Northam Opposes Coming Retail Choice Bill?

By Steve Haner

Governor Ralph Northam is quoted in a Standard and Poor’s Market Intelligence news article Friday as opposing any efforts to change Virginia’s electricity regulations, which presumably would include the 2020 retail choice proposal gathering steam in the background.

Reporter Michael Copley wrote about Friday’s state solar and wind power purchase agreements and added this near the bottom, under the heading “No changes seen to Va. utility regulation”:

To advance its clean energy initiatives, the Northam administration is partnering with a utility company (Dominion Energy Virginia) that is facing a backlash over perceptions that it uses political donations to wield outsized influence in Virginia. In August, Virginia utility regulators said Dominion Energy Virginia earned $277.3 million above its authorized return on equity in 2018.

Some lawmakers in the Southeast U.S. have called for breaking up monopoly utility businesses such as Dominion’s, arguing that customers would benefit from more competition.

Northam said he does not plan to overhaul utility regulation in Virginia. “I think right now as we move forward, we’re going to work with the system that we have,” he told S&P Global Market Intelligence. “That doesn’t mean it’s a perfect system, but it is a system that we can work with.”

Unfortunately, neither Jim Bacon nor I subscribe to this news service and thus cannot provide a link.  A copy of the full story is here, provided by somebody with a subscription.  It may appear on a public S&P site at some point.

While his exact purpose in doing so is not clear, a major Virginia environmentalist is in the process of buying the 2020 General Assembly.  Charlottesville hedge fund baron Michael Bills is coy about why in this friendly interview with Virginia Mercury today.  But the Clean Virginia movement he heads has links to other groups expected to push against Dominion Energy Virginia under a reform coalition banner.  It must be a high priority.

To give us the opportunity to choose a competitive supplier to Dominion at some point in the future, they may need two-thirds votes in both chambers so they can overcome a gubernatorial veto.  Other reporters, or the advocates for that position, can now fill in the blanks.

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22 responses to “Northam Opposes Coming Retail Choice Bill?”

  1. LarrytheG Avatar

    Kinda hard to call Northam a left wing zealot in bed with wacko enviros, eh?

    In terms of Michael Bills “buying” the GA – do you think his motives are similar to Dominion, and he expects big bucks in return also?

    Okay for Dominion to grease the GA to gain profits but not okay for others to use money to oppose Dominion money and influence?

    Curious logic.

    1. Steve Haner Avatar
      Steve Haner

      Not okay for either, and you know that’s my position repeated often, but you won’t ever tell the truth if you can gain by distorting. You are absolutely dishonest at times. Done with you.

      1. LarrytheG Avatar

        I told the simple truth Steve. There’s a clear double standard in play.

        There is absolutely nothing “dishonest” about pointing it out.

        What would tell folks? That’s we can’t help keep Dom from doing it but it’s totally wrong for the other side to do it?


      2. LarrytheG Avatar

        I’m not even sure what your complaint is and I certainly am not dishonest and take offense to the claim!

        But what I’ve noticed in the narrative here is that folks like Michael Bills are said to be using big money to influence the GA.

        As if that is a bad thing………just on that basis.

        So I DO ASK – what’s the motivation of the person with the money?

        Does Michael Bills qualify as a rent-seeking special interest trying to get the GA to do something that will benefit him financially?

        Because – that seems to be the implication and thus the idea behind comparing him to others who do the same but do so on the expectation of benefiting financially from their efforts.

        Now if Bills is NOT doing that – then how do we compare him on the same level as those others whose money is intended to benefit them financially?

        I just see the equivalence as not right.

        And the same goes for most environmental organizations who bring money to the GA? Are they looking to gain financially from their efforts and so they are the same as the utilities using money to get what they want?

        Are we really comparing them on an apples to apples basis?

  2. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    Sounds like an attempt to avoid carbon tax/rggi

  3. “Northam said he does not plan to overhaul utility regulation in Virginia. “I think right now as we move forward, we’re going to work with the system that we have,” he told S&P Global Market Intelligence. “That doesn’t mean it’s a perfect system, but it is a system that we can work with.””

    Currently, the system works for Dominion shareholders, state legislators and other elected officials but increasingly less so for utility customers.

    Our utilities do provide us with a reliable source of electricity. But this is mostly in the hands of PJM and NERC. The utilities just follow those directives and keep their distribution systems in good working order (we hope).

    “It is a system we can work with” because it is the “Virginia Way”, a system lubricated by money and special interests. This is happening to a greater degree to governments at the state and federal level, but works to a high degree in Virginia.

    Energy is a basic necessity in our times. It should not be open to manipulation by a few interests against the public good. Energy monopolies are being used as an advantaged business model instead of a public trust with a fair, but regulated return.

    It continues to be a disappointment that our elected officials are more interested in protecting the interests of a few companies rather than the interests of their constituents. We need to get out of the rut of the current win-lose proposition and move towards win (but not quite as much)-win scenarios.

  4. BR article a few days ago was Tax-and-Spend Pressure Builds Inexorably. Some of those increased taxes are going to come in the form of higher utility bills, and any other revenue increase way that can be called not-a-tax (wink-wink).

