Bipartisan coalition looks to reform Virginia’s system of electric utility regulation

Bipartisan coalition looks to reform Virginia’s system of electric utility regulation
Dominion Energy, Virginia's largest electric utility and a major U.S. energy company, is headquartered in Richmond. (Source: Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

As the 2021 General Assembly session begins, lawmakers are set to consider a slate of bills that aim to reform Virginia’s system of electric utility regulation with the goal of bringing down customer bills.

“This work is an extension of the work we did the clast session to commit Virginia to massive clean energy investments,” said Del. Sally Hudson, D-Charlottesville. “There are two pieces going on here: There’s confronting climate change and investing in clean energy. And then there’s doing it at a fair price.”

More than a dozen legislators, largely from the House of Delegates but drawing on both sides of the aisle, are behind the push, which builds on a smaller handful of proposals put before the General Assembly in 2020.

The bills run the gamut from getting rid of a cap the General Assembly previously placed on potential rate reductions to requiring that 100 percent of utility “over earnings” — revenue above their allotted profit margin — be returned to customers, rather than the current 70 percent mandated.

All, however, have a central aim: restoring authority to the State Corporation Commission, a body established by Virginia’s 1902 Constitution that oversees utility regulation.

“We have on paper at least a monopoly utility structure in Virginia. You could either revise that structure so they are actually regulated, as opposed to self-regulated, or you could dismantle the monopoly altogether,” said Will Cleveland, an attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center, which is supporting the reform measures. “We are focused on the first piece: letting the regulators do their jobs.”

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