By Ivy Main, Power for the People VA
When Dominion Virginia Power offers to do something to protect ratepayers, watch your wallet. Last year’s act of generosity cost us hundreds of millions of dollars to cover Dominion’s initial expenses for a nuclear plant it may never build.
This year it’s a bill, SB 1349 (Wagner), that would freeze rates (but notably not utility bills) until at least 2023. Like last year’s money bill, this one prevents the State Corporation Commission from requiring the utility to refund money to ratepayers and/or lower rates if the utility earns more than the law entitles it to. In other words, it lets Dominion keep the windfall.
Senator Wagner presents his bill as a protection for ratepayers in the face of the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, which he claims will be costly for ratepayers. But here’s the thing: Dominion’s obligation to its shareholders is to maximize profit. The company wouldn’t support a rate freeze if it meant losing money. Dominion’s support for Wagner’s bill can only mean the utility expects to make a lot of money at current rates, even under the EPA plan.
This makes sense to the clean energy advocates, who point to analyses showing the Clean Power Plan will benefit consumers rather than costing them more. That’s because energy efficiency—a major component of the plan—saves money. If Virginia consumers do save money under the plan, though, the Wagner bill makes sure they won’t see the benefit.
Indeed, it doesn’t even protect them from higher bills, because Dominion can still increase other charges that make up customers’ bills. The “rate freeze,” in other words, will set a floor on electric utility bills, but not a ceiling.