Utility Dive Brief: April 27, 2020

Dominion tries again on rejected AMI plan amid Virginia's new clean energy law

Edited by Iulia Gheorghiu, Utility Dive

UPDATE: April 28, 2020: The State Corporation Commission on Monday denied Dominion’s petition to reconsider grid modernization proposals rejected in March.

“As we evaluate our next steps for each strategic investment, we’re asking the State Corporation Commission to clarify elements of its order on our Grid Transformation Plan so we can continue to refine our proposal and meet our customers’ evolving needs,” Samantha Moore, a Dominion spokesperson, said of the petition.​

Dive Brief:

  • Dominion Energy filed a petition with the Virginia State Corporation Commission (SCC) on April 14 for the approval of its distribution grid projects that were rejected in March.
  • Dominion seeks a path forward to roll out its $752 million smart meter plan, which was pared back from an initial $1.49 billion proposal in 2018. State regulators last month wrote Dominion failed to justify “overall benefits to customers” without a comprehensive proposal for time-of-use ratesetting.
  • Once more, the investor-owned utility posits that advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) is key to modernizing the state’s grid, especially in the wake of clean energy legislation signed by Gov. Ralph Northam, D, April 12. “The denial of AMI is contrary to the legislative goals and mandates set by the General Assembly in 2018, 2019 and 2020,” Dominion wrote in the petition.

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Dive Insight:

Dominion specifically highlights the need for AMI and other self-healing grid elements that were rejected in March by pointing to the newly-approved Virginia Clean Economy Act (VCEA), which set a 100% clean energy goal for the state by 2045.

In the petition, Dominion said the SCC’s justification to deny several elements of its grid modernization plan, including AMI, were “not reasonable and prudent,” especially given legislative goals set by the VCEA.

But opponents continue to raise familiar objections to the company’s plans.

“Dominion Energy is grasping at straws with this petition and trying to avoid an advanced metering infrastructure program that has quantifiable benefit to customers,” Cassady Craighill, spokesperson for Clean Virginia, told Utility Dive. Clean Virginia was one of many advocacy groups that supported the passage of the VCEA.

Dominion did not respond to a request for comment from Utility Dive by publication time.

“The commission will not entertain responses to, or requests for oral argument on, a petition,” Ken Schrad, SCC spokesperson, told Utility Dive.

For other parties to officially respond to Dominion’s attempt to SCC can issue an order scheduling more pleadings or an order to directly address Dominion’s petition for reconsideration, but the commission is not bound to a time frame to respond with their action, according to Schrad.

“If the company was sincerely interested in energy efficiency, then it would have followed the State Corporation Commission’s instructions to improve its program. It’s clear that Dominion is more interested in keeping its hundreds of millions in overcharges than saving energy or saving customers money,” Craighill said, referring to concerns with customer refunds.

When Virginia’s legislature passed House Bill 528 in March, the SCC gained oversight of cost recovery for early power plant retirements. Clean Virginia alleged that Dominion could force ratepayers to pay for a large part of the clean energy transition and use such expenses to deny customer refunds stemming from canceled programs or the early retirement of fossil generation. But denying customer refunds to programs would become harder under HB 528.​