Richmond Times Dispatch: August 6, 2019

In 'extraordinary' ruling, SCC rejects small part of Dominion recovery claim

By Mel Leonor, Richmond Times Dispatch

In what the State Corporation Commission termed an “extraordinary” finding, the panel on Monday rejected a small part of a request by Dominion Energy to recover money spent in environmental upgrades at its Chesterfield County power plant.

The commission approved most of the $247 million investment, which paid for improvements to the way the plant processes coal to comply with environmental regulations.

The commission rejected an $18 million portion of the investment, which it found was not “reasonable and prudent,” given that the company expected the units to quickly become obsolete.

The investment paid for upgrades to two power units in Chesterfield that allowed the company to process coal ash without using water that would later require decontamination.

The commission found that Dominion pulled the trigger on that project in June 2015, and that at the time, the company’s own analysis showed that those power units were expected to go offline or stop burning coal by 2020. The two Chesterfield units were indeed permanently retired in March 2019.

Dominion spokesman Jeremy Slayton said the ruling was “a good outcome for Dominion Energy customers and supports our plan to safely store and dispose of coal combustion residuals in compliance with federal and state environmental regulations.” Slayton added that the company is making “rapid progress” away from coal.

The commission did not go as far as the Virginia Attorney General’s Office had recommended. The agency had pushed to block Dominion Energy from charging ratepayers for the full $247 million, calling the spending “imprudent,” given that the company had thrown into question the viability of coal going back to 2011.

The company will be allowed to recover money spent on the construction of a modern landfill to store coal ash, a 1,400-foot bridge that connects the landfill to the power plant, and nearby roadwork. It will also be able to recover money spent to transition two other units away from transporting and storing coal ash with water.

Had the SCC allowed the company to recover the full cost of the projects, along with a profit of 9.2%, households using roughly 1,000 kilowatt-hours per month would have seen their bills rise by $2.15 starting in November. Given the rejection of just $18 million, that figure is expected to change little.