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Lawmakers launch push to deregulate Va. electricity market

Two Virginia lawmakers seek to upend Virginia's electricity market through creating retail competition with a bipartisan bill aimed squarely at ending monopoly control by Dominion Energy Virginia and Appalachian Power Co.

Virginia Delegates Mark Keam, a Democrat, and Lee Ware, a Republican, on Jan. 7 announced they will introduce the Virginia Energy Reform Act in the 2020 regular session of the Virginia General Assembly.

The legislation would cement the efforts of a coalition formed in May 2019 with the goal of limiting monopoly utilities to owning and operating distribution systems. The lawmakers in a news release said the proposal would not directly impact the regional transmission system operated by PJM Interconnection.

"Over the past couple of decades, innovation and technological advancements have allowed consumers around the nation to choose when, where and how they obtain affordable and reliable energy. But in Virginia, we are stuck with a century-old business-as-usual model that benefits monopolies while suppressing competition and consumer choice," Keam said.

Ware said he expects the legislation to receive broad bipartisan support and "chart a course toward engendering much-needed competition in the retail sales of vital electricity services."

Dominion Energy Inc. subsidiary Dominion Energy Virginia, known legally as Virginia Electric and Power Co., has cautioned against opening up the state to retail competition.

"Deregulation isn't the way forward for Virginia's energy future. In fact, it would be a step backward," Dominion Energy spokesman Rayhan Daudani said after the Virginia Energy Reform Coalition launched its platform. "Californians left with skyrocketing electric bills and in the dark from rolling blackouts following deregulation proved that all too well."

Dominion, Virginia's largest investor-owned utility, also has warned that customers in deregulated states pay higher rates on average.

The General Assembly convenes on Jan. 8 and will be under Democratic control for the first time in more than two decades, sparking optimism that energy policy reform is on the horizon. However, it is unclear if Gov. Ralph Northam will support deregulation.

"I think right now as we move forward, we're going to work with the system that we have," Northam, a Democrat, told S&P Global Market Intelligence in October 2019. "That doesn't mean it's a perfect system, but it is a system that we can work with."

Appalachian Power is a subsidiary of American Electric Power Co. Inc.