What Will Clean Virginia Be Asking For?

By Steve Haner

“Do you actively support efforts to reduce corruption in government?”   

Of course, any candidate presented with that question will reply yes. What do you expect?  “No, I’m quite passive about corruption in government. Live and let live.”

That was one of the softball questions on the Clean Virginia candidate survey form, which will be taking on added significance given the number of Clean Virginia-funded and endorsed candidates who were successful  Tuesday. You can read the full questionnaire here, and potential 2021 candidates are advised to print it out and start a file on coming roll call votes. 

Several very specific and profitable “asks” from the renewable energy industry were included, ending any doubt about a profit motive sharing space with other goals. The outlines of the 2020 General Assembly session take shape.

Clean Virginia reported donations of almost $371,000 in 2018 and 2019, including one $5,000 check to a Republican, Senator Amanda Chase. That’s why she held on! Its founder Michael Bills gave even more, none to Republicans.  Apparently, a shorter list of candidates received the Clean Virginia endorsement, which you can explore here, with Tuesday’s winners helpfully noted already. (It got some wrong, by the way.)

There were two sets of issue questions on the document after the initial candidate information section one, and their significance was explained by political director Lizzie Hylton when she shared the document a few days before the election:

“….unlike a lot of other groups, we will fund candidates we do not endorse. For candidates who are only interested in our funding and not our endorsement (we’ve had several), we only require that they complete Sections I & II of the Questionnaire.”

Section one is just the candidate information. The section two necessary to qualify for funding focused on campaign finance and ethics and included the one which opened this post. It also asked if the candidate had accepted any funding from “Virginia utility monopolies,” owned any stock in “Virginia utility monopolies,” and would support a ban on “investor-owned utility” stock ownership by all legislators. Virginia now merely has a weak disclosure requirement and fuzzy rules on voting to benefit your stock value.

It went a bit further by asking if the candidates would support additional (but unspecified) restrictions on gifts to legislators, and an extension from one to two years for the prohibition on former legislators (it used the curious word “politicians”) from becoming lobbyists.

The real meat of the questionnaire is the longer, final section three, focused on energy issues and a bit more on ethics. On ethics, for the group’s endorsement, candidates had to take a position on prohibiting contributions from “public service monopolies,” prohibiting contributions from all corporations, “as has been done in 22 other states,” and then setting “reasonable limits” on contributions from others.

In an almost laughable contradiction, the candidates are first asked if they would support restoring in full State Corporation Commission authority over utility rates and projects, and then were asked if they “support legislative effort to legally mandate the construction of 5,000 megawatts of solar and wind power.”  It would be dishonest or ignorant to answer yes to both questions, and it would be fascinating to know who did.

The companies that sell individual solar installations to homes and other users have long chafed over limits on net metering activities in a utility territory, and the candidates were asked if they would allow that to grow from 1% to 5% of a utility’s load or would vote to eliminate the caps altogether.

It also queried support for “legislation to eliminate all standby charges and fees for ratepayers who enroll in net metering, as net metering benefits all ratepayers…” To eliminate all such charges would be a blatant subsidy and cost-shift, qualified for the “corporate welfare” label in any other area of business.

Hostility to the current gas pipeline projects appeared as well, with one question asking about a “Damages and Injury Fund” to cover claims of physical or monetary harm. Do you think any lawyers smelling money might gin up some business for that? Would that be funded by ratepayers? Another question proposes to prevent ratepayer recovery on the pipelines without proof they meet “a real demand” and represent the “most cost-effective way to meet that demand.” Here comes a Supremacy Clause battle.

There was no question about creating additional retail choice options, either for residential or business electricity consumers. That high-profile 2020 legislative goal is fading fast, as indicated earlier by Governor Ralph Northam’s comments and perhaps based on a cold assessment of how it has worked out elsewhere.

Different people will have different answers on all those questions, and many of the ethics proposals have merit (if not clarity.) But if this energy legislative package is passed and signed, some companies and some ratepayers will gain financially and other will lose. Money in large amounts will change hands. This is just another business lobbying group seeking benefits for its supporters and restrictions on its competitors.

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21 responses to “What Will Clean Virginia Be Asking For?

  1. I do wonder how folks confuse things sometimes.

    So if the state mandates that you have your car inspected – and repaired or that localities buy wastewater or stormwater facilities from companies that produce them that – that is the same as mandating that one company – a monopoly build something that ratepayers must pay for?

    So any and all companies that would benefit from a law mandating something is seemingly equated to the SCC being forced to approve one very specific company to build something and that company is contributing directly to the legislators who support that law?

    Additionally, if an activist group or even a single donor advocate for solar in general but they have no direct interest in selling or profiting from solar – a separate industry will benefit – how can that be equated to one company like Dominion giving money to legislators that will pass a law that direct benefits Dominion?

    What exactly does Mr. Bills or Clean Virginia get back from their donations? What profit do they make?

    We need a dose of clarity here to relieve the conflation!

  2. This is just another business lobbying group seeking benefits for its supporters and restrictions on its competitors.

    Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss.

