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Tag Archive: State Corporation Commission (Virginia)

Virginia Commission Denies Walmart’s Request to Shop for Electricity

On February 25, 2019, the Virginia State Corporation Commission entered a Final Order denying Walmart’s petitions seeking permission under Va. Code § 56-577(A)(4) (“Section A 4”) to aggregate or combine the demands of certain electricity accounts. Walmart had filed a petition to aggregate 120 accounts in the Dominion service territory and 44 accounts in the Appalachian Power service territories. Had the petitions been approved, Walmart intended to enter into a contract to purchase electricity from its affiliate, Texas Retail Energy, but would remain as a distribution customers of the utilities. But, the Commission denied both petitions.

Under § 56-577(A)(4), nonresidential customers can aggregate their load to hit the 5 MW floor needed to switch electricity supply from the customer’s utility to a competitive service provider (“CSP”). Section A 4 requires the customers to seek Commission approval to aggregate. A company like Walmart must seek permission because the Code treats non-contiguous sites that are under 5 MW as separate customers. The Commission may approve the petition if it finds that: (1) “neither such customers’ incumbent electric utility nor retail customers of such utility that do not choose to obtain electric energy from alternate suppliers will be adversely affected in a manner contrary to the public interest by granting such petition,” and (2) “approval of such petition is consistent with the public interest.”

In the Final Order, the Commission found that remaining customers would be adversely affected in a manner contrary to the public interest. The Commission cited to alleged costs that would be shifted to remaining customers attributable to the loss of Walmart’s load. The Commission also cited to the alleged bill impacts that the utilities presented in the cases which purported to show the increases to an average residential customer’s monthly bills in the event Walmart was allowed to shop. The Commission also cited to the potential for lower earned returns for the utilities and found that the potential for load growth in a utility service territory did not matter.

The Commission determined that “the harm to customers who do not, or cannot, switch to a CSP is contrary to the public interest.” The Commission noted that the vast majority of Dominion and APCo customers have no ability to shop for solely lower prices. The Commission discussed that since 2007, the average Dominion and APCo residential customer has seen monthly bills increase by $48 (73%) and $26 (29%), respectively, and that with the mandates in Senate Bill 966, passed in 2018, more increases are likely to come.

Of course, there were numerous arguments presented by Walmart and other parties in the proceedings that addressed and countered the Commission’s findings summarized above.

The Commission concluded that if Walmart believes the current statutory structure results in rates that are too high, or that the public policy of Virginia should be to institute retail choice on a far more extensive scale than required under current law, “its potential for recourse may be found through the legislative process.” That process would begin with the 2020 legislative session because the 2019 sessions ended on Sunday, February 24 — the day before the Commission entered the Final Order.

The case numbers are PUR-2017-00173 (Dominion) and PUR-2017-00174 (APCo). Follow those links to see all the documents, including the Final Order, filed in each case. If you have questions about these cases, electricity purchases or rates, or need legal counsel regarding electricity regulation, please contact one of our Virginia regulatory lawyers.

SCC Sets Procedural Schedule for Dominion Grid Application

On July 24, 2018, Dominion Energy Virginia (“Dominion”) filed a Grid Transformation Plan with the Virginia State Corporation Commission (“Commission” or “SCC”). The SCC has entered a procedural schedule for this case and set an evidentiary hearing for November 15, 2018.

Dominion’s grid plan proposes to invest approximately $816 million in projects designed “to enhance the reliability, resiliency and security of the electric distribution grid.” Dominion also states that the plan will “facilitate the integration of distributed energy resources, such as solar or battery storage, into the system.” Dominion proposes to make the $816 million in investments over a three-year period, between 2019 and 2021. In particular, the utility wants to install approximately 1.4 million smart meters throughout its service territory between 2019 and 2021. There is more about the request here.

The filing also outlines the utility’s longer-term grid transformation priorities. Over 10 years, Dominion proposes to invest over $3.1 billion in grid transformation investments. These investments would include additional smart meters and other “advanced metering infrastructure” as well as reliability improvements and “grid hardening” projects. Dominion’s plan includes proposals to replace certain aging distribution facilities and increase the company’s physical and cyber security capabilities.

