The Wildest Energy Whirlwind Ever is Underway

by Steve Haner

If Bacon’s Rebellion at times has been “Dominion Pravda,” providing a window into that corporate giant’s C suite, our friends at the Virginia Mercury sometimes take the opposite role of “Environmental People’s Daily.”

Its story today is a good example, for what it includes and what it does not. The long, detailed and worthwhile summary of energy and environment issues coming to the 2020 General Assembly has a glaring omission. It makes no reference to the Transportation and Climate Initiative. If anybody could get a straight answer out of the Northam Administration, you’d think it would be Virginia Mercury. The silence is deafening and perhaps significant.

At some point soon somebody has to say something, wouldn’t you think? In others states in the proposed interstate compact, governors are being pinned down, actual TCI bills are pending, legislators are taking positions, coalitions are forming. This will have to happen in Virginia soon if the organizers of TCI want their proposed memorandum of understanding signed by enough states to actually impose the carbon caps and taxes by 2022. 

Maybe they hope you are distracted. As the Virginia Mercury story details, and anybody reading the incoming bills can see, this is going to be the most confusing and contentious energy session ever, with the battle between various factions seeking to save the planet as a whole, to hold back oceans which have been rising for millennia, to completely rebuild the energy industry to fit their green vision, to give you a host of choices where to buy your electricity or to keep the power monopolies intact but rein in their unregulated pricing advantages.

You might think, how can the utilities survive this onslaught? The attack’s fractured nature – its lack of a coherent goal or strategy – adds strength to the advantage already enjoyed by the status quo. Election results notwithstanding, don’t sell your utility stock just yet. Many of the desired energy projects will come with healthy profit margins for the utility, as noted in this story about the bill implementing the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.

You want other examples of how wild this session is going to be on these issues? Check out these “minor” bills:

HB 389 Hurricane and Flooding Risk Reduction and Bond Rating Protection Act of 2020; established, report. This will create a new state bureaucracy to fund and build flood control projects, comparable to the task of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Maybe the feds will eventually pay?

“The Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) shall consult with Louisiana’s Legislative Fiscal Office to assess the increased state and local tax flows in Louisiana that resulted from post-Katrina federal spending, including spending for civil works storm and flooding risk reduction projects.”

HB 443 Coal combustion residuals impoundment; Giles and Russell Counties; closure. This is a Northern Virginia Democrat seeking to impose the same expensive coal ash clean up approach that Dominion accepted on the Appalachian Power Company’s big ash accumulations, and the related costs on that utility’s customers (way out of her district).

HB 432 Public utilities; use of small, woman-owned, or minority-owned business. Basically, this says the State Corporation Commission cannot reject a cost as unreasonable or imprudent if the reason the cost is higher than a competitor is the source is a small, woman-owned or minority-owned business. The preferred vendor set aside approach comes to your electric bill.

HB 454 Virginia Public Procurement Act; purchase programs for recycled goods; climate positive materials. This one, from a freshman Republican, wants to dictate that the state buy only “certified climate positive” materials, with something called a net negative carbon footprint. Do they get double points if made by small, woman-owned or minority-owned companies?

One more: HB 413 Subdivision ordinance; energy efficiency and renewable energy provisions. Authorizes a local governing body to include in its subdivision ordinance provisions for establishing minimum standards of energy efficiency and establishing and maintaining access to sources of renewable energy.” This would be challenging if done statewide by building experts through the building codes, but doing it by political fiat in the subdivision ordinance? With myriad local variations?

For more than a year these issues have been a focus for me, with one bottom line point to be made: As a consumer, don’t assume anybody is really looking out for you. The SCC takes some steps but has its hands tied, the Attorney General is subject to political pressure and takes money from all sides, and the others gain profits if they prevail (including the big users seeking to flee the monopolies). Consumers just pay. There may be a comparable list of good pro-consumer bills, but it may take some digging to compile it.

