A newly formed coalition of libertarian and liberal groups is angling to end Dominion Energy and Appalachian Power’s monopoly on the retail electricity market throughout Virginia.
The group — the Virginia Energy Reform Coalition — is headlined by former Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli and the leaders of prominent groups that advocate for clean energy, consumer protection and the free market.
The coalition launched its work publicly at a news conference Tuesday, where members argued that Dominion’s influence over state policy has allowed it to profit unfairly — from consumers who have no other choice for electricity — through expensive projects and investments.
The group is advocating for reforms to the state’s electric utility policies to allow a vast array of companies to sell consumers electricity, while allowing Dominion and Appalachian Power to maintain control of the delivery through the existing power cable infrastructure.
Cuccinelli argued that by “Uber-izing electricity in Virginia,” households and businesses will be able to “lower their own prices simply by shopping around.”
Rayhan Daudani, a Dominion Energy spokesman, said in a statement: “Deregulation isn’t the way forward for Virginia’s energy future. In fact, it would be a step backward. Californians left with skyrocketing electric bills and in the dark from rolling blackouts following deregulation proved that all too well.”
He added: “Customers in deregulated states pay rates that are more than 40 percent higher on average and don’t receive nearly as much in return. As it stands today, our Virginia customers get a great value. We keep our costs low, while our reliability remains high.”
Leaning on supply-side economics, members of the coalition believe that if ratepayers have their pick, the cost of electricity will drop while fostering energy innovation in the state. New entrants hoping to deliver energy could tap into modern sources such as privately owned wind and solar, or buy electricity from the market.
They argued that energy production is already diversified in Virginia because the state’s electricity comes both from Dominion plants and a 14-state regional power pool called PJM Interconnection, of which Virginia is a member.
Roughly 20 years ago, state lawmakers embarked on an effort to deregulate the electric utility industry, but after seeing few entrants to the market and no drop in prices, altered the system again, putting in place a form of regulation largely supported by the industry.
Jim Presswood, president and executive director of the Earth Stewardship Alliance, a member of the coalition, said this effort will be different mainly because the state now has varied sources of energy generation. Virginia did not belong to the PJM regional power pool at the time, he said.
Among the other members of the group are Appalachian Voices, an environmental group that represents large swaths of rural Virginia; Clean Virginia, a group that advocates against utility monopolies and their influence on state policy; and the Virginia Poverty Law Center, which advocates for the interests of low-income electricity consumers, among other issues.
Tom Cormons, the executive director of Appalachian Voices, said he believes opening up the electricity market in Virginia could allow small energy producers in Southwest Virginia, such as solar facilities, to benefit.
“We all believe in markets, and markets are what these small producers are being excluded from,” Cormons said.
Dana Wiggins, who works for the Virginia Poverty Law Center, said fostering competition could help low-income Virginians, who bear an outsize burden for increases in utility rates.
“Low-income consumers deserve to know that the system is designed to provide electric utility service at fair costs,” Wiggins said.
In an interview Tuesday at the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Cuccinelli, the 2013 Republican nominee for governor, said the group is hoping for legislation on these issues to be introduced at the next session of the General Assembly. In the meantime, members will be working on a public messaging campaign that includes lawmakers, individual consumers, businesses and other groups with a stake in the issue.
“For now, we’re going to work to expand the coalition on every part of the spectrum, start talking up legislators, and see how far we can get in the next 10 months,” Cuccinelli said. email@example.com