The application is filed pursuant to recently enacted legislation, Senate Bill 966, passed by the General Assembly and signed by Governor Northam earlier this year. Dominion’s petition requests the SCC to find that the plan is “reasonable and prudent.” The legislation provides that “grid transformation projects” are “in the public interest.” However, the law does not require the Commission to approve any of the proposed investments.

Dominion does not request cost recovery in its filing or explain whether the spending plan would result in rate increases for customers. This case has been docketed as Case Number PUR-2018-00100. Interested parties have until September 11, 2018, to intervene in this case.

If you want to know more about how this filing may affect energy markets in Virginia or have a legal issue in the energy field, please contact any of our renewable energy lawyers.

Dominion Proposes Significant New Solar and Gas-Fired Generation

On May 1, Dominion Energy Virginia (“Dominion”) filed its 2018 Integrated Resource Plan (“IRP”) at the State Corporation Commission (“SCC”). In Virginia, an IRP is a utility’s proposal for meeting customer demand over the next 15 years. An IRP is a planning document and does not represent a commitment to pursue any particular course of action. Instead, it is the utility’s best assessment, at a particular point in time, regarding which resources it will deploy over the planning horizon.

The SCC must review Dominion’s IRP and decide whether the plan is “reasonable and in the public interest.” Generally, interested parties are able to present arguments and testimony regarding the reasonableness of the plan.

Dominion’s 2018 filing includes five alternative scenarios. The key variable in the alternative plans is carbon regulation. For example, the IRP includes different modeling based on whether a carbon tax is imposed at the federal or state level, or whether the Commonwealth joins the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.

In each alternative plan, Dominion proposes to add at least 4,700 MW of new solar capacity in the next 15 years. Dominion also proposes to add between 3,700 and 5,200 MW of new gas-fired generation. Dominion suggests that these new gas facilities will be used as “peaking resources,” which run when necessary during periods of increased demand, such as on hot summer days when there is greater need for air conditioning. The also IRP assumes that Dominion’s peak demand will increase 1.4% each year.

The IRP indicates that the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline (“ACP”) will be a supply source for the new gas facilities. Dominion states that it has already signed an agreement to “secure firm transportation services on the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.” Dominion’s parent company, Dominion Energy, is one of the developers of the ACP.

Finally, the IRP assumes that Dominion’s four nuclear reactors will receive federal approval to remain operational throughout the planning period. However, Dominion says that it will “pause material development activities for North Anna 3,” a third nuclear reactor that the company was planning to construct at its nuclear facility in central Virginia.

The IRP notes that Senate Bill 966, which was enacted by General Assembly earlier this year, will become effective on July 1 of this year. This legislation is intended to encourage investments in renewable energy and “grid transformation” projects. The legislation requires Dominion to propose at least $870 million in energy efficiency programs over the next 10 years.

Dominion states that it “has begun the initial planning associated with a transformational grid modernization effort.” These “grid transformation” efforts will include investments in smart meter technology, distribution substation automation, “replacing aging infrastructure,” and an “enhanced customer information platform” to allow customers to manage their energy consumption. Although the IRP notes that Senate Bill 966 requires the company to propose $870 million in efficiency programs over the next 10 years, the IRP does not identify what type investments might be made.

We expect the SCC will enter an order for notice and hearing in the coming weeks. The SCC’s order will include deadlines for intervention, expert witness testimony submissions, and a date for the evidentiary hearing.

If you have any questions about Dominion’s IRP, or other electric energy matters, please contact one of GreenHurlockler’s renewable energy or regulatory lawyers.

Pending cases will have major impact on energy choice in Virginia

Our clients and colleagues have a lot of questions about the status of retail energy choice in Virginia. In this Energy Update special report, Will Reisinger breaks down the major legal issues and several pending court cases. These cases could determine whether Virginia expands – or restricts – customers’ access to new renewable energy and market-based rate options.

