Clean Virginia Statement on Delegate Dave LaRock
January 10, 2021

In our effort to combat corruption and undue utility monopoly influence in Virginia’s energy sector, Clean Virginia Fund, Clean Virginia’s Political Action Committee, operates with a transparent, predictable giving policy for the General Assembly: we will donate $2,500 and $5,000 a year to House Delegate or State Senator candidates or incumbents, respectively, if they refuse contributions from Virginia’s regulated utility monopolies (i.e., Dominion Energy and Appalachian Power Company) and their employed registered lobbyists and do not own stock in those corporations. This policy means that we support legislators from both parties and a wide variety of political viewpoints, and often may not agree with these legislators on issues beyond the scope of having a principled stance against accepting money from the utilities they regulate.

However, some actions are so egregious and contrary to the values of our organization that we must on occasion make exceptions to this universal giving policy. Clean Virginia Fund revised our giving policy last fall to ensure it was in line with these organizational values, including the respect and dignity for all people and communities and a commitment to ethical standards and the integrity of the democratic process.

Due to his reprehensible statements denigrating the LGBTQ community, Clean Virginia Fund concluded last year it would no longer provide campaign funding to Delegate Dave LaRock, who had previously received a standard contribution for House of Delegates members who refuse utility monopoly money. Delegate LaRock’s recent promotion of baseless conspiracy theories about the results of the November Presidential election, followed by his attendance at the events of January 6 and comments that the insurrectional violence was the result of “paid provocateurs” are also of grave concern. These actions are anathema to the values of our organization and reinforce our conclusion that Delegate LaRock will no longer be eligible for our standard contribution.

– Brennan Gilmore, Clean Virginia Executive Director

Virginians Now Paying Sixth Highest Electricity Bills in the Nation
December 21, 2020

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

CONTACT:
Diana Williams, Clean Virginia Communications Lead
diana@cleanvirginia.org, 540-836-8125

Virginians Now Paying Sixth Highest Electricity Bills in the Nation

Virginia’s Leading Clean Energy and Consumer Advocates Call for Immediate Attention to Ratemaking Reform in upcoming Legislative Session

Charlottesville – A recently released 2019 report from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) found that Virginia residents pay the sixth highest electricity bills in the nation. According to this report, Virginia residents paid on average approximately $135 per month, a price only exceeded by Hawaii, Connecticut, Alabama, South Carolina and Mississippi. This marks an increase from 2018, when Virginia was seventh in the nation.

“Virginia has climbed higher in the ranks of the most unaffordable electric bills in the country,” said Clean Virginia Executive Director Brennan Gilmore. “This information further highlights the need for immediate energy reform in Virginia, including an end to the outrageous profits utility monopolies like Dominion extract by regularly overcharging their customers.”

In the Commonwealth, customers’ bills from Virginia’s biggest utility, Dominion Energy, have increased by nearly 29% since 2007, when the laws governing Dominion were rewritten in the utility monopoly’s favor. This problem hits Virginia’s low-income and minority communities particularly hard. According to a study by the Virginia Poverty Law Center, 75% of Virginia households have an unaffordable energy burden, meaning they spend more than 6% of their income on energy expenses. Additionally, according to the National Resources Defense Council, three times as many African-Americans and two times as many Latinos report making serious sacrifices to afford their utility bills compared to non-community of color households.

Strong state policies and regulatory support is needed to combat Virginians’ rising energy prices. Next year, the State Corporation Commission will review Dominion Energy’s rates for the first time since 2015, but recent laws passed governing Dominion’s rate case have stripped regulators of their authority to force Dominion to refund overcharges and lower rates. In order for Virginians to recover any of the $502.7 million Dominion has overcharged customers since 2017 and return future energy bills to an appropriate level, the General Assembly must take serious action in their upcoming legislative session to return full ratemaking authority to the SCC.

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Founded in 1997, Appalachian Voices brings people together to protect the land, air, and water of Central and Southern Appalachia and advance a just transition to a generative and equitable clean energy economy.

The Chesapeake Climate Action Network is the first grassroots organization dedicated exclusively to raising awareness about the impacts and solutions associated with global warming in the Chesapeake Bay region. For 17 years, CCAN has been at the center of the fight for clean energy and wise climate policy in Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C.

Clean Virginia is an independent advocacy organization with an associated Political Action Committee, Clean Virginia Fund. Clean Virginia works to fight corruption in Virginia politics in order to promote clean energy and community control over our energy policy. For more information, visit cleanvirginia.org.

Climate Action Alliance of the Valley (CAAV) – Working toward a sustainable future for all; Our mission is to limit the impact of humans on Earth’s climate and to minimize the effects of inevitable climate change in order to protect the future for Earth and its’ inhabitants. Our Vision is to create and nurture climate action in our Shenandoah Valley community, so that we can become a regional leader in promoting climate change mitigation and resilience

New Virginia Majority builds power in working-class communities of color, in immigrant communities, among LGBTQ people, women, youth, and progressives across the Commonwealth. We organize for racial and economic justice through large-scale political education, mobilization and advocacy around dozens of issues. We fight for a Virginia that is just, democratic and environmentally sustainable. For more information, visit our website and follow us on Twitter and Facebook at @NewVAMajority.

Virginia Organizing is a non-partisan statewide grassroots organization that brings people together to create a more just Virginia.

Wanda Sykes Featured in New Clean Virginia Video Calling for Energy Reform in Virginia  
December 10, 2020

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE 

CONTACT:

Brennan Gilmore, Clean Virginia Executive Director

brennan@cleanvirginia.org, 571-733-0474

Wanda Sykes Featured in New Clean Virginia Video Calling for Energy Reform in Virginia  

Emmy-nominated illustrator challenges power of utility monopolies in “Beyond the Vampire Squid” video

December 10, 2020

Charlottesville — Clean Virginia has partnered with Emmy-winning comedian Wanda Sykes and Emmy-nominated artist Molly Crabapple to produce “Beyond the Vampire Squid: A Story About Power in Virginia” an illustrated video calling for energy reform in Virginia. 

The video uses illustrations depicting Virginia’s top utility monopoly Dominion Energy as a vampire squid, a reference first used by Rolling Stone reporter Matthew Taibbi to describe Goldman Sachs’ role in the 2008 financial crisis. In 2019, the Virginia Mercury’s Editor-in-Chief used the vampire squid reference to describe Dominion and its nefarious influence in Virginia’s political and governmental institutions. Crabapple, who was nominated for an Emmy this year for a video about the Green New Deal featuring Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), illustrated the video and Skyes, a Virginia native, provides the video’s narration. 

