Electric utility regulation for my district typically means dealing with Dominion Power. A large for-profit utility is something that we as residents of the Commonwealth always give extra scrutiny to because we want to ensure the best service for the least amount of money, and while an organization is making a profit we have to look closely to make sure every part of any deal is fundamentally fair.
We have a responsibility to provide Virginians with a stable rate at which to acquire their electricity. And in our community we have pushed time and again to include more solar and wind power — more renewable energy into the mix of sources from which we get our power in order to make a more sustainable future a reality.
That means each and every vote that I take regarding electric power in Virginia is something that is given full consideration. I have taken votes in the past that I thought were the best way forward with compromises on all sides, and now I am faced with one of those choices once again. At the time of writing this update from Richmond, negotiations are ongoing for legislation that will end the Dominion rate freeze that began with a bill passed in 2013. The initial draft of the legislation had several issues that I felt needed to be addressed. However, I am also an advocate for all sides working together on a compromise. While negotiations are still ongoing, environmental organizations have sat down at the table with Dominion Energy and business leaders as well as Governor Northam’s administration to work on a compromise bill that will end the rate freeze and put money back in the pockets of customers.
Some of the major issues I felt needed to be addressed before I could support such legislation included an end to the rate freeze, refunds to over-charged customers, restoration of State Corporation Commission oversight, and the inclusion of more renewable energy in any future framework. While I have not yet seen any official language as of yet, the reports I have received from stakeholder and administrative sources leave me heartened by what I am hearing on several fronts. Current negotiations include restoration of SCC’s review power, customer refunds, and a tenfold increase in solar/wind mega-wattage in the public interest.
One of the other important components of the new language, and in the intent of the original bill, is to upgrade Virginia’s energy grid into a smart-grid. This means wireless alerts to power outages instead of waiting for a neighbor to call in an outage, ability to reroute power around downed lines, and more energy efficiency. It also means a more secure power grid resistant to attack.
We are still waiting on the final negotiated language and some entities — government and non-profit to weigh in on the proposal. My vote will not be decided until I see final language and what is included, but it must be fair to consumers, increase renewable energy output, and work toward a secure energy grid designed to keep Virginia moving into the future. If this is an issue that interests you or if you pay an electric bill, I encourage you to keep track of the changes as they are negotiated. The bills can be found on lis.virginia.gov and are numbered SB 966 and HB 1558. I look forward to hearing from my constituents as to their feelings on this pending legislation.
Charniele Herring represents Alexandria City’s 46th District in the Virginia General Assembly where she serves as House Minority Caucus Chair and on the Courts of Justice, Counties, Cities, & Towns, and Agriculture, Chesapeake & Natural Resources Committees. See www.charnieleherring.com.