Del.-elect Danica Roem, D-13th District, is teaming up with other Democratic lawmakers to back legislation reversing a freeze on Dominion Energy’s electric rates the General Assembly put in place in 2015.
Dominion executives initially requested the rate freeze when the Obama administration rolled out its “Clean Power Plan,” which was designed to reduce carbon dioxide emissions nationwide. But regulators at the State Corporation Commission believe the law has allowed Dominion to collect hundreds of millions in excess profits which would otherwise be refunded to its customers, and Democrats have been itching to undo the freeze for years now.
Roem is teaming up with Del. Sam Rasoul, D-11th District, to introduce a bill that would give state regulators the power to adjust the prices Dominion charges its customers once more, starting in 2019. State Sen. Chap Petersen, D-34th District, introduced the Senate version of the bill with Sen. Jennifer Wexton, D-33rd District.
"This bill is about basic fairness," Roem wrote in a statement. "It puts Dominion back under the State Corporation Commission's auditing microscope a year earlier, which is good for consumers and good for accountability. I'm grateful to Sen. Chap Petersen and Del. Sam Rasoul for taking leadership on this issue and I'm proud to support them.”
In the wake of the wave election that swept Roem and 14 other Democrats into the House of Delegates, the notion of undoing the rate freeze has steadily gained popularity in recent weeks. Petersen was a lone voice in the wilderness pressing Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe in the General Assembly’s last session, but Democratic leaders have since shown a willingness to consider the issue more seriously after Nov. 7.
"Banning refunds was wrong in 2015, and it's still wrong,” Petersen wrote in a statement. “Virginia consumers deserve a refund, and repealing S.B. 1349 will put money in the pockets of every Virginian who uses electricity."
Even Dominion officials have started to take the idea more seriously, telling regulators earlier this month that the rate freeze might not be necessary now that the Trump administration has signaled its intent to roll back the “Clean Power Plan.”
The challenge for rate freeze opponents will be convincing Republicans in the General Assembly to back the plan. The GOP still holds a 21-19 majority in the Senate, and (pending the results of three remaining recounts) a 51-49 edge in the House.
Some Democrats have even expressed skepticism about a rate freeze repeal. Sen. Scott Surovell, D-36th District, has repeatedly suggested leaving the freeze in place if Dominion is required to use its excess profits to dispose of coal ash at four sites around the country in an environmentally responsible manner, though the idea hasn’t gained much traction with Petersen or Dominion’s critics around the state.