Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli isn’t campaigning for the Republican nomination for Virginia’s governor in 2013 – at least not yet. He won’t start that in earnest until 2013, he said.
The purpose of his Tuesday town hall meeting at the Higher Education Center was part of his job as attorney general. “I’m the lawyer for the citizens in utility rates,” he said. His engineering degree served him well, as he seemed professorial at times as he explained cost per kilowatt and cost fluctuations over time.
Earlier Cuccinelli gave the Roanoke Star-Sentinel an exclusive interview at his Peters Creek office. He felt strongly about the effects electricity rates were having on the less affluent regions of the state. “In my four years of traveling Virginia I have never encountered an issue that was so passionately meaningful to an entire region,” said Cuccinelli.
“Poor people are hurt the worst by this,” he said.
Virginians in the southern regions have a higher number of people on fixed incomes and a disproportionate number of elderly and unemployed. “It’s more strained than in the urban areas,” he said. He was the first attorney general to conduct a town hall meeting – the first ones were held in 2010. Del. Joe Johnson (D-Abingdon) told him publicly that, “This is the first time ever that an attorney general has come down here to hold a town hall to hear both sides of the issue.”
APCO sought an $154 million base rate increase in 2010 that Cuccinelli fought and the SCC rejected that resulted in a $92.5 million reduction. He contends that “over half of the rate increase was straight pass-through of EPA regulatory costs. Utility companies never bear the costs – the ratepayers do. The solution is to stop adding regulatory burdens,” he said.
Cuccinelli told the 75 attendees at the town hall meeting that “we’re way out of balance between the opportunity for economic advancement and environmental stewardship.”
Carol Pruner and Amy Richardson with the Sierra Club propped up a large sign in the chair next to them that decried mountaintop mining. It read, “Virginia is for mountain lovers not mountain top mining.” Pruner spoke, reading off a prepared statement, “Dominion Virginia Power executives have been raking in millions while their dirty money buys political power. They generate zero wind or solar power.”
Delegate Charles Poindexter of Floyd County sat in front of her and responded saying that, “Dominion is purchasing renewable fuel and is getting a bonus on that but they are not doing it in Virginia.” Poindexter had a bill this year (HB1017) that failed to pass that provided incentives for purchasing and generating renewable energy in Virginia. Both Poindexter and Cuccinelli agreed with Pruner and Poindexter and vowed to keep pushing his bill.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations have no measurable environmental benefits, said Cuccinelli. “The EPA admits that but they do it anyway,” he said. He agreed that the environment needed protecting but “we’re suffocating our economy with environmental cost compliance.”
Eighty percent of APCO’s energy is generated by coal. The national average has dropped to below 50 percent. “Coal is more affected by the regulatory regime than other types of fuel – your electricity rates are much more affected by [regulation],” he said to those at the town hall. Electric rates jumped when revenue from “off system sales” by APCO ceased due to the cost for coal increasing and natural gas costs decreasing. APCO electric rates have been steadily under Dominion Virginia Power rates. To fill all the energy needs in the APCO service region they buy power from their parent company American Electric Power at a higher rate.
Cuccinelli said that former minority leader Ward Armstrong’s attack on APCO electricity rates “was not accurate” and was political. “Forget abortion, forget taxes – they pale in comparison on the demagoguery scale to electricity rates. Electricity rates are complicated,” he said.
The town halls were so successful in 2010 he decided to do a total of seven this year. Besides Roanoke he held town halls in Lynchburg and Martinsville this week. There will be four more in April.