    1. LarrytheG Avatar

      but, but, wait… the left wing socialists are gonna to raise your taxes right? That’s what the GOP says – that’s the same GOP that rolled over for Dominion to snag more profits from those poor taxpayers suffering at the hands of those tax&spend socialists!

  5. vaconsumeradvocate Avatar

    Agree Tom Hadwin! We’ve got to end our system that lets certain businesses have their cake and eat it, too. Right now they call the shots and are allowed the benefits of being monopoly providers when it suits and of being in the market when that suits. They alone control what happens and who financially benefits. They do not respect any other business and play a nasty game of hardball where only they can win. Virginia deserves better. It’s time to change the game here! South Carolina and others need to avoid the Virginia Way.

    1. Steve Haner Avatar
      Steve Haner

      Now we get your smiling face on comments! 🙂

  6. LarrytheG Avatar

    re: ” Energy monopolies are being used as an advantaged business model instead of a public trust with a fair, but regulated return”

    That’s PART of it in Virginia.

    The other half is the utility actively influencing legislation to undermine the SCC regulatory role, to KEEP excess profits and tax refunds and use those ill-gained monies to build wasteful boondoggles, that 3rd party competitors could build for far less.

    1. That’s the advantaged business model part. Due to the nature of Virginia politics not due to the fundamental nature of utility regulation.

  7. Steve Haner Avatar
    Steve Haner

    Peter’s comment above, perhaps unfinished, about RGGI raises a question: How are these “ring fenced” power purchase agreements treated when the RGGI accounting is done? Absent these contracts, the State of VA (clearly a large customer in aggregate) would be buying off the grid but now will do so far less, right? And it will be pulling these “green” electrons for its own use. Does that place an even greater burden on the utility to reduce CO2 with the rest of its fleet? Does that mean even greater reductions required from the existing fossil fuel plants? Bit of a complex calculation….

  8. LarrytheG Avatar

    How RGGI will work will likely not be simple but pretty sure a system could be worked out – like we did with acid rain…

    The basic concept behind RGGI seems to be to 1. make electricity a little more expensive 2. capture the extra revenues and direct them back into energy conservation technology that would not be as quickly implemented without the increased cost 3. even though people pay a higher rate – they pay a lower electric bill AND we reduce CO2.

  9. Steve,

    I have not seen anything that transparently reveals the sale of power from Dominion-built solar projects to the state. I have heard it was MacCauliffe’s price for agreeing to the Atlantic Coast Pipeline but I have not seen any hard evidence of that.

    If it is done through a PPA why can’t other governments or other customers buy solar via a PPA over Dominion wires? If it is done via a special low-rate tariff, it means that Dominion ratepayers are subsidizing lower rates for all of the taxpayers in Virginia. When solar gets put in the ratebase it gets more expensive.

  10. Adding solar does nothing to reduce the RGGI carbon emissions unless the solar displaces fossil generation. Dominion’s IRP indicates that it will continue to add carbon emitting sources (peaking units) even as they intend to develop more solar. The RGGI annual cap relates to the total tons of carbon emitted.

    Most RGGI states deal with carbon emissions by lowering the amount of electricity used or replacing carbon emitting sources with renewable ones. We are doing more of both in Virginia in the face of relatively stable energy use.

  11. If you can’t beat ’em, maybe buy ’em (some shares that is).

    On Jim Cramer’s stock pickers Lighting Round tomnite, he said something like, of the utilities he likes Dominion at 4.4% divident, which come to think of it is not too shabby.

  12. LarrytheG Avatar

    The one thing DOm and other utilities cannot change is advancing technology – like LEDs and smart thermostats.

    Those two things alone have changed consumption and the potential for more energy-reducing technology is high as embedded computers become more and more common in equipment that uses electricity.

    If a breakthrough is found on storing energy such that solar can be harvested during the day and metered out at night -that will be a game-changer that could potentially damage the basic business model of utilities and especially so, regulated utilities AND the fossil fuel industry – gas and oil, in general.

    If I were a betting person – I’d put my money on technology to transform energy and energy use – and not on Dominion stock over the longer term. At some point, “bad Kodak-type stuff” is going to happen to Dominion if they continue on their current track.

  13. djrippert Avatar

    Virginia’s politicians shouldn’t be for sale to anybody – not billionaire environmentalists, not corporations, not unions. The answer is easy. Virginia needs to join the other 46 states with campaign contribution limits. We also need great increases in transparency and ethics bodies with teeth.

    Over the past 20 – 30 years many states that were once more systematically corrupt than Virginia have passed laws to clean up their acts. Virginia has done next to nothing. As other states become less corrupt Virginia becomes relatively more corrupt.

    The kind of behavior documented in the post won’t end until the corruption faucet is turned off.

  14. […] with my story last week on Governor Ralph Northam’s warning shot over electricity retail choice legislation, this news is not going to get much attention in Virginia […]

  15. […] consumers.  That high-profile 2020 legislative goal is fading fast, as indicated earlier by Governor Ralph Northam’s comments and perhaps based on a cold assessment of how it has worked out […]

  16. […] Governor Ralph Northam now on both sides of the electricity retail choice issue?  Having sent a strong signal weeks ago that he would oppose 2020 legislation creating competition for all customers, his administration […]

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