Henrico, Chesterfield Users of Richmond Gas Unprotected by SCC, State Law

Pending Termination

by Steve Haner

Sec. 13.10. No sale or lease of utilities except when approved by referendum. There shall be no sale or lease of the water, wastewater, gas or electric utilities unless the proposal for such sale or lease shall first be submitted to the qualified voters of the city at a general election and be approved by a majority of all votes cast at such election.

That provision is in the charter for the City of Richmond, part of the Code of Virginia. Note it does not require the city’s leaders to consult with the people before closing a city-owned utility, just before the sale or lease. 

City officials have been publicly silent about the meaning of the Richmond City Council vote on September 13 that it intends to “phase out reliance on gas” and considers “continued operation of the City’s gas utility … an obstacle to the City’s goal of Net Zero emissions.” Obstacles are things which get removed.

The silence is possible because the Richmond local media have not pressed city officials for details about it, at least not as reported. Perhaps they have been privately told that the vote was actually meaningless, merely a show to mollify the climate alarmists who spent months pushing for the 11-page resolution. But legally, shutting down the utility is quite possible, if likely to be hard.

A quick review of the full charter finds the provisions that authorize Richmond to operate a natural gas distributor “within and without the city.” But nothing in the charter apparently imposes a duty on the city to maintain that service.

As a utility owned and operated under a municipal charter, the Richmond Gas Works is also unregulated by the State Corporation Commission. A spokesman for the commission confirmed Monday that it has authority over the safe operation of the utility, under federal safety laws, but no authority over its rates or terms of service.

The SCC has indirect authority over the boundaries of its service territory because it defines territories for surrounding investor-owned gas distributors. Richmond Gas Works, unaware in the past of its new status as an obstacle, has aggressively defended its service territory against private competitors.

As recently as 2015 the SCC settled a dispute between the city and Columbia Gas over service in some neighborhoods of Chesterfield County. The city claimed Columbia Gas had encroached upon the city’s service territory years before, the city wanted it ejected, but the SCC allowed Columbia to stay. That ruling takes on extra significance now.

But other parts of Chesterfield and the entirety of Henrico County are at the mercy of decisions made by a Richmond City Council they did not vote for. Their only recourse is to turn to their members of the General Assembly. As much as cities like Richmond hate it, they are created by and governed by Acts of Assembly. Charters can be amended.  SCC authority can be expanded.

In a response to a constituent, shared with Bacon’s Rebellion, one member of City Council sought to discount the interpretation that council intends to get out of the gas business entirely. But the message is not clear. I reprint the forwarded message from First District Councilman Andreas Addison in full:

This was not the resolution before the Council. This was part of the resolution to make our city more resilient, not to shut off natural gas. This translation is very extreme in its actual intent and language. Our previous commitment to de-couple our natural gas rates from our revenues meant that consumption of natural gas was not directly connected to our revenues and costs. Relying on natural gas does not mean no natural gas. Our city is challenged, as many others across the country, with the oncoming electrification needed to support electric cars and other resources. This is meant to push for a more sustainable future, not the extreme outcome as explained in this article.

Since we lead the public utility department of natural gas, pushing for more sustainable options is in our best interest. Dominion Energy will be pushing for more electricity across the region, if we do not keep up with future trends, then we will be left with a minimally operating natural gas agency. This is meant to push for more modern operations and approaches, best practices from cities across the country.

Over the decades, profits from the sale of natural gas inside and outside the city limits have been a major revenue source for the city. If the goal is merely to end the reliance on that money, that still should cause concern among the customers that the long term move is toward closure.

During the public hearing before the 8 to 0 vote on the resolution September 13, one of the six speakers in favor (none opposed) identified as a spokesperson for the Sierra Club. That group was also heard from in the comment string on the first Bacon’s Rebellion article, with this from its Virginia leader Glen Besa:

How convenient that Mr. Haner neglects to mention climate change. No one would shut down Richmond Gas Works overnight as Haner implies. If we start today, we could begin phasing out gas as current appliances age out and are replaced by high efficiency heat pumps and other electricity based appliances. The fossil fuel industry has stalled action on climate the past 30 years. Now is the time to #ActonClimate.

Besa’s ultimate intent is clear. Customers in the Richmond Gas Works service territory who seek to continue using natural gas in future years need to seek protection from the General Assembly. If such a bill fails, the handwriting is on the wall.

