Energy Updates: Signs of Resistance After All

The Main Clean Energy Bill. Both General Assembly chambers have now approved a single substitute version of the omnibus clean energy bill, on largely (but not totally) party line votes. In a further compromise on their plan to save the world, proponents decided not to force closure of a Southwest Virginia coal-burning plant and were rewarded with the votes of one Southwest Virginia Republican: Del. Terry Kilgore. (Correction: The initial post incorrectly reported Sen. Ben Chafin as having voted aye. It was Republican Sen. Jill Vogel.)

Kilgore’s vote mattered as the House had only 51 aye’s. The House roll calls are not posted yet, just the vote totals.  Senate Bill 851  is now on its way to Governor Ralph Northam. Odds are further changes will be coming and another vote will be taken at the Reconvened Session on April 22. The House version was heading for a conference committee which is now not needed. 

There are enough changes in the substitute that it needs a close read before seeking to provide details. But the bare bones are similar: A major capital program for offshore wind, solar and battery storage, a ramped-up effort at utility- and state-sponsored energy efficiency, some specific targets for renewable energy percentage over time (renewable energy certificates can count) and a new means-tested program to relieve lower-income customers of the costs hitting the rest of us.

Del. Sam Rasoul, D-Roanoke, highlighted the wind project’s high costs with two very interesting floor amendments Thursday evening, initially accepted and then reconsidered and rejected once Democrats were whipped into line. One would have put a tighter cost constraint on the offshore wind project and the other would have required Dominion Energy Virginia to absorb the multi-billion-dollar cost in its existing base rates. The amendments were described as poison pills, and House bill patron Del. Richard “Rip” Sullivan, D-Fairfax, claimed that without wind energy, Virginia will never get to 100% clean power.

One Nice Smackdown for Dominion. The story is told in detail by Virginia Mercury, but before the resolution. House Bill 582 reversed one of the obnoxious provisions of the Ratepayer Bill Transformation Act of 2018 and restored the State Corporation Commission’s control over the amortization schedule for the coal- and oil-fired plants which Dominion is rapidly closing. Whether the costs are “booked” in the year where they occur or spread out over time becomes a key element in the decision whether the utility has or has not exceeded its allowed profit margin. The utility wants to book the costs against earnings all at once.

The bill was amended (gutted, in my opinion) in the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee Monday night, but then reported on to the floor. Big mistake.  On the floor, supporters of the original bill were able to defeat the committee amendment. Restored to a form where it might have real teeth, it then passed over the objections of Dominion and its allies Thursday. Reconsidered Thursday, it passed again with even more votes.

This is hardly a huge victory for consumers, who must pay the bill for the plant closings and must pay off the unamortized capital costs. It costs us either way, and as Dominion lobbyist Bill Murray said in the committee meeting, the immediate write off is cheaper than the long pay-down process (with carrying costs). But it was a rare vote for the authority of the SCC to make that decision, after an open process not tainted by political contributions and lobbyist schmoozing.

A Second Better Smackdown for Dominion. Senate Bill 988, another issue Bacon’s Rebellion hasn’t even had time to touch, died in the House Thursday afternoon on a solid 43-54 vote (not yet available).  It was also rejected Tuesday by deeper margin.  This is the Dominion Electric School Bus bill, wherein we ratepayers were going to provide $200,000 each for 1050 electric school buses, which school divisions would plug into the grid during off times to work as storage. The House version, House Bill 75, is locked in conference committee so the House vote means either a major change is needed to save it, or it cannot be saved.

Clearly some level of concern for customer cost and Dominion greed is sinking in with the General Assembly. That’s good news. That may explain the next update:

A Third Near Smackdown for Dominion. This would have been the best of all. Senate Bill 731 as introduced was an obscure change in the absolutely absurd formula the General Assembly has created to keep Dominion’s authorized rate of return among the highest. It goes back to the 2007 regulation bill. When the bill came to the House floor Wednesday, following the death of the bill restoring SCC authority in the next case, some elements of that dead House bill were inserted into this Senate bill.