“Virginia has its own vampire squid — one that wraps itself around the Capitol and uses its massive financial and political influence to strangle energy competition,” said Clean Virginia Executive Director Brennan Gilmore. “It is high time we vanquished the legalized corruption in Virginia that has allowed Dominion Energy to become the most powerful force in the Commonwealth, at the expense of Virginia families and small businesses.” 

Clean Virginia works on multiple fronts to advance energy and good governance reform in Virginia, including legislative efforts to limit the political influence of utility monopolies, introduce consumer control of Virginia’s energy market, and empower regulators to protect customers from unjust electricity pricing. 

Wanda Sykes is an Emmy-winning stand-up comic, writer, actress, and producer. Hailing from Portsmouth, Virginia, and Gambrills, Maryland, Skyes attended Hampton University and has been active in voter engagement efforts in Virginia, in coordination with the Hometown Project, which connects cultural leaders to local campaigns and candidates in their hometowns. Molly Crapabble’s art is featured in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art, and her animated short “A Message from the Future with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez” was nominated for an Emmy award this year. 

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Clean Virginia is an independent advocacy organization with an associated Political Action Committee, Clean Virginia Fund. Clean Virginia works to fight corruption in Virginia politics in order to promote clean energy and community control over our energy policy.  For more information, visit cleanvirginia.org.

BREAKING: State Corporation Commission Rejects Appalachian Power’s Request to Increase Customer Bills
November 24, 2020

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

CONTACT:

Cassady Craighill, Clean Virginia Communications Director

cassady@cleanvirginia.org, 828-817-3328

BREAKING: State Corporation Commission Rejects Appalachian Power’s Request to Increase Customer Bills

Ruling demonstrates urgent need for legislative reform in advance of Dominion Energy’s 2021 rate case

November 24, 2020

The State Corporation Commission denied Appalachian Power Company’s request for a rate increase, according to the regulatory agency’s final ruling issued today regarding Appalachian’s first triennial rate case. Anti-consumer laws prevented the agency from lowering bills or issuing tens of millions of dollars in customer refunds, both of which the Attorney General’s Office argued were due based on years of overcharging customers.

“Today’s ruling showed what we already knew – Appalachian Power Company grossly overreached by attempting to raise customer bills in the middle of a pandemic and recession after having already raised bills by 64% since 2007,” said Clean Virginia Executive Director Brennan Gilmore. “We commend the State Corporation Commission’s refusal to raise customers’ bills but are disappointed that Virginia’s overwhelmingly pro-utility laws prevented the SCC from issuing refunds for any of the $61 million that the Attorney General’s Office argued Appalachian overcharged its customers. We cannot let this happen again – lawmakers must tackle electricity rate reform and restore the SCC with its full authority before Dominion Energy’s 2021 rate case.”

Key takeaways from the State Corporation Commission’s ruling include:

  • The SCC denied Appalachian’s attempts to raise customer bills based on the utility’s attempt to manipulate the expenses associated with coal-fired power plant retirements.
  • Virginia’s legally-mandated profit bonus that allows Dominion and Appalachian to earn above their authorized profit level, a legal provision that does not exist in any other state, prevented the SCC from lowering rates or issuing customer refunds despite consensus from SCC staff and the Attorney General’s Office that Appalachian had overcharged its customers during the three-year review period.
  • The State Corporation Commission still lacks full authority to determine how utilities recover their costs from customers so that the interests of both are treated fairly. As a result, Appalachian customers will continue to pay energy bills that are higher than they should be.

Dominion Energy’s first triennial rate case begins next March and at least $502.7 million in customer overcharges since 2017 are at stake, according to an SCC report. Without legislative reform during the 2021 General Assembly session, the SCC will be unable to issue customers their full refunds or lower future rates to their appropriate level even if it finds Dominion Energy has overearned.

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Has your electricity been disconnected?
November 12, 2020

Winter is fast approaching, and Virginians are still weathering the impacts of a pandemic and economic crisis. COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are on the rise, a backlog of unemployment claims threatens our ability to pay rent and utilty bills. The good news is that lawmakers just passed a budget that seeks to protect Virginians from electricity disconnections due to overdue bills — and we want to ensure that utilities like Dominion Energy and Appalachian Power follow the law. 

If you are facing electricity disconnection or know friends, family, or neighbors at risk of losing electricity, below is a list of important steps to follow:

  1. For a complete list of resources available to you, please call 211 and press 9 to speak with a community resource specialist. More information about Virginia’s 211 service found here: 211virginia.org
  2. You may qualify for help through the Virginia COVID-19 Energy Assistance program through Virginia’s Department of Social Services. Applications are currently being accepted through November 20, 2020 or until funds are exhausted and could provide eligible households a one-time payment of $300 to assist with payment of a heating or cooling expense.
  3. Contact your energy provider and let them know your situation. The General Assembly passed a budget in November, which, once signed by Governor Northam, will prohibit most utilities from disconnecting customers for nonpayment so long as a State of Emergency remains in effect due to COVID-19.
  4. Notify your House Delegate and State Senator ASAP regarding your electricity disconnection. Click here to send them a message. 
  5. You may also wish to alert the State Corporation Commission (SCC) to your situation using their online complaint form. The SCC is a state agency with regulatory authority over public utilities.

Clean Virginia is committed to holding electric utilities accountable during this uncertain time and ensuring that these companies adhere to the protections that lawmakers put in place for Virginia families. Please share these resources with anyone you know who might be worried about paying their utility bills and losing electricity in their homes. Anyone can view these resources by texting “ENERGY” to 670-76.

Virginia General Assembly Allows Dominion Energy to Pocket Customer Overcharges
October 15, 2020

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Virginia General Assembly Allows Dominion Energy to Pocket Customer Overcharges

Budget agreement rewards Dominion shareholders, ignores Governor’s proposal to refund $320 million and Attorney General’s warnings about monthly bill increases

October 15, 2020

CONTACT:

Cassady Craighill, Clean Virginia Communications and Advocacy Director

cassady@cleanvirginia.org, 828-817-3328

RICHMOND, VA — The General Assembly plans to let Dominion Energy pocket over half a billion dollars of customer overcharges while simultaneously forcing Virginia customers to pay for all outstanding debt that is owed to the monopoly, according to the budget agreement published yesterday. Instead of compelling overdue refunds, the proposed budget agreement puts the financial burden of the COVID-19 crisis and economic fallout solely on the shoulders of captive Dominion customers, allowing shareholders to pocket excess profits, despite warnings from both the Attorney General and the State Corporation Commission.

