Energy Omnibus III: Race, Poverty and Justice

By Steve Haner

Unfortunately, there is nothing new about the Virginia General Assembly passing an energy development bill which overrides the authority of the State Corporation Commission or usurps its role in planning utility resources.

Where Governor Ralph Northam’s new clean energy transition legislation breaks ground is its immersion into questions of race, poverty and environmental justice.  Should it pass and be implemented, the large electric utilities will be charging means tested rates, exempting low income ratepayers from some charges entirely, submitting their construction plans to an environmental justice council and engaging in preferential hiring for at least some construction projects. 

Reviewing the list of such instances in House Bill 1526 and Senate Bill 851, detailed below, raises the question of how long it will take for these to become common for all regulated public service companies.  If the General Assembly starts down this road, it will not stop here.

In this third installment of our detailed tour of these bills, which should be back up for consideration in committees next week, I am again using the PDF version of the House bill with line numbers, so readers can see for themselves.

It starts on the first page of the bill, line 46, which adds a definition of “Low-Income Geographic Area” to the revised Virginia Community Flood Preparedness Fund in Title 10, and then on line 86 commits no less than 25% of any spending from that fund to those locations.  The area must have median income 80 percent or lower of the local median or be a federal qualified opportunity zone.

On line 253, there is a new definition added to Title 56 for “historically economically disadvantaged communities,” discussed briefly in my first dive into these bills.  They are defined as either being majority “people of color” or a low-income geographical area.  Line 281 follow up with a new definition for “low-income,” as 80 or lower than the state median income or the area median income.

Five pages into the bill there are different definitions for low-income, each applied to different aspects of energy policy.

A hiring preference for the upcoming offshore wind project off Virginia Beach is created on line 714, using the “historically economically disadvantaged communities” definition. The hiring preference repeats on line 1244.  On line 729, the same definition appears in directing that the State Corporation Commission “shall ensure that the development of new or expansion of existing, energy resources or facilities does not have a disproportionate adverse impact” on those neighborhoods.

Once the offshore wind is built, most ratepayers will see a new stand-alone charge on their bills but line 1226 promises it will not be charged to “low-income residential customers.”  It uses yet another definition, this time linking that status to participation in a “public assistance program for the indigent.”

If the utilities are forced to make deficiency payments because they have failed to meet their new clean energy goals, virtually all of the proceeds will be spent on low-income Virginians.  Half must go to job training for residents of those “historically economically disadvantaged communities” and 30% to renewable energy programs in those neighborhoods.

A new definition of “low-income customer” is added to the net metering provisions, again referencing participation in public assistance programs.  It is used on line 1703 to exempt them from any stand-by charge the SCC imposes on net metering customers.  At least the customers being targeted for bill exemptions seem to be identified in the same way, but it is still a new administrative burden on the utilities.

And then, on Line 1844, the new Percentage of Income Payment Plan is established.  Previously discussed on Bacon’s Rebellion, it caps participants’ electric bills at 6% of “household income” if they don’t have electric heat, and 10% if they do. It establishes additional programs for making their residents more energy efficient, with all these costs coming out from a fund using yet another new rate adjustment clause on all customer bills.

When the cost is imposed by raw electricity usage on all customers, about 40% comes the large industrial and commercial customers.  Oddly (perhaps an oversight), low-income customers are not exempt from paying into the PIPP Fund on their monthly bills. But once those means tested exemptions are created, expect them to proliferate.

Both electric utilities have internal charitable programs, collecting funds to help low income customers behind on bills.  The Department of Social Services runs Virginia’s public program for heating and cooling bill assistance, tax-funded presumably.  How PIPP will integrate with those, and how many more families might participate, is still not being discussed.  The program in Ohio similar to this covers other utilities beyond electricity.

The bills conclude with a series of directives known in the legislative trade as enactment clauses.   Three of them touch on this topic of race, poverty and environmental justice driving energy costs and policy.

