Tag Archives: Stephen D. Haner

Saving the Planet Sometime Soon After Never

$20 a pop to give our neighbors one of these, buried on our electric bill.

What feeds persistent skepticism about those highly touted energy efficiency programs that we utility ratepayers get billed for? The actual reports on their costs and outcomes do not help.

Case in point: A quarterly report from Dominion Energy Virginia about its on-going efforts to reduce energy usage for low income or elderly residential customers. The utility spent more than $450 per household, a total of more than $713,000 to go into 1,568 homes, mostly apartments.  Continue reading

A Ray of Hope Ends a Troubled Week

State Sen. Chap Petersen, D-Fairfax

Just when hope has largely departed, a ray of sunshine.  Senator Chap Petersen of the 34th District in Fairfax showed up in my inbox with a nice message on why he was pleased to attend this week’s festivities in Jamestown.

Why did he feel the need to explain, I wondered?  I didn’t have to wonder long, as this screed appeared on the Arbiter of Leftist Political Correctness, Blue Virginia, casting Petersen into Democratic purgatory.  Blue Virginia, of course, is a perfect showcase for that strain of potty-mouth Democrats who taught Donald Trump his political manners. Resistance?  No, just rude and crude and nasty.  Ibraheem Samirah is their hero of the week, Petersen the goat.  Continue reading

Court Backs Little Debbie In Tax Dispute

McKee Foods’ Little Debbie

Don’t underestimate Little Debbie – the spunky tyke took on the Augusta County tax collectors and won.  But the county still has her money.

The Virginia Supreme Court has sided with manufacturer McKee Foods Corporation, which makes the Little Debbie snack products, in a dispute over the tax assessment on its 828,000-square-foot factory in Augusta County. The July 18 opinion by Chief Justice Donald Lemons (here) reverses a lower court decision, rejects the county’s existing valuations and sends the dispute back to the local circuit court for another look.  Continue reading

No Appeal Filed on RGGI Regulation, Now In Force

Virginia’s participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) is now fully authorized under a new state regulation, and the deadline to appeal that regulation has now passed with no appeal filed.  The text of the regulation is here.

Language inserted by General Assembly Republicans into the current state budget merely puts RGGI membership and its related carbon tax on hold.  It did not overturn the regulation, which went into effect June 26. The outcome of the November election will likely determine whether that roadblock remains in place beyond next summer, when the current budget provisions expire.   Continue reading

$7 More on Dominion Bills for Transmission

Two of seventeen towers supporting the new 500kv transmission line across the James River, paid for through Rider T on your bills. Dominion photo.

Electricity bills for Dominion Energy Virginia customers jump again in September – almost $7 monthly for a residential customer using 1000 kilowatt hours – as it begins to collect on $845 million in transmission system investments over the past year.  A similar level of investment is planned for next year.

The rate hike will appear on the bills in the transmission charge, Rider T, following approval of the annual Rider T update by the State Corporation Commission July 25.  The final order is hereContinue reading

New Industrial Rate Still Challenged By Microsoft

Outdoor data modules at Microsoft’s Boydton, VA server facility. Photo: Microsoft

A hearing on Dominion Energy Virginia’s proposal for a new market-based electricity rate for its largest customers opened Thursday with the announcement it had settled its differences with the State Corporation Commission staff and that part of the dispute was over.  (The case file is here.)

As the SCC staff lined up with the utility, one of Dominion’s competitors – which has intervened in the case – took a harder line against proposal.  Direct Energy Services LLC’s attorney Cliona M. Robb complained this is not a true market-based rate, but “a means for Dominion to negotiate special deals” without the SCC oversight usually required on single-company contracts.

One of the huge customers Dominion and Direct Energy are fighting over, Microsoft with its Virginia server farms, showed no enthusiasm for the compromise the SCC staff had negotiated.  Microsoft is the only Dominion customer taking an active role in the dispute.  It complains that the new rules are too vague and too favorable to the utility.  It wants them to be much clearer, adding an “or else.”  Continue reading

New Front In Dominion’s War Against Competition

Dominion Energy Virginia has opened a new and aggressive front in its economic war against companies seeking to offer Virginians retail choice for electricity service, directly attacking two firms promising 100 percent renewable energy to lure away environmentally minded customers.

In separate filings on July 15, the utility charged that both Direct Energy Services LLC and Calpine Energy Solutions LLC are not meeting the requirements under the law to claim they are offering 100 percent renewable energy.   It asks the State Corporation Commission for a declaratory judgment on those requirements and refuses to transfer any more of its customer accounts over to those firms until the SCC rules.  Here is the motion against Direct Energy and here is the similar move against Calpine.

Both companies quickly responded with motions for  injunctive relief, asking the SCC to order Dominion to continue transferring customers until the dispute is resolved.  How many customers have signed up for the competitive service providers only to be held in limbo is not included in the filings, although Calpine provided a confidential list to the SCC.  Continue reading

Koch Blames Boards, Presidents for Tuition Hikes

Former Old Dominion University president and current emeritus professor of economics James V. Koch is willing to shoulder his share of the blame.  “I was president for fifteen years, so I sang some of the same songs that presidents and administrators sing these days.”

Those would be the siren songs sung when seeking major and continuous increases in university tuition and fees, Koch told The Chronicle of Higher Education in an interview on the issue.  It is the subject of his new book, “The Impoverishment of the American College Student,” just released by Brookings Institution Press.