“The budget committee members squandered an opportunity to provide immediate relief to Virginians in favor of a handout to Dominion Energy. There is no debate about it — the General Assembly has given its blessing for Dominion Energy to pocket most of the $502.7 million that belongs to families and small businesses during an unprecedented time of need,” said Clean Virginia Executive Director Brennan Gilmore. “While the proposed Dominion debt forgiveness plan will help some customers, the General Assembly is forcing Virginians to pay for debt they did not accrue, while simultaneously allowing Dominion and its shareholders to keep excess profits they did not earn.”

The current proposed budget language: 

  1. Fails to compel Dominion Energy to refund any of the $502.7 million it has overcharged Virginians since 2017.
  2. Forces other Virginians to pay all of the outstanding electric bills owed to Dominion that have accumulated during the COVID-19 crisis, letting shareholders off the hook from shouldering any of the burden.
  3. “Will increase future monthly bills to the extent that it is designed to reduce any future bill credits otherwise due customers from over-earnings,” according to Attorney General Mark Herring in a two-page letter sent last month to lawmakers. 

The budget language from the nine-member House and Senate budget conference committee rebukes Governor Northam’s proposal to return $320 million of the $502.7 million Dominion Energy overcharged customers from 2017-2019 back to Virginians. Both chambers adopted debt forgiveness of accounts 30 days or more in arrearages through September 30th, but do not require Dominion Energy to provide any customer refunds.

“While bending over backwards for Dominion Energy in back room negotiations, the members of the budget committee failed Virginians. As a result, the General Assembly is set to shortchange millions of Dominion customers during an emergency session designed to provide assistance and relief to families and businesses,” Gilmore said.

A coalition of nearly 40 prominent advocacy organizations called on lawmakers last month to demand that Dominion Energy return the $502.7 million it has overcharged Virginians since 2017 in a full-page Richmond Times-Dispatch advertisement. The House and Senate could vote on the budget as early as Friday.

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Clean Virginia is an independent advocacy organization with an associated Political Action Committee, Clean Virginia Fund. Clean Virginia works to fight corruption in Virginia politics in order to promote clean energy and community control over our energy policy.  For more information, visit cleanvirginia.org.

Power Play: Inside the Dominion lobbying blitz that’s going to raise your electric bills
October 13, 2020

This article was produced in partnership with the ProPublica Local Reporting Network. Sign up for ProPublica’s Big Story newsletter.

When Democrats campaigned for the Virginia legislature last year, they took aim at the state’s largest power broker: Dominion Energy.

The electric utility’s clout was legendary in the state Capitol, where it doled out millions in campaign contributions and employed an army of lobbyists who helped write energy policy for decades. The result was soaring electricity bills and an energy grid heavily reliant on fossil fuels.

Democrats vowed to change that. After winning total control at the state Capitol for the first time in a generation, lawmakers unveiled the Clean Economy Act. They said it would phase out carbon-based energy and lower consumers’ power bills.

In a stark display of role reversal, one of Dominion’s top lobbyists watched from the back of the room as Democratic lawmakers stood alongside environmentalists and clean energy backers to introduce the legislation at a press conference.

But over the next 11 weeks, Dominion fought back and ended up as a winner in a bill intended to diminish its influence. By doubling the size of its lobbying corps and tapping its long-standing relationships with legislative leaders and Gov. Ralph Northam, the utility secured in the Clean Economy Act the right to build its top priority: a massive offshore wind farm set to be the most expensive utility project in Virginia history.

State regulators estimate a typical residential customer will pay nearly $70 more per month for the same amount of electricity by the end of the decade. About 40% of that increase is tied to the new law.

At the behest of Dominion, records show, a senior Northam administration official made last-minute changes to the legislation that increased the wind project’s price tag by an estimated $2.5 billion. The tweaks meant more money for Dominion, because state law guarantees utilities roughly 10% profit on construction projects. Neither the environmental representatives who helped craft the bill nor the state senator who sponsored it said they were aware of the changes until after the legislature passed it.

What happened in those 11 weeks — detailed in emails, internal documents and dozens of interviews conducted by The Richmond Times-Dispatch and ProPublica — offers an inside look at how Dominion wields political influence in Richmond, even as growing ranks of lawmakers denounce its name and refuse its money.

Dominion defended its role in the process, saying that the legislation directly affected its business.

“If the lights go out, people call us. So the No. 1 thing we always bring in any discussion of energy bills is we’re very aware we’ve got responsibility for this — keeping the lights on,” said Bill Murray, Dominion’s head lobbyist. “And that informs sort of everything else that we do.”

He said the utility pressed for the changes to the legislation to lock in the cost of the wind project. That helps offset the risks of building offshore wind, which is more expensive than other forms of energy. The company says it can’t meet the state’s new renewable energy goals without using offshore wind.

Today, Northam and Democratic lawmakers champion the Clean Economy Act as landmark legislation that places Virginia, long among the worst states on clean energy, at the forefront of the fight against climate change. It will also promote construction of solar energy and mandate utilities generate electricity without fossil fuels by 2050.

Nevertheless, if wind costs escalate or the offshore project doesn’t produce the energy expected, Dominion’s customers will still be on the hook.

“There’s no reason that we have to make these policy decisions that say that this regulated monopoly must profit off of all of these other projects,” said Del. Sam Rasoul, a Democrat from the mountain city of Roanoke, who unsuccessfully sought to curb costs in the Clean Economy Act. “I feel as though Dominion is still solidly in control of the legislature.”

Monopoly Rule, Big Bills

Like most public utilities, Dominion has a monopoly on its territory, providing power to two-thirds of customers in Virginia and a small slice of North Carolina. In exchange, the company is required to convince a board of independent state regulators, the State Corporation Commission, that it isn’t overcharging customers. But over the years, Dominion has pushed for and won legislation that undercuts regulators’ authority.