Enactment Clause 5 (line 1989) directs the utilities to inform low-income customers about solar opportunities. Clause 6 (line 1992) again seeks to prevent “a disproportionate burden on minority or historically disadvantaged communities.”  Clause 8 (line 2009) is hard to decipher, but whatever it does it is doing it for “low-income geographic areas and historically economically disadvantaged communities that are located near previously and presently permitted fossil fuel facilities or coal mines.”

This is too many posts on one bill in too short a period of time, but in this case it comes after a phone call from a very serious reader who wanted to know:  Since he lives in a low-income long-time minority neighborhood, but fits neither category himself, might some of these preferences apply to him?

No question the answer is yes, some, and sorting all that out will add significant cost of compliance as Virginia moves down this road.  None of the administrative costs added to all customer bills, or itemized program costs moved off low income customers and onto to everyone else, will be paid by the utilities themselves.   To get what they want in these bills, they will consent to this new role.   


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48 responses to “Energy Omnibus III: Race, Poverty and Justice

  1. Quick read. On my way to work. On the concept of low-income.

    is it better to have entitlement programs to transfer taxpayer money to low-income to pay for electricity and heat or is it better to charge them less on their bills and do away with the entitlement programs?

    I don’t know if that is the premise here or not and still not sure if conceptually it’s better to help on the front end or the back end.

    What IS important is that ONE criteria of income means be used like we see with ACA rather than a different one for each different program.

  2. The hiring preferences for the offshore wind project can reasonably be defined as state-sponsored reckless endangerment. Offshore construction is one of the most dangerous project types in the world. The apprenticeship requirements for offshore work are severe, as they must be. The work knows no color but requires, skill, attention to detail, courage, intelligence, teamwork and training. The divers who do the underwater work are mostly Navy trained. One team member’s failure can endanger all. The construction companies will do their best, but we must all hope that they simply pad the payroll with most of the new “must hires” and keep them gainfully employed (and safe) ashore. We will pay more for the project, but that seems to be the legislative intent. Simply put, the General Assembly needs to keep its nose out of hiring decisions in dangerous work. This provision should be deleted.

    • One alternative by the way might be for Dominion to build onshore wind which is much cheaper, but we’d have to find space in PA/MD/WV because we do not have the best mountain wind corridors here. I do not know if we could work something out for Va. workers to get some that work. Of course I favor annexation of West Virginia, in return for their offer to annex rural Virginia.

  3. Why not call it what it is, apartheid?

    Ah, but then, do the takers have someone else to pay for their costs?

    • Not going to accept that comparison, but coming into the 2020 session, wasn’t one of the goals going to be removing racial references from the Code of Virginia?

      • It is a forcing toward re-segregation as it legalizes the apportion of benefits and costs among people according to the color of people’s skin and race.


        Surely, there are many reasons.

        Because that, the color of people’s skin and race is exactly how it is viewed by those pushing these racist policies, as Hitler did with the Jews.

        And, taken to its ultimate end, the result will be just as bad as in Germany, because there is no end to these disgusting ways of dividing and judging, and favoring and disfavoring, people, pitting them one against another.

      • This began with the preference systems based on race that were begun decades ago, and now continually enlarge and splinter into ever more factions and divisions, of endless grievance.

        A prime example is preference in college admissions based on race.

        Look at where that system has lead us – into endless resentment and anger, and fear and anxiety, and grievance, division and hate, flaring across ever larger and more divided segments of our society.

      • Another way to look at these despicable policies being enacted now in Virginia is to view them as deeply corrupt patronage spoils systems whereby corrupt politicians use corrupt policies to hand out other peoples money to favored groups to gain and receive favors from one other based on the race of the givers, and takers, and those who are stolen from, such as the “Boss Tweed” of Tammany Hall system, the Democratic Party political machine that ran politics in 19th century New York City and New York State.

        Here, these systems gradually melted away as Catholics, particularly Irish rose in American Society. Here the reverse seems to be happening. Why?

      • In short, we are dealing with a deadly race and identity based political rot in this country, and its culture, and political system, a race and identity and culture rot, that is destroying the nation, starting with its children. Indeed this rot is half way there there towards its goal. And now we can see how it works in Virginia, how quickly, how fast, and how deeply it can destroy a workable society in Virginia.

