Thanking Those Who Make EnergyShare Work

Governor Terry McAuliffe in group photo with Virginia EnergyShare case workers and other partners

Since expanding its EnergyShare program in 2015, Dominion Energy Virginia has helped 35,000 people pay their heating and electric bills and has weatherized 18,800 homes. In addition, the utility has hosted 700 outreach events to share practical, energy-saving tips that enabled participants to reduce energy usage by 7.5% on average.

Those were some of the figures batted around today in an event Dominion hosted to thank its EnergyShare partners, including the United Way of Greater Richmond and Petersburg, the Salvation Army, and nearly 100 social services departments across Virginia.

As part of a legislative deal that froze utilities’ electric rates and declared an increase in solar energy to be in the public interest, Dominion committed an additional $42 million over five years — the money comes from shareholders, employees, and individual donors — to expand the program that had been in existence since 1982.

Energy Share is “one of those things that our state offers that other states don’t offer,” bragged an enthusiastic Governor Terry McAuliffe, who has participated in two previous annual Energy Share events. And that’s not just McAuliffe hyperbole. While other states do run energy assistance programs, none is as comprehensive as Virginia’s, which couples weatherization with emergency aid as well as initiatives targeting homeless veterans and the disabled.

The Commonwealth of Virginia provides a means-tested energy assistance program for low-income residents. But that doesn’t cover everyone in need, Boxley Kortni, a Hanover County social services case worker, explained to Bacon’s Rebellion. Hardly a day passes without someone approaching social services for assistance. They’re typically poor or working poor, and they’ve had an emergency — big medical bills, or they were ill and couldn’t work, or their car broke down and they couldn’t get to work.

Kortni cited the recent case of a woman who stayed in the hospital while her young son recovered from surgery. Her job offered no vacation or time off, so she didn’t get paid. Many people live paycheck to paycheck, and this woman was no exception, and she failed to pay her electric bill. And because she worked, she made too much money to qualify for state assistance.

EnergyShare assistance is not limited to covering electric bills. It can be given to anyone who heats a home with fuel oil, kerosene or wood. Dominion provides the money, budgeting $8.8 million this year. In Central Virginia, United Way strokes the checks, and local social services case workers identify the recipients.

The private program is more flexible than the state program, and case workers have some latitude in how it is administered. Donna Latta, who works for King & Queen County, says she looks at the client’s case history to be sure they are experiencing a genuine emergency and aren’t routinely skipping payments. Say a client owes $500, she says. EnergyShare can pay up to $600, but she likes to see the client chip in a little of his or her own money. She also is wary of clients who come back over and over, which indicates that they aren’t dealing with an emergency but a chronic problem. “People have to take responsibility,” she says.

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8 responses to “Thanking Those Who Make EnergyShare Work”

  1. Steve Haner Avatar
    Steve Haner

    “As part of a legislative deal that froze utilities’ electric rates and declared an increase in solar energy to be in the public interest….”

    You just had to spoil a feel good story (truly)….. with propaganda. Well, as a newly minted lobbyist for the Virginia Poverty Law Center, I have to swing at this easy one. The SCC reported in September that absent that legislation in 2015, it probably would have ordered refunds earlier this year. Something between $133 and $175 million. About 60 percent of that would have gone to residential consumers. So maybe a few bucks for low income customers (money Dominion uses to pay itself, after all!) wasn’t such a good trade off?

    But there is more! The SCC also used to have authority to lower rates under certain circumstances, circumstances which would have been met in 2015 – absent that legislation you praise. That might have cut residential bills $200 million or more for several years running! Including for those EnergyShare clients. So no, we are not better off (nor are they) because of that bill.

    I think the EnergyShare program is great, I’m glad they do it, and I think I wrote about the APCO version of that when it started way back when we were at the Roanoke Times together, Jim. But that 2015 bill was not a good thing in any way for any consumer in Dominion’s territory, despite the window dressing.

    1. Agreed. There are, of course, circumstances in which a rate freeze benefits consumers — briefly, at least. But the future is full of economic factors affecting electricity sales and costs — some known and many unknown. The reason we have the SCC is to exercise judgment on behalf of the public to keep rates as low as “just and reasonable” — which means it requires that rates go down when the company’s level of profit gets too high, and go up when the company requires extra income. That “regulatory bargain” is a two-way street. What Dominion has done is reduce that to one-way: locking in base rates during a time when base net income looks likely to decline, with its most volatile costs separately covered by automatic rate adjustments (notably fuel and purchased power and the cost of new generation construction), with the whole freeze arrangement set to expire before it can backfire. Granted, such a deal provides a utility with a powerful extra incentive to economize and there’s good that may come from that — but Dominion already has a reputation for being a well run, efficient organization, so the risk is there that costs which can be postponed beyond the rate freeze, simply will be.

  2. This is a helpful program, but similar to the kind that nearly every utility has. Every investor-owned utility in the states that I worked had similar programs going back decades.

    I agree with the other comments. The rate freeze and the pipeline take billions that should remain in the hands of customers and pass them on to the shareholders. The benefits to low income ratepayers would be far greater if there was no rate freeze and no pipeline than they receive from this program. Better yet they should keep this program and drop the freeze and the pipeline. In return, we should give the utility a way to make money in a way that is good for all of their customers.

  3. LarrytheG Avatar

    All things equal and they never are – I think Higher Ed should hire the DOM lobbyists to “make their case”.

    Why I bet Higher Ed would not only get approval to raise tuition even higher but they’d get more money from the State also!


  4. vaconsumeradvocate Avatar

    LarrytheG you are definitely right about that!

    Other states don’t need a program as comprehensive as EnergyShare because their rules for cut-offs, etc. and other state supports are far more consumer friendly – generous – than Virginia’s. This way Dominion gets to look like it’s responsible for helping those who have challenges. Instead we could keep folks from having such a tough time from the start.

  5. LarrytheG Avatar

    One of the areas not addressed here is that despite the impression that Dom powers Virginia with some help from ApCo.. there are, in fact, quite a few other utilities in Va – co-ops – of which I do not quite fully understand how they set their rates .. how much the SCC is involved in that and if they can, independent form Dom , have their own energy saving programs.

    I KNOW in my own region – Rappahannock does have a water heater program that allows REC to put the heater in and hook it to a controller that they can use to cut power to the heater at peak periods.

    So I’m sure that Acbar and Tom know some answers here but are all the other utilities and cooperatives in Virginia operating independent of Dom and under control of the SCC such that each of them can, with SCC approval, operate their own programs?

    Seems like all we hear about are Doms and never the others.. here… probably because Dom has ready access for their own PR efforts and the others not! 😉

  6. The SCC regulates member-owned utilities (cooperatives) in the same way they regulate investor-owned utilities.

    Dominion serves the majority of Virginia’s population and their headquarters is in Virginia (contrary to APCo). They are Virginia’s dominant utility both economically and politically. Much of the generation utilized by co-ops and municipalities in Virginia is generated by Dominion or from Projects co-owned by Dominion and ODEC.

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