The Virginia State Corporation Commission’s lackadaisical oversight of Dominion’s energy resource decisions slammed into ratepayer pocketbooks yesterday.
If, like most Virginians you’re a Dominion customer, you may be wondering why your July electric bill is noticeably higher than the previous June bill. That’s because Dominion electric bills now include an enormous, double-digit rate hike, a major, inflationary cost-of-living increase that Virginians will feel for years to come.
How big is this multi-year price spike that just hit? For the average Dominion ratepayer, who uses nearly 1,100 kWh of juice per month, the price hike will exceed $25 a month. (That cost may be spread out over several years, however, for an increase of “only” ~$20/month, for that same average 1,100 kWh/month customer.) For a more energy-efficient electric user, like yours truly, this still means about a $10 per month increase (reflected in the above, month-over-month bills)
So, what are you getting in return for that new monthly rate hike? Nothing: that new surcharge in your monthly bill simply goes to pay already-incurred costs for the explosively expensive methane gas that – unfortunately – powers the bulk of our state’s power plant fleet.
This could have been avoided had the SCC required more diversified and efficient resource planning from the utilities it putatively oversees. That means doubling down on, rather than sharply limiting, bill-lowering energy efficiency programs – excellent programs that currently only reach a mere 3% of Dominion customers, thanks to the SCC’s oppressive limits on these great offerings. And better regulator oversight also means diversifying our state’s power fleet into zero-fuel cost solar and wind, as well as grid-balancing battery storage. Instead of this foresight, the SCC rubber-stamped a decade-long building spree of large, expensive fossil fuel plants, which not only pollute Virginia’s air, but also drag down our pocketbooks when we can least afford it.
Indeed, for anyone already experiencing pain at the pump, monthly Dominion electric bills now act as Virginia’s second “gas bill”: first you pay an expensive gas bill at the pump (for gasoline), and then you pay Dominion’s expensive gas bill at home (for methane gas). And that's not going to change for some time: methane gas commodity prices are soaring, thanks to inflation and the war in Ukraine, with no end in sight.
Virginia still languishes behind much of the nation in investing in bill-lowering energy efficiency, even as Dominion electric rates have soared to now be the 3rd highest among all southern states, from here to Texas, according to the latest utility-by-utility data from the federal EIA.
Now that Virginians struggle to pay not one but two enormous gas bills, one at the gas station and one on our electricity bills, here’s hoping the SCC finally knuckles down to the business of lowering, not increasing, our costs-of-living. That means drastically expanding, rather than stifling, bill-lowering energy efficiency programs, beyond the currently meager 3% of Dominion customers who get those excellent offerings. And it means increased EV-charging and other electrification programs, to more efficiently drive revenue into our statewide electric system, while also giving Virginia drivers relief from yet more pain at the pump.
The SCC’s past decisions may have stuck us with some of the highest electric bills in the nation and highest rates in the south, but it's never too late for better oversight: that is, after all, the SCC's job.