Dominion Has Lost the Dems. What’s Next?

Susan Swecker, chair of the Democratic Party of Virginia. Photo credit: Richmond Times-Dispatch

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.

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28 responses to “Dominion Has Lost the Dems. What’s Next?

  1. I wouldn’t sell any stock, folks. This is for show. The Democrats have had their hypocrisy highlighted, and are taking this step to keep that climate crisis base energized and ready to turn out November 5. If Dominion’s millions unbalanced the process over the years, Clean Virginia’s money will have the same effect – nobody is providing millions to candidates with an agenda to restore the proper role of the SCC or to set controlling consumer costs as a top priority. Nobody has shown me proof that retail choice per se is a path to Nirvana and the best deal for Virginians. Same game, same pile of cash on the table, different players.

    Now, here in the Richmond area, where thousands of Dominion employees and retirees live and vote, this level of open hostility toward the company might hurt some Democratic candidates. Some of these races will be very close….One of Haner’s Laws of Politics is “always make them pay the price” and there might be a downside to this for some Democrats in some places.

    • You’re right — Dems are not talking about restoring the authority of the SCC. What does that tell you? They will be happy to exercise direct legislative control over energy policy.

      You’re right again — Dems aren’t campaigning seriously on controlling consumer costs. Environmentalists insist that renewables and energy conservation will result in lower monthly bills, but I share your skepticism. Their overweening priority is fighting climate change. All else is secondary.

      But I think you’re under-estimating the level of anti-Dominion animosity in the Democratic Party base. Dominion is not just wrong, it is big, it is corporate, it is monopolistic, it is a carbon polluter, it is corrupting the democratic process, in sum it is evil. Dems certainly don’t give a hoot about Dominion’s profitability. In my estimation, Dominion has only a short time to pivot to a new strategy — such as deregulation — before the hammer comes down.

      I’m not worried for Dominion’s sake, by the way. I AM worried about the impact on rate payers and electric reliability if Virginia pushes too quickly to a zero-carbon electric grid.

  2. The reason behind this is string of unforced errors, imperial over stretch and bad public relations by Dominion. The utility has been muscling away to get what it wants for years. I have lived in five states in my adult life and have never seen a utility with as much clout as Dominion. They get away with it with their massive political donations and lobbying efforts. But there are many changes:
    (1) The electorate-customer base is changing as the state becomes more Democratic especially in more important urban and suburban areas. They are skeptical of the old-time status quo. Another factor is that younger people are entering their societal roles. They are voting and running for office. They do not share the worldview, especially on climate change, espoused by Dominion and the political allies that it has bought.
    (2) Dominion really screwed up by trying to force its way with coal ash removal on its cheapskate terms. They wanted to dewater the pits at several coal-fired stations, dump wastewater in rivers and then cover them with no bottom liners. The aforementioned younger set went nuts because they like clean water. As Dominion got its way with state regulators, the backlash reached the General Assembly where a bipartisan effort made Dominion completely redo its disposal plans. The lesson: don’t mess with the kayak crowd and other nature enthusiasts.
    (3) The Atlantic Coast Pipeline has been a touchstone of protest since it was created. Many, not just greenies, questioned the need for the natural gas. Dominion got a bad rep for forcing rights of way turnover. Grass roots efforts of people from many age groups and income levels responded. The pipeline has been stalled for nearly a year, costing Dominion and its partners lots of money and prestige.
    (4) Customers are rightfully resentful of Dominion’s manipulation of electricity rates, which always seem to go its way.

    So, is it any wonder that more modern politicians are wary of accepting Dominion cash?

  3. It’s politics for sure – but the Dems traditionally, long before climate change, opposed corporate monopolies and in other states those monopolies have been dismantled – again , long before climate change was an issue. Dems have always supported wind and solar, fuel standards, protection of the environment in general.

    Trying to paint this is far left extremism associated with climate change is not going to work. Most all Dems and independents want what the Dems are supporting and the Dems are playing this – to get more votes – not push voters away.

    The GOP and Conservatives used to support things like cleaning up the Bay, better air quality in cities, etc but they have moved away from that and with ALEC have been the architects of dismantling the SCC but I’d not put any big money on the Dems not restoring the SCC power as well as allowing 3rd party wind and solar, if they take back the majority… The GOP and Conservatives in general are their own worst enemies on this issue because it’s voters – not the evil Dems who want changes in the utility world in Va. The horror stories of what the far left will do when they get into power is the GOPs primary strategy and it’s going to fail..people are smarter than that.

  4. The Dem’s need a couple of better spin doctors than you two. Look at the top leadership within Dominion and its government affairs team (Big time Dem’s Bob Blue, Bill Murray. Eva Hardy is still on the payroll and Bill Thomas still on speed dial.) Post election, there will be a quick thaw, trust me. And time will tell and I will be proved right one day – the political deal is Dominion builds the wind and the Richmond Democratic establishment allows the pipeline built, doing battle to stop it with wet noodles and playacting. The enviro lawyers may kill it in court (the Fourth Circuit amazes), but don’t expect the state to pull the plug. TMac keeps his deals.

