Tag Archives: Stephen D. Haner

GE Sues Siemens Over Dominion Data Leak

by Steve Haner

General Electric (GE) has filed suit seeking major monetary damages from Siemens Energy in a Virginia federal court, alleging “willful and malicious misappropriation of GE trade secrets” as they competed to be suppliers to Dominion Energy Virginia. Dominion is not a named defendant, but an employee (reportedly now gone) is accused of sharing GE’s data with Siemens.

A copy of the petition is here, posted by Powermag.com in one of the many trade publication stories about the dispute. Here is one from Reuters and another from Barron’s, which has a paywall. General Electric is represented by the Richmond law firm Spotts Fain, P.C.

All Dominion ratepayers have a stake in assuring that the coming gigantic capital projects we will spend the rest of our lives paying for are built for at prices set by competition, not by insider dealing. On this, stockholder and ratepayer interests should align.

The allegation is that a senior Dominion employee – named in the pleading — provided GE confidential proprietary bid information to Siemens, giving Siemens a major advantage as it competed over a series of requests for natural gas generation proposals, contacts GE did not win. Continue reading

A Last-Ditch Effort to Improve Regulatory Balance

By Steve Haner

In a matter of weeks, Dominion Energy Virginia is expected to initiate the long-awaited review of its revenues, expenses, and profits in front of the State Corporation Commission, the first since 2015. A series of bills in recent years has set rules for that process which constrain the SCC’s discretion and fix the game in the utility’s favor.

Behind the smoke and mirrors, Dominion’s goals were clearly discernable: Despite growing profits, prevent any reduction in base rates. Keep the base rates unchanged even though more and more operating costs were being moved over to activity-specific rate adjustment clauses. Limit or eliminate the threat of major refunds to customers. Somehow, every bill ended up accomplishing those things for the utility.

Efforts in 2020 to return the regulatory rules to their pre-2007, or even pre-2015 status, and restore some lost SCC flexibility, were mostly unsuccessful. Is it therefore too late to change a rate case about to start? Bills that pass in the 2021 General Assembly go into effect in July, unless they are emergency bills that need super majority votes. There likely is not a super majority ready to dismantle the Rube Goldberg machine built to protect Dominion’s stockholders.

But a simple enactment clause may be able to reach back and change the rules on the rate case. It was attached to a successful bill in 2020 and the SCC recognized the statutory change in the similar rate case for Appalachian Power Company, which also had begun before the July 1 enactment date.  If the General Assembly clearly expresses an ex post facto intent, it can be valid.  Continue reading

Northam Again Targets Virginia Business Taxpayers

Finance Secretary Aubrey Layne. Photo credit: Daily News.

By Steve Haner

Washington giveth and Richmond taketh away. Once again, the Northam Administration wants Virginia to ignore business income tax changes made at the federal level because they would lower state revenue.

Governor Ralph Northam’s finance secretary was in front of the House Appropriations Committee Friday explaining the reasoning and complaining that new federal rules represent a double tax benefit for the affected businesses. “Not only is it expensive, it’s bad tax policy and it’s bad public policy,” Aubrey Layne, a certified public accountant, said at one point in the meeting.  Continue reading

Employer COVID Mandates Might Outlive Pandemic

by Steve Haner

Virginia’s emergency temporary workplace standards on COVID-19 are one step closer to becoming permanent, over the continuing loud objections from employers that they are duplicative, expensive, and not making anybody any safer than existing health and safety protections already do.

UPDATE:  The text of the final permanent standard approved Wednesday was finally posted publicly Jan. 15.    Continue reading

How Texas Gets Standing Next Time: NPV

By Steve Haner

When Texas went to the United States Supreme Court last month complaining about the election processes in four other states, the case was dismissed on the issue of standing. The Court correctly replied Texas had no right to complain about how the Electoral College votes were determined in other states but could only control selection of its own presidential electors.

But what if Texas had been part of an interstate compact that required it to choose electors based on which candidate won the highest number of votes in the entire nation? That is what the National Vote Compact does: States that join, once enough agree, ignore the will of their own voters. They will certify electors pledged to the candidate with the most votes overall, even if that person failed to win in that state.  Suddenly they have a larger stake in how those other states run elections.  Continue reading

Virginia’s COVID Federal Grants Now At $5.8 Billion

Click for larger view.

By Steve Haner

Having received and mostly spent $3.1 billion in federal COVID-19 “relief” funding already, Virginia’s state and local governments now will have another $2.7 billion in the fourth and latest (but likely not last) federal spending bill tied to the ongoing pandemic and unemployment crisis.