The original bill set out the entire ratemaking section, making it easy to amend portions of it. One accepted floor amendments mirrors House Bill 582, discussed above, and restores SCC authority over the amortization schedule. Another removes a limit on how much the SCC could lower Dominion’s rates, if the next rate review finds them to be excessive. The amended bill then passed on a split vote, with too many Republicans voting to protect the utility’s shareholders.

The Senate rejected the amended bill, which apparently did not get put into conference by the end of the day Thursday, the deadline for that process. Thus, the bill appears to be dead, if the LIS system is up to date. But it was a very smart play on somebody’s part. Something I would have been proud to pull.

Update:  There are now Senate conferees on the bill, because today is still Thursday!  This has never, ever been done.  Friday is still Thursday.  

More Big Box Retail Competition. The struggle of large retail chains to aggregate their load to the point they could escape the Dominion monopoly has been reported on Bacon’s Rebellion. Del. Mike Mullin, D-Newport News, put in House Bill 889 to make it easier for that to happen, but it was killed in Senate Commerce and Labor. It also killed a Senate version.

Then a week later Mullin’s bill came back as a watered-down substitute, which will allow at least some of the companies to take that step. Rumor has it Dominion agreed to the substitute as part of the maneuvering that led to the defeat of the SCC rate case bill, in that same meeting Monday night. The key to this will be the required report at the end of the pilot program, showing just how out of line Dominion’s rates really are. During testimony advocates claimed the retail choice options were almost 20% cheaper.

Perhaps resistance is not futile. But the General Assembly has not left town and nothing is done until it does.

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15 responses to “Energy Updates: Signs of Resistance After All

  1. Good write up. It sounds like persistence is the key!

  2. Nice summary. We need more decision makers willing to do more than just accept Dominion’s version of things and willing to stand up for what is right, not what Dominion wants. It’s a start but there is much more needed.

    The fact that Dominion works so hard to avoid a real base rate review reinforces the fact that there has to be a problem for rate payers there. I don’t think they’ve had a full rate case since the 1980’s. Since then demonizing the SCC and getting the General Assembly to make decisions instead of the SCC have given the company too much control and have taken too much from rate payers. It’s time for a new legislative/regulatory system, one forward looking to an environment with distributed generation and lots of players.

  3. Good work, Steve.

    It’s by now obvious here on Bacon’s Rebellion that no matter the topic, these government thieves working in the dark with their crony capitalist friends (whether for profit, non profit, or special political interest, including race / identity hustlers) have been working overtime for decades, stealing wealth, health and freedom from America’s working middle class, and most everybody else in America.

    Meanwhile nobody else in America has been watching the store, most blatant and irresponsible are the main stream media, and elite manager porker class.

    Folks, we all got to change our ways, and stop the thievery before nothing is left.

  4. There is a term for the process you described for SB 731, that was current when I watched the Assembly closely many years ago. The term was “looking for a vehicle”. If your bill was passed in one house and defeated in another, you looked for another bill that touched on that subject, with the hope that you could sneak in an amendment (or substitute) reflecting your bill’s provisions. That is why lobbyists quickly learned that nothing is really dead until the session adjourns sine die.

  5. https://bluevirginia.us/2020/03/electric-school-buses-in-richmond-progress-not-perfection

    Ran across this Blue VA account on the school bus issue. I swear, Dominion can talk the environmentalists into anything. If Murray told them spam used less energy than ham, they’d all run out and buy a can. I was actually waiting for this stupid idea to pass before pouncing. Had sent some background questions to the Dominion PR team, which of course they refused to respond to…..The argument over the cost of offshore wind WILL be visited again. The roll call vote against Rasoul’s amendment may be the worst mistake of the session – right up there with the fools who voted in 2018 to maintain the “double dip.”

  6. I listened to Democrats, both elected officials and ordinary people, complain for years about the “sleazy” tactics of the GOP majority, most especially in the House of Delegates and promise that, with Democratic control, all this bad stuff would go away. We were going to get changes for redistricting, a fix for the LCI, a crackdown on Dominion.

    I guess the bottom line is all politicians lie, especially when they are out of power and when they are in power.

    • You have gotten changes for redistricting and the House did vote for a crackdown on Dominion. In the Senate, Saslaw never promised a crackdown on Dominion. I don’t know about Marsden. As for the LCI, I don’t remember hearing any discussion about a “fix”.

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