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17 responses to “The Wildest Energy Whirlwind Ever is Underway

  1. Well, you sort of tickle me. The SCC has been kneecapped and Dominion lovingly allowed to screw electricity consumers and you’re all worried about the Dems and their secret plan to tax the bejesus out of the innocent consumers.


    I guess you gotta do a certain amount of that for the TJ folks.

    Who did it to the SCC and gave away the store to Dominion?

    Oh wait! – it’s the Dems who screwed taxpayers over the conformity thing… oops… no… BUT .. They were SURELY COMPLICIT, so they’re guilty as sin also and heckfire – the GOP would NEVER had done those things unless the Dems went along with it… right?

    I would argue that you doing a whole bunch of distraction here … The GOP has been anything but “consumer-friendly” in the last few years.

    Lord. Lord.

    I think…. yes I know this is problematical… but the Dems – at least some of them – actually do feel the hot and fetid breath of those same Goppers who loved DOminion and hated the SCC now all atwitter about “hurting” consumers and such.

    You GOP folks… I dunno…. it’s a spin a minute……


    • I’ve documented well and often that the problem is bipartisan. My regular readers know that, and you watch – this year will be no different. The RGGI bill I’ve already highlighted that mandates utility-owned projects, a major gift to Dominion, has yet another Democratic sponsor. Likewise some of the strongest skeptics are Republicans (i.e. Lee Ware.) But enjoy your talking points, Larry. No question, if the D’s had stood united against Dominion in 2014, 2015 etc. it would have helped, made more Republicans wake up. When they finally did on one floor amendment, one!, in 2018, it was an earthquake.

  2. Buckle your seat belts, ladies and gentlemen, we expect to experience some turbulence ahead.

    • it boggles my mind that the GOP GA gave Dominion the tax refunds, the excess profits, the coal cleanup – with profits, and the offshore wind – and now they’re whining about RGGI “turbulence”.

      Where were you guardians of taxpayers when the GOP was giving away the store to Dominion?


      ya’ll have no shame!

      • Really, Larry? How many times did Bacon and Haner go after the Republican – led GA on each one of the matters you cite? A half dozen times? A dozen times? This blog may slant right (with notable exceptions) but Republicans hardly get free ride.

        This little ditty earned me some Republican hate mail …

        So, when you write, “Where were you guardians of taxpayers when the GOP was giving away the store to Dominion?” I don’t know what guardians you mean. But if you mean Bacon and Haner – I’d say they were trying to guard the taxpayers’ money.

        • naw – there is a distinct difference …

          Dominion – it’s a darn shame the SCC was kneccapped and Dominion is running amok..

          Dems – lord, lord grab your daughters and get your wallet the radical leftist Dems are coming to get your money!

  3. Seeing this list of pending bills makes the point that the best way to defuse this proliferation of special-interest energy Christmas Trees is to have a strong State Corporation Commission to which all such matters are routinely referred for an expert independent analysis before the bills are heard in GA committee.

    In some States, maybe — not in Virginia.

    • Indeed – yes … if the “theory” is to do fiscal analysis on legislation – and the idea behind that analysis is to protect taxpayers… the idea of the SCC doing the fiscal analysis on Dominion stuff is out the window…. no go… in fact, go gut the SCC so they can’t even do proper regulation!

  4. Our General Assembly … often wrong but never in doubt. A part time group of fops and dandies who prance into Richmond each year to debate topics they don’t understand such as fisheries science with menhaden, energy futures and economics with Dominion and subdivision planning. Unable or unwilling to master the material themselves (and lacking the funding for staffs who might be able to understand the material) they call for the lobbyists for provide expertise. The same lobbyists who work for companies which can make unlimited campaign contributions.

    Wouldn’t be easier to just let the lobbyist community nominate 140 representatives to the GA and do away with these expensive and utterly useless elections?

    • You have hit upon the weakness that I worry about a lot. The GA is indeed part-time. In fact, it is probably the most part-time state legislature in the country. At most, they are in session for only 60 days. And there is a lot of complicated, controversial stuff thrown at them during that time.