Dominion, Appalachian Power Dispute SCC Decision

SCC CASE UPDATE:

Last week we told you about an important State Corporation Commission (“SCC” or “Commission”) decision that could expand access to competitive electric supply in Virginia. The SCC approved a request filed by a group of manufacturing customers to combine their demands for purposes of shopping for competitive electric supply. The SCC found that their request was “in the public interest.” The SCC approved the customers’ application over the objections of both Dominion Energy Virginia (“Dominion”) and Appalachian Power Company (“APCo”). Dominion argued that allowing the companies to shop for competitive electric supply would “erode a significant portion of the utility’s jurisdictional customer base.”

Both utilities are now appealing the decision to the Virginia Supreme Court. Dominion filed a notice of appeal with the SCC on March 21, while APCo filed its notice on March 15. The utilities have not yet filed their assignments of error (i.e., their grounds for appealing the decision).

Appeals from the SCC are “of right,” meaning the Supreme Court is required to hear any case that’s properly appealed.  While the Court can overturn any of the Commission’s findings, the Court usually gives deference to the SCC. The Court has frequently said that SCC decisions are “entitled to the respect due judgments of a tribunal informed by experience” and that Commission orders won’t be disturbed if “based upon the application of the correct principles of law.”

We’ll keep you updated on the status of this important case. If you want to talk about this case, the SCC’s role, or energy law and regulation, just call any of our energy lawyers.

SCC Decision Expands Access to Competitive Electric Supply

transmission towers for electricityWhile many political observers were focused on Senate Bill 966, the omnibus utility legislation that was just passed by the General Assembly, the Virginia State Corporation Commission (“Commission” or “SCC”) recently issued an important decision affecting customers’ rights to purchase energy from competitive suppliers.

On February 21, 2018, in Case No. PUR-2017-00109, the Commission approved the first ever “customer aggregation” petition under § 56-577 A 4 of the Code of Virginia. As explained in detail below, this section of the Code allows customers to aggregate their demand for the purposes of satisfying the 5 MW demand threshold required to purchase generation from non-utility companies.

In most circumstances, Virginia’s incumbent electric utilities, including Dominion Energy Virginia (“Dominion”), have a monopoly on the sale of electricity in their service territories. Customers must purchase energy from their utility. Virginia law, however, provides two exceptions to the utilities’ monopoly rights. (Under these two exceptions, customers may purchase generation from non-utility suppliers. But shopping customers must still pay for the utility’s distribution services.)

First, under Va. Code § 56-577 A 5, customers may purchase “100 percent renewable energy” from competitive suppliers if  the customer’s monopoly electric utility does not offer an SCC-approved 100% renewable energy tariff. No utility currently offers an SCC-approved 100% renewable tariff.

Second, Va. Code § 56-577 A 3 law allows large customers with annual demands over 5 MW to purchase generation from competitive suppliers. Importantly, the law also allows a group of customers to “aggregate” their demands in order to reach the 5 MW threshold. The statute treats large customers with multiple meter locations as different customers but allows them to aggregate to meet the 5 MW threshold. Once aggregated, the group will be treated as a “single, individual customer” under the law. Before allowing an aggregation, however, the Commission must find that the requested aggregation would be “consistent with the public interest.”

SCC Case No. PUR-2017-00109 was the first test of this statutory provision – that is, the first time a group of customers sought to combine their demands in order to reach the 5 MW threshold. In this case, Reynolds Group Holdings, Inc. (“Reynolds”), a metals and packaging manufacturer, petitioned the SCC for approval to aggregate six of its retail accounts in Dominion’s service territory.

Dominion and Appalachian Power Company (“APCo”) intervened in the case and opposed the petition. Dominion argued that allowing customers to aggregate their demand “would unreasonably expand the scope of retail access [and would] have the potential effect of eroding a significant portion of the utility’s jurisdictional customer base.” Dominion also suggested that the General Assembly – despite authorizing customer shopping and aggregation – intended to allow retail choice “only in limited circumstances.”

But the SCC, relying on the plain language of Va. Code § 56-577 A 4, rejected Dominion’s and APCo’s arguments and approved the petition. Dominion and APCo have until March 23, 2018, to appeal the decision to the Virginia Supreme Court.

