senate Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources Committee and Deeds now chairs the Commerce and Labor Committee. The Virginia Mercury noted Marsden’s comments at the tail end of its report on the meeting, but it was the only actual news to break out that afternoon. The Richmond Times-Dispatch failed to mention Marsden’s announcement but had a nice photo of a half-empty Tesla charging lot in California.

Truth would have been better served by a photo of the stranded EV’s waiting for crowded, failing chargers in frigid climes this week. There is a reason consumers have not been rushing to buy EV’s at the expected rates.  Despite the happy talk from mandate proponents, the targets are pie-in-the-sky. The only winner in this whole process is Tesla, getting rich selling carbon credits under the cap-and-trade element of the California regime. Continue reading

As Dominion and APCO $oar, NOVEC Drops Rates

Northern Virginia Electric Cooperative’s territory within the greater Northern Virginia region.

By Steve Haner

The major “rural” electric cooperative serving very urban Northern Virginia is drastically lowering its rates as of this month, because the cost it is paying for bulk power purchases has dropped. The contrast with what is happening with Virginia’s two major investor-owned electric companies may be telling Virginia something if anybody wants to listen.

NOVEC, or Northern Virginia Electric Cooperative, will be charging its residential users just under $114 for each 1,000 kilowatt hours of usage, down more than $26. The commercial and industrial users among its 175,000 customers are seeing comparable reductions. Continue reading

Rent Control Bill Introduced in Virginia

by Hans Bader

A just-introduced Virginia bill, HB 192, would limit rent increases to “one percent over the Consumer Price Index” in places where the rental vacancy rate is “less than 10 percent,” if the “Consumer Price Index … is greater than five percent.” Virginia has a rental vacancy rate of about 4%, well below 10%, so effectively, this would be a statewide rent control law.

The bill does not allow larger rent increases even to pay for things like major capital improvements.

The bill, introduced by Democratic Del. Marty Martinez, is called the “Landlord and Tenant Fairness Act.”  It contains this rent-control provision:

C. If the rental vacancy rate for a locality is less than 10 percent during the previous calendar year and the Consumer Price Index as reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics of the U.S. Department of Labor is greater than five percent, any rent increase imposed by a landlord shall be no greater than one percent over the Consumer Price Index.

Continue reading

Hey Virginia: Hands Off Those Cake Pops

Photo courtesy of Kelly Phillips

by Kerry Dougherty

There’s a reason Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s approval rating in the latest Mason-Dixon Poll perches at a lofty 58 percent in this once-blue state, despite Republicans losing control of the legislature in November’s election.

Youngkin gets it.

On X, he wrote:

“We’re going to fix this, Virginia will always be the best place to live, work, and bake cake pops!”

Like everyone else who heard about Kelly Phillips’ cake pop conflict, the governor immediately saw this for what it was: one more example of government overreach, punishing an enterprising Richmond woman with a small business for no good reason or public benefit.

According to The Virginia Mercury, cake pops are Ms. Phillips’ side hustle. Her day job is as a manager in a financial planning firm. But what began simply as irresistible treats she made for birthday parties and baby showers grew into a little cottage business.

Phillips now sells her gorgeously decorated confections mostly at craft fairs. If Richmond regulators have their way, she’ll have to stop.

Virginia’s stringent food safety regulations, designed to protect folks from unsanitary practices, make exceptions for small craft bakeries. But ridiculous regs, such as the one that allows these homemade goodies to be sold at farmer’s markets but not craft fairs make absolutely no sense.

“What is the difference between a farmers market and a craft show?” Phillips asked The Mercury.

Gee, I don’t know. A roof? Continue reading

SCC Examiner Says No to Dominion Gas Plans

By Steve Haner

A hearing examiner at the Virginia State Corporation Commission has recommended rejection of Dominion Virginia Energy’s plan to maintain and add to its fleet of fossil fuel generators. It failed to overcome the presumption in state law that all such plants must go away, she wrote.

In her extensive report following the months-long regulatory battle, Ann Berkebile notes that the Commission itself (still hobbled with only one full member and a retired commissioner sitting in) may reach a different conclusion. And the pending case, Dominion’s Integrated Resource Plan (IRP), does not actually involve final decisions on what power plants to add or delete from its assets in coming years.

But Dominion was looking for a blessing from the Commission on its proposal to maintain most of its natural gas plants and even add one, a 1,000 megawatt facility it wants to place in Chesterfield County. The 2020 Virginia Clean Economy Act has set a schedule for their retirement, with all fossil fuel generation expected to be gone in about 20 years. Dominion’s announcement last May that it was seeking to keep and add to its natural gas plants was immediately denounced by environmental advocates.