What he is saying is hardly a fresh insight for Bacon’s Rebellion.  The message may resonate a bit because of who is saying it.  Continue reading

Health Insurance Check-Up; Migration to Medicaid

Number of carriers selling individual health insurance policies for next year by locality. Most places have only one or two. Source: SCC. Click for larger view.

The number of Virginians buying health insurance as individuals is shrinking and may shrink more, with two trends getting most of the credit:  Expansion of Medicaid eligibility and a change in the law that allowed those in business as sole proprietors to buy policies in the small group marketplace.

Individual coverage peaked at 418,000 Virginians in 2016 and dropped to 300,000 by March of this year.  The projection for 2020 is about 303,000 covered that way, the State Corporation Commission was told in a presentation on the health insurance market released July 18.  You can see the full presentation here. Continue reading

Sense and Nonsense on Climate Armageddon

R. Dean Decker, Ph.D.

A good sense discussion on the Most Important Threat to Human History was provided July 14 in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, in a guest column from a retired University of Richmond biology professor.  Few discussions of the climate change controversy have come closer to my personal views, but Dean Decker has that doctorate from North Carolina State so let him make the case.  Read it in full here.

The nonsense appeared quickly with what I suspect will be one of many letters to the editor seeking to tear down his argument (and I suspect the man, but I hope the RTD will weed out those letters.)  The letter accused him of “a disservice to science” and inspired me to give Decker’s column a slightly wider audience. Continue reading

Virginia Unemployment Fund Gains In Good Times

2018 labor force participation rates. Source: VEC. Click for larger view.

Laissez les bon temps roulez. Virginia’s strong employment climate is adding a financial spare tire to Virginia’s unemployment trust fund, now above 83 percent solvency by one actuarial measure and exceeding a federal recommended minimum balance on another measure.

The annual unemployment fund status update for a legislative oversight commission Wednesday lasted about 30 minutes, with the chairman, Del. Lee Ware, R-Powhatan, noting it was far shorter and less dramatic than some previous meetings in tight times, adding “it’s a good drama not to have.” The presentation is here.

The projected $1.45 billion fund balance for next December 31 will be another record, said Virginia Employment Commissioner Ellen Marie Hess. The figures used are not adjusted for inflation, however, and the state has been at higher solvency levels in previous periods of prosperity. The funds are just sitting there earning interest and awaiting the next recession, which history deems inevitable.  Continue reading

Virginia Mercury At One: Kicking GOP Butt

Success and quality demand recognition, so congratulations to the folks at Virginia Mercury for one year of e-publication.  It represents the future of journalism, which is nothing short of tragic.

Not that a deep progressive bent (or conservative for that matter) has been unknown in journalism.  Most of the great early publications had political backers, and truly independent reporting has been largely mythical.  Everything old is new again.

I remember years ago learning that the page layout mock-ups marked certain advertising blocks so, for example, no story would be placed about lung cancer on the page selling Marlboros, or the plane crash wouldn’t be reported next to the Piedmont Airlines ad.  But with those ads for all to see, we knew who was paying the bills for the daily output of The Roanoke Times.  We have no idea who is paying the bills and potentially pulling the strings at the new internet periodicals and dailies.  Continue reading

VRS Hybrid Plan Drawing Even Fewer Contributions

Virginia Retirement System overall investment returns, all funds. Source: JLARC

The percentage of state employees making voluntary contributions to their own retirement pot, contributions which are matched with free money, has continued its rapid decline over the past year.  As of March 2019, fewer than half of state employees who should be investing in their own retirement are doing so, according to a Virginia Retirement System update Monday.

A year earlier, according to the comparable report given the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission and reported on Bacon’s Rebellion, 58 percent were contributing something and drawing in matching funds.  A year before that it was 79 percent.  Just how much money the 52 percent adding nothing this past year failed to invest, and how many matching dollars were therefore not captured, is not in the report.  Continue reading

Yes, Mental Illness is Key, Says U.S. Secret Service

The United States Secret Service, probably not a tool of the gun-loving American right, has just issued a report on 2018 mass shootings with a strong focus on the mental health problems displayed by the shooters. Clearly it didn’t get the same memo received by our friends at Blue Virginia, who think any such discussion unfairly stigmatizes the mentally ill and distracts from the real villains: guns themselves.

Let me get this right: Democrats don’t want to stigmatize the mentally ill, but are all too happy to blame the millions of law-abiding gun owners and subject them all to new regulations or restrictions, up to and including search, seizure and confiscation?  Continue reading

Virginia Tax On Racinos Among Lowest in U.S.

2017 State revenue on gambling operations. Click for larger view. Source: American Gaming Association Annual Report. Virginia should appear on future lists.

If Virginia is going to sell its soul, we should at least get the market price.

The Virginia Racing Commission is starting to publish monthly reports on the cash flow to Colonial Downs and to the government under the new state-granted monopoly to operate gambling dens.  Any relationship to horse racing in these establishments is just an elaborate ruse, although there is this interesting new word in the industry: Racinos.

The April, May and June reports, which you can find here, track the slow roll opening of the slot machine facilities in Vinton, Richmond and at the main racetrack site in New Kent County.  Only the June report picks up some of the operation at the facility just opened on Midlothian Turnpike in Richmond, the excitement captured by this Richmond Times-Dispatch accountContinue reading