In 2015, Dominion convinced Virginia lawmakers to pass a bill that blocked the SCC from reviewing base electricity rates for the next seven years. (The utility had cited the Obama-era Clean Power Plan, saying it needed “rate stability” from Virginia in the face of expensive federal mandates. The Trump administration has since killed the environmental rule.)

The strategy has resulted in massive profits for Dominion while ratepayers’ bills soar. By law, utilities are entitled to earn about 10% profit on their assets and investments. Anything over that amount is considered “over-earnings,” money that could go back to customers as refunds. According to the SCC, Dominion made more than $500 million in excess earnings between 2017 and 2019.

The preliminary figures, released in a report in August, will be evaluated in a formal review next year. Dominion spokesman Rayhan Daudani said the company expects to use excess earnings for clean energy investments and assistance for people with unpaid bills during the pandemic.

“The customer is getting benefit back from those dollars,” he said.

Years of excess earnings, however, have driven public anger. Today, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, Virginia households pay some of the most expensive electricity bills in the nation. Daudani said Dominion believes electricity rates are a better metric for comparison. The company’s rates are below the national average, he said, but Virginians use more electricity.

The utility’s residential power bills have jumped nearly 29% since 2007, largely due to new construction projects, according to an SCC report released in August.

“We have maintained reliable service, bolstered by our efforts to modernize the electric grid, and we have made record investments in clean energy,” Daudani said. “We are very proud of this record.”

Typically, state regulators would evaluate those projects to determine whether they were necessary. That’s how neighboring states oversee investor-owned utilities, which still earn millions in profit, said Joel Eisen, an energy and environmental law professor at the University of Richmond who has studied public utility regulation in America for 20 years.

But in Virginia, Dominion has routinely pressed the General Assembly to declare its projects “in the public interest,” language designed to force regulatory approval.

In 2007, lawmakers urged the commission to approve the Virginia City Hybrid Energy Center, a $1.8 billion power plant in Southwest Virginia. They also awarded Dominion a bonus as an incentive to build the plant. Five years later when it started generating power, it was one of the last coal plants to open in the United States.

Today, it isn’t scheduled to operate more than 11% of the time. The plant, however, makes up the largest single generation charge on a customer bill: nearly $4 a month for the typical residential customer. A 2012 state attorney general’s office report showed customers are paying an extra $146 million to Dominion over the project’s lifetime for the bonus that lawmakers approved.

State regulators have questioned the need for some of Dominion’s most expensive projects. SCC officials said in a report in 2018 that the utility has regularly overstated electricity demand in Virginia. Daudani, the Dominion spokesman, said that as a result of that report the company changed the way it predicts demand.

Still, the utility has found ways to continue building and to keep its excess profits. In 2018, amid a brewing revolt over customer costs, Dominion supported a law to allow the company to invest much of the excess earnings in clean energy projects — instead of issuing refunds.

Eisen said he’s “unaware of any comparable provision elsewhere in the nation that allows a utility to take money that a commission would otherwise decide it has to give back to ratepayers and allow the utility to plow that into new projects.”

All of this led to a massive opposition effort.

Beginning in 2018, a wealthy hedge fund investor, Michael Bills, offered financial support to any politician who refused to take campaign donations from Dominion. The response was overwhelming, with Bills shelling out $3 million to candidates and his political action committee, Clean Virginia.

Today, a third of state lawmakers have pledged not to take money from Dominion, its executives or lobbyists. Bills has supplanted the utility and every other person and corporation in Virginia as the state’s top political donor.

He gave Northam $586,000 from 2013 to 2017, more than double Dominion’s contributions to the governor in the past decade.

Bills said in an interview that he has no investments that compete with Dominion. He wants the legislature to allow more competition for clean energy and empower state regulators to stop Dominion from keeping excess profits.

“You can have clean energy and all the advantages of non-carbon producing energy without busting the bank,” Bills said, “and more importantly, busting the poor ratepayers’ backs.”

Dominion’s Friends in the State Senate

Democrats saw the Clean Economy Act as an opportunity to remake Virginia’s energy landscape and help lower power bills. Utilities would have to meet tougher energy efficiency targets and accept more solar and other renewable energy generated by producers other than Dominion.

Among the legislation’s primary authors was Virginia Advanced Energy Economy, a trade association that represents wind and solar developers, energy efficiency companies, and corporate energy buyers like Amazon and Facebook that want to reduce their carbon footprint.

Democrats in the House embraced the bill.

But leaders in the Senate bristled.

The upper house was ruled by Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw, a longtime Dominion ally from Fairfax County. Elected to the legislature in 1975, the 80-year-old lawmaker drives a purple Jaguar with the license plate “1” because he is Virginia’s senior state senator. A popular conservative radio talk show host calls him “the godfather.”

Dominion is Saslaw’s biggest political supporter. The utility’s PAC has given him $435,508 since 1996, nearly two times more than his second-largest donor, the Virginia Bankers Association, according to the nonprofit Virginia Public Access Project, which tracks money in state politics. And Dominion executives have given Saslaw an additional $48,000.

The utility is also the largest corporate donor to the Senate Democratic Caucus, giving nearly $400,000 in the past 20 years.

In 2019, as the anti-Dominion wave crested, Yasmine Taeb, a lawyer from Northern Virginia, challenged Saslaw in a primary, pledging to get excess Dominion earnings back to customers. She criticized what she called “‘an old Virginia way’ that still runs Richmond” and blasted Saslaw, who she said had “done Dominion’s bidding.” Saslaw has defended his record, saying the utility’s donations don’t influence his decisions. “I haven’t done any more than anybody else has” to help Dominion, he said in an interview.

With talk of a potential upset, Dominion stepped in. Five days before the election, the utility sent a letter to shareholders in his Senate district in the Washington suburbs touting his efforts on company projects.

Saslaw squeaked past Taeb by less than 3 points, his closest race in four decades.

He spent about $1.4 million on the primary, seven times more than Taeb.

Saslaw told environmental leaders that to get any climate bill through the Senate, they’d need agreement from Dominion. In an interview for this story, he said that the state’s largest utility would be directly affected by the measure, so it needed to be a player in the discussions.

“Your best legislation is when everybody involved reaches a compromise,” Saslaw said. “That’s the way the legislature works.”

After getting little out of past legislation backed by Dominion, environmentalists remained enthusiastic.

