Virginian Pilot: July 26, 2019

Brennan Gilmore & Lynn Taylor: Charging toward energy reform in Virginia

By Brennan Gilmore and Lynn Taylor, Virginian Pilot Opinion

ONE OF US was chief of staff for Tom Perriello and runs an environmental nonprofit. The other worked for the Koch brothers and facilitates a monthly meeting of Virginia conservative and libertarian activists. Needless to say, we do not exactly subscribe to the same political philosophies.

Here’s where we do agree: The energy sector in Virginia is broken.

An energy sector whose rules were written by monopoly utilities and their well-funded political allies has given us the 11th highest electricity bills in the nation when energy demand in Virginia is flat and energy itself is getting cheaper. It has kept businesses and families across the commonwealth from choosing their electricity provider. It has allowed Dominion Energy to run roughshod over property rights and plow ahead with a ratepayer-backed $7 billion gas pipeline without demonstrating any actual need for it. And it has stifled innovation and the deployment of cleaner, cheaper energy sources.

Virginia — including vast Dominion service territory in the Hampton Roads region — deserves better than this monopoly regulatory system designed to maximize profits for shareholders and greased by donations to politicians.

When faced with a problem this insidious, it is remarkable how quickly two opposing ideologies can find common ground.

The answer to this is simple: Give people a choice. Break up the monopolies, remove the barriers to competition, and remove the constraints preventing Virginia from leading the transition to a 21st century energy economy that is better for our bank accounts, our jobs and our environment.

No matter who they vote for, every Virginian should have the ability to choose their energy provider, just like they choose their car, phone provider, or grocery store. Currently, most Virginians who pay utility bills are stuck with one utility monopoly, and one with a track record of acting in bad faith to enrich shareholders on the backs of mostly unknowing ratepayers.

The core of our system’s rot is a skewed incentive system that allows utility profits to hinge on political gamesmanship rather than customer interest. A utility that both owns and operates the electrical grid has a conflict of interest that inhibits the development and deployment of the cost-effective energy resources of the future.