    • no spinning here…. the Dems are listening to the voters and the GOP to Dominion… the voters want Dominion reined in … wind/solar and 3rd party competition and the GOP has LED THE WAY in neutering the SCC and carries water for Dom… in general by not forthrightly advocating that refunds be given to ratepayers, that the tax refunds be refunded to ratepayers, and that wind/solar be along to built by 3rd party and residential.

      We’re not talking about “extreme” here – just ordinary voters who even vote GOP… in counties that are turning blue.. and this is why.

  5. Spin doctor? WTF?

  6. For the Dem party of VA to take this stand is quite significant. Of course this does not mean that Dominion money and monopolistic tendencies will stop. But as long as so many conservatives are willing to ignore the science of climate change, the facts of Dominion’s manipulation of the democratic process of review, data analysis, and decision making, they will be standing on increasingly weak ground. Throwing big money around while continuing to promote time worn scripts about fossil fuel energy will give Dominion a certain place in the political process in any case, but this is indicative of a shift.

  7. The utility structure with state control allows states like Virginia/New Jersey to go ahead and increase taxes and make the state unattractive. We do not have to worry about that, we will simply mandate massive contruction of power plants and make our own jobs for our own people.

    Not too many years ago in NJ, the Dems loved coal-fired power plants, and passed a mandate that ALL future NJ power plants would be coal-fired, to diverisfy the state mix. And then they started building some new ones, in my backyard as it turned out. Articles were wriitten in business journals by elected officials: this is how you do it, you mandate your own jobs. Well thankfully they did not get too far along on the coal path. I wonder if their coal-only state policy is still on the books as blue law? That would be fun to find out.

    • The tipping point for the Democrats came when the only real unionized industry became government and illegal aliens became more important than Americans of any color or creed.

      My maternal grandfather was a life-long union member and supporter. He also voted a straight Democratic ticket but also was an investor in the stock market. He taught me that unless companies made good profits, no one got good pay and benefits.

      My uncle told me that he thought the newspaper was delivered in crumpled format because his father used it to rage at Hoover. But if he returned from the grave today some 40-years later, he could not believe how the Democrats have abandoned working people. I dare say he’d wear a MAGA cap.

      And, yes, Virginia is on its way down. Federal spending cannot sustain a bad business climate, including giveaways to Dominion and big real estate developers (e.g, Tysons) and a dedication to higher taxes, more spending and illegal immigration.

      • TMT – just want to point out that UPS is union as is the Post Office as are Airline pilots… as are quite a few others.

        AND that the GOP …USED to have a moderate position towards immigration – for instance, they supported the dreamers …

        AND , FINALLY – are you talking about voters in NovA ?

        I strongly suspect that you are out of step with most voters up that way, no?

        • Labor union membership in the private sector is about 6.5% It’s about a third of public sector employees. In the 50’s about 35% of all non-farm workers in the private sector belonged to unions. The Democratic Party puts public sector workers over private sector ones each and every day. Also, the Post Office is public sector.

          Back in the 80s and 90s, the Democratic Party opposed illegal immigration because of the downward pressure they put on wages of Americans, especially those with lesser skills, the very same people you worry about so often on these pages. Do you support illegal immigration and open borders?

          Unless and until the border is secure, no other immigration reforms can be made or those reforms will attract even more illegal immigration. Reagan screwed up in 1986 on that one. Let’s not make the same mistake again.

          • NJ is a big union state, so maybe that’s how we one-up them on wind power plants. The pro-coal Dem I battled there was union organizer and made it high up in the state govt.

          • TMT – the Dems support working people to get fair pay, equal pay, non-discrimination, benefits like retirement and health care as well as things like free markets for electricity rather than monopolies. The Dems, for instance, created the rural electrification act and TVA to bring electricity to working people – farmers… Ditto with phone service and now they support internet for rural – again to help people improve their economic and educational status…

            It’s not about a “secure” border guy – that’s just simplistic demagoguery for rubes – more than half of “illegals” are NOT from the border – AND the GOP refuses to strongly enforce E-Verify which would stop illegal immigration cold and remove the reason they come here and as a result, we not only have illegal workers, but they are taken advantage of by unscrupulous employers who threaten to “out” them if they complain about bad treatment.

            The funny thing is you’re citing a Republican as the one who messed up on immigration – right. Wasn’t Bush and other GOP of that era also the same on immigration – essentially the same position the Dems have?

            Those folks have not changed – they always supported the dreamers, a path to citizenship and E-Verify.

