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Va. lawmakers take aim at Dominion earnings, seek customer refunds

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Va. lawmakers take aim at Dominion earnings, seek customer refunds

Virginia lawmakers are taking aim at Dominion Energy Inc.'s "excess profits" with new legislation that would reinstate biennial rate reviews and require customer refunds for certain political expenses and executive compensation.

House Bill 2645 was introduced Jan. 11 by Del. Sam Rasoul, with sister legislation in the Virginia Senate to be carried by Sen. J. Chapman Petersen. In a Jan. 14 news release, the lawmakers said the legislation will be known as the REFUND Act, an acronym for the "Ratepayers Earned these Funds, Not Dominion" Act.

The legislation is designed to require the state's public electric utilities, Dominion Energy Virginia and American Electric Power Co. Inc. utility Appalachian Power Co., to refund ratepayers for any "nonessential expenditures," such as political lobbying and contributions, excessive executive compensation and certain advertising costs. These expenses and related refunds, which the lawmakers said would total "hundreds of millions of dollars," would be subject to review by the State Corporation Commission. The legislation would also "[p]lace a real cap on overcharges and excess profits," according to a news release by the lawmakers.

"This would be the largest ratepayer refund in Virginia history, eliminating what is essentially a massive tax on Virginia's working poor. It's time for the House to deliver this much-needed financial relief to Virginia ratepayers," Rasoul said in the news release.

The legislation would end the triennial review process established in the 2018 Grid Transformation & Security Act, or GTSA, and "return to a transparent, consistent regulatory scheme to reduce energy bills."

"This law will establish new checks on these companies to prevent overcharging ratepayers," Petersen said.

The bills also would place a cap on excess revenues and implement safeguards to protect ratepayers against the costs of large natural gas pipeline projects, such as the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. Specifically, the utilities would be prevented from recovering any excess fuel costs tied to the purchase of natural gas pipeline capacity under firm contract, subject to review by the SCC.

"Let's be clear, our customers never pay for our lobbying, political contributions or most of our advertising. And they are getting a great value on their power bills and have been for years," Dominion Energy said in a written statement. "At around $116 a month our average bill is more than 20 percent below the national average and 30 percent below the mid-Atlantic/northeast average."

The company noted that customers of Dominion Energy Virginia, known legally as Virginia Electric and Power Co., are receiving a bill reduction of $13 in January because of the GTSA, "which is also boosting renewables and energy-efficiency efforts."