The word relief is in apostrophes because Virginia’s state budget, as previously reported, is surprisingly strong in this time of economic stress, strong enough to pour dollars back into the state’s reserve funds Other states are in much worse shape. But just as with the individual COVID payments, need is not a factor. The idea is to stimulate personal – and government – spending across the board.  Continue reading

“Short Short” Doesn’t Work With Legislatures

Click for larger view. The proposed House of Delegate’s daily schedule for the short short session.

By Steve Haner

From our “Be Careful What You Ask for Department,” I give you the General Assembly “short session” that opens Wednesday, which is supposed to last only 30 calendar days instead of the usual 46.  The Republican effort to limit the session’s possible output and impact is being answered by Democrats seeking to accelerate the process instead.

I was asked recently what my priority was for the coming session. The answer is to avoid a deep vein thrombosis from sitting all day, five or six days a week, straining to follow intense legislative discussions and legislative maneuvers with lousy sound and a screen that looks like Hollywood Squares crossed with musical chairs.  Continue reading

SCC: “Independence, Honesty, Commitment to Law”

FERC Commissioner Mark Christie of Virginia. Virginia’s loss, the nation’s gain.

On Monday, Mark Christie took the oath of office to become a member of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and simultaneously vacated his seat on the Virginia State Corporation Commission. He did it sitting in one of the SCC courtrooms downtown.  The following is an excerpt from remarks (in full here) he made from the bench before U.S. Fourth Circuit Court Judge Steve Agee administered the oath to join FERC.

The reason I have so enjoyed this Commission, and am so sad to leave, is our culture. The culture of the SCC consists of the following three primary elements:

Independence – I was asked at my Senate hearing if I would respect the independence of FERC. I said absolutely, because I have spent 17 years respecting and defending the independence of the Virginia State Corporation Commission. Like FERC, the Va. SCC respects — but does not work for — the executive branch, we are independent, and our job is to defend the public interest, not enact the policy agendas of any Governor or any single member of the legislature.

And because we’re independent we hire professionals without regard to politics and we then we let our staff be professionals. We never tell them to make findings or take positions in cases to serve some political or special-interest agenda. Continue reading

CO2 Taxes, Gas Rationing Poll Badly With Voters

By Steve Haner

The Transportation and Climate Initiative plan to tax and ration motor fuels suffered a major setback just before Christmas, when eight of the eleven states considering it decided not to move forward in 2021. Less than two weeks earlier, advocates had released polling that claimed to show overwhelming popularity for the idea.

The well-funded supporters conducted a massive 60-question survey of 3,800 registered voters, including enough Virginians that a Virginia-only breakout had some credibility. Virginians contacted supported Virginia’s membership in the CO2 reduction scheme by three to one. Yet Virginia’s Governor Ralph Northam was one of those who did not sign on a few days later.

Perhaps he noticed how biased the key question was, including this: “Under TCI, states will cap carbon pollution from the transportation sector and require gasoline companies to pay for the carbon pollution produced by the fuel they sell by purchasing annual allowances.” Respondents were not told that the “gasoline companies” could be expected to pass those costs along to them.

When you tell voters a bit more about the proposal, including that they will have to pay, support rapidly disappears, although not completely.  Continue reading

2020 Was To Be Year of Climate Doom

By Steve Haner

So, let’s take another trip down Climate Catastrophe Memory Lane. Maybe 2020 was not such a bad year after all. It was certainly better than it was supposed to be. The pandemic might have been just a footnote to Climate Doom.

In 1987, the official Jeremiah of the movement, NASA’s James Hansen, predicted the world’s average surface temperature would be 3 degrees Celsius hotter in 2020. Remember, only 2 degrees C of added warmth is now the Line of Doom in the Paris Climate Agreement.

Instead, the 40-year increase, by satellite measurements, has been less than one half of a degree C. All other measurements fall short of the warning.

In 1978, we were warned that CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere would double by 2020, but they have risen from just over 310 parts per million to over 410, up about a third. They did not drop during the COVID recession despite major drops in human energy emissions. Interesting.

The optimists at the Associated Press published a claim in 2009 that China and India would have lower CO2 emissions by 2020 then they had reported in 2005.  China was supposed to go down 40% and India 205. Nope, failed again. China is up 85% and India up 150%. Both are building new coal power plants apace.

These are the first three failed predictions about 2020 climate catastrophe in a list of ten doozies compiled on JunkScience.com. Now there is a video (above). Miami was to be underwater by now (meaning Virginia Beach, too).  The citations are solid, and similar examples abound in the literature. Continue reading

Virginia and Other States Pass on Carbon Tax Pact

by Steve Haner

The organizers of the Transportation and Climate Initiative announced Monday that only four of the twelve jurisdictions involved have agreed to move forward and implement the carbon tax on motor fuels, and Virginia is not one of them.  Not yet.

