Statement by Board Chair Michael Bills on Lieutenant Governor Fairfax
February 12, 2019

In response to the serious allegations of sexual assault that have surfaced against Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax, Clean Virginia Board Chair Michael Bills released the following statement:

“The accounts of Dr. Vanessa Tyson and Meredith Watson are credible. Furthermore, the manner in which Mr. Fairfax has responded to these allegations has displayed a serious lack of judgment and profound disrespect for women and sexual assault survivors. Taken together,  these allegations and his response should disqualify Mr. Fairfax from public office. Now more than ever, Virginia needs its leaders to be able to govern with public trust and moral authority, both of which Mr. Fairfax has lost. I call on him to resign.”

Clean Virginia Chair Calls for Governor Northam’s Resignation
February 2, 2019

Michael Bills, Chairman of the Board of Clean Virginia, released the following statement: 

“Yesterday, Governor Ralph Northam acknowledged that he was photographed in a ‘clearly racist and offensive’ costume after a picture from his yearbook page surfaced of a man in blackface posing with a man dressed in KKK robes.

I echo the voices of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus, the Virginia House Democratic Caucus, the Virginia Senate Democratic Caucus, and the NAACP in calling for Governor Northam’s immediate resignation. Our Commonwealth is still grappling with its painful racial legacy and reeling from a surge of white supremacist violence over the past several years. If Virginia is to move forward in its path towards healing and reconciliation, it must have principled moral leadership. Governor Northam has lost both his moral authority as well as the trust of the public. He must step down.”

Critics say customers pay ‘Dominion tax’ because utility is so loosely regulated
December 17, 2018

Del. Sam Rasoul vows to repeal the ‘tax’ and challenge laws that let monopolies write their own regulations.

Gregory S. Schneider, The Washington Post

RICHMOND, Va. – A new political action group taking aim at Virginia’s biggest utility claims that customers of Dominion Energy pay excess rates of $254 a year because of poor state oversight.

Calling it a “Dominion Tax,” the group Clean Virginia released a study Monday that attempts to quantify what consumers pay for electricity beyond the cost of generation, production and delivery.

“These taxes are the result of an abuse of state-sanctioned market control and are enabled by outdated regulatory structure, insufficient campaign finance and ethics laws, and weak consumer protections,” the group wrote in a 26-page report.

A spokesman for Dominion said that the group’s findings are incorrect and that the utility’s rates are 18 percent below the national average and 32 percent below the Mid-Atlantic average. David Botkins, the Dominion spokesman, said rates are scheduled to decrease after the first of the year.

Clean Virginia’s effort shows the degree to which opponents are challenging the enormous political stature of Dominion, which is Virginia’s most generous corporation when it comes to campaign contributions. The Dominion logo graces office buildings, theaters and numerous charity events in Richmond, and its executives have close relationships with legislators of both parties.

But last year, many of the 15 Democrats who won election to the House of Delegates in what had been Republican districts signed pledges to avoid taking contributions from Dominion. Clean Virginia was formed earlier this year to help continue that momentum.

The group is headed by Michael Bills of Charlottesville, a wealthy contributor to Democratic candidates. In the past two years, Bills has given more than $800,000 to Democrats in the state, according to the Virginia Public Access Project, which tracks money in state politics. More than half that amount last year went to the campaign of Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam.

As campaigns gear up for next year’s legislative elections, Bills has donated more money to candidates than Dominion, according to VPAP. And Clean Virginia said it intends to mount a “robust” digital advertising campaign against Republicans and Democrats alike who have taken significant donations from Dominion, including Sen. Dick Saslaw, D-Fairfax, incoming House Minority Leader Eileen Filler-Corn, D-Fairfax, and House Speaker Kirk Cox, R-Colonial Heights.

“Clean Virginia is a dark-money, radical-left advocacy organization funded by Michael Bills, who knows nothing about our rate structure,” said Botkins, the Dominion spokesman. “The average bill for a residential customer is $114.42 a month. That’s less than the large Starbucks pumpkin spice lattes Clean Virginia staff has over the course of a month.”

To produce the estimate of Dominion’s “excess” charges to consumers, the group started with reports from the state’s Corporation Commission, the agency tasked with overseeing utilities.

The commission’s job has been severely limited since at least 2015, when the General Assembly passed an electricity rate freeze.

This year, the Legislature replaced that rate freeze with a sweeping overhaul of utility regulation, spearheaded by Dominion, that continues to limit the commission’s ability to oversee electricity rates. The new law allows Dominion – as well as its smaller counterpart APCO, which powers homes in the southwestern portion of the state – to use excess profits for new projects instead of returning them to ratepayers, as had been the practice.

In August, the commission estimated that Dominion earned an extra $365 million in 2017 over what the agency had permitted in its last rate review.

In addition to that amount, Clean Virginia looked at other Dominion costs that it said were extraneous to the basic monopoly function of generating and delivering power. Those included advertising, executive compensation beyond industry averages, lobbying and travel expenses as laid out in corporate documents and state filings. The group also added up political donations and what it said were excessive costs of the Atlantic Coast natural gas pipeline project.

Those totals led to Clean Virginia’s estimate that the average Dominion customer is paying $254 in excess costs per year.

Dominion’s Botkins took issue with the methodology, saying the company’s ads are paid for by shareholders and PAC contributions are from employees.

The group performed a similar calculation on APCO, finding what it said was $89 in excess yearly charges for those customers.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration says Virginians pay less for electricity than the national average, at 9.09 cents per kilowatt-hour vs. 10.41 cents nationwide, based on 2016 data.

Clean Virginia calls for the state to make several changes to keep a tighter rein on its utilities, including reinstating regular rate reviews by the commission and reforming the way the state calculates allowable rates of return.

While such steps might have been a nonstarter in the past, some Democrats in the General Assembly are ready to press the case in next year’s session, which begins in January.

“In the 2019 legislative session, we will fight to repeal this ‘Dominion Tax’ and change the laws that too often allow utility monopolies to write their own rules – to their own financial advantage – in Richmond,” Del. Sam Rasoul, D-Roanoke, said in a statement released by Clean Virginia.

Politifact Gets it Half Right On Energy Bills
December 17, 2018

The Virginia Chapter of PolitiFact recently rated our observance that Virginia has the 11th highest energy bills in the nation as “half-true,” despite the fact that this figure comes directly from the Federal Energy Information Administration. PolitiFact notes that Virginia also has the 17th lowest residential energy rates; therefore, they claim, Virginians’ energy bills are only high because we use a lot of electricity and that there is not a clear link to corruption.

But the fact is that energy bills in Virginia are needlessly high because legalized corruption from regulated energy monopolies has distorted the relationship between energy consumption and energy bills.

Dominion Grid Plan Panned For Lacking Detail
November 1, 2018

About a year ago, with the 2018 General Assembly visible over the horizon, Dominion Energy started its public drumbeat for a major investment in its distribution and delivery system to improve reliability and efficiency. Only later it became clear the plan was, at least in part, also a way for it to keep and invest substantial excess profits, preventing any effort to return those funds to its customers as rebates or lower prices.

The con at the heart of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline
October 25, 2018

It can’t be said enough, and it’s something that’s easy to lose sight of amid the labyrinthine legal and permitting debates around the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, which could be getting federal approval to start full construction in Virginia any minute now.

Virginia does not fare well in the SWAMP index
October 23, 2018

A new assessment of the potential for corruption in state government is out. And only eight states rank lower than Virginia. It all started with corruption trial of former governor Bob McDonnell. Shruti Shah at the Coalition for Integrity was blogging about the trial, and she realized that state laws governing what kinds of gifts elected officials can receive were pretty thin.

Gilmore: Dominion shouldn’t make campaign contributions
October 19, 2018

The Oct. 11 editorial “Five modern myths” uses a recent study to praise Dominion Energy’s transparency before drawing a false equivalency between the political activities of regulated utility monopolies and environmental groups. Both assertions warrant closer examination:

First, the transparency study is an important data point. Dominion has taken strides on transparency that deserve recognition, but as a public service utility given a monopoly by the state, complete transparency should be the expected norm — not an exception to be rewarded. More concerning is that Virginia’s campaign finance system — one of the worst in the county — is so weak that Dominion does not need to go to great lengths to hide the way they have rigged our system.

Power Play: Countering Electric Utilities’ Political Influence
October 17, 2018

In June, progressives cheered a unanimous vote by the Democratic National Committee for a resolution banning contributions from fossil fuel companies. The text of the resolution raised the spectre of climate change and pegged the political spending of oil, gas and coal companies as a primary cause of inaction.

There’s a lot to like in Northam’s energy plan, but missed opportunities abound
October 15, 2018

There is a lot to like in the Northam administration’s new Virginia Energy Plan, starting with what is not in it. The plan doesn’t throw so much as a bone to the coal industry, and the only plug for fracked gas comes in the discussion of alternatives to petroleum in transportation.