I am a solar producer, net metering customer, hybrid and electric vehicles driver, investor in utilities, citizen climate activist (as a Steering Committee member of Climate Action Alliance of the Valley), and distributed solar advocate. I offer my perspectives about Virginia’s 2018 plan for our energy usage because they represent often competing interests that, taken together, nonetheless provide some insights into future consumer, energy producer, and investor behavior, and activist/advocate focus areas. My family has made decisions that, I believe, illustrate fairly clearly the importance of Virginia’s embracing a new vision for its next Energy Plan. To conform to the word limit of the on-line Town Hall comment submission process, I provided details on numerous aspects of the Plan. Following are my ...
Conclusion and Recommendations
Without question, the Energy Plan needs to chart the direction of energy production for Virginians. Virginia must not continue to rely on its utility industry to develop policy and set the direction for the critical decisions we all face. The current business model—the so-called “regulated” monopoly—is in urgent need of improvement—indeed, overhaul. As constituted and operated over the last 40+ years at least, it cannot and does not serve the best interests of all its stakeholders, most especially Virginia’s energy consumers. This recent WaPo headline article clearly demonstrates how Virginia’s utilities sacrifice the safety and best interests of some of its ratepayers in favor of costly, not-well-thought-out-planned infrastructure projects. This is one of literally hundreds, if not thousands, of articles reporting on major consumer dissatisfaction with the current utilities’ behaviors. For too long, Virginia has allowed for-profit companies—whose 1st priority is to investors—to maximize profit in exchange for to “keeping the lights on” and “taking care of” everyone’s energy needs subject to oversight by the State Corporation Commission (SCC). Clearly chafing under the minimal monitoring and corrective actions by the SCC, the Virginia legislature has abdicated its responsibilities to Virginia’s citizens. It has effectively authorized the utilities to set priorities and determine timetables and services, and has done so while undermining the SCC’s regulatory oversight and authority—through utility-favorable legislation, SCC appointments, and failure to set an overall energy policy through legislation.
The failure to recognize and act on the contribution of Virginia’s greenhouse gas emissions from our major energy uses—electricity, transportation, agriculture and business—has been egregious. Our legislators seem not to understand that, as a for-profit business, a utility’s responsibility first and foremost is to provide reliable, affordable electricity to its customers, using its own revenues to meet its operating and R & D costs, before satisfying its investors’ interests. Both the monopoly utilities and the legislature have shown a keen ability to play fast and loose with what they charge customers and then ensure they retain overcharges in whole or in part, so they can undertake projects such as SB 966’s grid “modernization”, “increased non-fossil fuel” energy sources, and greater emphasis on energy efficiency—three huge responsibilities that for most businesses represent “the cost of doing business”.
Our utilities must have sufficient revenue to operate but they do not necessarily have to be for-profit. They should not be following a “more-energy-use-is better” business model. Virginia needs to develop a model that does not reward utilities for encouraging greater energy (i.e., fossil fuel) usage and fails to reward them for reducing energy usage and increasing reliance on renewable energy. The creators of the next Virginia Energy Plan must be visionaries and must not be constrained by the system now in place. Utilities in the future are more likely to be service providers, electricity distributers, and grid managers than electricity producers. Envisioning what Virginia’s utilities will be doing in 2030 and what is needed to make the necessary changes need to be in the Plan.
To reduce the above impacts, Virginia must turn to greater reliance on renewable energy, particularly distributed solar. Our current law and regulations favor resources other than these and must be changed to reflect the realities that we are facing. Following are examples of policy changes and other actions that the Energy Plan must address: