That’s how long it took Dominion Virginia Power to abandon its pledge of transparency for a law that eliminated state regulation of its base electricity rates until 2020.
Republican and Democratic supporters of SB1349, sponsored by Virginia Beach’s Sen. Frank Wagner, touted the measure as a way to lock in current base rates and protect Dominion’s customers from paying more because of federal environmental regulations.
In exchange, the utility agreed to absorb any losses, let this year’s review of base rates proceed, boost its use of renewable energy sources and permit state regulators to inspect its financials.
Here’s Robert Blue, president of Dominion Virginia Power, describing his company’s commitment to transparency under Wagner’s bill in a Feb. 7 op-ed: “It would not keep Dominion’s books from public scrutiny. The bill explicitly retains SCC authority to audit Dominion’s financial information, and gives added authority in other areas.”
In an undated message to customers, Blue argued the company “would continue to provide the SCC with full access to our financials.”
But on Feb. 27, three days after Gov. Terry McAuliffe signed the bill, Dominion officials filed documents with the State Corporation Commission claiming it shouldn’t have to provide all of the financial documents ordinarily required for a base rate review. Why? Because it had been granted a waiver from full disclosure once before under different circumstances, and because of the time and resources necessary to compile and review all that paperwork and – incredibly – because of SB1349.
Of course, as the Attorney General’s Office and SCC staff noted in filings opposing Dominion’s request, SB1349 doesn’t take effect until July 1 – three months after Dominion must file its rate review application.
Even Wagner, who championed SB1349 on Dominion’s behalf, questioned the utility’s standing to seek relief from existing paperwork requirements, given that his bill didn’t have an emergency enactment clause.
“They probably should be turning over those things as part of the review,” he said.
Of course they should. The information, as SCC staff noted, is critical to fully understanding Dominion’s finances, and whether its “many rate mechanisms” collect an appropriate amount of Virginians’ money. The commission agreed, rejecting the company’s request late last week.
Dominion, the state’s biggest electric utility and biggest corporate political donor, used lawmakers to pull one over on Virginians with SB1349.
By blocking regulation of base rates over the next five years, Dominion can earn more than authorized by state law. And regulators at the SCC are powerless to force the monopoly to issue refunds to customers, as they have in the past.
The law, meanwhile, still permits Dominion to pass along costs associated with higher fuel costs, seek emergency temporary rate increases and secure riders that charge customers for the costs of facilities.
Dominion’s claim that it would risk letting its shareholders cover the costs of EPA-induced plant closures never passed the smell test; such an arrangement would be financially irresponsible for an entity that, by design, exists to make a profit.
Even as it claimed otherwise, Dominion has demonstrated that its priority through the recent legislative session was never Virginians; it was Dominion’s own financial interests.
The monopoly is now poised for a lucrative five-year stretch, one in which it sought to compound the damage by withholding critical information about just how much money is at stake.
It was an audacious strategy, and it underscored how badly Virginians need the SCC to protect their interests – and how badly lawmakers and the governor failed by approving SB1349.