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27 responses to “Henrico, Chesterfield Users of Richmond Gas Unprotected by SCC, State Law”

  1. Those who support the closure of the Richmond gas utility fully understand the prickly political situation they are in. They know the move will be unpopular, and they know there will be pushback. So, they’re trying to placate the public with assurances that gas will be phased out slowly, not shut off abruptly.

    But Besa’s comment is far from reassuring: “If we start today, we could begin phasing out gas as current appliances age out and are replaced by high efficiency heat pumps and other electricity based appliances.”

    Phasing out gas as current appliances age out… What does that mean? When your gas hot water heater conks out, you won’t be allowed to replace it with another? You have to shift to electric? When you replace your gas stove, you won’t be allowed to replace it with another, you’ll have to buy an electric range? I know a lot of cooks who will be very unhappy with that!

    1. Stephen Haner Avatar
      Stephen Haner

      Consider the impact on the financial viability of the operation as that slow death-by-a-thousand-cuts occurs. The remaining customers taking on all the debt and maintenance burden. Imagine the price as that happens….I’m sure the folks at Dominion Energy have!

    2. Matt Adams Avatar

      There will be plenty of “my house in incredible old and I don’t have breaker/fuse space in my panel for a new electric range”. To which people such as Dominion will smile their crooked smile and say don’t worry, we’ll drop you a new service. You’ll need to get a new panel and it has to be inspected and approved.

      So your previously $600 electric range will total out at $3000+.

      1. how_it_works Avatar

        A lot of the old fuse panels actually have a pullout fuse intended for a range. Although that position may well have been used for a subpanel or an air conditioner instead.

      2. how_it_works Avatar

        Older fuse box with RANGE pullout.

      3. how_it_works Avatar

        A lot of the old fuse panels actually have a pullout fuse intended for a range. Although that position may well have been used for a subpanel or an air conditioner instead.

        Here is a picture of one with a RANGE pullout. It’s my understanding that fuse panels like this were commonly installed during REA electrification projects.


        1. Matt Adams Avatar

          Oh I agree, but at this point in time you’re going to be hard pressed to find an opening on the entrance panel if they’ve added any subsequent systems.

  2. Baconator with extra cheese Avatar
    Baconator with extra cheese

    “Equitable plan”
    That’s a loaded phrase right there. I am betting this will be defined as the colonizers paying for others to have shiny new HVAC systems and appliances.
    If that doesn’t work I wonder if the people left without gas and instead are forced to switch to wood fires to heat their homes will be considered net zero emissions?
    But then again I bet that will be explained away by Equity.

    1. Nancy Naive Avatar
      Nancy Naive

      Wood fires are net-zero. Try coal.

      1. Stephen Haner Avatar
        Stephen Haner

        I always look for the definition of “net zero” and never find it. We’ll know it when we see it.

        1. Nancy Naive Avatar
          Nancy Naive

          I assume it means that given X carbon in the biosphere, then add no more. But, like ZPG, it’s just cool sounding.

          1. Stephen Haner Avatar
            Stephen Haner

            I assume it means I pay some landowner not to cut down a tree (which he wouldn’t cut anyway) and I can keep my private jet.

          2. Nancy Naive Avatar
            Nancy Naive

            Ah, but at what risk? Suppose you’re at 35,000′ when he just happens to change his mind….

          3. how_it_works Avatar

            I have a lot of trees on my property I never intend to cut down. How can I get in on that scam?

  3. “How convenient that Mr. Haner neglects to mention climate change”? Really? Perhaps Mr. Besa can enlighten us with his obviously superior scientific knowledge and share with us for how long exactly has the climate been changing? Were our cave dwelling ancestors driving around in fossil fueled flint-stone buggies? Because it was sure as heck a lot warmer back then. While he is at it, maybe a little insight on why temperatures around the globe have only moderately increased over the last 100 years and are not even close to the dire predictions we have been constantly bombarded with? People in developing nations continue to chop down trees for indoor heating & cooking and breathing the fumes. Meanwhile, our “act on climate” elites work overtime to deny funding for coal or natural gas projects there. That in turn leads to premature deaths. It is hard to understate how insane this war on fossil fuels is. It is now a religious war. Sadly, we are churning out lazy people from our educational institutions. Lazy because if one has a high school education, spending time to read all sides of climate science would take effort. Why not simply parrot what “the consensus” is saying? For every map and graph followers of the church of climatology point to as “proof” that we are warming rapidly, there are an equal number that heathen deniers like me can produce to counter that claim.

