Dominion Energy is fast losing the Democratic Party. Following the lead of dozens of Democratic candidates and elected officials, the Democratic Party of Virginia has declared that it will no long accept political contributions from the electric utility. Reports the Richmond Times-Dispatch:
Party Chairwoman Susan Swecker said Dominion’s contributions are a “very contentious issue with a lot of folks all across the commonwealth, and we thought it was time for us to just step up and say this is where we are,” according to an interview published on the left-leaning blog Blue Virginia.
Party spokesman Jake Rubenstein confirmed the decision but would not comment further. DPVA’s pledge also includes Appalachian Power, the state’s other electric monopoly.
The House Democratic Caucus and Gov. Ralph Northam’s political arm The Way Ahead are still accepting Dominion money, but it’s clear which way the party is heading. Virginia Democrats increasingly embrace a progressive/left ideology along with an apocalyptic view of climate change and a thorough-going hostility toward fossil fuels. Although Dominion is moving aggressively toward renewable energy, including a just-announced $7.8 billion offshore wind project as well as billions of dollars in solar projects, the utility still remains committed to natural gas, as highlighted by its Atlantic Coast Pipeline project, and nuclear power, which is also unpopular with the Left, as supplementary energy sources.
Credit grassroots Dems for moving left for principled reasons — they truly believe that climate change is an existential threat to the planet. Now their principles are backed by Big Money. In the current electoral cycle Dominion has donated $594,000 — $122,000 to Democrats, $171,000 to Republicans and the rest to “other,” according to the Virginia Public Access Project. Compare that to $172,000 in contributions by Clean Virginia, which has promised to contribute to candidates swearing off Dominion money, plus another $1,015,000 million by Charlottesville resident Michael Bills, Dominion nemesis and founder of Clean Virginia.
A few old-school Dems like Senate Minority Leader Richard Saslaw, D-Fairfax, remain friendly to Dominion, but the rising generation of Democrats essentially regard the electric monopoly as an incarnation of evil. Democrats have a long history of populist anti-utility animus dating back to the 1970s when Henry Howell campaigned on the promise to Keep the Big Boys Honest. But at least back then, Dominion’s predecessor, VEPCO, wasn’t seen as pursuing policies that would destroy the planet. Today, many Dems believe there is no compromising with carbon polluters.
I haven’t had any substantive chats with anyone at Dominion in more than a year, so I don’t base the following appraisal on inside knowledge. But it seems apparent that Dominion hopes to appease the environmentalist wing of the Democratic Party with its solar and wind mega-projects — financed in part by recycling hundreds of millions of dollars of excess profits allowed under recent General Assembly legislation. That legislation emasculated the State Corporation Commission and empowered the General Assembly to micro-manage energy policy by declaring various investments to be in the “public interest.”
But what the General Assembly giveth, the General Assembly can taketh away. If Democrats take control of the legislature in this fall’s elections, Dominion might suddenly find it full of lawmakers who are actively hostile to the utility and eager to unwind previous concessions made necessary by the constellation of political forces at that time. With a new constellation of forces in a Democratic-controlled General Assembly, you can be sure that environmentalists will ratchet up their demands — such as accelerating the goal, announced recently by Northam, of achieving a carbon-free electric grid by 2050. Support for the legislative deals that have proved so advantageous to Dominion will evaporate. Then, having eviscerated SCC oversight, the power companies will be subject to the legislative whims of a Democratic majority that sees Dominion as the enemy.
Dominion’s strategists have shown an ability to turn on a dime in response to changing political conditions. They would be committing corporate malpractice if they hadn’t begun thinking what the Virginia political landscape will look like in 2020 and how the political and regulatory environment will shift.
Dare I suggest that it may be time to consider, before the anti-Dominion legislative majority hardens and it is still politically possible to orchestrate such a maneuver, to back electric deregulation? Back in May, the Virginia Energy Reform Coalition, an alliance of free-market, environmental and anti-poverty groups, laid out a proposal to deregulate electric generation and electric transmission. Competing in a deregulated electricity marketplace won’t be easy, and it may not be as profitable as the regulatory regime Dominion enjoys today. But it may offer better outcomes for Dominion than entrusting its fate to an increasingly hostile Democratic Party in the years to come.There are currently no comments highlighted.