26 Jul 2016

FAST FIX: Utility customers in Virginia take their challenge of a 2015 law to the state’s Supreme Court

Written by Jim Pierobon

Industrial users of electricity in Virginia are taking a much-anticipated challenge to the Virginia Supreme Court to invalidate a law it contends usurps the State Corporation Commission’s sole responsibility for setting power rates.

Attorneys for The Old Dominion Committee for Fair Utility Rates today (July 26) filed at the State Corporation Commission its intent to appeal to the Supreme Court. The Virginia Supreme Court is required by law to consider the case.

While the originating case at the Commission was filed against Appalachian Power, the state’s dominant monopoly electric utility — Dominion Virginia Power — has the most at stake, experts agree. Its executives and lobbyists were the principal force behind passage of Senate Bill 1349 in the 2015 General Assembly. That bill, which was signed into law by Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe, accorded lawmakers the ability to freeze utility rates and forego biennial rate reviews of Virginia’s monopoly utilities, often resulting in significant refunds to ratepayers.

Other public interest groups and attorneys assert the law is unconstitutional and leaves ratepayers on the hook for potentially billions of dollars in charges for new nuclear reactors and profits that might otherwise not be approved by the Commission.

The State Corporation Commission upheld the law by a 2-1 vote posted July 1. The commissioner who dissented, James C. Dimitri, called the law a “fiction of a grand proportion.”

The Old Dominion Committee for Fair Utility Rates is comprised of industrial and large commercial users of electricity. Its petition for the appeal was submitted and signed by Edward L. Petrini along with colleagues Louis R. Monacell and James G. Ritter of the Christian & Barton LLP law firm in Richmond. They have not responded to inquires asking who the Committee’s members are.

Catch the background and a summary of the stakes reported July 15 by Southeast Energy News here.

Filings in the case on the Commission’s web site can be found here using case number PUE-2016-0001.

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