“We were excited because for the first time we were working from our language,” said Harrison Wallace, then the Virginia director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network and one of the bill negotiators. “This was our bill, which we are now coming together to defend, and that was exciting.”

In Virginia, where the General Assembly usually convenes for an alternating 45 or 60 days each year, lobbyists have taken on an outsized role in policymaking.

Lawmakers file so many bills during the frantic sessions, rushing from hearing room to hearing room, that they often leave special interests to hammer out the details.

So last January, at Saslaw’s direction, representatives of environmental groups and Dominion began a series of negotiation meetings. The lawmakers who sponsored the bill did not participate in the sessions.

A Conference Room With No View

At first, the environmental and clean energy negotiators tried to meet with Dominion representatives in the cramped state legislative building, even in the room designated for news conferences. But space was scarce.

Dominion offered a solution: The group could use one of the utility’s office towers just a few blocks from the Capitol. Environmentalists were reluctant; they wanted neutral ground and felt moving the talks would give their longtime foe an advantage. But, under pressure to reach an agreement, they relented.

Over the next five weeks, the group often decamped to a conference room that had one window looking out onto a brick wall. Negotiators would spend three- to five-hour chunks, sometimes all day, hashing out details of the legislation. Dominion occasionally bought meals from fast-casual restaurants like Chipotle for the group.

After years of Republican rule, the environmentalists were thrilled to be at the table. But now they faced the consummate political insider.

Bill Murray, Dominion’s top lobbyist and lead negotiator on the legislation, had 29 years of legislative experience, about half with Dominion. He had worked in the administrations of two former governors, Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, both now U.S. senators. After joining Dominion, Murray was part of the transition teams for the office’s most recent occupants, Terry McAuliffe and Northam.

Many lawmakers, especially those of the older generation, know and trust Murray because they’ve worked with him for years. He has personally given campaign money to more than 30 current lawmakers — a fifth of the General Assembly.

Joining Murray at the table was Katharine Bond, a 21-year veteran of Dominion who was the lobbyist at the environmental groups’ press conference with lawmakers.

Murray gave advice to the environmentalists and told stories about how to get a bill passed in the legislature, said Wallace of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network.

But he and Bond had a consistent message for the other negotiators: The provisions of the Clean Economy Act as presented were too costly.

The talks dragged on, and environmentalists believed that Dominion was using delay tactics. For instance, the utility initially agreed to annual benchmarks on energy efficiency designed to save customers money but later pared down the program, environmental negotiators said. Daudani, the Dominion spokesman, didn’t directly address the negotiations but noted that state regulators will set new efficiency targets after the program ends.

The change prompted a lobbyist with the Natural Resources Defense Council to leave the negotiations on Jan. 30.

By February, the talks were shaky.

“Legislative negotiations are always complicated and miscommunication can happen, but this occurred too often to be pure coincidence and caused unwarranted delays,” said Harry Godfrey, the executive director of Virginia Advanced Energy Economy.

Murray responded in an interview that everything had to be checked “with the people who operate the grid.”

To some in the room, it was as if the legislature had not changed hands.

“In the Public Interest”

The original Clean Economy Act called for offshore wind as part of a mix of clean energy but didn’t include language mandating that Dominion own it. The utility wanted to change that.

After years of investment in coal, natural gas and nuclear power, it had recently expanded into renewable energy.

The utility won a federal lease for the area off the coast of Virginia Beach in 2013, as it considered building an offshore wind farm. Five years later, in 2018, it was pursuing a two-turbine test project. Just as it had done with its previous construction efforts, Dominion successfully pressed the legislature to declare the pilot project “in the public interest.”

Saying the law tied its hands, the SCC approved the project but raised concerns.

The turbines would cost customers $300 million and generate 12 megawatts of electricity, enough to power only 3,000 homes with sustained winds. The cost of the wind energy was 26 times greater than purchasing it from the market and nearly 14 times greater than solar, the commission wrote in its order.

Regulators said that customers would bear almost all of the risk if costs went up or the project flopped.

Now, in early 2020, with the test project still under construction, Dominion pushed to go bigger. It wanted to build a $7.8 billion expansion, which would make its offshore wind operation the largest in the nation. And it saw the Virginia legislature as the vehicle to make it happen.

Offshore wind is largely a new frontier in America. During the legislative session, there was only one offshore wind farm in the United States, made up of five turbines off the coast of Rhode Island. There are 18 projects in the planning stages in other states, according to the American Wind Energy Association. But Virginia Democrats, many of whom campaigned on promises to combat climate change and protect the environment, backed Dominion’s plan.

text highlights 2
Legislators wrote a law in 2018 saying Dominion Energy’s test wind project was “in the public interest,” and they did so again in 2020 for the utility’s much larger offshore wind farm. (Highlights added by ProPublica and The Times-Dispatch)

While environmentalists and Dominion negotiated in the utility’s office tower, the Democratic sponsors of the Clean Economy Act, Del. Rip Sullivan of Fairfax County, and Sen. Jennifer McClellan of Richmond, added language that declared the wind farm “in the public interest.”

Another addition to the bill went further. It said the SCC should find certain costs to be “reasonably and prudently incurred.”

The provision meant legislators were directing state regulators to approve a future request from Dominion to recover billions from customers for its offshore wind plan.

While the SCC still makes the final decisions, the “reasonable and prudent” language makes the commission’s hearing more of a formality. The Virginia attorney general’s office warned lawmakers early in the session that the wording takes away a key ratepayer protection.

Such language is not the norm elsewhere, said James Van Nostrand, a utility law professor and director of the Center for Energy and Sustainable Development at West Virginia University who spent 22 years representing investor-owned utilities. Typically, he said, a public utility commission would determine whether a proposed project should move forward. The regulated utility has the burden of proof to show regulators that its proposed costs are reasonable and prudent.

The Clean Economy Act removes that burden, he said, calling it “a big advantage for the utility to have this.”

“The more the legislature weighs in, the more you see what Dominion can do just by its influence over the legislature,” Van Nostrand said in a recent interview. Lawmakers are removing authority “from an agency that has the expertise and has the proceedings that invite the level of rigor and scrutiny that’s going to test that number.”

The lawmakers who sponsored the bill said they largely left the details to Dominion and the environmental groups.