      Other factors make it even worse. Twenty or so years ago, there were special study committees that met during the interim between sessions to examine complicated issues. With a couple of exceptions, that does not happen now. Lawyers and farmers making up a much smaller proportion of the GA membership is one reason for there being less work during the interim. Lawyers and farmers, unlike teachers, businessmen, and public employees, have more flexibility in their schedules and can make time to come to Richmond multiple times during the interim.

      Another factor is seniority. There is more turnover in the GA than there used to be. Therefore, there are fewer members who have had the time to acquire the knowledge needed to deal with these issues.

      All of this makes them even more dependent on the lobbyists, regardless of the issue of campaign contributions.

      There are so many new Democrats, who may be smart and competent, but they know little about the issues that they are facing. But, being new and now in the majority, they are so anxious to do big things. As Terry McAullife was quoted as saying in an article in yesterday’s New York Times, “This is really a once-in-a-lifetime moment for us. We’ve been working on this for 25 years, and voters are desperate for Democrats to lead. For us, it’s do something or risk getting sent home in two years.” They need to slow down, take their time, learn the details, listen to folks from all perspectives (like you, Steve, Acbar, and others here on BR). The result would be better legislation all around.

      • My skeleton of an idea.

        1. GA members need more expertise for many reasons including the part time nature of their political jobs.

        2. If you give GA members money to hire bigger staffs they will hire relatives, cronies, children of campaign contributors, etc.

        3. Let JLARC establish a policy analysis consulting organization where General Assembly members are the only customers. Staff it with some gray hairs, some seasoned private sector people and plenty of hyper-smart whiz kids.

        4. Every GA members get a budget to “buy” consulting services from the JLARC organization equivalent to 2 FTEs per year (Say $300,000 per GA member per year). They don’t have to spend their stipend but they can only use it for people from the JLARC organization and the work is done on a project-by-project basis with JLARC determining how the projects are staffed.

        5. Total cost = $300,000 * 140 = $42m. Far less than what the special interests spend on lobbyists and campaign contributions per year.

        Something has to balance the asymmetric knowledge balance between Virginia special interests and Virginia’s elected officials.

  5. First glance thoughts:

    HB389 – Mindless big government expansion with a somewhat hidden wealth transfer and a probable payday for developers. The problem is real. However, this problem requires a comprehensive solution. Banning new development in flood prone areas and areas which might become flood-prone over the next 20 years. Charging local taxpayers for the costs of “flood-proofing” their jurisdictions. Adding an escalator to the tax base for flood prone area clean up.

    HB443 – I agree. One of the biggest concerns about the Dominion coal ash is its proximity to major waterways in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Inland coal ash might be fine to be covered and capped. Not all coal ash dumps are created equal.

    HB432 – Anybody from NoVa ought to be able to hear the whoosh of money here. Not necessarily anti-NoVa money but a money tsunami nonetheless. Lessons from federal government contracting – all costs must count!. I might come out of retirement on this one (after identifying as a woman – see, that was easy). The mandated MWBE subs can cost a fortune and the prime can’t be held accountable for the overall price escalation in the bid. First things first – use as much MWBE owned labor as possible. Demand quality in the MWBE sub-contractors’ personnel and overpay for that quality. Overpay a lot. Who cares? Just demand overqualified people. Why not? The extra cost is free in terms of deciding the bid.

    HB454 – Buy only “certified climate positive” materials. And that means a net negative carbon footprint. The manufacturing and distribution of the product has to take more carbon out of the environment than it puts in. Example: Make woolen stocking caps on a sheep farm with lots of trees on the property. The farm is net carbon negative. Perhaps negative enough that even after agricultural operations there is still negative carbon which can be attributed to the wool. As long as the balance of negative carbon “credits” is big enough to offset all the downstream generating of carbon you can call the end product carbon negative. The idea of the state buying everything net carbon negative seems very problematic. How does make a truck carbon neutral other than having the truck maker buy carbon credits and drastically increase the cost of the truck? Quick – someone find out who Al Gore has been meeting with recently and the buy stock at scale. Also remember to short everything else.

