Bill to restore refunds for Va. power customers thwarted

WASHINGTON — A temporary ban preventing power customers in Virginia from getting refunds when electric companies make excessive profits will be around for a few more years.

The Refund Restoration Bill (SB1095) was introduced by Sen. Chap Petersen (D-Fairfax City) during the new lawmaking session in Richmond, Virginia. It was defeated in the Senate Commerce and Labor committee 12-2 Monday.

Petersen said there was only a slim chance that the mainly Republican-controlled General Assembly would pass his bill, which would begin to allow the customer refunds again. He was right — it was a slim chance.

“The State Corporation Commission had jurisdiction to award refunds when there were excessive profits earned by Dominion Power or Appalachian Power, any Virginia electric company,” he said.

The refunds were also awarded if the power companies overcharged customers.

“The assembly took away that right in 2015,” Petersen said.

Gov. Terry McAuliffe signed the 2015 bill (SB1349) into law after it was passed by the Virginia General Assembly. The bill also suspends the State Corporation Commission from two-year reviews of the utility companies’ earnings and freezes Dominion Virginia Power’s base rates.

The 2015 bill was a reaction to the Obama Administration’s “Clean Power Plan” and the financial burdens that plan was expected to bring. But the “Clean Power Plan” has not yet been implemented because of a federal lawsuit that has it tied up in the courts. The Clean Power Plan is Obama’s plan to limit carbon emissions from power plants that use fossil fuel.

Petersen said the bill was passed “ostensibly because of the Clean Power Plan from the Obama Administration was going to increase costs for the electric companies.” But Petersen said the law was no longer needed because the Trump administration would never let the Clean Power Plan take effect.

“So the whole premise for having taken away the right to refunds, itself, [has] been taken away,” he said.

Petersen’s bill (SB1095) would have basically repealed SB1349.  The old law (SB1349) would still expire in a few years.

But officials with Dominion Virginia Power said the old law was still needed because there would be some other carbon regulation even if there was no Clean Power Plan.

“The fight isn’t over to stop excessive profits for regulated utilities,” Petersen said in a statement.

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