            In fact, E-verify began in 1996 under Bill Clinton – a Dem!

            You’ve drunk the right-wing kool-aid on this guy. Immigration is not the simplistic thing that the GOP is promoting and the most potent weapon against it is E-Verify -which they refuse to enforce.

  8. How did this get into an anti union, right wing diatribe?

    • it always goes that way when the Dems are part of the issue… the GOP virulent talking points about immigration, unions,”socialism” , RGGI, renewable energy come out again and again..

      Over and over in BR – there is a litany of oppositional themes with respect to wind and solar, …. to also include the fact that Dems support it.

  9. FYI, the front pages of many newspapers this morning have stores on their front pages about the anti-global warming protests by millions of people, many young, around the world. Some of the conservative Old Dogs on this blog may poo-poo that, but t is real.

  10. The student protests are real? Sure. Hey, I remember the first Earth Day I’m such an old dog…..The Climate Crisis is real? The more I dig, the less I believe that. Just read a piece yesterday on the sea rise on the island of Tarawa, of WWII fame. The lack of sea rise, really, maybe two-three inches in 75 years. The USMC had pretty damn good data on land mass contours and tides for the 1943 invasion, so easy to compare.

    Larry, Jim and I have no problem with adding solar or wind to the grid but capacity factor data is data, cost is cost, and offshore wind in hurricane waters is only a good idea if you can get captive ratepayers to provide the capital and absorb the risk. The push back in rural areas against the massive solar fields is legitimate and will limit its use. The local governments resent the tax breaks (subsidies.)

    • re: ” I have no problem with adding solar or wind to the grid but capacity factor data is data, cost is cost, and offshore wind in hurricane waters is only a good idea if you can get captive ratepayers to provide the capital and absorb the risk. The push back in rural areas against the massive solar fields is legitimate and will limit its use. The local governments resent the tax breaks (subsidies.)”

      but Steve- I SUPPORT non-Dominion, 3rd party development of both solar and wind and offshore wind – because what Dominion is doing is basically stealing excess profits from ratepayers and plowing into a boondoggle that is designed to fail on purpose so Dominion can essentially stop development of renewables all together except as an additional for-profit monopoly.

      The levelized cost INCLUDES the issues of the harsh operating environment …. it includes ALL cost issues for comparing apples to apples with other means of generation and the way that works best is for the free market to work.

      ON rural solar – it’s one of the more benign uses of land – compare it to gas plants to INCLUDE the pipeline to feed them – the fact that such land is taken by eminent domain and the irony that some in rural areas oppose the pipelines while others oppose the solar but almost no one cares about where the coal and gas are extracted and the impacts to that rural land.

      This has nothing to do with climate at all – it’s purely an issue where we are honest about impacts from the various ways we generate energy. They ALL have impacts and yet we are setting up stricter rules for solar but not other sources impacts.

      Finally – what exactly would you do for an island that currently burns diesel 24/7? Would you just rule out solar and wind because of their “impacts” even if using those sources could cut diesel use in half?
      Do you think offshore wind for an island is more expensive than diesel fuel generation? Is that an economic issue without considering climate at all?

  11. The Koch bros. have spent big money to provide alternative facts to the reality of the Climate Crisis, but an overwhelming number of actual climate scientists and established scientific organizations support the reality of the Climate Crisis with real data. To ignore this scientific consensus is to ignore reality.

    NASA has been steadfast in acknowledging this reality and the data provided by its scientists is solid. The NASA report on the science and on the scientific consensus follows:

    Statement on Climate Change from 18 Scientific Associations:

    “Observations throughout the world make it clear that climate change is occurring, and rigorous scientific research demonstrates that the greenhouse gases emitted by human activities are the primary driver.” (2009)

    American Association for the Advancement of Science
    “The scientific evidence is clear: global climate change caused by human activities is occurring now, and it is a growing threat to society.” (2006)3

    American Chemical Society
    “Comprehensive scientific assessments of our current and potential future climates clearly indicate that climate change is real, largely attributable to emissions from human activities, and potentially a very serious problem.” (2004)4

    American Geophysical Union
    “Human‐induced climate change requires urgent action. Humanity is the major influence on the global climate change observed over the past 50 years. Rapid societal responses can significantly lessen negative outcomes.” (Adopted 2003, revised and reaffirmed 2007, 2012, 2013)5

    American Medical Association
    “Our AMA … supports the findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s fourth assessment report and concurs with the scientific consensus that the Earth is undergoing adverse global climate change and that anthropogenic contributions are significant.” (2013)6

    American Meteorological Society
    “It is clear from extensive scientific evidence that the dominant cause of the rapid change in climate of the past half century is human-induced increases in the amount of atmospheric greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide (CO2), chlorofluorocarbons, methane, and nitrous oxide.” (2012)7

    American Physical Society
    “The evidence is incontrovertible: Global warming is occurring. If no mitigating actions are taken, significant disruptions in the Earth’s physical and ecological systems, social systems, security and human health are likely to occur. We must reduce emissions of greenhouse gases beginning now.” (2007)8

    The Geological Society of America
    “The Geological Society of America (GSA) concurs with assessments by the National Academies of Science (2005), the National Research Council (2006), and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC, 2007) that global climate has warmed and that human activities (mainly greenhouse‐gas emissions) account for most of the warming since the middle 1900s.” (2006; revised 2010).

