Va. lawmakers push bipartisan effort to reinvigorate electric utility commission

By: - January 25, 2023 12:16 am

A Dominion substation in New Kent County, Virginia. (Sarah Vogelsong / Virginia Mercury)

As Virginia lawmakers negotiate proposals to reform the laws regulating the state’s two largest electric utilities, a separate push is being made to reinvigorate a commission intended to allow more in-depth consideration of such issues outside the legislative session. 

Senate Bill 1166 from Sen. Scott Surovell, D-Fairfax, and House Bill 2275 from House Majority Leader Terry Kilgore, R-Scott, would outline a greater role for the Commission on Electric Utility Regulation, or CEUR, in reviewing the state’s energy policy.

While the Virginia State Corporation Commission oversees utility regulation in the commonwealth, the CEUR, established in 2008 and composed of lawmakers, is charged with overseeing how the SCC implements the laws governing Dominion Energy and Appalachian Power Company. 

Currently, legislators working on rate regulation proposals are “virtually dependent on industry lobbyists and environmental organizations for information” and must “mediate between the two,” Surovell said. Utility regulation, he added, is “not everyday subject matter.” 

CEUR would “help members who get appointed to the commission learn about energy,” Kilgore said. “We need more folks involved in that whole area.”

Among other changes, the proposed legislation would add three citizen seats to the CEUR and require it to meet at least twice per year.

Surovell has requested $1 million to add seven staff members to the commission.

Despite a law last session extending the CEUR’s term to 2024, the commission has not met since 2017. After the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee killed more than half a dozen rate reform proposals in 2021, the committee voted to send a letter to the CEUR asking it to review four of the bills. 

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

“We are embroiled in incredibly complex matters here,” said Sen. Monty Mason, D-Williamsburg, 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.

The CEUR never convened to take up the proposals.

Restarting the commission is “very important,” said Kilgore. “We get out here in a short session right now, moving all this energy policy through. It’d be a lot better if we had time to discuss, get all the stakeholders together before we get here to have some of these items worked out.”

Surovell and Kilgore’s bills this session would also require the governor to present his statutorily mandated four-year energy plan and the utilities to present their integrated resource plans, which outline plans for future utility investments, to the CEUR. Additionally, the commission would be charged with reviewing ways to access federal funding for energy projects and creating a Commonwealth Energy Research Fund. The research fund would be administered  legislatively instead of implementing a similar administrative-run Virginia Power Innovation Fund and Program, a project backed by Gov. Glenn Youngkin that is being advanced through legislation from Sen. Jill Vogel, R-Fauquier.

“Energy is something that is such a huge part of our economy,” Dana Wiggins, director of outreach and financial advocacy for the Virginia Poverty Law Center, told the Mercury. “Everyone needs access to energy, we all depend on access to electricity. It is something that really deserves more consideration and time.”

The General Assembly has seen increasing calls for electric utility reform in recent years. Two sweeping pieces of legislation introduced this session were expected to be considered in Senate committee Monday but were removed from the agenda as negotiations continue between Dominion, the Southern Environmental Law Center, Clean Virginia, Virginia Poverty Law Center, industrial groups and more. 

Another bill, being carried by Sen. Frank Ruff, R-Mecklenburg, would separate Appalachian Power Company from the system of regulation that governs Dominion under state law.

Senate Commerce and Labor Committee members on Monday moved Surovell’s CEUR bill forward without discussion. Kilgore’s bill has not yet been taken up in the House.

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Charlie Paullin
Charlie Paullin

Charles Paullin covers energy and environment for the Mercury. He previously worked for Northern Virginia Daily in the Northern Shenandoah Valley and for the New Britain Herald in central Connecticut. An Alexandria native, Charles graduated from the University of Hartford initially wanting to cover sports. He's received several Virginia Press Association awards for his coverage of crime, local government and state politics. Catch him in nature experiencing all the outdoors has to offer, and contact him at [email protected]

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