Category Archives: Regulation

Permanent COVID Reg Called “The Fifth Dragon”

By Steve Haner

Most Virginia employers probably have not read, let alone fully complied with, the emergency temporary standard on protecting their employees from COVID-19 adopted back in July. Yet the public comment period on the permanent version of the rules, which can carry major sanctions, closes this Friday.

Only twenty comments had been filed as of Monday morning, half of them anonymous. So far, the proposed permanent version is not generating the level of activity that surrounded the proposed temporary rule. The Department of Labor and Industry’s Safety and Health Code Board allowed no public hearing before adoption, only written comments.

File a comment on the proposed permanent standard here. You can read the comments to date here. The proposed permanent standard can be read here.

Continue reading

Arlington Scraps Sidewalk Restrictions

Recent Arlington sidewalk scene. OMG, they’re not even wearing masks! Image credit: ARLnow.com

by James A. Bacon

Apparently, motorcycle riders and MAGA hat wearers are not the only people who resist complying with measures to control the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Yesterday the Arlington County Board repealed its ordinance restricting sidewalk gatherings after it was met “with defiance, confrontation and hostility,” reports the Washington Post.

The Board enacted the restriction in July at the height of the COVID-19 panic. The ordinance made it illegal for more than three people in a group to congregate in certain areas. The goal was to limit crowding as patrons waited for tables inside occupancy-limited bars and restaurants. The crowding is worst between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m.

“Arlington police have determined that it is impractical to cite hundreds of violators at night,” said board member Christian Dorsey. “They have prioritized encouraging compliance and have not issued a single citation. I don’t see any reason to continue having something on the books that clearly doesn’t work.” Continue reading

Assembly May Add Unpaid Power Bills to Yours

By Steve Haner

The General Assembly is moving toward a second method of transferring money from electricity customers who can pay their bills to those who cannot. A Senate bill up today will allow Dominion Energy Virginia and Appalachian Power to simply add yet another “rider” to everybody’s monthly bill for their uncollected accounts receivable.

It is still possible the Assembly will reach into assumed excess profits on the part of Dominion and use $320 million of that to cover payments which have been allowed to lapse during the COVID-19 pandemic. As reported here a while back, that idea is being proposed as an amendment to the state budget, still being written behind closed doors.

But only Dominion has such a pot of cash hanging out there to raid, not the other utilities with hundreds of millions of unpaid electricity, gas, and water bills. And that approach may indeed not appear in the budget after all, leaving Senate Bill 5118 as the main path forward. The link is to the substitute, to which the following was added by a Senate Committee last week:

The Commission shall (emphasis added) allow for the timely recovery of bad debt obligations, reasonable late payment fees suspended, and prudently incurred implementation costs resulting from an (Emergency Debt Retirement Plan) for jurisdictional utilities, including through a rate adjustment clause or through base rates. The Commission may apply any applicable earnings test in the Commission rules governing utility rate applications and annual informational filings when assessing the recovery of such costs.

 “Shall” is the key word, of course.  If asked, the State Corporation Commission must say yes.  And the provision allowing collection “through base rates” in effect does the same thing as the proposed budget language, allowing the SCC to apply any cash the utility has lying around during a rate case. It also could lead to an increase in base rates to cover the unpaid bills.  Continue reading

Keep California on the West Coast

Rolling blackout in Pasadena, CA.

by Bill O’Keefe

Virginia has passed a law — SB 851 — requiring Dominion Energy to supply 30% percent of its power from renewable energy sources by 2030 and to close all carbon-emitting power plants by 2045. According to the Energy Information Administration, natural gas fueled 53% of Virginia’s electricity net generation in 2018, nuclear power provided almost 31%, coal fueled about 10% and renewable resources, primarily biomass, supplied nearly 7%. Over the next decade, Virginia must replace its coal fired power and reduce its gas-generated electricity by over 40%. From its public statements, Dominion plans to go all out in wind and solar, emulating California.

California’s electricity rates are 61% higher than Virginia’s — 19.79 cents per Kwh versus 12.28 cents. Over the past month, there have been numerous news stories about rolling blackouts in California caused by renewable energy mandates and inability to substitute enough from other sources when solar and wind aren’t able to meet demand. Continue reading

“Quarantine Leave” Bill Exempts State Employees

By Steve Haner

Employees caught in this pandemic with no paid time off for health issues have been in a deep bind, and many of those with reasonable leave available have probably burned it all. It is one of several problems exacerbated by this government-led economic crash.