The SCC is also currently considering additional aggregation requests filed by over 160 Walmart customer accounts in Case Nos. PUR-2017-00173 and PUR-2017-00174. (In both of these cases, GreeneHurlocker is representing competitive suppliers who are supporting approval of Walmart’s aggregation requests.)

Should you have any questions about customer aggregation or competitive supply options in Virginia, please contact one our regulatory attorneys.

Additionally, GreeneHurlocker recently published Principles of Electric Utility Regulation in Virginia, which provides a plain-English explanation of Virginia’s electric utility laws, including the statutes affecting retail choice.

Virginia Supreme Court Upholds Electric Utility Rate Freeze

But There Is A Powerful Dissent

On September 14, 2017, the Supreme Court of Virginia issued an opinion affirming the controversial “rate freeze law.”transmission towers for electricity

As we previously discussed here and here, a group of industrial customers of Appalachian Power Company (“APCo”) appealed to the Supreme Court of Virginia, asking the Court to strike a controversial portion of the Virginia Electric Utility Regulation Act (“Regulation Act”). The group, the Old Dominion Committee for Fair Utility Rates (“Committee”), challenged a 2015 amendment to the Regulation Act, Senate Bill 1349 — the so-called “rate freeze law” which prevents the State Corporation Commission (“SCC” or “Commission”) from reviewing or reducing the base rates of APCo and Dominion Virginia Power (“Dominion”) until 2020 and 2021, respectively.

There is little dispute the law has helped APCo’s and Dominion’s profits and led to rates that are higher than they otherwise would be if the Commission had authority to review them. Using Dominion’s own figures, Commission Staff calculated in a recent report that the company’s customers would be due about a $130 million refund on bills paid in 2015 and 2016. APCo had overearnings of more than $20 million in 2016, according to the report.

The case centered around the language in Article IX, § 2 of the Constitution of Virginia, which the Committee argued reserved rate-making authority to the Commission, and that the General Assembly had overstepped its authority by passing legislation that stripped the Commission from reviewing the utilities’ rates for five and seven years. Article IX, § 2 provides as follows:

“Subject to such criteria and other requirements as may be prescribed by law, the [State Corporation] Commission shall have the power and be charged with the duty of regulating the rates, charges, and services and, except as may be otherwise authorized by the Constitution or by general law, the facilities of railroad, telephone, gas, and electric companies.” Va. Const. art. IX, § 2.

Justice Mims, in a powerful dissent, summed up the issue properly:  “This case boils down to a simple question: what does that sentence mean?”

In an opinion written by Justice Elizabeth A. McClanahan, the Supreme Court of Virginia rejected the Committee’s argument that the rate freeze law violates Article IX, § 2 of the Constitution of Virginia. The Court explains that “[t]here is nothing in Article IX, § 2 that clearly indicates that the Commission’s authority to set rates displaces or is exclusive of the General Assembly’s authority.” The Court further states that the Commission correctly decided that the rate freeze law “is constitutional because it is not plainly repugnant to Article IX, § 2 of the Virginia.” In her opinion for the Court, Justice McClanahan also noted that the Court has “no constitutional authority to judge whether a statute is unwise, improper, or inequitable because the legislature, not the judiciary, is the sole author of public policy.”

In his dissent, Justice Mims argues that the language in Article IX, § 2 means that the “General Assembly may impose standards and prerequisites that the Commission must adhere to when exercising its power and duty to set rates.”  He goes on to clarify that it “does not mean that the General Assembly may suspend that power and duty.” Justice Mims warns that based on the Court’s analysis, the General Assembly has the power to strip the Commission of its power set forth in Article IX, § 2 at its will. “That sobering outcome thwarts the purpose behind creating the Commission in the first place.”

GreeneHurlocker represented the Virginia Citizens Consumer Council (“VCCC”), which filed an amicus brief before the Court. The VCCC argued that the rate-freeze law was unconstitutional. If you have any questions about any of the legal aspects of this case, do not hesitate to contact one of GreeneHurlocker’s Virginia energy and regulatory attorneys.

Virginia Commission Rejects Utility “Green Tariff” Proposal

wind turbines and solar arrays

Virginia Commission unanimously rejects utility “Green Tariff” proposal, representing major victory for renewable energy advocates

wind turbines and solar arraysOn September 14, 2017, the Virginia State Corporation Commission entered a final order rejecting a renewable energy tariff proposal (“Green Tariff”) filed by Appalachian Power Company, finding that the tariff rates were not just and reasonable. APCo’s Green Tariff was intended to offer customers the option to purchase 100% renewable energy instead of energy produced from coal and gas-fired facilities. Given the structure of APCo’s proposal, the Commission’s decision represents a major victory for renewable energy developers, environmental advocates, and clean energy suppliers in Virginia.

APCo’s application requested permission to offer a voluntary, 100% renewable tariff to its customers. But APCo proposed to simply repackage generation it was already purchasing via four power purchase agreements (“PPAs”), and then reallocate that energy to participating customers. Customers would have paid 18% more than their standard rates to participate in the program.

The so-called Green Tariff, if approved, would have represented the first time a Virginia utility offered a 100% renewable tariff option for its customers. But, if approved, the tariff would have also largely foreclosed competition for renewable energy and prevented customers from purchasing generation from competitive suppliers. Under current law, most customers are allowed to purchase renewable generation from third-parties only if their incumbent electric utility does not have an approved tariff for 100% renewable energy. See Va. Code Section 56-577(A)(5).

GreeneHurlocker represented the Maryland-DC-Virginia Solar Energy Industries Association (“MDV-SEIA”) in the case. MDV-SEIA argued that APCo’s proposal was not in the public interest and should be rejected for several reasons. For example, the per-MWh price of the Green Tariff was unreasonably high and not reflective of current prices for renewable energy. MDV-SEIA also noted that the Green Tariff did not contain any solar generation or any Virginia-based renewable resources of any kind.

The Commission agreed with MDV-SEIA, finding that “[APCo] has not established that the rate proposed under [the Green Tariff] is just and reasonable,” The Commission also cited MDV-SEIA’s arguments that the Green Tariff price “is much higher than prevailing prices for renewable energy.” But the Commission noted that APCo is not precluded from applying for approval of a redesigned renewable energy tariff.

APCo is permitted to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court of Virginia by filing a notice of appeal at the Commission on or before October 16, 2017.

The Commission is also currently considering a similar renewable tariff application filed by Dominion Energy Virginia (“Dominion”) in Case No. PUR-2017-00060. If approved, Dominion’s tariff would severely limit clean energy choices for its large customers and potentially other classes of customers in the future.

Please contact one of our renewable energy lawyers or regulatory attorneys should you have questions about this case. The Commission case number for the APCo matter is PUE-2016-00051, while Dominion’s proposal is currently being considered in PUR-2017-00060.

SCC Hearing Examiner Recommends Denial of Appalachian Power’s Renewable Tariff

wind turbines and solar arraysOn Wednesday, June 21, a Virginia State Corporation Commission (“Commission”) Hearing Examiner issued a report recommending denial of a renewable energy tariff (“Green Tariff”) filed by Appalachian Power Company (“APCo”). If accepted by the full Commission, the Hearing Examiner’s findings would be a victory for renewable energy developers and competitive energy suppliers operating in Virginia.

APCo’s application requested permission to offer a voluntary 100% renewable tariff to its customers. APCo proposed to repackage generation it was already purchasing via four power purchase agreements (“PPAs”), and then reallocate that energy to participating customers. Customers would pay an 18% premium in order to participate in the program.

The so-called Green Tariff would represent the first time a Virginia utility offered a 100% renewable tariff option for its customers. But, if approved, the tariff would also largely foreclose competition for renewable energy in Virginia and prevent customers from purchasing generation from competitive suppliers. Under current law, most customers are allowed to purchase renewable energy from third-parties only if their incumbent electric utility does not have an approved tariff for 100% renewable energy. See Va. Code Section 56-577(A)(5).

