This past week marked “Crossover” in Richmond, after which time each chamber of the General Assembly only works on legislation passed by the other chamber. Ten of my bills have passed the Senate and now await consideration by the House of Delegates.
I recently spoke on the Senate floor against a bill to eliminate the electrical rate reviews and adjustments, known as “The Dominion Bill” (Senate Bill SB1349).
The principal issue at stake is oversight by the State Corporation Commission (SCC) of Dominion Virginia Power and Appalachian Power (APCO). The bill would make Dominion an unregulated monopoly for the next five years.
Supporters of SB1349 claimed that the main reason to pass this bill is that it would freeze the base portion of your electric rates. The “base rate” incorporates the cost of building, closing, and maintaining power plants. Fuel consumed in generating electricity is a separate charge that will continue to fluctuate.
However, Dominion’s base rates have been ruled excessive by the SCC, which in turn ordered it to credit money back to ratepayers to the tune of a whopping $800 million over the last seven years.
Without crucial SCC oversight, customers have no recourse to have the company’s rates reviewed as required by current law. I believe this will be a de facto rate increase on millions of Virginia citizens and businesses, and will only further entrench Dominion’s monopoly status.
While the bill would have Dominion not charge consumers $80 million in fuel expenses, that pales in comparison to the $280 million in projected annual excess revenues that would otherwise be refunded to customers.
Dominion argues that this legislation is needed to protect consumers from increased costs associated with the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed Clean Power Plant emission regulations. However, the bill does not protect customers from any future environmental compliance costs; in fact Dominion could just defer them beyond the 5-year period and pass on the costs then.
I agree with Attorney General Mark Herring that this argument is merely a pretext to protect Dominion’s monopoly earnings and shield them from the SCC’s thorough review process. Incredibly, the bill still allows the utility giant to seek special permission to raise rates.
The bill eliminates oversight by the SCC of our state's largest public utility and while it may be good for Dominion’s shareholders, I don’t believe that it will help the average consumer who is working to keep the lights on. Unfortunately, SB1349 passed over my objections and was fast tracked through the House of Delegates where it was opposed by Delegates Rob Krupicka, Scott Surovell, Patrick Hope, Rip Sullivan, and Alfonso Lopez.
On a lighter note, in a rare moment of levity, the Senate moved one step closer to officially choosing a new state song (or two).
In the 18 years since Virginia last had an official state song, a lot of time has been spent by more patient legislators than I sifting through more than 300 potential state songs. At one point, there even was a State Song Subcommittee that considered criteria as to whether songs were dignified, singable, adaptable, and appealing to a wide audience. Much to my relief, we on the General Laws Committee took less than a half-hour to propose a compromise two-song solution. We selected “Sweet Virginia Breeze” by Steve Bassett and Robbin Thompson as our “popular” state song, and “Our Great Virginia,” which is set to the tune of “Shenandoah” with new lyrics commissioned by Virginia Tech professor James Robertson, Jr. as our “traditional” state song. The most contentious point of debate was whether we should change a lyric in one of the songs from “the heartland of America” to “the birthplace of America.” Birthplace won and I hope that the House of Delegates will concur so we can get back to focusing on weightier items.
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