RICHMOND — A bipartisan group of delegates has called for a timeout on a massive effort to redraw the state's oversight of its biggest electric utility, asking for more information to safeguard the interests of ratepayers.
Three Republicans and three Democrats, including senior leaders, have asked the State Corporation Commission to review several pieces of legislation aimed at replacing a rate freeze that Dominion Energy has enjoyed since 2015.
The freeze was passed by the General Assembly to help Dominion, as well as the far smaller Appalachian Power, weather unexpected expenses under the Obama administration's now-defunct Clean Power Plan.
Calling it "one of the most consequential questions we will consider this session," Del. Lee Ware (R-Powhatan) on Wednesday reminded his fellow delegates that many have had "second thoughts" about the original rate freeze. He urged them to make sure they know what they're doing when they seek to undo it.
"Ratepayers are the people that we are here to look out for," Ware said. "All of us benefit from a healthy utility," he added, but "at the same time I think we have a duty to ensure that we chart an honest and broadly understood path forward."
Ware illustrated his point by reading aloud dense language from the most sweeping measure, the bipartisan HB1558, which was unveiled last Friday. That measure would restore the state's authority to oversee rates charged by the utilities, and would rebate several hundred million dollars to customers derived from excess profits the companies made during the rate freeze.
But critics warn the measure could be worse for consumers in the long term than the existing rate freeze.
It would limit the state's ability to order rebates to consumers for years to come, subject the utilities to state oversight reviews every three years instead of every two, and return to ratepayers only a portion of the excess profits the companies have reaped during the freeze. Lawmakers acknowledge that Dominion's lobbyists helped craft the bill.
Dominion is the state's largest corporate donor to political campaigns.
Legislators have been slow to comment on the bill's specifics because it is so complicated. Several said they expect the patrons to release an updated version, but warn House and Senate versions could start cranking through committees as soon as next week.
Ware and five other delegates asked the SCC to examine the measure — along with a handful of other bills that would simply undo the rate freeze — as soon as possible.
Ware, who is chairman of the Finance Committee, was joined on the letter to the SCC by fellow Republicans Michael J. Webert (Fauquier) and Steve Landes (Augusta) as well as House Minority Leader David Toscano (D-Charlottesville) and Democrats Mark Keam (Fairfax) and Jeion Ward (Hampton).