Legislative Update – January 27, 2018

Our list of energy policy related bills submitted for Virginia’s 2018 Legislative session is updated here.

Two tracked bills have already failed to make it out of committee –SB 9 Electric utility regulation; suspension of reviews of earnings, transitional rate period and SB 696 Va. Alternative Energy & Coastal Protection Act; regulations to establish carbon dioxide cap, etc.

SB 9 was “passed by indefinitely” on a 13-1 vote in the Committee on Commerce and Labor. However, the primary sponsor, Senator J. Chapman Petersen, introduced a new bill, SB 955 Electric utility regulation; suspension of reviews of earnings, Transitional Rate Period, covering the same issue on January 19.

SB 696 would have put legislation behind the executive branch’s initiative to establish a CO2 Budget Trading Program. It was defeated in committee on an 8-7 party-line vote, with all Republicans opposing the bill. The house companion bill to SB 696, HB 1273 Va. Alternative Energy & Coastal Protection Act; regulations to establish carbon dioxide cap, etc.bill, is up for review in the House Commerce and Labor – Subcommittee #3 Committee on Tuesday, January 30.

SB 902 Property tax; exemption for solar energy equipment and facilities has been “Engrossed by Senate,” but in an amended form. At first pass, the amended form appears to have put back into the bill language that was explicitly removed from the originally proposed 2018 legislation. The next step for the bill is for it to be “read a third time” and then voted on in the Senate, which will happen quickly. If the bill passes the Senate it will be sent to the House. An explanation of Virginia’s legislative process is found here.

A significant number of house bills will be up in the House Commerce and Labor – Subcommittee #3 Committee on Tuesday, January 30. The committee’s agenda is found here. Of particular note, is HB 1490 Fossil fuel projects moratorium; establishes, clean energy mandates, sponsored by Delegate Sam Rasoul (D).  HB 1490 represents the kind of game-changing thinking that is needed to move Virginia toward zero carbon. The odds of the bill moving forward seem long, but it will hopefully initiate some debate that moves us in the right direction.

Lastly, the battle lines are being drawn around bi-partisan legislation introduced by Senator Richard L. Saslaw(D) and Senator Frank W. Wagner (R). Their two bills, SB 966 and SB 967, are both titled “Electric utility regulation; grid modernization, energy efficiency.” These bills are analyzed in the Roanoke Times and also reviewed on Power for the People VA. Both of these assessments are worth reading.

At the heart of SB 966, SB 967 and the debate around them is the Commonwealth’s relationship with our investor owned, for-profit utilities (IOUs) – Dominion and Appalachian Power. Although the bills appear to move us forward with respect to a clean energy future, they primarily maintain the status-quo for Virginia’s regulated utilities. That is, they continue to be granted a monopoly for supplying power in the regions they serve. While this model fit how energy was produced, distributed, and used in the past, it is questionably that this is the best model for the future.

The recent-past and current debate suggest that the IOUs hold too much sway in Richmond. Legislation that puts more balance to the regulatory process and keeps open the door for much more privately owned distributed generation should be given priority.  The issue of how we regulate electric utilities in Virginia is one that all Virginian’s should follow closely.

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