INBOX: On electric regulation and deregulation

Transmission lines leading to a electric substation in Charles City County. (Sarah Vogelsong/Virginia Mercury)

To the Mercury:

There is a debate brewing in Virginia over whether or not to deregulate the state’s electricity. Which, essentially means allowing various companies to compete with Dominion Energy by selling power to residents and businesses.

Supporters of deregulation, like the organization Clean Virginia, insist that creating competition will be good residents of the commonwealth, and ostensibly bring more clean energy to the state. Ivy Main, a volunteer with the Sierra Club, in a recent op-ed in the Virginia Mercury, took aim at the group Power for Tomorrow, of which I am the executive director.

Ms. Main states that we are a front group for Dominion Energy.

In reality, Dominion Energy is public about their support of Power for Tomorrow and our group is made up of energy experts, both Democrats and Republicans, utilities, consumer advocates and a national labor union. Our focus also extends well beyond Dominion’s reach in Virginia. We are a national 501(c)(6) nonprofit organization and we will file paperwork with the Internal Revenue Service that allows everyone to see who funds us and how we spend our money.

You can go to our website and see all of our experts and supporters. We are not a “front group” for anyone – we are vocal advocates who all believe that deregulation raises electric rates for regular customers. Additionally, we seek exhaustive government oversight of utilities, to ensure that electric prices and grid maintenance are fully regulated.

Ms. Main claimed that we are not being sincere when we assert that deregulation will create a situation in Virginia that resembles what happened in Texas last winter, when a winter storm left dozens of people dead, and millions without power. She asserts that this happened because mostly natural gas generation froze because there was a “failure to regulate” by Texas officials and not “deregulation.”

However, legislation introduced in the Virginia Assembly in 2020 to deregulate the commonwealthwould undermine the regulatory structure in place that ensures reliability.

In fact, Ed Hirs, an economist at the University of Houston, has just joined Power for Tomorrow because he strongly believes deregulation creates risks for customers. After Winter Storm Uri devastated the Lone Star state, Texas Monthly published a piece titled: “Ed Hirs Has Been Predicting This Mess for Years.”

Finally, I believe it is critical that we address what supporters of deregulation refuse to acknowledge: deregulation raises electric rates and allows unscrupulous third-party suppliers to target less sophisticated customers with false promises of lower electric bills.

A recent Wall Street Journal analysis of U.S. Energy Information Administration data reported: “U.S. consumers who signed up with retail energy companies that emerged from deregulation paid $19.2 billion more than they would have if they’d stuck with incumbent utilities from 2010 through 2019.”

Former Maryland Governor Parris Glendenning, who has also joined Power for Tomorrow, signed legislation allowing the state to deregulate when he was in office. He says that decision was his biggest policy mistake. A Democrat, Glendenning laments aggressive salespeople working for shady third-party electricity suppliers who go to Maryland welfare agencies to prey on the economically insecure.

As the commonwealth starts to appreciate what deregulation actually means, people are speaking out. Since we began our education campaign a few weeks ago, 4,324 Virginians have sent letters to elected officials and 1,607 people signed our petition; both urging lawmakers to avoid risky deregulation.

— Gary Meltz is executive director of Power for Tomorrow.