Capitalist Michael Bills of Clean Virginia: “Dividends are Bad”
By Steve Haner
The big money behind the Clean Virginia activist group was all earned by a Charlottesville hedge fund manager through the great American system of capitalism. That didn’t stop his organization from a recent attack that could have come from Communist Party USA. This one would have made Bernie Sanders blush.
Dominion Energy is paying out dividends in the middle of a pandemic! Shocking.
“Dominion Energy is transferring nearly $3 billion dollars from Virginia families and small businesses to Wall Street shareholders at a time when people are still struggling to stay in their homes and keep the lights on. This is economic injustice at its starkest,” said Clean Virginia Executive Director Brennan Gilmore.” See this news release.
I know I pick on Clean Virginia all the time. Somebody has to call it out. This cannot simply be stupidity. They have to know these statements are nuts and they hurt their own cause.
“The record payouts will arrive on the heels of a new Virginia budget that allows Dominion Energy to pocket over half a billion dollars of customer overcharges while forcing Virginia customers to pay for all outstanding debt that is owed to the monopoly…”
“A new Virginia budget, expected to go into effect next week, compels no refunds of the $502.7 million Dominion overcharged customers since 2017 and puts the financial burden of the COVID-19 crisis and economic fallout on the shoulders of Dominion’s captive Virginian customers, allowing shareholders to pocket excess profits…”
Whatever excess profits Dominion Energy Virginia has earned in the 2017-2020 period are still hanging out there, accounted for somehow on the utility’s books. It is a lie to say they have now been pocketed by shareholders in the 2020 dividend payout. It is also a lie to say the new budget bill allowed that to happen. Continue reading
U.K. wind farm. Photo credit: Daily Mail
by James A. Bacon
So, you think the rolling blackouts experienced in California were a fluke and of no relevance to Virginia? Well, then, consider what’s happening right now in the United Kingdom, where “unusually low wind output” and a series of planned power plant outages puts the nation at risk of blackouts. You see, the U.K. relies upon wind power for literally half of its electricity, which is just dandy when the wind is blowing, but not so great when the airs are calm.
As it happens, here in Virginia, Dominion Virginia Power has finished installation of its first two offshore wind turbines. Those two units are paving the way for a much wider deployment of wind power in the Atlantic Ocean. The utility forecasts that wind will account for 5.1 megawatts of its electric-generating capacity (about 20%) within 15 years.
In the U.K. the becalming of the wind — windpower is expected to drop from 51% of output to as low as 10% over the weekend — coincides with planned outages at two of the country’s nuclear reactors, reports the Daily Mail. The National Grid Electricity System Operator reassured the Brits that it would “make sure there is enough generation” to prevent blackouts…. In other words, the U.K. will be cutting it really close. Continue reading
By Dick Hall-Sizemore
Well, investigative journalism is still alive. The Richmond Times-Dispatch has teamed up with the national journalist investigative organization, ProPublica, to report on the political influence of Dominion Energy in Virginia.
The first result of this effort is a major, long article in today’s edition of the RTD. By long, I mean a big front-page display and three full pages on the inside, plus another full page on utility influence in other states. For those BR readers who are stopped by the newspaper’s paywall, I would recommend that you try to read it. Continue reading
Dominion Energy Virginia’s major capital projects, listed in its pending integrated resource plan. The SCC staff added the lifetime revenue requirement, the total dollars extracted from ratepayers over time which includes financing costs and the company’s current profit margin. Source: SCC
by Steve Haner
As sobering as they were, the initial estimates of how a green energy conversion will explode Dominion Energy Virginia rates have now been revised up. The State Corporation Commission staff now sees it costing an additional $800 per year for a residential customer to purchase 1,000 kWh per month by 2030, an increase of just under 60%.
The main drivers of the higher costs will be all the offshore wind and solar generation Dominion proposes to build, as outlined in its most recent integrated resource plan. That plan is now being reviewed by the SCC, and the staff filed its analysis late last week, summarized here on pages 4-5.
The separate cost analysis by Carol Myers of the SCC’s Division of Utility Accounting pushed up the utility-issued estimate by disputing assumptions the utility made. Staff disagrees with the utility projection that by 2030 less than half of its electricity will be used by residential customers. It is now about 55%. Should the portion shrink as Dominion projects, more of the project costs would be imposed on commercial users.
Myers reported it is also unrealistic to assume most residential households use 1,000 kWh per month, when the history show usage at or above 1,100 kWh. Plugging that into the data would increase the projected cost to families even beyond $800. Myers’ testimony also shows huge increase in commercial (60%) and industrial (65%) power costs by 2030, even larger on a percentage basis than residential. For the state’s economy, they also matter. Continue reading
Senate Majority Leader Richard “Is Dominion okay with this?” Saslaw
By Steve Haner
Every now and then you can actually see the strings, see the puppet master that is Dominion Energy Virginia calling the shots at the Virginia General Assembly. Senate Majority Leader Richard Saslaw, D-Fairfax, provided a glimpse of its power during a floor debate Thursday.
