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Advocacy groups pushing state legislators on utility debt relief bill

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Nearly 30 advocacy groups are urging the General Assembly to pass bipartisan legislation that would inject nearly $400 million into the economy through direct refunds and debt forgiveness using the money Dominion Energy has overcharged Virginia families and small businesses since 2017.

The letter, signed by environmental and social justice organizations, low-income advocates, and faith groups, emphasized the urgency of passing House Bill 5088, a bipartisan bill introduced by Del. Jay Jones (D-Norfolk) and Del. Lee Ware (R-Powhatan), during the special session in order for Virginians to benefit this year from immediate economic relief.

“Every Virginia deserves access to clean, affordable energy – particularly in the midst of a global pandemic” said Narissa Turner, policy manager for Virginia Conservation Network. “This bipartisan legislation is one of the best opportunities the General Assembly has this special session to not only help Virginians keep their lights on during this time of unprecedented economic and public health threat, but also take a positive step towards achieving environmental justice.”

Dominion Energy overcharged its customers by $502.7 million since 2017, according to an annual report released last week by the State Corporation Commission and based on Dominion’s own accounting.

Based on the 2017-2019 overcharges found in this report, HB5088 would return over $250 million of emergency, accelerated refunds to all Dominion customers and establishes a utility debt forgiveness fund of at least $100 million to aid Virginians who have accrued debt to Dominion due to the Covid crisis.

The SCC would administer this fund using the 30% of overcharges that under current law Dominion keeps. Currently, the SCC has announced the disconnection ban will be continued until Sept. 15, however, has warned this may be the last extension.

“Holding Dominion Energy accountable for the millions of dollars they have overcharged consumers since 2017, should be a part of the broad suite of economic relief that will help low-income families and families of color during the COVID-19 pandemic and economic recession,” said Tyneshia Griffin, environmental policy research analyst for New Virginia Majority. “Prior to these crises, many Black, Latinx, and low-income families were already paying a higher share of their income to cover energy costs and utility debt accrual could further exacerbate this economic disparity. This bill will put money back into the pockets of consumers and provide utility debt assistance for Virginia families at such a pivotal moment in our history.”

The House of Delegates resumes regular business this week with committee hearings yet to be scheduled. The Labor and Commerce Committee would first vote on HB 5088 if the legislation is docketed.

augusta free press
augusta free press