Ken Plum: Electricity will be cheaper and cheaper

kenplum2Under a bill passed by the General Assembly in the 2015 session and signed by the Governor, the cost of electricity in Virginia will go down next month, and the base rate of electricity will be frozen for the next five years.

Critics of the “Dominion bill” seem to have not read the provisions of the legislation as it passed or do not understand it. With State Corporation Commission approval, electric bills for consumers will go down 5.5 percent on April 1. For a typical residential customer who uses 1,000 kilowatt hours per month, the electric bill would be $109.55 per month or $6.40 less than before. Virginians already have some of the lowest electric rates in the region with rates that are 18.8 percent below the national average. The freezing of base rates to 2019 will create regulatory and rate stability for the utility as it faces stricter federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations on carbon emissions that are likely to force the company to close some or all of the coal-fired power plants it continues to operate and will provide lower bills for consumers.

I like the fact that the utility is moving forward to meet EPA standards rather than resisting or fighting the regulations in court. The stability provided by the bill will allow the investor-owned utility to move forward on what are necessary and expensive steps to clean up the air. Beyond the rate issue, new legislation declares up to 500 megawatts of solar energy to be in the public interest. With the current cost of solar energy generation the utility would not have been able to get regulatory approval for the expansion because it costs more than conventional sources of electricity generation. This will be a 15-fold increase in the authorized amount of solar energy in the Commonwealth and will be enough solar to power 125,000 homes. Additionally, the Assembly approved creation of the Virginia Solar Development Authority to promote expansion of solar energy in the Commonwealth.

Other notable actions by the General Assembly this session related to electricity include a provision for the first time that utilities fund an energy efficiency program for low-income, elderly and disabled customers. Eligible customers will be able to get one-time financial assistance for energy efficiency improvements plus long-term benefits of lower energy bills. A bill passed this session directs the Department of Mines, Minerals, and Energy to establish underwriting and other guidelines for local government-financed loans for energy efficiency improvements. Energy efficiency is the cheapest way to meet future demand.

Dominion Foundation is a major contributor to non-profit organizations in our community and throughout the state. Its political action arm is a significant supporter of political candidates of both parties. While I fully acknowledge both these facts, I vote for legislation related to electricity generation only when it will ensure reliable, low-cost, and cleaner electricity for my constituents.

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