Republican senators were in revolt. Two days after the House of Delegates had approved a plan to force all utility ratepayers to cover the unpaid bills and late fees for those who have fallen behind, the same language amendment was before the Senate for adoption.
“Once again, we have cast the ratepayers aside here in Virginia,” Senator Richard Stuart told his colleagues assembled in their spread formation at the Science Museum of Virginia. The average ratepayer is struggling to pay their own bill in this recession and did not sign up to pay the bills for those others who for whatever reason do not. “This is immoral. This is not right,” Stuart concluded. Continue reading
This time you get touched.
By Steve Haner
Dominion Energy Virginia loves the General Assembly’s most recent proposal on how to deal with mounting unpaid utility bills in the COVID-19 recession. You might not.
The state’s dominant utility has activated its network of grassroots lobbyists (including company retirees and stockholders) to express their personal support to their hometown delegate and senator, in an email that a recipient shared:
Last week the Senate Finance and House Appropriation committees passed budget bills that included assistance to those utility customers who have experienced economic hardship due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. All utilities have been impacted and the legislation recognizes that relief to those citizens most at risk will be different from one region and utility to the next. The direction adopted by both Chambers have been consistently supported by Dominion Energy…
As predicted more than once, the unpaid bills ultimately come to all utility consumers. The approach outlined in the new budget language is a variation on earlier themes, but the bottom line is unchanged. Continue reading
By Steve Haner
If the Virginia General Assembly orders Dominion Energy Virginia to fork over hundreds of millions of dollars in “excess profits” to cover unpaid family utility bills, who is really paying? We all are, of course. Don’t say you were not warned.
That apparently is the latest approach to help folks behind on their bills, as reported in this morning’s Richmond Times-Dispatch by Associated Press. Governor Ralph Northam is proposing a budget amendment to raid the presumed excess cash at Dominion, after legislative efforts to capture it were defeated in the special session.
Legislative manipulation of the regulatory process, bypassing the independent State Corporation Commission, created the opportunity for Virginia’s dominant electric utility to pile up a possible half billion dollars in excess profit. But the money came from every Dominion customer, a large portion of it from the giant industrial consumers. Only a small part came from those now behind on their monthly bills.
Some legislators see your electric bill as just another tax to be spent on their priorities, not yours. Now they want to use it to pay electric bills for customers who have fallen behind due to a recession (again, a recession in part of the government’s making.) Continue reading
Future Dominion price increases. Source: SCC. Actually, 1000 kWh per month is a bit low for the average residential customer, so many Virginians will be paying much more. Click for large view.
By Steve Haner
You will be shocked to learn that we customers of Dominion Energy Virginia did not pay it enough money in 2019. The shareholders did not get the profit margin they were due, the utility reported to the State Corporation Commission, which subsequently reported it to us on August 18.
Actually, these guys were not utility accountants, but they were on the right track.
We’ve entered the realm of energy comedy. The utility accounting process now mirrors the famous movie “The Producers,” with the goal being to book little or no actual profit so high rates can be maintained or even made higher. There is honest accounting, show-biz accounting, but for real whiz bang results there is utility accounting.
The SCC’s annual report to the General Assembly on utility accounting, now including projections of future rate costs, normally comes out closer to September. I was tipped to expect it early by a Dominion big wig, which should have told me it was a report they wanted publicized. This is Dominion playing the long game, preparing for the 2021 showdown on its rates and profits in a formal SCC audit and rate case.
The rules for this long game have been rigged in the utility’s favor over several years by a compliant General Assembly. This is not news to Bacon’s Rebellion readers. But here we go again. Continue reading
By Steve Haner
Virginia’s two major electric utilities estimate that as many as 150,000 of their poorest residential customers will see their monthly bills reduced next year using money extracted from all their other customers on their own power bills.
Appalachian Power Company projects about 30,000 of its low income customers will receive subsidies of $500-$600 per year. Dominion Energy Virginia projects bill subsidies to about 120,000 households of about $750 per year.
Both companies told the State Corporation Commission recently that to pay for this, about $1.12 will be added to the cost of every 1,000 kWh of electricity used by homes, businesses, and industries in Virginia. The cost per kWh is the same for all customer classes, and thus represents a larger percentage price increase for the commercial and industrial users. Continue reading
Warren Buffett, CEO of Berkshire Hathaway
by James A. Bacon
Before it sold off its national newspaper division to Lee Enterprises for a measly $140 million in March, Warren Buffett and Berkshire Hathaway owned most of the newspapers in western and central Virginia, including the Richmond Times-Dispatch, the Roanoke Times, the Daily Progress (in Charlottesville), and the News Virginian (in Waynesboro). Reporting by these newspapers dominated news coverage of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and shaped the pro-environmental narrative that ultimately defeated it.
Earlier this month Dominion Energy, the pipeline’s managing partner, announced that it was abandoning the project and, indeed, was selling its multibillion-dollar gas distribution business to…. Berkshire Hathaway Energy. Upon consummation of the $4 billion transaction, Berkshire Hathaway’s energy subsidiary will carry 18% of all interstate natural gas transmission in the United States.
Charles Munger Jr., son of Berkshire Hathaway vice chairman Charles Munger.