“Other than just generally focusing on ‘What can we do to expand wind,’ I was not involved in the weeds of the language negotiations,” said McClellan, who sponsored the legislation with Sullivan. “Rip and I basically told all of the stakeholders: ‘Negotiate this bill. When you can’t reach agreement, come to us and we’ll be the tiebreaker.’”

Sullivan said in interviews that the language came from “the ongoing collaborative process between lots of stakeholders. And I think I’d be misdescribing the process if I told you that one particular person or one particular entity asked for that specific language. It became part of the ongoing discussions.”

But key environmental negotiators — including Wallace of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, Will Cleveland of the Southern Environmental Law Center and Mike Town of the Virginia League of Conservation Voters — said they didn’t write the language or help write it.

Dominion’s Murray and Bond said they didn’t know who wrote it; asked if Dominion’s lawyer wrote it, Murray said the utility’s legal representatives were “involved in discussions about it,” but the company declined to provide more detail.

Sullivan said in interviews that the language came from “the ongoing collaborative process between lots of stakeholders. And I think I’d be misdescribing the process if I told you that one particular person or one particular entity asked for that specific language. It became part of the ongoing discussions.”

But key environmental negotiators — including Wallace of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, Will Cleveland of the Southern Environmental Law Center and Mike Town of the Virginia League of Conservation Voters — said they didn’t write the language or help write it.

Dominion’s Murray and Bond said they didn’t know who wrote it; asked if Dominion’s lawyer wrote it, Murray said the utility’s legal representatives were “involved in discussions about it,” but the company declined to provide more detail.

“Is it not the case that the reason we have not had a rate review … is because of two bills that you all helped draft and asked for?” he asked during a House subcommittee hearing.

The bill easily passed the House.

Then, it went to the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee. At the helm: Saslaw, the state’s most-senior senator.

The sponsors made their case and a long line of supporters formed to speak.

“This is about protecting the consumer, protecting the ratepayer,” said Del. Jay Jones, D-Norfolk. “That money belongs in the pockets of the people of Virginia.”

But Dominion lobbyists told lawmakers the bill would undercut Dominion’s ability to do clean energy projects, a claim refuted by the SCC.

Browder, speaking softly and without naming Dominion, told senators, “I believe that there may be some attempt at confusion on the issues here.”

He reminded them of times Dominion made claims that didn’t pan out, like in 2014 when lawmakers passed a bill allowing Dominion to charge customers for research on a nuclear reactor. The utility had argued it needed the funds to keep the project moving. Dominion charged customers $320 million for the work but later paused development of the reactor.

Others on the panel defended the utility.

“There are 26 to 29 states with higher rates than Dominion, so are they ripping off their customers too?” Saslaw asked one speaker; two speakers then told him rates are only part of what Dominion customers see on their bills. Dominion’s base rates make up about 60% of the average residential power bill, with additional charges for construction projects and fuel costs making up the rest.

The Senate Republican leader, Tommy Norment, accused “environmental groups and lower-income groups” of having “done their absolute unequivocal best to bend Dominion over in every way imaginable.”

The rate bill died in the Senate committee, 8-7. Six Democrats, including Saslaw, were joined by two Republicans in killing the measure.

With a Little Help From the Governor’s Office

For much of the session, environmental groups and Dominion were at an impasse over the Clean Economy Act. And with time running short, the Northam administration stepped in to mediate.

The governor, who had called for ambitious clean energy goals, supported Dominion’s offshore wind plan. He also had deep ties to the utility. Dominion has contributed $291,000 to Northam’s political campaigns and committees throughout his career. Northam also had tapped some of the utility’s top lobbyists — including Murray — to help his transition team in 2017 and later hired Dominion’s director of strategic communications as his chief communications officer.

Angela Navarro, Northam’s deputy commerce secretary, led talks between Dominion and the environmental groups.

Before entering state government, she was a lawyer for the Southern Environmental Law Center. Both sides saw her as a credible broker. Emails obtained through the Virginia Freedom of Information Act show Navarro taking the lead in making changes to the Clean Economy Act based on the negotiations.

One of the sticking points was cost: The amount lawmakers would order regulators to approve for the offshore wind project was obscured in the bill by a complicated equation. One part called for multiplying the energy cost of a certain type of natural gas plant by 1.6. Negotiators agreed to reduce 1.6 to 1.4, thereby cutting the projected cost.

Another part of the equation specified that the average energy cost of that gas plant should be the cost most recently estimated by a federal agency.

On Jan. 29, the most recent federal estimates were published, showing a 25% drop from 2019. Under the bill’s language, that meant the amount the legislature was telling regulators to allow Dominion to charge its customers fell, to $7.3 billion.

But on March 4, the day before lawmakers would introduce a new version for a final debate, Navarro made a critical alteration to the legislation.

Records show she changed “most recently” to “2019,” a tweak backed by Dominion that immediately boosted the acceptable price tag of the offshore wind project. The increase was roughly $2.5 billion, an analysis by the SCC would later show.

text highlights
The change to “2019” added roughly $2.5 billion to the project’s acceptable cost. (Highlights added by ProPublica and The Times-Dispatch)

Navarro said in a July interview she had no records from anyone asking her to make that change. She said the group negotiated the language. “I think we discussed it amongst all of the stakeholders,” Navarro said.

But five of the main environmental and trade association members who participated in discussions told the Times-Dispatch and ProPublica they did not ask for the alteration and weren’t aware of it at the time.

“We definitely did not ask for that change,” said Town, of the League of Conservation Voters.

Documents obtained through a FOIA request show that the language change was, in fact, a priority for Dominion. And phone records reveal that Navarro spoke to the utility’s representatives on March 4 just before and after emailing negotiators the tweaked legislation. One of those representatives did not return phone calls seeking comment and the other said she did not remember the nature of the conversation.

The next morning, a lawyer for Dominion emailed Navarro requesting several changes to the bill, records show. A state bill drafter had added “2019” to the cost formula, as Navarro directed, but did not cut “most recently.” The Dominion lawyer told Navarro to strike “most recently” and listed that request among “policy choices/more than typos.”

Dominion’s legal team also wanted Navarro to insert language into the bill that would allow Dominion to charge its Virginia customers extra if North Carolina regulators wouldn’t let the utility pass the Clean Economy Act charges along to Dominion’s 123,000 customers there. That language had been removed inadvertently, so Navarro approved putting it back into the legislation.

Navarro declined to comment about her phone records, her emails and the statements from environmental negotiators that they had not been involved in the key change that benefited Dominion.

