Despite already bringing in enormous amounts of money that allow it to spend a hefty sum on lobbying efforts to influence lawmakers, Dominion Energy has been actively trying to increase its profit margins by increasing Virginia’s ratepayer bills. The utility company sought approval for increasing the rate from 9.2% to 10.75%, but the State Corporation Commission denied the request and said it wasn’t “consistent with the public interest.”
The requested rate increase came before the SCC because the public utility is a monopoly and its profits are therefore supposed to be limited. They are allowed to keep excessive profits, however, if regulators deem that the funds are being used to pay for projects that are in the best interests of the general public.
This is a relatively new caveat as excessive profits in the past were supposed to be returned to the public since the community had been overcharged in the first place. The change in policy sparked some public outrage as Virginians were rightfully upset they wouldn’t be getting a refund after Dominion made almost $400 million in excessive profits in 2017 and 2018. Many government and community leaders eventually joined those speaking out against the enormous profits and the proposed rate increase.
Attorney General Mark Herring’s office, for instance, filed a brief with the SCC opposing the rate increase. In fact, his office argued the rate should actually be lowered from 9.2% to as low as 8.75%. His office said their suggestion came after data showed Dominion’s rates were too high and “resulted in Virginia’s families paying more than necessary for electricity.”
In a sign of how there were some unexpected allies in the fight against the rate increases, WalMart filed a brief with the SCC opposing the utility’s proposal. Considering how WalMart is known for raking in enormous profits while refusing to look out for the best interests of its employees and the community, this shows how truly outlandish it was for Dominion to think it should be able to further overcharge the public.
While people are happy Dominion isn’t getting away with swindling Virginians out of even more of their hard earned money, there is some disappointment that the ruling essentially provides the utility with some legitimacy for its current rates. Since the hope was that they would have to make some downward adjustments to prevent folks from being overcharged again, this wasn’t much of a victory for the average customer who’s seen their bill increase by $23 a month in recent years.
With all that in mind, there are still efforts to hold Dominion accountable and many people realize this is likely something that will have to be done through state level legislation. After the SCC’s announcement, for instance, the executive director of Clean Virginia, Brennan Gilmore, released a statement saying the ruling was a step in the right direction even though there’s still a lot of work to do.
“Without legislative intervention, it will continue to overcharge customers by hundreds of millions of dollars every year, lining the pockets of its shareholders and executives at the expense of Virginians,” Gilmore said. “The General Assembly should prioritize ending Dominion’s system of self-regulation and work to lower Virginia’s skyrocketing electric bills in the upcoming legislative session.”
Now that Democrats control both chambers of the General Assembly and many of lawmakers are beginning to stand up to Dominion and refuse their campaign donations, it’ll be interesting to see if any progress is made in the coming years.