David Essah, director of public utility regulation at the State Corporation Commission and far right, presents to the Commission on Electric Utility Regulation. (Charlie Paullin/Virginia Mercury).
Virginia’s Commission on Electric Utility Regulation met for the first time in six years Tuesday, following legislation during the last General Assembly session that requires it to now meet twice every year.
The CEUR is tasked with reviewing the impacts of legislation on electric utility regulation, which can be hundreds of pages in length and include complex provisions governing lawmakers’ desires for electric generation and utility profit levels.
Many lawmakers have expressed an interest in reviving the commission because of the difficulty of navigating those complexities during the state’s 45- or 60-day legislative sessions.
On Tuesday, the commission elected Sen. Scott Surovell, D-Fairfax, as its new chair. Surovell and Del. Terry Kilgore, R-Scott, carried the legislation reinvigorating the commission earlier this year.
“Hopefully we’re going to meet more frequently than the cicada cycle,” Surovell said.
The CEUR also plans to hire an executive director and two staff members, an attorney and analyst. While state law authorizes the body to hire up to six staff members, the latest budget deal only provides $345,000 for staffing instead of the roughly $1 million requested to fill all the positions. The General Assembly will convene in Richmond Wednesday to vote on the new budget.
Hiring an executive director could take about four to six weeks, said Department of Legislative Services Director Amigo Wade.
“Obviously we’re going to need more money,” Surovell said, noting staff will be in the “thick of it” during the upcoming legislative session, when they will be charged with creating ratepayer impact statements for bills.
Besides assessing customer impacts, the commission will be charged with reviewing any legislation referred by committees, exploring grant funding opportunities and reviewing utilities’ long-term planning documents.
The legislation reviving the commission also expanded the number of non-legislative seats from one to three and added a representative from the attorney general’s office.
The Senate Rules Committee appointed Cassidy Rasnick, a U.S. Department of Commerce officer and former director of Virginia’s Office of Outdoor Recreation, to fill one of the new seats as a representative of the economic development perspective. Senior Assistant Attorney General Meade Browder was appointed to represent the attorney general’s office.
The two other non-legislative seats, which are intended to be filled by an expert in energy affordability and ratepayer advocacy appointed by the House and an expert in public utility regulation and ratepayer advocacy appointed by the governor, remain empty.
Walton Shepherd, Virginia policy director for the Natural Resources Defense Council, said “in-house professional expertise” will help lawmakers wade through energy proposals.
“The creation of an energy-focused policy-shop within the legislature is a very promising development for Virginians coping with our constantly increasing electric bills,” Shepherd said.
The commission will next meet in the first week of December.
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