FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Diana Williams, Clean Virginia Communications Lead
February 28, 2021
BREAKING: Consumer Coalition in House of Delegates Blocks Dominion Profit Grab
A bipartisan coalition determined that Virginia students deserved a better deal on electric school buses
Richmond — Late Saturday night the House of Delegates blocked SB 1380, a bill that would have approved a controversial plan by Dominion Energy to establish a substantial foothold in the electric transport sector through the development of electric school buses. The measure included inflated costs to ratepayers, sky-high profits for Dominion, and utility monopoly control over bus batteries – even if that use was not in the interests of students. The House of Delegates had already defeated the bill earlier in the day on a tie 46-46 House vote, but in a highly unusual move, Democratic House leadership resurrected the bill for another attempt at passage before it finally died 41-49 in the final vote of the 2021 legislative session. A total of 21 Democratic delegates joined 28 Republican colleagues in killing the measure. A similar bill was also defeated on a bipartisan basis in the House of Delegates in the 2020 General Assembly session.
“Dominion has a well-established history of manipulating the General Assembly to secure utility-friendly legislation, but those days are over,” Clean Virginia Executive Director Brennan Gilmore said. “A new generation of lawmakers have joined veteran consumer protection champions to restore necessary balance to the creation of energy policy in the Commonwealth, and putting the interests of consumers first.”
The electric school bus expansion plan, announced by Dominion last year, came in the context of a “strategic repositioning” touted by Dominion Executive Chairman Tom Farrell as an opportunity to “allow us to increase our long-term earnings growth rate guidance by around 30 percent.” Dominion followed this repositioning with a record-breaking $1.3 million in contributions to Virginia lawmakers, including during last year’s special session and leading up to the 2021 General Assembly session.
“Virginia should entrust the duty of converting diesel school buses into clean, electric fleets to an appropriate entity that puts students first,” said Lizzie Hylton, Clean Virginia’s Political and Legislative Director. “The General Assembly should never give the keys of a massive transportation project to a monopoly whose profit model exclusively rests on building things as expensively and inefficiently as possible. Utilities should be taking direction from policymakers, not giving it.”
Had it passed, SB 1380 would have saddled Virginians with a needlessly expensive electric school bus transition program managed by the state’s largest utility monopoly. In addition the measure also:
- Lacked cost safeguards that would prevent electricity rate increases for all Virginians and stop Dominion from earning an annual profit every year the buses were in circulation.
- Would have cost ratepayers approximately $250 million for the buses alone – without factoring in the cost of the charging infrastructure or Dominion’s annual profit from both – and would have cost school districts a further $100 million (approximately).
- Enabled Dominion to use bus batteries — without providing compensation to schools in case of disrupting student transportation.
- Utilized a regressive payment structure that would have most burdened low-income households, making them pay for buses through electricity bills despite already shouldering an unaffordable energy burden in a state with the sixth-highest energy bills in the nation.
The 2021 session also saw the defeat of measures to curb loose campaign finance laws by banning the personal use of campaign contributions and stopping lawmakers from accepting campaign contributions from Dominion and Appalachian Power, utilities they are elected to regulate.
Opponents of the bill included the Virginia Conservation Network, Southern Environmental Law Center, Piedmont Environmental Council, Appalachian Voices, Virginia Organizing, and others.