    For more on the scientific consensus and proven facts of global warming, you may look here: https://climate.nasa.gov/scientific-consensus/

    But let’s face it…not everyone is interested in the actual facts of this issue if it doesn’t support their particular political bias. But the facts are the facts and the evidence is clear to anyone truly interested in researching the scientific evidence readily available.

    • Well the deniers and skeptics claim that NASA and NOAA and EPA are essentially part of a massive world conspiracy to lie to people about climate AND Trump and company are actively firing staff and replacing them with non-scientists who do not believe in Global Warming.

      We’re not talking about a “debate” among the worlds scientists – there’s a strong consensus well over 90% and the skeptics and deniers say that consensus is conspiracy.

    • Listen to what you are saying: scientists who paid to work on climate change say this issue is instant Armageddon. I hob nob with a lot of scientists who do not agree with the hype. So that’s the huge issue Dems have, a lot of educated folks see mass hysteria being generated by the Dems.

      I certainly have concern$ with GA/Dominon in charge of our energy. But turning over control to the vindictive progresssive left Virginia mentality is probably not the soluton I am looking for, unless they snap out of it some day.

      Being a steward of the environment is never a bad thing, but we are talking a politcal red meat agenda here.

      • re: ” scientists who paid to work ”

        aren’t all scientists “paid to work” ?

        who would you trust to do science if they have to be paid to work?

        Do you trust those scientists that are “paid” to tell you about hurricanes or ozone holes or sea level rise? How do you draw that line?

        re: ” But turning over control to the vindictive progresssive left Virginia mentality is probably not the soluton I am looking for”

        that’s just foolish dogma guy – you’re just repeating the right’s talking points! Do you think MOST DEMS – in the Va Ga are “vindictive progressives” and you trust the GOP instead? Is that the “choice” you are making? You so fear the “left” that you’ll turn over Virginia to the GOP who basically does what Dominion wants?

        geeze guy.

        who exactly in the Va GA do you consider to be a “good stewart of the environment” on energy? the GOP?

        are you so bound up on this that you don’t trust ANYONE who is not GOP?

        • I never said Repubs or Va. GA are good stewards of the environment, those were your words. In general I would say the environment often takes a back seat to political/economic pressures. But that does not mean I think progressives have all the correct solutions (in the energy/eco area – some other areas, maybe).

          • Correct but you did use the phrase: “good stewards of the environment” and hands down the Dems are better at that in my view and the GOP usually drags their feet and yammers about the cost of regulation.

            Further, in Va, the GOP has been a strong supporter of Dominion and what Dominion wants to the point of neutering the SCC and refusing to let 3rd party competitors into the wind and solar market. Some Dems also but now they’re moving away from Dom – and it’s not party politics – it’s voters who want more renewables and less fossil fuel and Dominion is doing it’s best to make it much more expensive and less competitive. They did the same thing with de-regulation and the coal ash cleanup…

            Voters are what is driving this and the GOPs response is to distract the argument by claiming the Dems are “extreme” and will harm the economy – arguments the GOP has used for a long time in general and way back when the clean air and clean water laws were passed and NOW they are, once again, gutting them…

            I do NOT buy any of what the far left is advocating by the way. I do NOT think we can operate solely on wind/solar and that we WILL need gas unless and until we have a breakthrough on storage technology (which I doubt).

            But the point is to burn LESS gas when you can by using wind and solar WHEN it is available as much as you can and that will take more of it and it needs to be built competitively instead of it being an additional profit center for Dominion with no competition allowed – which is where the Va GOP is right now and why the Dems are moving away because they know the voters are now seeing it.

            Now, I’m quite sure that some will call responding to voters as “pandering”..but I’ll take pandering to the voters any day over pandering to Dom!

  12. Thank you. I hope Bacon, and to a lesser extent, Haner, gets this.

  13. The Democrats are better stewards of the environment. I’m not sure how that is even a matter of debate. Take the “bay states” for example. The attitude and commitment to the Chesapeake Bay varies by Democratic vs Republican control. Best “bay state”? heavily Democratic Maryland. Worst? The Pigs of Pennsylvania – where Republicans have held a majority of the house, senate, governor control since 2011. In four years they held a trifecta of all control of all 3.

    There are exceptions. The open sewer of Old Town Alexandria for example.

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