    Though dwarfed by the nearly $3 million in campaign contributions by electric utilities (not to mention the sum donated by Michael Bills), alternative energy companies contributed $140,000 in the 2018-19 electoral cycle. The biggest contributors were all out-of-state companies. Anyone want to offer a prediction on whether that amount will shrink or grow over time?

    • no new boss – at least clarify what has been all along:

      There is a DIFFERENCE between one company making campaign donations to the GA in support of specific legislation that will directly benefit that company AND an individual or activist group that donates money to legislators in hopes of some legislation that benefits a cause or an outcome they support but they have no direct financial interest in nor any remote possibility to “profit” from it.

      Equating the two, in essence claiming they both have the same motives and same expectation of “profit” is just not the same.

  3. Bar all out of state contributions.

    • Cap all contributions at $2,500 per entity (person, activist group, corporation or union) per election cycle per candidate. Insist that all monies be spent on legitimate campaign expenses and refund any unspent amounts back to the donors in proportion to the amount donated.

  4. Those out of state alternative energy companies are just seeking market entry, currently blocked by Dominion’s control of the regulatory process. Not the same thing at all.

    Fifty candidates who pledged not to take money from Dominion won in this year’s election, and we should say with help from Clean Virginia, the lobby group designed to balance the political control of Dominion over the Virginia legislature and prevent Dominion from “writing the clean energy script to primarily benefit its own profit motives.”

    Dominion has been at this fight to protect their monopoly profits for more than a century, first as part of the original monopoly trusts. In 1935 their lobby group spent the equivalent of $100m in today’s dollars to defeat the Wheeler-Raeburn Act. They lost, but since Virginia’s 1999 deregulation Dominion has pushed bills that boost shareholder profits to the detriment of customers. Fighting their dominant political power, which this year was backed up with $2.6million, brings us to the pledge by many candidates to not take money from Dominion, starting with Perriello, and carried on by Michael Bills at Clean Virginia.

    Will those new 50 voices be enough to redo the egregious 2015 rate freeze law, return the regulatory power to the SCC, and chart a clean energy path ahead? Evidently Dominion is not worried, but let’s hope so.

  5. “Another question proposes to prevent ratepayer recovery on the pipelines without proof they meet “a real demand” and represent the “most cost-effective way to meet that demand.” Here comes a Supremacy Clause battle.”

    Don’t know what a Supremacy Clause battle means but FERC allowed “in house” contracts to demonstrate need. For the ACP the in-house contract referred to those 2 more gas-fired plants Dominion previously planned to build, but which are now gone. The question here is those ‘affiliated’ contracts were very easily tossed aside and didn’t demonstrate a real market based need for the additional gas.

    New gas market stats claim that gas pipelines will be 40-60% over capacity in 2030. A real need analysis would not accept affiliated contracts as proof.

  6. I’m agog here at the conflation of the behaviors between Dominion and other players.

    Dominion donates money directly to legislators in hopes of having legislation passed that directly benefits their own specific revenues and profits.

    Clean Virginia on the other hand has no motive nor expectation to receive revenues or profit from their donations. And to say that they will increase revenues and profit for any/all green energy companies so that makes it equivalent is just plain bonkers.

  7. Exactly what is it we are supposed to see? Or are you talking about yourself?

    • The post speaks for itself. One of my main reasons for putting it up was to provide the link to the actual questionnaire, which needs to be on the record. People can read it for themselves if they choose. I do see strong parallels between the motivations of Dominion and the motivations of the renewable companies with their products to sell, and now strong parallels between their tactics (big dollar contributions, efforts to have the GA mandate what is reasonable and prudent, efforts to limit the success of their competitors) As Jim said, meet the new boss, same as the old boss. If this were about food, and the effort were to mandate we all eat certified organic products, might you suspect just a little bit that economic advantage was playing a part? Probably not….and that’s sad.

      I actually think that is in party why the effort on retail choice is going to sputter, because somebody realized that ought to allow choices the movement might not like. Would there be a choice to buy low-cost natural gas and nuke only power? Yikes! Don’t want that outcome!

      • What strong parallels exactly do you see between the company that buys legislators to write legislation to secure their profits from their choice restricted customers, and helping to fund the campaigns of candidates who pledge to not be held captive by that company for legislative favors?

        Clean Virginia is not the alternative energy companies. They too give money and we do not have the list. Their motivation isn’t to keep the market closed but to open the ‘playing field’ and allow them all to compete.

        You really don’t see that as a difference? WOW!

        • Michael Bills is a hedge fund manager. Not exactly transparent where his financial interests lie, but in the absence of clarity, I always expect an interest. Correct, it is clearer with the actual developers, but it isn’t hard to trace their money funding other parts of the movement. Is the playing field level now? No, I agree it is not, and I’d be happy to see some of the existing barriers removed. But a flat mandate that 5,000 MW of wind or solar must be built is just as dismissive of the SCC’s role as any bill previously proposed by Dominion. It is exactly the same problem. Likewise a mandate to prevent any standby charge. And if you don’t see that – wow right back at you.