Arthur Bloom, managing editor of the American Conservative website, doesn’t come right out and say that Berkshire Hathaway used its power of the press to force Dominion into abandoning the pipeline and unloading its gas distribution, but he does suggest that such a thing might be possible. In “The Great Virginia Pipeline Swindle,” he writes:
What is beyond dispute is the death of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline has now resulted in a substantial acquisition for Berkshire Hathaway, after various people connected to the company have worked to kill it.
Breaking news: Dominion Energy and Duke Energy have announced the cancellation of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, citing ongoing delays and increasing cost uncertainty. The cost of the project had escalated from $5 billion to $8 billion, and, despite winning a victory in the United States Supreme Court, the power companies still have no certainty of gaining all the needed regulatory approvals.
Said Dominion CEO Thomas F. Farrell, II, and Duke CEO Lynn J. Good in a joint statement:
We regret that we will be unable to complete the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. For almost six years we have worked diligently and invested billions of dollars to complete the project and deliver the much-needed infrastructure to our customers and communities. Throughout we have engaged extensively with and incorporated feedback from local communities, labor and industrial leaders, government and permitting agencies, environmental interests and social justice organizations. … This announcement reflects the increasing legal uncertainty that overhangs large-scale energy and industrial infrastructure development in the United States. Until these issues are resolved, the ability to satisfy the country’s energy needs will be significantly challenged.
Photo credit: Associated Press
Well, well, Virginia finally has an offshore wind turbine industry. The last 253-foot blade was attached Friday to a turbine and pylon off Virginia Beach. At a cost of $300 million, the two turbines owned by Dominion Energy will provide some of the world’s most expensive electricity, but they do pave the way for a $8 billion, 180-turbine wind farm that Dominion plans to build next. The wind farm, endorsed by Virginia’s major environmental groups, will be free of CO2 emissions. It will also generate the highest-cost electricity in Dominion’s energy portfolio. Governor Ralph Northam hopes the wind farm will stimulate development of a cluster of major wind-power fabricators and service companies in Hampton Roads. We’ll see how that works out. Early indicators could be better: The two towers were assembled in Nova Scotia and transported to Virginia on a special ship.
By Steve Haner
Anybody who closely read the so-called Virginia Clean Economy Act and had watched Dominion Energy Virginia’s previous manipulations of Virginia’s General Assembly could see what was coming. Despite its “billing,” that bill was never going to end the use of fossil fuels in Virginia.
As early as February 13, I reported that to readers of Bacon’s Rebellion, in “Energy Omnibus II: It Doesn’t Shut Gas Plants.” Later bill versions were even less restrictive. Continue reading
This Would Be You, Virginia
By Steve Haner
Mel Leonor reports in today’s Richmond Times-Dispatch that Dominion Energy Virginia and the Green Energy Oligarchs have used the Virginia General Assembly to empty your pockets with a false promise.
According to Dominion’s own information, the highly touted Virginia Clean Energy Act (1) will not result in a total end to fossil fuel generation feeding your homes and businesses and (2) will increase bills by amounts similar to or in excess of the warnings in February from the State Corporation Commission. She writes:
Either way, the company said, customers in Virginia should expect to see their bills rise by as much as 3% a year until 2030, in large part due to infrastructure investments to build solar, offshore wind and battery capacity.
For the average residential customer using 1,000 kilowatt-hours per month, that could mean an increase of $45.92 to their monthly bills, from the current $116.18 per month to $168.58 per month.
The SCC’s estimate of the new legislation’s rate impact was that it would cost residential customers about $28 a month (1,000 kWh) within five years, so Dominion’s projection over ten years is right in line. The SCCs claims have been validated and the false promises of lower costs from advocates exposed. Continue reading
by Jane Twitmyer
The South, including Virginia, has been slow to build clean, transformed utility systems. Last year, major corporations including Costco, Cox, Kroger, Sam’s Club, Target and Walmart petitioned Virginia regulators to allow them to meet their renewable energy goals by purchasing their electricity from third parties. Dominion Energy’s response was to commission a poll, according to PV magazine, asking which of two arguments was the most compelling: (1) the claim that ratepayer bills will go up $100 per month if corporations are allowed to procure their own renewables, or (2) that in the states where deregulation was introduced, that customer rates rose 39%.
The arguments are deeply questionable now that renewable technologies are cost competitive, but the “high cost” argument ignores the ongoing federal support for fossil fuel industries. A Forbes article in January warned all investors that “power sector decarbonization” is now an “imperative.” In almost all jurisdictions, utility-scale wind and solar are now the cheapest source of new electricity without subsidies. … New unsubsidized wind costs $28-54/megawatt-hour (MWh), and solar costs $32-44/MWh, while new combined cycle natural gas costs $44-68/MWh.
Comparing the real costs of generation resources is complicated. Subsidies, both direct and indirect, as well as “offloaded” costs, need to be included. Forbes said their cost comparisons were “without subsidies,” meaning without “direct subsidies” — or specific government funding meant to reduce the retail price of building or fueling a generation resource. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) describes these subsidies as “pre-tax subsidies”, which in 2017, globally amounted to roughly $500 billion a year. Continue reading