        This is our real problem, America’s prolem. How do we fix it?

      • What makes this rot so unusual and difficult to deal with is that this nation today, and ALL of its people, are materially better off that ever before, more wealthy and blessed in a material sense, than any people and nation in all human history. Yet this nation is destroying itself with internal division and faction, race and culture, wars, with the active participation and help from many of its leaders, public and private.

        Why? That is the great question.

  4. I am an amateur scuba diver and naturally i like warm, clear water — not that usual north of Hatteras. But i’m not sure the wind turbines will be in very deep water. That might help.

    • Depths range from 18 – 41 meters (59 – 135 feet) according to the Phase II Geophysical Analyses of the Offshore Virginia Wind Energy Area (released by BOEM in 2016).

  5. Steve, great art! Hits my point more than yours, however

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  7. It is difficult to keep up with the transformative politics of this years General Assembly. I am dizzy! Like it or not here it comes. Maybe some good will come from all of this. I do remain skeptical. I can’t help but to wonder if our Delegates and Senators are smart enough to wade into all of this responsibly and in a statesmen like manner. Hoping for the best!

    • “Hoping for the best!”

      And expect the worst.


      Because we collectively now are taking all the wrong actions to hide, milk and fester long standing problems, in lieu of fixing them.

      So, as a result, our ill founded actions are making these matters far worse, as is so grandly illustrated on what is and has been going on in our public schools on all levels of education, including also many of our elite private colleges and universities. And now all of this is infecting and being manifest thought out all society in a growing myriad of ways. Look at our politics!

      But there is always a bright side to our current failures. Now we are becoming far better equipped, armed, and motivated to understand and fix these problems. Thus individuals and private groups are aroused to take action to offset and provide far better alternatives that fix or dilute that damage that corrupt government causes. That corrective action is bleeding back into far more effective solutions, most but not all of them private.

      Right now, however, Virginia is in a free all of bad government, in my view. This should not surprise us given much (but far from all) that has taken place in its recent past.

      Solution wise there is much to discuss here.

  8. The Dems might have overplayed their hand but I bet if you ask folks in NoVa if they did overplay, you’d get an entirely different answer than you will in rural Virginia!

    Part of it is that the Dems have had to stifle it for oh so many years and now is their time…and yes there is a certain amount of “oh my” to it.

    But also face it, the GOP was gonna do nothing… just sit…

    All in all, I don’t think the world is going to end because of what the Dems have done……….. I suppose depending on one’s POV.

    I understand than Amanda Chase is warming up in the GOP bullpen. That’s oughta freak the Dems, eh?

    • The World will not end because of this.
      Virginia however is the patient in this case. We are (potentially) heading for a high tax , high utility cost future, which means no growth and we have to generate our own jobs ( eg, by mandating offshore wind).

      • I’ve seen this play before, they call it New Jersey.

        • Except NJ won’t be paying the same price for offshore wind electrons.

          • Yes.. but like I said, if electricity becomes more expensive, people will use LESS.. so the goals of RGGI are met!

            pretty slick, eh?


          • NJ paid their dues on big nukes years ago. When I lived there as young adult we probably had highest elec cost in the Country. Has moderated since then I guess due to passage of time…still high cost.

          • Yep, Larry, whether with direct taxes or indirect ones (higher power bills) you libs love to tell people how to live their lives….and force them to pay somebody else’s costs. Wait — is this something you will admit is a form of rationing? (Of course you won’t.)

  9. Well no but of course there was not a whimper when Republicans we’re letting Dominion add on all these costs so why cry now? ?

    • No argument that the GOP catered to Dominion.

      But the argument for years from Democrats was that they would stop this and return power to the VSCC. It’s just like redistricting. I heard countless statements from Democrats, office holder and non-office holders, that, if returned to power, they would immediately put redistricting into a nonpartisan commission. Yet, they changed their mind on this one. The 2020 Virginia Democrats have broken the top on the hypocrite meter.

