New report urges 2020 legislative action to confront Dominion’s costly control of Virginia’s energy policy
As Dominion Energy lobbyists were hard at work this week in Virginia’s General Aseembly, advocacy organization Clean Virginia released a groundbreaking new report detailing how the monopoly overcharged its Virginia customers by at least $2.3 billion in the past decade.
“The Dominion Scam: How a Utility Monopoly Overcharged Virginians $2 Billion (And Got Away with It)” describes how Virginia’s dominant utility monopoly worked with allies in the General Assembly to pass a series of utility-friendly laws that allowed the company to overcharge Virginians by hundreds of millions of dollars each year beyond its authorized profit level. READ THE REPORT
“Dominion’s cycle of overcharging Virginians and then lobbying its way out of issuing refunds and lowering rates has ballooned into an energy burden crisis in Virginia. While Dominion climbed the ranks to become the second most profitable utility in the country for its shareholders, its customers now pay some of the highest electricity bills in the country,” said Clean Virginia Executive Director Brennan Gilmore. “The good news is that legislators now have an opportunity to put a stop to a decade of legislative manipulation by Dominion, stand up for their constituents and pass legislation that ends the Dominion Scam once and for all.”
As of 2018, the average Virginia household paid the 7th highest bills in the country, and customers in Dominion’s service territory paid $133.19 a month for electricity, which is 13% higher than the national average, according to annual data from the Energy Information Administration. The electricity burden for Virginians — the percentage amount of household income that is spent on electricity costs — is considered to be unaffordable for over 75% of Virginia’s households. During this same period, Dominion averaged a total of $234 million in customer overcharges every year.
Clean Virginia marks 2007 as the beginning of the “Dominion Scam,” when a major rewrite of electric utility law in Virginia introduced Dominion-friendly regulations that constrained regulators’ historic power to set fair rates, inflating energy bills well beyond Dominion’s authorized profit level.
To avoid scrutiny for these exorbitant and unwarranted overcharges, Dominion artificially manufactured periodic “crises” immediately preceding each scheduled review of its rates in front of regulators at the State Corporation Commission (SCC). The utility then used these crises to justify keeping the overcharges for “public purposes.”
On further examination, however, the “crises” and “public purposes” were dubious at best and nonexistent at worst. As a result, Dominion in the last decade has repeatedly banked every dollar it overcharged customers while providing no additional public benefit in return.
Legislators Can Put an End to the Dominion Scam
“With a decade of hindsight, Dominion’s pattern is clear: in order to justify keeping the money they overcharged customers, they must find an urgent use for that money. The monopoly will have its first rate since the 2015 rate freeze next year and it is imperative that the General Assembly not fall for the scam again and legislate a new way for Dominion to keep Virginian’s money,” Gilmore said. “Dominion is hard at work right now trying to convince legislators to continue this costly cycle. The excuse Dominion lobbyists use will be new, but Dominion-sponsored legislation will continue to drive Virginia further away from the bedrock principle that monopoly customers should only pay for the cost of electricity plus a reasonable – but not unlimited – profit.”
“Beyond this, wholesale structural reform is necessary to ensure the next decade does not see a continuance of the Dominion Scam. Virginians cannot afford another transfer of billions of their hard-earned dollars to a utility monopoly’s shareholders,” Gilmore said.
Clean Virginia is an independent advocacy organization working to fight corruption in Virginia politics in order to promote clean energy, a robust, competitive economy, and community control over our energy policy.