  8. It is just not only and all about the money! YIKES! Yes, as a hedge fund manager I would hope that he is involved in financing clean energy cause he would do well to be invested in a clean future., but that is still not the same thing as writing legislation to go directly to your specific company’s profits. Clean energy is a real purpose that is good for us all.

    Re the solar and wind mandate … I would legislate the change differently. I would seek a time table to close down all fossil fuel generation. A date for closing coal plants, and a date for closing those diesel ‘peakers’ and finally some analysis of how much gas will be required for how long.

    Most states have done a variation of the ‘closing’ plan by setting a declining CO2 emissions rate. Virginia hasn’t even been able to do that…. for years it was a 15% voluntary reduction. I like the ‘closing’ plan better because of the methane issue that Dominion has refused to acknowledge, and there are some ‘electrification’ programs that could be encouraged if we knew where the electricity came from.

    So how would you de-carbonize?

  9. Thanks but … only maybe a “nice start”. My problem with Virginia joining the RGGI was the way the program was designed to work in VA, The thing that made it work in New England was that the carbon monies went to further efficiency and such improvements. Virginia set up a process for the carbon monies that was not going to have the same effects as those that occurred in New England.

    All Dominion’s coal plants are already loosing money when they operate according to a substantial report of all coal plants in US. It will take more that RGGI to close them down …. maybe equity funding? Dominion spent a lot of money putting environment controls on some coal 0lants 15 or so years ago. Why can’t we require a plan?

  10. Thanks but … only maybe a “nice start”. My problem with Virginia joining the RGGI was the way the program was designed to work in VA. The thing that made it work in New England was that the carbon emission monies went to further efficiency and such improvements. Virginia set up a process for the carbon monies that was not going to have the same effects as in New England.

    All Dominion’s coal plants are already loosing money when they operate according to a substantial report of all coal plants in US. It will take more than RGGI to close them down …. maybe equity funding? Dominion spent a lot of money putting environment controls on some coal plants 15 or so years ago. Why can’t we require a plan?

    • Sorry for the late reply, but doesn’t it seem obvious, Jane, that Virginia’s attempt to join RGGI was structured in the odd way it was is because the General Assembly would never have voted into law legislation that directed the auction proceeds into energy efficiency and other DSM programs? That’s how it seemed to me.

      In January, all this may change.

      • RGGI is very complicated and in searching for explanations I have decided that there are very few out there who actually understand all the implications. What I do understand is that Dominion would not like Virginia to join for several reasons. Those reasons give me reservations too, although not the same reservations, I suspect. Bacon’s had a good discussion May 2018.

        First … The designated carbon allowances allotted by RGGI to each state based on carbon emissions … Is Mt Storm counted? RGGI says gas is a fossil fuel so have the gas plants been counted? at ½ CO2 emission levels? How about the 10 coal units in cold storage, even though they are only 1% of total?
        Dominion estimates put the company’s emissions at 25.9 million tons in 2020, meaning that Dominion’s projected emissions between 2020 and 2030 will exceed the RGGI cap by an average of 5.3 million tons. By those numbers Dominion would be a buyer of carbon allowances from other states.

        Second … Where will a 30% reduction come from? Currently Dominion’s generation comes from 25% coal, 33% nuclear, and 33% gas. If the remaining coal generation, or almost all of it, is closed and replaced with renewables, will we still be short of the 30% reduction required by 2030? What does that mean for our relatively new gas plants? We will still have to pay for their capital costs in our rates, and does that. hopefully, mean we won’t be building more?

        The current mix matters how RGGI would play out in VA. Retrofitting those nuclear plants at the end of their current designated lives would look like a positive for de-carbonized generation, but those redos are very, very expensive and possibly problematic … like Surry where the DOD says rising seas could be dangerous. Also, as nuclear plants are expensive to run and extend their lives, will they be called on by PJM?

        Third … the news discussion centered around the RGGI cost to customers. In one earlier proposal Virginia gave the allowances to our utilities. The giveaway would not jeopardize the gas plants’ ability to sell their generation in the PJM auction, but I believe the Coastal Protection Act included joining the ‘allowance’ auction. However, analysis of RGGI claims the auction proceeds create the economic benefits that offset the small customer price increase from the allowances. Proceeds from the carbon allowance auctions have been invested by the states in programs like energy efficiency, clean and renewable energy, greenhouse gas abatement, and direct bill assistance.

        So, again …couldn’t we just enforce a plan for de-carbonization?
        https://www.eenews.net/climatewire/stories/1060196195

  11. Virginia does not need RGGI so that will be the first mistake. All the eco-stuff will be politcally-correct liberal knee-jerk. I suggest start with gun control and so on.

  12. Do please tell us why “eco-stuff” is just a liberal knee-jerk? The seas aren’t warming and rising? The Artic ice isn’t melting? Islands aren’t disappearing … like the ones in the Bay? It’s all OK cause a whopping 3 percent of our scientists aren’t worried about GHG emissions effects on the earth?

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