Gov. Terry McAuliffe said Thursday that he supports legislation that could have saved Virginians millions on their electricity bills, an announcement that could’ve breathed new life into the effort had its obituary not been written weeks ago.
Last month, McAuliffe’s office was noncommittal on whether the governor would work with state Sen. J. Chapman Petersen, D-Fairfax City, on Petersen’s bill to end a utility rate freeze locking in profits for Dominion Virginia Power and Appalachian Power in exchange for commitments for hundreds of millions of dollars worth of solar power facilities.
Petersen’s SB1095 would have canceled the freeze if, as expected, President Donald Trump kills the federal Clean Power Plan, freeing energy companies from having to make costly carbon-cutting improvements at power plants. That would allow state regulators to resume rate reviews, potentially giving refunds to businesses and households that pay a power bill.
Ratepayers, McAuliffe said Thursday, “are entitled to the lowest, most efficient rate that we can deliver to them.”
“If Chap Petersen can get me a bill on my desk, I’d sign it. Let me be clear,” McAuliffe said during a radio appearance on “The John Fredericks Show,” recorded in Petersen’s office.
“There’s a better chance of me starting for the Redskins at quarterback,” Petersen replied. “Governor, you need to send down the legislation.”
“Can you get me enough votes to pass it, Chap Petersen?” McAuliffe said.
“I’ll tell you what. You send it down and tell the Democrats what to do. They’ll follow the lead. They usually do,” Petersen said.
Petersen’s bill, which faced long odds from the start, was killed in a Senate committee on Jan. 16 in a 12-2 vote.
Two Republicans on the committee voted for the bill, which has also drawn support from former Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, a Republican who ran against McAuliffe in the 2013 governor’s race.
Dominion and others have argued the rate freeze should remain in effect because energy policy remains uncertain despite the power transition in Washington.
A consortium of large industrial utility customers is challenging the constitutionality of the law at the Virginia Supreme Court in a case that will hinge on whether the General Assembly overstepped its powers by blocking the State Corporation Commission from regulating utility rates.
Though the General Assembly is beginning to wrap up its work and the deadline for introducing bills has passed, the state Constitution allows the governor to send down legislation as he sees fit or to convene a special session to take up a specific issue.
But the bill’s supporters probably shouldn’t hold their breath.
McAuliffe’s office indicated Thursday that the governor has no plan to start a top-down push to end the rate freeze.
“I think the governor’s comments speak for themselves,” said McAuliffe spokesman Brian Coy.”If the General Assembly sends him a bill, he would sign it.”