The 2021 Virginia General Assembly could consider legislation to join the interstate compact in 2022, but the memorandum of understanding as it stands now only includes Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island, which are contiguous, and the District of Columbia.

New York, New Jersey, Maryland, and Pennsylvania were conspicuously absent along with Virginia.  One surprise that emerged, however, is that North Carolina is now part of the planning group.  The states that didn’t sign anything yet issued a statement of “next steps” that leaves the door open for the future.  Even those that did sign pushed the implementation back one year to 2023, reducing the need to act now.

The Governor Ralph Northam Administration has been silent so far on its plans or reasoning.  His apparent decision to at least delay a year on acting is prudent but leaves the issue alive for debate among 2021 candidates for statewide or legislative offices.  Continue reading

Tufts Study Projects Major TCI Carbon Taxes

Abandoned Gas

An abandoned gasoline station in North Carolina that failed after that state raised its fuel taxes substantially higher than Virginia’s.

By Steve Haner

Monday the organizers of the Transportation and Climate Initiative, a carbon tax and rationing regime for Virginia motor fuels, will be announcing details of the underlying interstate compact, according to media reports.

The media in Virginia has been disinterested in the issue, but the debate is raging in New England. The Boston Globe set the stage with a story last week. While 12 states and the District of Columbia have been involved in the planning, there remains some suspense over which states will press forward. New Hampshire is already out, and some other governors have expressed concerns.  Continue reading

Northam Would Save Most of Virginia’s New Cash

Source: Virginia DPB. Well, $1.9B is 8% of one year’s general fund revenue, but a fairly small cushion in a $141B two-year total budget. The blue lines represent the official Revenue Stabilization “Rainy Day” Fund and the orange lines are a cash reserve that represents legislative spending discipline.  (Who picked UVA colors?)

By Steve Haner

Other states are in trouble these days, but Virginia suddenly has about $1.5 billion in free cash flow to use over the next 18 months, Governor Ralph Northam announced Wednesday. About half of it ($750 million) will be placed into reserves or used to improve the financial health of the Virginia Retirement System.

The COVID-19 recession has certainly had an impact, reducing state spending, and adding unanticipated expenses. But the economic restrictions imposed here have not equaled those in other states, and the federal government has continued its spending on services and contracts in Virginia.

A series of pre-pandemic tax increases have also cushioned the blow, along with $3.3 billion sent to the state for COVID-related expenses.  Continue reading

With Chase Vs. Cox, The Field Looks Complete

Senator Amada Chase, R-Chesterfield

By Steve Haner

Give credit  where it is due: Chesterfield Senator Amanda Chase, R-Chesterfield, had the wisdom and courage to reverse a bad decision. Virginia’s Republicans may be back in the game for 2021.

Both Senator Chase and Delegate Kirk Cox had expressed a preference for their party to choose a nominee for governor by holding a June primary, likely to draw several hundred thousand voters to make the choice. A week ago, party insiders in a smoke-filled Zoom chat made the bonehead decision to hold a convention, where fewer than 1 percent of those likely primary voters might participate.

The other 99.5 percent of the Virginians who probably would have liked to pick a GOP nominee – but not spend their money and time on a convention — were just told: You don’t matter, we don’t care what you think, those of us who live and breathe the insider game want to pick. But we sure hope you show up in November and help us then. Brilliant.

Chase’s immediate reaction was to announce she would simply gather petitions and get on the November ballot as an independent, although you could expect her to claim the title “independent Republican.” She saw and grabbed the high ground, claiming (correctly) that the GOP was once again behaving as insular, out of touch and disinterested in broadening its appeal.

The decision sparked a war within the GOP, with primary advocates even attacking State Central Committee members. Somehow, however, Chase realized that was not a path to victory for her, and in fact guaranteed the Governor’s Mansion to the Democrats. Who wants to be another Russ Potts? So now she is back in the hunt for convention delegates.  Continue reading

Utilities Face Paperwork Blizzard to Provide Relief

by Steve Haner

Virginia utility customers who are behind on their bills in the COVID-19 recession are closer to receiving government payments toward their debts, but there is one more paperwork hurdle that may trip some of them.

A few days ago, the Virginia State Corporation Commission completed a preliminary allocation of the $100 million in federal CARES Act funding to various regulated electric, gas and water utilities around Virginia. The payments were authorized in the amended budget adopted by the recent General Assembly special session.  Continue reading