      I’ve been involved with state legislation since my college days (part of my draft of a scenic easement bill for the Minnesota DNR was included in legislation). The energy bill is the worst bill I’ve ever seen. For starters, creating race-based categories without a compelling state interest is unconstitutional. And even if such an interest exists, the bill is still unconstitutional because the racial categories are both under- and -over-inclusive. I could go on for pages.

      • We do have somewhat of an unlikely convergence of the enviro community with Dominion re: expensive electrification to get rid of fossil fuels. Should be the first clue that electrification is not the panacea it is thought to be. But obviously there is merit to newer forms of power gen such as wind and solar. I am pleased there are new options.

      • It’s perhaps true that Dominion goes where crony money is no matter what, public interest be damned. If so, what else is new, this toxic philosophy drives the entire power structure of Virginia. Why?

  10. if we have to pay more any how would it be better going to Dominion for profit or to ratepayers for credits for high-efficiency equipment

    • Greed vs. Social engineering…..but this bill epitomizes both….

      • well more than greed and social engineering. We have Dominion taking money from ratepayers and giving it to investors versus a plan for ratepayers to recover money in the form of credits to help them buy energy efficient stuff to lower their costs.

        And I do not recall the Dems “promising” to rescue the SCC. I think it might have been an expectation for some but cannot imagine folks on the right hoping the Dems would undo what the GOP did originally. Essentially blaming the Dems for not undoing what their own party did………. lord…

      • Larry, it was a central issue for Clean Virginia, and on their candidate questionnaire. Of course such promises were made. If you knew then it was hooey you should have told us!

        • Green Virginia is but one voice on the issue. Those who think the enviros have one monolithic view are foolish schmucks OR they like to pretend that one entity speaks for all of them or some such foolishness.

          Is RGGI actually implemented at all in any state or is it the Conservatives favorite mythical boogeman?

      • Mr. Haner I was trying to think of a word that can sum up what is going on in the statehouse and you said if very well: social engineering. Hard to believe this is the same state house that once served peanuts with many brass spitoons.

  11. “Mr. Haner I was trying to think of a word that can sum up what is going on in the statehouse and you said if very well: social engineering.”

    “Social Engineering,” a pregnant expression.

    Who were the greatest social engineers:”

    Lenin / Stalin?
    Hitler / Mao?

    Where do all the great social engineers come from?

    Look at the record: From grossly dysfunctional, broken and hysteria societies. They breed and thrive there.

    Kill two birds with one stone:

    Read Thomas Nelson Page’s book “Italy and the World War (1920).” Thomas Nelson Page, an expert on dysfunctional, broken and hysterical societies, tells the WWI Italian story best. The wreckage that bred the fantastic power of Benito Mussolini also explains the grotesque harvest of American Civil War, too, the grist of William Faulkner, Flannery O’connor, and Cormac McCarthy.

    How quickly great nation’s collapse, and the most grotesque remnants of humanity rush into the void to seize then stir the broken pieces into one human tragedy after another. Only exhaustion and desolation ends the bloodletting carnage amid smoking ruins.

    Then, too, there are the greatest social engineers of all – a young man and women who marry, have children, and stay married. All of civilization depends totally on married men and women, and their huge, critically important task. They carry the full load for all of us.

    Meanwhile other disparate parts, envious of the power of married men and women, work to destroy their power. First and foremost this includes the fascists and leftist, their universities and politicians who, fearing the power of families, march the young men off to war and oblivion. This they most do so the fascist and leftist leaders can grab all the levers of power, and smash all the other centers of power into broken pieces and then feast and engorge the ruins for themselves.

    • Just think for a moment about how many ways these fascist and leftist forces in America work every day to smash and harm the young and working American family, and how successful those forces have been in destroying those families, and all the harm those forces have done, and continue to do each and every day.

  12. “SOCIAL ENGINEERING” is a GOP talking point – effective for those who have blinders on and want simple concepts:

  13. re: ” Socialism is a political and economic theory of social organization that advocates that the means of production, distribution, and exchange should be owned or regulated by the community as a whole.”

    correct. Now tell me what things are being proposed that fits that definition.

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