    HB413 – Only allows localities to make requirements of subdivisions regarding energy efficiency. Who cares. This becomes a local matter. I’d think conservatives would love this bill (and pretty much any other bill exsanguinating Dillon’s Rule in Virginia). This bill allows localities to decide. The next one will mandate these measures for every locality. Look! Up in the sky! It’s a bird; it’s a plane … no, it’s Virginia’s housing costs!

    I love to see these articles about actual pending legislation. We may need to start a Clown Show / English, English / Clown Show dictionary. Which industries does this bill favor? Which companies are the biggest in Virginia within those industries? Have they stuffed enough GA pockets for this to pass?

  6. re: the part time General Assembly

    like a lot of occupations – there are two parts –

    1. – understanding the “content” involved
    2. – performing the duties

    so like a teacher – if they really don’t understand the material they are teaching – it’s a fail.

    conversely – if they understand the material but they suck as a teacher – it’s also a fail.

    so for the GA –

    1. understand the issues – pros and cons – unintended consequences, be aware of rent-seekers and crony capitalists.

    2. know how to properly legislate so that the resulting law does what you did intend , does not have loopholes exploited, or become fertile fodder for the rent-seekers and crony-capitalists.

    In a part-time legislature – two important things need to assist the part-timers who just don’t have the time to do complete due diligence.

    1. – lobbyists – yes – but you need them from both sides – so that the pros and cons are well presented.

    2. – a competent full-time legislative staff that does the research and lays out a complete road map, options and recommendations.

    What you’re really needing from the GA – is elected that are ethical and have good judgement – if they are presented with complete information and good analysis from professional staff and pros and cons from interest groups.

    Unfortunately, not all elected are “good” for all constituents (which are taxpayers AND businesses as well as institutions that serve both).

    So we end up with what I consider a continuing debacle on some things – especially the way the utility monopoly “works” in Virginia.

    It was bad enough that the GA went out of its way to make sure Dominion got everything they wanted… but when they tinkered with the SCC, it bordered on malfeasance and basically threw away any pretence of guarding the interests of consumers – AND competition for other businesses. We have other businesses trying to locate in Virginia that have to do “end-runs” around Dominion because of what the GA did.

    It was NOT due to the part-time nature of the GA. They KNEW perfectly well what they were doing when they neutered the SCC. That was no accident caused by ignorance of the issues. It was purposeful and intended.

    The same folks then tried to deny health care to hundreds of thousands of Virginians even when it was shown to actually HELP the budget, then they pilloried the Gov for taking care of the 10% with a provider tax. Mind you, these are same folks who essentially took millions from taxpayers and gave it to Dominion.

    And then the very same folks FAILED to deal with the conformity issue all the while promoting themselves as protecting taxpayers from the “radical” tax and spenders… who also kill babies and are coming to get your guns, etc, etc, ad nauseum.

    Yep. So, the part-time legislature is an excuse. These guys knew full well what they were doing – they did pretty much exactly what Dominion wanted.

    So – no, I think it is entirely possible to have an effective part-time legislature – if you have professional staff and allow pro/con lobbyists and at the end of the day you do make ethical and fair decisions in the legislation.

    • Teachers don’t teach everything to everybody. They teach a specific subject to a certain age student. They also only need to get the student from his or her current level of understanding (at the end of 7th grade for example) to the next level of understanding (appropriate for the end of 8th grade). The best math teachers are not the best mathematicians they are the best in the art of teaching young people. Our legislators vote on everything, often understanding very little of the material at hand. Over time, I am sure they learn but the world changes quickly and they don’t keep up. Who could keep up working part time?

    • “It was NOT due to the part-time nature of the GA. They KNEW perfectly well what they were doing when they neutered the SCC. That was no accident caused by ignorance of the issues. It was purposeful and intended.”

      Oh yes, the structural corruption woven throughout Virginia’s state legislature plays a big role. However, I doubt most of the legislators who supported neutering the SCC really understood what the implications of that action were. They were just following orders from Dick Saslaw and Tommy Norment.

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