2018 General Assembly Session - Update 5 - Crossover Edition

Today is "Crossover," the midway point of the Session where the House and Senate must complete work on their bills.   

Over the past week, the biggest issue we dealt with was the Electric Utility "Rate Freeze" Repeal.  This bill would repeal the Utility Rate Freeze Bill of 2015, which was passed to address concerns about possible rate increases resulting from the Clean Power Plan.  The bill froze Dominion and Appalachian Power's rates at their 2015 levels for five and four years respectively.  Rate reviews would begin again in 2020 for Dominion and 2022 for Appalachian Power, but those reviews would not "look back" at earnings made before 2018 (Dominion) and 2017 (Appalachian Power) over the freeze period.  Any resulting over-earnings after those dates would be refunded to customers.     

With the election of Donald Trump, the Clean Power Plan has been dismantled, and the utilities did not incur the costs they were expected to during the rate freeze period. As a result, the SCC estimates that the utilities have "over-earned" several hundred million dollars since 2015.  Several bills were introduced this session to repeal the rate freeze.  Straight repeal bills were defeated as the fight focused on how much of the over-earnings should be returned to customers and how much should be reinvested in clean energy and electric grid modernization that would benefit all Virginians.   

Last week, Governor Northam announced compromise legislation.  Key provisions of these bills (SB 966 and HB 1558) are as follows:

Restores Consumer Protections for Utility Rates
  • Repeals the 2015 rate freeze and restores full regulatory oversight of electric utilities.
  • Allows the State Corporation Commission (SCC) to evaluate rates in 2021.
  • Empowers the SCC to consider reducing rates in 2021 with no possibility of a rate increase for Dominion.
  • The SCC will consider rate reduction in 2020 for Appalachian Power.
  • Allows the SCC to perform full rate reviews in subsequent three-year periods.
Offers Immediate and Historic Relief for Ratepayers
  • Requires Dominion to issue $200 million in rate credits to consumers who were overcharged during the rate freeze period. Appalachian Power will issue $10 million in credits.
  • Requires Dominion to reduce power rates by an additional $125 million and Appalachian Power to reduce rates by $50 million.
  • Additional refunds and rate reductions possible in the first SCC review and all subsequent reviews.
Makes Massive Investments in Clean Energy and Energy Efficiency
  • Requires utilities to make $1.145 billion in investments in energy efficiency projects and low-income energy assistance over the next 10 years.
  • Authorizes the SCC to deem 5,000 megawatts of solar and wind energy projects to be in the public interest, paving the way for approval of new clean energy projects.
  • Commits Appalachian Power to make a separate investment in 200 megawatts of new solar capacity.
  • Promotes energy technology including battery storage and pumped storage in Southwest Virginia.
  • Requires review of state regulations that hinder clean energy development.
  • Creates a transparent stakeholder process to expand energy efficiency program offerings.
  • Creates a transparent stakeholder process to make recommendations for solar program expansion, including net metering, community solar, and siting.
Ensures Development of a Modern and Resilient Energy Grid
  • Deems projects to modernize the grid and support clean energy in the public interest.
  • Deems projects to make the grid more reliable in the public interest.
  • Requires equal commitment by utilities to grid resilience and grid modernization.
  • Allows for a utility line undergrounding pilot project in Haymarket, and a process for the review of additional undergrounding projects.
There is much in these bills to like, particularly the transformational investments in clean and efficient energy, immediate rebates, returning rate oversight to the SCC sooner than under current law, and expanding and extending EnergyShare programs that help customers facing financial hardship another nine years.  
However, the bill appears to allow for "double-dipping" by the utilities in how they recover the costs of the investments outlined above.  As a result, it is not yet clear whether this bill is better than the status quo. As a result, I voted no on the Senate version, which passed the Senate 26-13.  
The House version includes a reporting requirement to allow the SCC to determine whether or not there is double-dipping.  I am hopeful a final bill will include this amendment to allow the maximum transparency possible and address concerns raised by the Virginia Poverty Law Center.  In the meantime, I encourage you to share your thoughts on this legislation with me at district09@senate.virginia.gov.

My Legislation
Sen. McClellan presents SJ 38 to the Senate Rules Committee.

Here is an update on what happened with my legislation this week.  As noted in previous updates, SB 287 , SB 101SB 291 , SB 359,  and SB 456 already passed the Senate and await House action. In addition, SB 329 (which incorporates my SB 455passed the Senate.   

In addition the following bills have now passed the Senate:   
SB 906 creating a "master barber" license effectively grandfathers those barbers who were trained and licensed to provide certain services before the Department of Professional and Occupational Regulation made changes to the barber licensing requirements effective December 8, 2017 passed unanimously; 
SB 908 authorizing localities, public colleges/universities, community colleges, and the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation to install fee-based electric vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure passed unanimously; 

SB 353 authorizing a conveyance of property adjacent to the White Oak Technology Park from the Department of Conservation and Recreation to the Henrico County Economic Development Authority in return for an open space easement and the dedication of a natural area preserve on a portion of the property passed unanimously; 
SB 356 amending the City of Richmond, VA Government charter to establish an Office of Inspector General passed unanimously; 
SB 293 creating a more streamlined pharmacy license for nonprofit clinics to dispense contraception and antibiotics for STD treatment passed 35-4; and
SB 290 providing local governments more flexibility in adopting affordable dwelling unit ordinances passed 26-14. The Virginia Poverty Law Center explains this bill's importance here.

In addition, the following resolutions reported out of Committee and will be considered on the floor later today:
SJ 38 Commemorating the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  reported out of the Rules Committee by voice vote; and 

SJ 42 extending state recognition to the Wolf Creek Cherokee Tribe of Virginia reported out of the Rules Committee by voice vote.

My SB 354 for a COPN for a new ambulatory surgery center in Planning District 15 for the provision of ophthalmic services to was rolled into SB 266 with several other bills and reported out of the Education & Health Committee. The bill was requested by the Virginia Coalition to Reform COPN and Dr. Suzanne Everhart, an ophthalmologist in Ashland who finds it increasingly harder to use hospital operating rooms to perform eye surgery.

Two of my bills were carried over to the 2019 Session:  

SB 289 was carried over with a letter to the Virginia Conflict of Interest and Ethics Advisory Council to consider making clear that business names should not be redacted from documents/forms made available to the public. This will be part of a larger study of the Conflicts of Interest laws that a joint subcommittee of legislators will review as a result of SJ 75

SB 357 requiring all death certificates to be electronically filed with the State Registrar was carried over by the Education & Health Committee to allow a working group to determine a date by which the bill can be implemented.
You can follow my bills and their progress through the General Assembly on the LIS websiteand you can read a summary of all of my 2018 legislation and view committee hearings for each on my website

I am eager to hear from you on issues you care about. To share your views on legislation, contact my office at (804) 698-7509 or district09@senate.virginia.gov. You can also stop by my office in the Pocahontas Building at 900 East Main Street. My offices are located in E512.
You can also stay informed about General Assembly activities by following me on Twitterliking my Facebook page, and following me on Instagram.
Jennifer L. McClellan
Senate of Virginia, 9th District