Senate subcommittee rejects energy competition proposals

Senate subcommittee rejects energy competition proposals
A sign outside of a Dominion Energy office building in downtown Richmond. (Source: Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

A Senate subcommittee on Wednesday voted down proposals to expand retail competition in Virginia’s energy markets.

“We have traditionally avoided what I would call a partial deregulation,” said Sen. Tommy Norment, R-James City, one of the five senators on the newly formed energy subcommittee. “This is partial deregulation. … There is no way you will persuade me that there is not going to be a cost-shift on this.”

The measures, which were rolled into one bill championed by Democratic Sen. Jeremy McPike of Prince William, would allow energy customers more leeway to buy power from entities other than the reigning utility, particularly when it comes to renewable energy.

They were strongly opposed by both of the state’s two major utilities, the powerful Dominion Energy and Appalachian Power Company, as well as Tony Clark of Loudoun, who formerly served on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

Virginia has seen a growing appetite over the past year for greater retail choice when it comes to energy, but state laws and an unusually complicated regulatory system, coupled with short legislative sessions that give lawmakers little time to delve into the details, have ensured that the monopoly utilities have maintained their tight grip over the market.

The spike in interest has been reflected in a series of cases brought before the State Corporation Commission, which oversees Virginia utility regulation. Corporations like Walmart and Costco have pushed to be allowed to combine the energy loads of their different facilities to take advantage of a statutory carveout that lets large customers “shop” for their energy. Data centers and groups representing companies like Microsoft, Amazon and Google have urged the SCC to reject a proposal by Dominion to sell a renewable energy package that would shut other suppliers out of the market.

But while renewable energy companies have won a few victories before the SCC, the commission has been clear that it sees its job only as applying law set by the General Assembly and not driving policy independently.

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