by Stephen D. Haner
I promised you updates, dispatches from the front lines as the General Assembly once again deals with legislation proposed by our largest monopoly power company. It is my intention this game is played out in the open. Here is my version of Bacon Bits:
(1) President Donald Trump and Congressional Republicans are about to cut your electric bill and Dominion want to take credit. You will search in vain for Trump’s name in the talking points or news releases. You hear about $1 billion in savings to consumers and an actual cut in the rates – it’s the mostly the federal corporate tax cut, which an early State Corporation Commission estimate put at $165 million annually. Dominion can give it back in advance because we pay the taxes in advance and the cash goes in a fund for taxes.
It is true that because of the 2015 legislation creating a regulation holiday the SCC lacked the power to order Dominion to pass along the tax savings to customers. But all around the country other utilities are doing just that, and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is working on making it mandatory. Also Dominion had already announced a similar rate cut down in South Carolina if it takes over SCANA, and with the same genesis – the federal tax cut. This was coming without any legislation. It is not a concession on their part.
( 2) Where are the bills? As of my drafting this on Sunday morning, only the main House bill has been introduced and posted on the legislative database. Senators Richard Saslaw, D-Fairfax, Frank Wagner, R-Virginia Beach, and Steve Newman, R-Forest, have all said they put in bills at the Friday deadline, but none of them are posted. Dominion has seen the bills, has been talking to legislators about the bills, has talking points in circulation about the bills –but those of who wish to dispute them are hampered by not seeing the actual text. It might be the same as the House bill, it might not.
Apparently in this hyper-computerized age the Senate bills were introduced on paper and need to be keyed in. The way it was done 20 years ago (but is still allowed.) Why? I submit to give them yet another huge head start in the rapid race that is Virginia’s legislature. It is possible the Senate bills could be in the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee on Monday afternoon, and the public and the skeptics have not seen them. Dominion has a platoon of lobbyists and skids greased with money, but they leave no advantage untaken.
(3) Dominion tends to fill its basket with eggs – multiple bills from multiple friendly sponsors, with elements of their ultimate bill sprinkled about. Bills are put in mainly as placeholders, as potential vehicles for a substitute or for amendments. Senator Glen Sturtevant, R-Midlothian, has a bill dealing making it harder for the SCC to challenge the cost of underground lines, for example, and Senator Ben Chafin, R-Lebanon, has a bill dealing with how the SCC views capital structure when it sets rates. Notice that they also set out long, long sections of the Code provisions involved in every other aspect of this – these are vehicles, little legislative Uber cars waiting just in case one of the main bills breaks down.
Stephen D. Haner, principal of Black Walnut Strategies, is a Richmond-based lobbyist. In the debate over energy policy, he represents the Virginia Poverty Law Center.