Months after it was asked to take up reform proposals, electric utility commission still hasn’t met

Legislative body has not convened since 2017

By: - November 2, 2021 12:02 am

Transmission lines in Louisa County. (Ned Oliver/ Virginia Mercury)

Nearly nine months after a Senate panel asked a legislative commission to review a mounting number of proposals for reforming Virginia’s electric utility regulatory system, the commission still has not met. 

On Monday, Janet Muldoon, chief of staff for Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw, D-Fairfax and the highest-ranking Democrat on the commission, said in an email that “as of this writing, a date has not been set” for a meeting of the Commission on Electric Utilty Regulation.

Sen. Scott Surovell, D-Fairfax, a member of the CEUR and one of the lawmakers who supported its reconvening, told the Mercury that “it was my hope and it continues to be my hope that we will have a CEUR meeting.” 

“The reason we have these commissions meet outside of session is so we can take a deep dive into these issues and come up with well-informed recommendations while we’re not under the time pressures of session,” he said. However, he added, “it’s always hard to make time in everybody’s schedules to meet during an election cycle, and when you couple that with everything going on with the other special session and redistricting, a lot of people are really limited in their availability.” 

The CEUR, which was first created in 2008 shortly after Virginia re-regulated its electric utilities, is intended to monitor regulators’ implementation of state law governing the commonwealth’s two largest electric utilities, Appalachian Power and Dominion Energy. 

The commission has not met since 2017. It was previously led by Senate Minority Leader Tommy Norment, R-James City, but currently has no chair. 

Electric utility regulation has increasingly become a hot-button issue in Richmond, as Democrats have split over the party’s relationship with Dominion Energy, long one of the most powerful players at the state Capitol. Over the past few years, a growing number of Democrats have pledged to stop taking campaign contributions from the utility, even as some longer-serving lawmakers have remained loyal to the company. 

Critics of Dominion contend that the utility has been overcharging customers for years and that the legislature has hindered the ability of the state’s public utility commission to fairly regulate Dominion’s rates and earnings. 

Dominion is currently undergoing its first rate review since 2015. During the case, Virginia’s Office of the Attorney General and State Corporation Commission staff both argued the utility had earned almost $1 billion in profits above what state law allows between 2017 and 2020. A settlement agreement was proposed in October that would give customers $330 million in refunds and cut the utility’s rates by $50 million — the maximum amount permitted by current law — while also offering Dominion shareholders an increased rate of return. 

A group of lawmakers, from both sides of the aisle and largely in the House of Delegates, have sought to rewrite the laws that govern such reviews, which they see as unfairly favorable to the utilities. 

But while the measures have been broadly popular in the House, they have foundered in the Senate’s Commerce and Labor Committee. During the last session, the committee killed every regulatory reform proposal that came before it. 

However, at the urging of several senators, the panel voted to send a letter to the Commission on Electric Utility Regulation asking for it to review four of the bills. 

“We are embroiled in incredibly complex matters here,” Sen. Montgomery “Monty” Mason, D-Williamsburg, told the committee at the time. “And I think we’ve got to figure out a mechanism in the off season where we can delve into some of these things.” 

That hasn’t happened. Although two commission members said a meeting had been scheduled for Sept. 10, they noted it was canceled with no reason. 

“I have heard absolutely nothing about any potential meetings and I have heard absolutely nothing from other members about their appetite to meet,” said Del. Jay Jones, D-Norfolk, who sits on the commission and is an outspoken proponent of reform, on Friday. 

Another commission member, Del. Terry Kilgore, R-Scott, said in an email that “legislation that affects electric utility regulation in the commonwealth is extremely complicated, and the CEUR should look at the regulatory reform bills it was tasked with reviewing.” 

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Sarah Vogelsong
Sarah Vogelsong

Sarah is the Mercury's environment and energy reporter, covering everything from utility regulation to sea level rise. Originally from McLean, she has spent over a decade in journalism and academic publishing and previously worked as a staff reporter for Chesapeake Bay Journal, the Progress-Index and the Caroline Progress. She is the recipient of a first place award for explanatory reporting from the Society of Environmental Journalists and has twice been honored by the Virginia Press Association as "Best in Show" for online writing. She was chosen for the 2020 cohort of the Columbia Energy Journalism Initiative and is a graduate of the College of William and Mary. Contact her at [email protected]

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