    1. Matt Adams Avatar

      Using Climate Change as a synonym for AGW is a folly.

      1. Stephen Haner Avatar
        Stephen Haner

        Today is the first day of fall and all the forecasts now have a 7 handle on the daily high. Climate Change!!

  4. Councilman Andreas Addison wrote: This was not the resolution before the Council. This was part of the resolution to make our city more resilient, not to shut off natural gas.

    This is from Richmond City Council Resolution 2021-R049:


    That the Council hereby commits to working with the City’s administration on an equitable plan to phase out reliance on gas and shift to accelerated investment in City-owned renewable energy and hereby recognizes that the continued operation of the City’s gas utility is an obstacle to the City’s goal of Net-Zero emissions in accordance Resolution No. 2020-R024, adopted June 8, 2020.

    Let’s see if we can determine the meaning of the above section of Resolution No. 2021-R049. We’ll start with a few definitions:

    phase out – noun – an act of discontinuing a process, project, or service in phases.

    shift – verb – to move or cause to move from one position to another.

    obstacle – noun – a thing that blocks one’s way or prevents or hinders progress.

    Okay. From the definitions we know that from the standpoint of a service provided to consumers, phase-out, discontinue, halt, and shut off all mean pretty much the same thing. So, one can only conclude that the city actually is planning to shut off natural gas service to its customers.

    Furthermore, if a movement from one position to another regarding the thing that prevents progress is not made – if city-owned natural gas service is not shut down – the City of Richmond will not be able to meet its goal of net zero emissions by 2030. So, one can only conclude that the city actually is planning to shut off natural gas service to its customers.

    This leads to the conclusion that Richmond City Councilman Andreas Addison is either prevaricating or he is ignorant of the contents of the resolutions he votes to pass. Maybe he has to pass them to find out what is in them…


    NOTE: All emphases are mine.

  5. energyNOW_Fan Avatar

    According the California university studies, gas stoves are killing hundreds of Californian each year due to trace pollution. These are highly scientific studies based on assuming extreme toxicity of trace Nox etc. Once extreme toxicity is assumed, the death count is easy to calculate. Similar to particulates, if we assume extreme poisonous nature per Harvard, then millions of Americans are being killed.

    1. Oh I see, that makes total sense, ‘hundreds of Californians’ lives are far more important than the millions of third world folks we are sentencing to premature deaths. Got it!

      1. Stephen Haner Avatar
        Stephen Haner

        “Once extreme toxicity is assumed…” “…assuming extreme toxicity….” Your comment denies its own credibility. Millions of dead Americans? Utter, total nonsense. Good thing you hide your name…

  6. tmtfairfax Avatar

    A fundamental principle of American law is that a damaged party has a duty to mitigate damages. So, if I hit a golf ball through a neighbor’s window, he cannot leave it as is (open to rain, snow, wind-borne dirt and pests). Rather, he must cover the window somehow until it can be properly repaired.

    I’d be responsible for the costs of repair in my example, but not damage from raccoons that came in the broken window or from rain damage to his carpeting if he simply neglected to engage in preliminary repairs.

    So, applying this principle to climate change, we need to stop people from building, rebuilding or making major improvements that extend the life and value of a building in a flood-prone area. Government should institute these prohibitions in areas that we expect will be subject to flooding as the oceans rise or rivers flood during more intense storms, accepting all climate change predictions as true arguendo. While existing structures could be grandfathered, they must not be permitted to be rebuilt or substantially remodeled. That’s running up damages.

    Then there are areas that have been reclaimed from the sea. Much of San Francisco and most of the Financial District, for example, is constructed on landfill. Humanity has altered nature. Shouldn’t humanity abandon those locations where it built structures on “artificial land”? Why should someone making $30,000 a year pay higher prices and taxes to protect multibillion dollar building complexes in areas that should be grandfathered and allowed to return to nature? What about multi-million dollar beach houses?

    Climate change is real, but it is also the means to one of the greatest transfers of wealth from ordinary people to the already wealthy. One would think these issues would be discussed. However, they are a barrier to wokeness and, as such, are being ignored.

  7. James Kiser Avatar
    James Kiser

    So another group of earth worshipers plan on freezing people out while the windmills fail to turn ( see the present North Sea windmill debacle-no wind). Why do these people never live by their own standards and prove how reliable it is before trying to force the rest of us to live by their idiotic ramblings.

    1. Stephen Haner Avatar
      Stephen Haner

      They are in Great Britain. Not going so well….burning coal now!!

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