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Va. lawmakers unveil bipartisan bill to increase scrutiny of Dominion's earnings

Virginia lawmakers are taking aim at Dominion Energy Virginia's profits through proposed legislation that would allow state regulators to order the utility to lower its base rates and issue refunds for excess earnings.

Republican Del. Lee Ware and Democratic Del. Jay Jones on Dec. 12 announced bipartisan legislation known as the Fair Energy Bills Act that is designed to "address rising electricity bills in Virginia."

The lawmakers claim that Dominion Energy Virginia, known legally as Virginia Electric and Power Co., has "overcharged Virginians by at least $1.3 billion since 2015" under current laws and regulations.

Under the Fair Energy Bills Act, the Virginia State Corporation Commission would have the authority to order Dominion Energy Virginia to lower its electric rates and issue refunds if a regulatory review of the utility's profits finds that it is overcharging customers.

The SCC showed in a late August report that the Dominion Energy Inc. subsidiary and American Electric Power Co. Inc. utility Appalachian Power Co. earned millions in excess revenues for the second year in a row following a reinstatement of rate reviews in 2018.

The Grid Transformation and Security Act reinstates rate reviews for Dominion Energy Virginia in 2021 and incorporates the 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020 test periods. Under the law, Dominion will be held to a "maximum $50 million rate reduction" following the first review of excessive earnings.

Dominion and Appalachian Power, which will be subject to a rate review in 2020, can use excess earnings for capital investments rather than customer refunds or rate reductions.

"The 2020 legislative session is the last chance the General Assembly has to restore the SCC with its proper, traditional regulatory authority prior to the 2021 rate case [for Dominion]," Ware and Jones said in a news release.

While similar legislation has failed in the past, a change in the political landscape following the November general election could signal radical changes in energy policy and utility oversight.