Clark Mercer, the governor’s chief of staff, said in a statement for this story that Navarro was not aware of any new federal data that would have changed the cost in the bill until after the bill passed, and he wrote that she believed the change was “consensus language” from stakeholders.

Navarro left her job in the governor’s office on Sept. 4. Northam’s press secretary said Navarro had been planning to leave for several months.

Clean Economy Act supporters note that Dominion will be required to take competitive bids for most of the work to build the offshore wind farm, which it said would lower costs.

But under the bill, Dominion can recover at least $9.8 billion in costs — more than $2 billion above its latest estimate, the SCC later said in an analysis.

A Historic Law, a Risky Bet

Lawmakers in the House debated the new version of the Clean Economy Act on March 5. No one brought up the change in the cost equation or the resulting dollar amount.

McClellan, the Senate sponsor, told the Times-Dispatch and ProPublica she was unaware of the alteration until the news organizations asked her about it, months after the bill passed. Sullivan, the House sponsor, said he was aware of the change but not the resulting dollar amount.

That day, Sullivan described the Clean Economy Act as “transformative and historic” and said it would help the coastal Virginia region become a national hub for offshore wind manufacturing. Other states “are vying to become that hub,” he said on the House floor, “and Virginia needs to act now.”

But a few Democrats spoke against the bill, casting it as a giveaway to Dominion.

Del. Lee Carter, a Democratic socialist from Manassas, told his colleagues that they had been manipulated.

“Dominion Energy’s addiction is to its monopoly power and to ratepayer money, and they have adapted to Democratic control over the General Assembly,” he said. “In previous years, they’ve gotten their ratepayer money through fossil fuel projects because that is what they could get through a Republican-held General Assembly. Now they have adapted and they’re doing their price gouging on renewable energy projects. They are, in my opinion, taking advantage of this new majority’s desire to do something for the environment and they are using that as a way to gouge the citizens of this commonwealth.”

Rasoul, the Dominion critic from Roanoke, introduced amendments to reduce the cost of offshore wind development, but Sullivan labeled them a “poison pill.” The majority killed them.

The Clean Economy Act passed the House, 51-45, on March 5, and passed the Senate, 22-17, the next day. One Republican in each chamber joined Democrats.

Northam signed the legislation in April.

The environmental negotiators say they are happy with the progressive policies in the new law.

Its mandate that utilities generate all electricity without fossil fuels by 2050 is the first of its kind in the South.

The law requires the SCC to consider the social costs of carbon emissions for new utility projects, which environmentalists say will help the state fight climate change.

“It will be very hard for Dominion to get approval to build any gas of any size,” said Cleveland,  who helped write the original Clean Economy Act.

The law also shrinks Dominion’s energy monopoly a bit, allowing private parties to own 35% of new large solar projects. Previous law capped that amount at 25%. Environmental negotiators wanted a 50-50 split.

Other environmentalists, however, said the bill moves too slowly toward a transition to renewable energy. On energy efficiency, the language in the law was watered down to the point that the utility can nearly meet the mandate through programs it already planned under a previous law, according to a company filing.

Will Reisinger, a former assistant attorney general who practices with Richmond clean energy firm ReisingerGooch, said the bill is good for Dominion because it allows the company to make a lot of money. And the legislature missed an opportunity to pair that with fair electricity rates, he said.

“We have to pay attention to costs,” he said. “If we do the clean energy transition in a really expensive, inefficient manner, it’s going to impose unreasonable, unbearable costs on consumers and businesses and I just don’t think it’s going to work.”

But from Wall Street, Virginia took away risk for investors, which is important, said Shar Pourreza, managing director for North American power and utilities at New York investment firm Guggenheim Partners.

In other states, the risk of developing offshore wind is on the utility, he said.

For Dominion, the law has taken on even more significance.

Four months after the session ended, on July 5, its parent company announced it was selling its gas assets and canceling plans to build the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, an $8 billion project to carry natural gas from West Virginia. Dominion said the federally regulated project collapsed, in part, because of legal challenges from environmentalists.

Dominion Executive Chair Tom Farrell said in a news release that the company would instead focus on something else: A clean energy profile in “its premier state-regulated, sustainability-focused utilities.”

In Full-Page Richmond Times-Dispatch Ad, Organizations Call on Lawmakers to Force Dominion Energy Refunds
October 5, 2020

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE 

In Full-Page Richmond Times-Dispatch Ad, Organizations Call on Lawmakers to Force Dominion Energy Refunds 

Dominion Energy is trying to keep over $500 million that it overcharged Virginians.”

October 5, 2020

CONTACT:

Cassady Craighill, Clean Virginia Communications and Advocacy Director

cassady@cleanvirginia.org, 828-817-3328

RICHMOND, VA —  Nearly 40 organizations placed a full-page ad in Sunday’s Richmond Times-Dispatch calling on lawmakers to demand that Dominion Energy return the $502.7 million it has overcharged Virginians since 2017. 

VIEW FULL AD HERE 

A coalition of 36 prominent advocacy organizations from Virginia signed onto the ad, which reads: “The Virginia General Assembly cannot let Dominion Energy get away with exploiting the legislative session by turning what was supposed to provide economic relief for families and businesses into another way for them to keep and take money from Virginians.” The ad is also running on the Richmond Times-Dispatch’s homepage. 

The House and Senate have so far failed to include a budget proposal from Governor Northam that would return $320 million of the utility monopoly’s overcharges back to Virginians in the form of customer refunds and debt forgiveness. The State Corporation Commission denied the Governor’s latest request for a utility disconnection moratorium last week after months of warning that legislative action was required to avoid shifting the financial burden to paying customers. 

“Legislators who accept massive amounts of money from Dominion are once again letting the monopoly get away with a stark injustice,” said Clean Virginia Executive Director Brennan Gilmore. “Even before the COVID crisis, Black households were three times more likely to make serious sacrifices to pay their utility bills than non-minority households and Latinx households were twice as likely. The Virginia General Assembly must combat economic inequality during two unprecedented crises by demanding Dominion Energy refund its overcharges back to Virginians who have already paid more than their fair share.”