The 2020 legislation included a provision to allow the SCC to approve an additional fossil fuel plant if a utility demonstrates “that it has already met the energy savings goals identified in § 56-596.2 and that the identified need cannot be met more affordably through the deployment or utilization of demand-side resources or energy storage resources and that it has considered and weighed alternative options, including third-party market alternatives, in its selection process.” Continue reading

Virginia’s Final (Maybe) RGGI Tax Grab: $97M

Virginia’s final (maybe) sale of allowances for power plant carbon emissions produced a record $97.4 million. The price for each permit to emit one ton of carbon dioxide, which is passed to customers, has about doubled in four years.

by Steve Haner

Virginia has participated in its final (for a while anyway) Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative auction and the proceeds on the carbon tax set a new record, with Virginia collecting more than $97 million in one swoop. The total carbon tax take for the state is just under $828 million in three years.

The clearing price on December 6 reached $14.88 per ton. It would have been higher but the demand for allowances was so high the RGGI organization released some of its “cost containment reserve” or CCR allowances to tamp down the price increase. The news release on the auction is here. A chart showing Virginia’s proceeds over the three years is attached.

Why the record price? Here’s a solid suggestion: Power producers fear another major winter stressing their systems and know full well that wind and solar are unpredictable and unreliable. They are stocking up on allowances to keep our lights on with fossil fuels.

Just four years ago when the Thomas Jefferson Institute of Public Policy produced this explainer on what RGGI was, the “carbon price” was $5.27 a ton and the prediction was Virginia would collect $150 million a year from electricity producers and eventually their customers. “There is no guarantee the price won’t rise,” we noted, and indeed a steadily rising price for carbon emissions is entirely the point of RGGI.

Pushed by Governor Glenn Youngkin (R) the Air Pollution Control Board voted earlier this year to rescind the state regulation that forces Virginia’s larger electric power plants to purchase allowances from RGGI for every ton of coal, natural gas or oil they burn. So far, efforts to reverse that decision in the courts have failed. Continue reading

Norfolk Hipsters & Lefties Try to Block a Military-Themed Brewery

by Kerry Dougherty

Now is the time. If you believe that cities ought to be open for business, regardless of the viewpoints of the business owners, if you support the military and don’t consider flag-waving a provocative act, you might want to let Norfolk’s City Council hear from you.

On December 12th it is scheduled to vote on the application of Armed Forces Brewery to open its doors on the same premises that housed O’Connor Brewing in the so-called Railroad District of Norfolk.

The business was lured to Virginia by Gov. Glenn Yougnkin who helped the founders secure tax incentives to open their craft brewery in Norfolk rather than in Florida. The owners have pledged that 70% of their employees will be veterans.

Normally, that would be seen as good news in this military town. Continue reading

Stuck in the Secretary’s Office

Andrew Wheeler, Director, Office of Regulatory Management

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

The Youngkin administration is sitting on regulations needed to implement important legislation enacted by the General Assembly in 2020. The delay constitutes a violation of that law.

In its 2020 Special Session, the General Assembly expanded the grounds for decertifying law-enforcement and jail officers. The background of this legislation was described in detail on this blog in a previous article, so there is no need to repeat that information here.

The legislation required the Department of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS), under the direction of the Criminal Justice Services Board (CJSB), to adopt statewide professional standards of conduct for law-enforcement and jail officers. The timeline set out in the legislation would have required the standards of conduct to go into effect by mid-December 2021, two years ago. DCJS missed the deadline. The CJSB approved the regulations on June 16, 2022. The Attorney General certified the regulations on Aug. 2, 2022. The Department of Planning and Budget completed its review of the economic impact of the regulations on Aug. 22, 2022. The regulations have been under review in the Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security’s office since then—470 days, more than a year and a quarter. Continue reading

Virginia Beach Nixes Kitty Hawk Wind Cables

Site map for the first phase and cable connection route for the proposed Kitty Hawk Wind project.

by Steve Haner

The political leaders of the City of Virginia Beach have informed an offshore wind developer that they oppose its plan to bring power cables ashore at Sandbridge Beach. No formal vote was taken on the application, however, according to media reports.

The story appeared in The Virginian-Pilot and on local television station WAVY around Thanksgiving. When Bacon’s Rebellion last visited this matter, Virginia Beach City Council had conducted a May public hearing at which most speakers strongly opposed the power cable location. Continue reading