Congress, in a bipartisan response supported by President Donald Trump, created a temporary mandate in one of its early COVID-19 relief bills. It can provide as much as 12 weeks of paid leave (more here). Some in the Virginia General Assembly think that is not good enough.  Continue reading

Job Recovery Is Not the Special Session’s Focus

This building remains boarded up, and legislators are not there (except the House Speaker and Clerk, pantomiming a real session on Zoom.)

By Steve Haner

With the Virginia General Assembly’s “Cops and COVID” special session moving into its third week, it seems likely to impede rather than assist the state’s economic recovery from the pandemic. It may also greatly expand COVID-19’s financial burdens in the years to come.

The highly publicized issues of unpaid rents and utility bills, threatening tens of thousands with choices between eviction, disconnection, or years of additional debt, are clearly related to un- and under-employment from the COVID-19 recession. But getting people back to work does not seem the top priority for legislators.

The original stated purposes for the session starting August 18 were to amend the state budget in response to the recession, and make other adjustments responding to the viral disease. Deadly confrontations between police and Black suspects in several American cities, and the violent response, added police and judicial reform issues to the agenda.  Continue reading

Is Green Hydrogen the Answer?

By Peter Galuszka

Utilities, including Dominion Energy, are increasingly exploring the use of now-costly hydrogen technology to produce electricity with little or no carbon.

One of the most promising uses involves using excess renewable electricity from solar farms or wind turbines to power electrolyzer devices that strip hydrogen away from oxygen in water. The hydrogen is then used to power special batteries.

The result? Carbon free power that is available at just about any time when winds are blowing or the sun isn’t shining.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Dominion plans on experimenting with hydrogen for another use. It will try to blend hydrogen into its natural gas distribution system to reduce carbon and methane emissions. It will be testing a 5% hydrogen blend in some natural gas shipments next year, the Journal reports.

Eventually, it may go the route of electrolyzers and use solar and wind power to produce hydrogen. It appears that Dominion’s experiments may take place in the Far West where it owns power generation and distribution systems in Utah.

Another firm that has plans for hydrogen is NextEra Energy Inc., based in Florida. It plans on using hydrogen and natural gas to run a power plant in California. “What makes us really excited about hydrogen is that it has the potential to supplement significant deployment of renewables,” the Journal quotes NextEra CFO Rebecca Kujawa as saying. Continue reading

Told You: You Will Cover Those Unpaid Power Bills.

By Steve Haner

If the Virginia General Assembly orders Dominion Energy Virginia to fork over hundreds of millions of dollars in “excess profits” to cover unpaid family utility bills, who is really paying?  We all are, of course.  Don’t say you were not warned.

That apparently is the latest approach to help folks behind on their bills, as reported in this morning’s Richmond Times-Dispatch by Associated Press.  Governor Ralph Northam is proposing a budget amendment to raid the presumed excess cash at Dominion, after legislative efforts to capture it were defeated in the special session.

Legislative manipulation of the regulatory process, bypassing the independent State Corporation Commission, created the opportunity for Virginia’s dominant electric utility to pile up a possible half billion dollars in excess profit.  But the money came from every Dominion customer, a large portion of it from the giant industrial consumers.  Only a small part came from those now behind on their monthly bills.

Some legislators see your electric bill as just another tax to be spent on their priorities, not yours.  Now they want to use it to pay electric bills for customers who have fallen behind due to a recession (again, a recession in part of the government’s making.)  Continue reading

Murder and Marijuana in Northern Virginia

By DJ Rippert

Risky business, reccless behavior.  Federal prosecutors recently charged members of a Northern Virginia drug gang, the Reccless Tigers, with a variety of felonies.  A US News & World Report article claims multiple members of the gang have been charged with “murder in a sweeping new indictment that blames the northern Virginia street gang with two deaths, multiple fire bombings and a sophisticated bi-coastal drug operation that supplied marijuana-laced vape pens to kids throughout the region’s school systems.”  This is not the gang’s first brush with the law.  Nearly 20 members of the gang and associates of the gang already pleaded guilty to federal charges stemming from drug related activities.

