Strange Bedfellows Unite Against Dominion Bill

Ad placed by opponents of Dominion’s bill on profit margins in Sunday’s Richmond Times-Dispatch. Click for larger view.

by Steve Haner

Battles over utility ratemaking can produce some “strange bedfellow” coalitions. Check out the list of advocacy organizations which have banded together to oppose Dominion Energy Virginia’s pending bill to mandate a higher profit margin.

The list appeared in a full page advertisement in the Sunday Richmond Times-Dispatch and can also be found on a website. It is a longer and more interesting list than a coalition previously mentioned, calling itself the Energy Burden Coalition. The broader group also just focused on this one bill.

The list in the paper includes the Virginia Manufacturers Association and the union-affiliated Virginia Organizing, certainly on opposite sides of many issues. Americans for Prosperity, usually attacked from the left as being founded by major fossil fuel magnates, finds itself listed along with Clean Virginia and plenty of other organizations affiliated with and/or funded by the wind and solar industries.

When the issue is the use of natural gas in homes and businesses, you would find the Virginia Food Industry Association fighting desperately against these same renewable energy advocates, all committed to ending the use of fossil fuels. But the members of both pay for electricity, too, and seem willing to join forces to restore more authority over rates to the State Corporation Commission.

Amazon Web Services added its logo to the ads. Just how quickly it has become an 800-pound gorilla capable of facing down Dominion at the legislature is an untold story. Electricity is the data center industry’s biggest cost input, its raw material, and Virginia seems destined to tie its fortunes to that industry.

The group complains Dominion’s bill “legislates important ratemaking authorities that already rest with the State Corporation Commission. … The SCC is capable of doing its job and ensuring Dominion has the financial tools to serve customers. We have seen no evidence to the contrary.”

The group rejects the utility’s claim in its own messaging that the bill will result in lower costs. These are companies that understand the impact of rate legislation just as well as the utility or SCC staff does.

It seemed only fair to highlight this messaging effort after taking on Dominion’s newspaper ad in a previous column. Dominion had another ad in the paper Sunday, as well, and this one featured a dog and a piggy bank “all ears” about claims the bill lowers their costs. At least this version lacked the blatant attempt to imply SCC endorsement of the legislation in a headline. The dog will likely draw more eyes than the anti-Dominion list of logos.

Both advertising efforts are focused on influencing the fate of the bill in the final two weeks of this short General Assembly session, set to adjourn February 25. But Governor Glenn Youngkin (R) has also now taken a public stance against the bill as introduced, so if he has any bill on this desk after session, efforts to persuade him to veto or amend it may emerge.

The next steps should come on Monday. Senate Commerce and Labor will meet after the floor session and the House version, the version without the profit formula change, is on the docket. The committee could just pass that as is, but the likelihood is it will take steps to force it into a conference committee along with the version that passed the Senate.

Disclaimer: In 2018 the Virginia Poverty Law Center was my client on a similar issue, and before that I spent 12 years representing Newport News Shipbuilding on these matters. Presumably that Virginia corporate heavyweight is aware of and supportive of the Virginia Manufacturers Association taking this action. Let me also note that it would have been nice to have all these allies in the battles a decade ago.