Last fall, I wrote about the challenges to Virginia’s electricity rates and reliability presented by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s draft “Clean Power Plan.” The proposed environmental rule imposes a disproportionately stringent carbon reduction goal on Virginia compared with our neighboring states.
In our system of government, states have limited options in dealing with federal laws or regulations that affect their business climate. This makes it all the more important that the commonwealth gets its own energy policy right in order to do all we can to maintain our economic competitiveness.
In this session of the General Assembly, legislators from both parties have been working on how best to shape Virginia’s energy policy to address the challenges posed by the Clean Power Plan. The Virginia Chamber of Commerce supports Senate Bill 1349, legislation sponsored by Sen. Frank Wagner, R-Virginia Beach. This bill will help support Virginia’s economic competitiveness.
The bill has several features that would benefit consumers and businesses. First of all, it would cut rates for Dominion customers. Dominion’s rates are already well below the national and East Coast averages; if the legislation is enacted the company’s bills would go even lower. This measure would reduce the rates for residential customers by about 5 percent; industrial customers could see prices fall about 10 percent.
Senate Bill 1349 also would provide a remarkable period of rate stability for utility customers. If approved, it would freeze Dominion’s base rates — which make up more than half of the total bill for residential customers — for five years.
In addition, the legislation would provide new authority for the State Corporation Commission during this transition period. It keeps current power plants in operation, unless the SCC grants permission to close them. During the rate freeze, the utility shareholders, not the customers, bear the risk of plant retirements. And if there is a natural disaster, the utility shareholders rather than the customers would again bear the risk.
Without this legislation, there is a strong likelihood that customers could face the challenge of paying for both the retirement of current power plants and the addition of replacement power stations at the same time. This would harm our economic competitiveness, particularly compared to our neighboring states with much less stringent goals under the proposed EPA rule.
Whatever your views on the advisability of carbon regulation of power plants, it is a simple fact that the draft EPA Clean Power Plan presents more challenges for Virginia than for our neighboring states. This is because the commonwealth, already a low carbon state due to our significant use of nuclear power, must meet a much stricter goal than any of our neighbors. West Virginia’s and Kentucky’s allowable emissions are twice the level authorized for Virginia. Maryland’s emissions goal is 46 percent higher. Tennessee and North Carolina also have substantially more lenient goals. The District of Columbia is not affected by the Clean Power Plan at all.
The Virginia Chamber urges the General Assembly to unite in doing what is most prudent for Virginia and supporting this legislation to protect customers from rate shocks and risks to the reliability of electricity service in Virginia. This is the right step for Virginia, the right step for Virginia’s electricity customers and the right step for our economic competitiveness.
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