New kids in town.  Government sources say that the Reccless Tigers were formed in 2011 in the Centreville area of Fairfax County.  The gang mounted a fairly sophisticated operation.  Drug dealers would be induced to go into debt to the Reccless Tigers for the purchase of marijuana to be sold in Northern Virgina.  When the dealers struggled to pay back the debt they would be forced to work at a marijuana farm in Hayfork, California which had ties to the gang.  In essence, the gang operated a vertically integrated farm-to-vape-pen business.  The farm was raided in July 2019.

The cost of cooperation.  As the USN&WR article states, “Brandon White was given a choice, prosecutors say: If he opted not to testify against a member of the Reccless Tigers street gang who had assaulted him, a gang member would pay him $8,000 for his injuries. But if he testified, he’d be killed. White testified. Less than three months later, he was dead, his body left in the Virginia woods.”

The profit of illegality.  It’s hard to imagine how the Reccless Tigers would have been able to fund their criminal enterprise if Virginia was one of the eleven states which have legalized the recreational sale and use of marijuana.  In Virginia, the penalty for possessing small amounts of marijuana was decriminalized effective July 1.  However, there are still severe criminal penalties for the manufacture, transport and distribution of marijuana.  Criminals willing to bear the risks of providing the marijuana are able to profit handsomely.  And, as with almost all criminal enterprises, turf, territory and violence accompany the crimes.  The cost of Virginia’s intransigence on legalizing marijuana is more than lost taxes and lost legitimate jobs.  It also includes lost lives.

COVID-19’s Long-Term Changes in Virginia

by DJ Rippert

In the long run…  Over the past eight months COVID-19 has dramatically impacted the world, the United States and Virginia.  One hundred and twenty thousand cases of COVID-19 have been reported in Virginia  Over 2,500 people have died from COVID-19 . The cases, hospitalizations and deaths continue to grow in the Old Dominion. One year ago unemployment in Virginia hovered at 3%. Today it is 8%. Protests and rioting, possibly catalyzed by the COVID-19 lockdowns, have occurred regularly in several Virginia cities as well as Washington, D.C. Schools in Virginia moved to virtual teaching last Spring and many schools will open this Fall with either fully or partially virtual teaching. Nobody doubts the short- and mid-term effects of COVID-19. But what of the long-term effects? What impacts of COVID-19 will be felt after this version of the Coronavirus is gone?

The Spanish Flu (1918), Polio (1916 – 1955), H2N2 (1957), HIV/AIDS (1980s -), Swine flu (2009), COVID-19 (2020 -). Epidemics have broken out in the United States since the colonial days. Smallpox, yellow fever and cholera outbreaks plagued the country for centuries. The Spanish Flu pandemic was far worse than COVID-19 (to date). That flu struck in four waves and is estimated to have killed up to 50 million people worldwide. However, most Americans today would say that the Spanish Flu didn’t create major long-term changes in the United States. Some would disagree. Academics like Andrew Price-Smith believe that flu tipped the balance toward the allies in World War I. The growth of predominantly female-led nursing in the US may have been a consequence. In utero exposure to the pandemic may have negatively affected the health and prosperity of those exposed. Some survivors of the Spanish Flu never fully recovered. Despite all that, the Spanish Flu was called “the forgotten pandemic” until COVID resurrected interest. Economically speaking, the end of the Spanish Flu coincided with the start of the Roaring Twenties, making it hard to find long -term negative economic impacts from that pandemic. Continue reading

We’ve Been Good, Governor. Ease Up on Virginia Beach.

by Kerry Dougherty

Twenty eight days.

That’s how long cities in Tidewater were able to enjoy the freedoms granted to us by our munificent governor when he graciously allowed us to move from COVID Phase 2 to Phase 3 on July 1.

By July 28th Gov. Ralph Northam yanked some – but not all – of those privileges away from those of us living in Southeastern Virginia.

We’d been naughty.

COVID-19 cases were up, as were our positivity percentages. So we were punished. No liquor could be served — or consumed — after 10 p.m. in restaurants, and eating establishments had to close at midnight.

Because everyone knows that a margarita at 10:15 makes you vulnerable to COVID-19.