The Richmond Times-Dispatch ad was signed by the following organizations: American Promise, Allegheny-Blue Ridge Alliance, Appalachian Voices, ARTivism Virginia, Chesapeake Climate Action Network, Clean Virginia, Climate Action Alliance of the Valley, Community Climate Collaborative, Earth Rise Indivisible, EcoAction Arlington, Food & Water Action, the Humanization Project, Indivisible Virginia, Lewinsville Faith in Action, the Manufactured Home Community Coalition of Virginia, Mothers Out Front VA, NAKASEC Virginia, Network NOVA, New Virginia Majority, NOVA Grassroots,  Piedmont Environmental Council, Progress Virginia, Rappahannock League for Environmental Protection, Sierra Club Virginia Chapter, Tenants and Worker United, Virginia Conservation Network, Virginia Housing Alliance, Virginia Grassroots Coalition, Virginia Interfaith Power & Light, Virginia Justice Democrats, Virginia League of Conservation Voters, Virginia Organizing, Virginia Poverty Law Center, WE of Action Virginia, 350 Alexandria, 350 Fairfax.

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Clean Virginia is an independent advocacy organization with an associated Political Action Committee, Clean Virginia Fund. Clean Virginia works to fight corruption in Virginia politics in order to promote clean energy and community control over our energy policy.  For more information, visit cleanvirginia.org.

 

Virginia House and Senate Fail to Refund any of the $500 Million Dominion Energy Has Overcharged Virginians
September 25, 2020

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE 

CONTACT:

Cassady Craighill, Clean Virginia Communications and Advocacy Director

cassady@cleanvirginia.org, 828-817-3328

September 25, 2020

Virginia House and Senate Fail to Refund any of the $500 Million Dominion Energy Has Overcharged Virginians 

Budget committees ignore Governor’s proposal, House budget allows utility to keep nearly $430 million in overcharges  

In response to the budgets released today by the Virginia House Appropriations Committee and the Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee, both of which largely ignore Governor Northam’s proposal to return $320 million of the $502.7 million Dominion Energy overcharged customers from 2017-2019 back to Virginians in the form of refunds and overdue utility bill debt forgiveness, Clean Virginia Executive Director Brennan Gilmore said: 

“Dominion Energy is unfortunately exploiting the emergency special session and the current crisis for its own economic benefit. Working with traditional allies in the legislature, the monopoly has inserted budget language that allows it to withhold nearly $430 million owed to Virginians. While Virginians should receive all $502.7 million that Dominion overcharged them, supporting the Governor’s solution was the clear right choice: return $320 million to Virginians through direct refunds and debt forgiveness using just a portion of the half a billion that Dominion Energy already overcharged customers since 2017. It’s not too late for the General Assembly to adopt the Governor’s initiative and honor the purpose of this special legislative session —  to help Virginians struggling under the weight of two unprecedented crises.”

In its last extension of the utility disconnection moratorium, the SCC warned that “unless the General Assembly explicitly directs that a utility’s own shareholders must bear the cost of unpaid bills, those costs will almost certainly be shifted to other paying customers.” Shareholders are not responsible for covering the overdue utility bill debt in the proposal from both chambers of the General Assembly. 

Unlike the budget language proposed by Governor Northam, the language from both chambers of the Virginia General Assembly does not require Dominion Energy to provide refunds to all residential, commercial, and industrial customers. And while both the House and Senate budgets direct Dominion to provide some measure of debt forgiveness, the House language falls far short of the Senate version. The House only directs Dominion to forgive the debt of accounts 60 days or more in arrearages through August 31st, compared with the Senate’s debt forgiveness of accounts 30 days or more in arrearages through September 30th. 

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SCC grants Northam’s request to extend moratorium on utility disconnections to Oct. 5
September 17, 2020

By Mel Leonor 

State regulators on Tuesday granted Gov. Ralph Northam’s request to extend a moratorium on utility disconnections, which was set to expire Wednesday, until Oct. 5.

Thousands of Virginians face possible disconnection when the moratorium expires, in large part due to the economic pressures of the COVID-19 pandemic. As of June 30, Virginians owed more than $184 million in past-due utility bills, including electric, water and gas.

State lawmakers are weighing legislation to address the issue, namely a bill to secure 12-month payment plans for indebted customers, and budget language backed by the Northam administration to extend the moratorium and force Dominion Energy to use overearnings to help cushion some customers.

“The extension of the current moratorium will ensure that the General Assembly has the time to fully evaluate legislative and budget proposals, while providing these essential services to families facing economic hardships during this pandemic,” Northam wrote in a letter to the State Corporation Commission on Monday.
In a release announcing a further extension, the SCC said it will not extend the moratorium beyond Oct. 5 and urged the governor and lawmakers to appropriate funds to help customers who cannot pay their bills because of the pandemic.

Northam announced the request during a news conference on Tuesday, during which he highlighted Virginia’s progress in containing the spread of the virus after a summer spike in Hampton Roads that has since abated.

State regulators instituted the utility moratorium at the onset of the pandemic, but over the summer, the regulatory agency argued that a legislative fix was needed to protect smaller utilities from a cash crunch.

“Since we first imposed the moratorium on March 16, 2020, we have warned repeatedly that this moratorium is not sustainable indefinitely,” the SCC said in a statement on Tuesday.

“The mounting costs of unpaid bills must eventually be paid, either by the customers in arrears or by other customers who themselves may be struggling to pay their bills. Unless the General Assembly explicitly directs that a utility’s own shareholders must bear the cost of unpaid bills, those costs will almost certainly be shifted to other paying customers.”

The full extent of the state’s utility debt is unclear. The most recent information published by the SCC in response to lawmaker requests estimated that Virginians owed more than $184 million in past-due utility bills, including $137.4 million in electric bills, according to a preliminary survey.
That survey doesn’t include all utilities in the state, or any debt incurred since July 1.

On Tuesday, the Senate advanced legislation introduced by Sen. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond, that would allow customers 12 months to pay down their debt, and would compel the SCC to issue a report to lawmakers outlining the full extent of utility debt in the state.

The Virginia Poverty Law Center, which has been working on the issue, has warned of a disconnection crisis once the current moratorium ends — whenever that happens.

“At the end of the day, the moratorium will end, and we have to understand what happens next. How can people and utilities get back to normal after the moratoriums are over?” said Dana Wiggins of the Virginia Poverty Law Center in an interview last month. “We wanted there to be at least more wiggle room so that people who are paying their bills and trying to catch up on their debt — that their debt payments are something that they can actually pay.”