While the rest of the commonwealth could gather in groups of 250, we were limited to 50. Continue reading

We Underpaid Dominion in 2019? Not Really.

Future Dominion price increases. Source: SCC.  Actually, 1000 kWh per month is a bit low for the average residential customer, so many Virginians will be paying much more. Click for large view.

By Steve Haner

You will be shocked to learn that we customers of Dominion Energy Virginia did not pay it enough money in 2019. The shareholders did not get the profit margin they were due, the utility reported to the State Corporation Commission, which subsequently reported it to us on August 18.

Actually, these guys were not utility accountants, but they were on the right track.

We’ve entered the realm of energy comedy. The utility accounting process now mirrors the famous movie “The Producers,” with the goal being to book little or no actual profit so high rates can be maintained or even made higher. There is honest accounting, show-biz accounting, but for real whiz bang results there is utility accounting.

The SCC’s annual report to the General Assembly on utility accounting, now including projections of future rate costs, normally comes out closer to September. I was tipped to expect it early by a Dominion big wig, which should have told me it was a report they wanted publicized. This is Dominion playing the long game, preparing for the 2021 showdown on its rates and profits in a formal SCC audit and rate case.

The rules for this long game have been rigged in the utility’s favor over several years by a compliant General Assembly. This is not news to Bacon’s Rebellion readers. But here we go again.  Continue reading

Worthy Cause, Wrong Approach

The Pellerito family: “We go through each day just trying our best. What are the new rules? What is right?”

by James A. Bacon

Give Amanda Chase credit for one thing: She knows how to get into the news. Whether the resulting headlines help the Chesterfield state senator win the Republican Party nomination for governor is quite another matter. The latest brouhaha over her refusal to wear a mask in a Harrisonburg restaurant is not likely to help.

After making a campaign stop in New Market over the weekend with rock musician Ted Nugent, Chase visited Vito’s Italian Kitchen in Harrisonburg for a meal. She did not wear a mask. On two separate occasions, according to her Facebook account, employees denied her service, even though she explained that she had an underlying health condition that did not allow her to wear one. Upon providing a letter from her doctor, she was provided service but “not without being harassed and belittled in front of other store patrons.”

Katharine Nye Pellerito, who owns the restaurant with her husband, posted her own version of the encounter on Facebook. Chase got confrontational and threatened to sue, she wrote. “The uncertainty of Covid … as it threatens our ability to maintain our restaurants has been exhausting, to say the least. Last night was tough. We go through each day trying our best What are the new rules? What is right? What does the law expect? Who is going to yell at us for trying to do the right thing today?” Continue reading

Maryland Governor Stands Up for Private Schools

by Kerry Dougherty

It was inevitable.

Once teachers’ unions and associations began using their muscle to lobby to keep public schools closed this fall it was likely that city and state officials – who often owe their jobs to militant teachers’ groups – might try to close private schools, too.

Think about the optics: Private school kids merrily heading to school every day while public school kids sat at home, isolated, eyes glazed, staring dully at computer screens.

Private schools around the country resolved to open while many public schools knuckled under to teachers who want to keep them closed.

Almost immediately a rash of news stories and editorials began to appear, reporting on educational “haves” and “have-nots,” essentially lamenting the fact that not all children would experience another semester of substandard virtual education.

Last week the Montgomery County, MD health officer made the first move to halt the reopening of private schools: He issued a blanket executive order ordering them closed in that toney Washington suburb until at least Oct. 1. Continue reading

Double Standards and the COVID Crisis

OK

by Kerry Dougherty

You want to know why some of us are so cynical about the Covid crisis?

It’s the double standards. The lack of consistency. The shifting goalposts. Officials saying one thing and doing another.

We saw a glaring example of the latter it here in Virginia in May, when the Governor — who’d been quick to order shutdowns, and who was nagging us about social distancing and wearing masks — was seen prancing down the Boardwalk and leaning in for selfies. Maskless. Clueless.

Then there’s been the thorny issue of funerals.

Not OK

Ever since crowd limits were imposed, thousands of Americans buried their dead without proper funerals. Yet those same grieving families could turn on the news to see hundreds turning out for the funerals of George Floyd in Houston and Rep. John Lewis in Atlanta. Continue reading