Environmental and renewable energy advocates, including our client, the Maryland-DC-Virginia Solar Energy Industries Association (“MDV-SEIA”), opposed APCo’s proposed Green Tariff. MDV-SEIA argued that the proposal is not in the public interest and should be rejected for several reasons. First, the per-MWh price of the Green Tariff is unreasonably high and not reflective of current prices for renewable energy. MDV-SEIA also noted that the Green Tariff does not contain any solar generation or any Virginia-based renewable resources of any kind. The four PPAs that form the basis of the Green Tariff represent wind and hydrologic energy located in Indiana and West Virginia. Moreover, the Green Tariff would not encourage the development of any new resources; all of the Green Tariff’s out-of-state facilities were placed into service between 7 and 15 years ago.

The Hearing Examiner largely agreed with the arguments raised by MDV-SEIA, finding that the “per MWh cost of the [proposed tariff] is significantly higher than the average cost for new wind power in the PJM region” and that the tariff rate would be “18% higher than APCo’s standard rate for service.” The Hearing Examiner also cited data, obtained by MDV-SEIA through a motion to compel, indicating that the Green Tariff price was significantly higher than other renewable energy recently added to APCo’s portfolio. Finally, the Examiner noted that the Green Tariff “has the potential to suppress or even curtail customer access to 100 percent renewable energy by precluding sales by [competitive renewable energy suppliers] while at the same time offering an incumbent utility alternative that is simply too costly for customers to bear.” The Hearing Examiner determined that the Green Tariff, if approved, would not support the clean energy objectives of the Commonwealth’s Energy Policy, found in Title 67 of the Code of Virginia.

The Hearing Examiner’s report and recommendation now goes to the full Commission, which can approve or reject it. The Commission is also currently considering a similar renewable tariff application filed by Dominion Energy Virginia (“Dominion”) in Case No. PUR-2017-00060. If approved, Dominion’s tariff would also severely limit energy choices for most of its customers.

Please contact one of our renewable energy lawyers or regulatory attorneys should you have questions about this case. The Commission case number for this matter is PUE-2016-00051.

UPDATE: Dominion appeals SCC decision in renewable energy case

wind turbines and solar arraysDominion Virgina Power has appealed a recent Virginia State Corporation Commission (Commission/SCC) decision in the renewable energy case to the Virginia Supreme Court. As we discussed in detail here, renewable generation suppliers recently won a major victory at the SCC. On April 26, 2017, Direct Energy Services, LLC (“Direct”) received a favorable ruling from the Commission that reaffirms the rights of competitive suppliers to sell renewable energy to retail customers in the Commonwealth. On May 25, 2017, however, Dominion Energy Virginia (“Dominion”) gave notice that it would appeal the decision to the Virginia Supreme Court.

The case was initiated when Direct filed a petition for declaratory judgment asking the Commission to clarify the meaning of several portions of Virginia’s retail choice statute, Virginia Code § 56-577. One part of the statute, Va. Code § 56-577 A 3, provides that large customers purchasing energy from competitive suppliers must provide “five years’ advance written notice” if they wish to go back to receiving service from their incumbent utility. But another part of the statute, Va. Code § 56-577 A 5, provides that all retail customers, regardless of their size, may purchase 100% renewable energy from competitive suppliers if their incumbent utility does not offer a 100% renewable energy tariff. Direct noted that this latter statutory provision does not include a five-year notice requirement.

The Commission entered an order on March 17, 2017, agreeing with Direct that customers who purchase 100% renewable energy pursuant to Va. Code § 56-577 A 5 are not required to comply with the five-year minimum notice requirement contained in Section A 3. On April 26, following a motion for reconsideration filed by Dominion, the Commission reaffirmed its decision and legal analysis.

On May 25, 2017, Dominion gave notice that it would appeal the matter to the Virginia Supreme Court. Under Virginia law, appeals of Commission orders are “of right,” and all appeals of SCC decisions must be heard by the Court. Virginia Supreme Court rules require Dominion to file its assignments of error within four months of the Commission’s final order.

Please contact one of our renewable energy lawyers or regulatory attorneys should you have questions about this case. The Commission case number for this matter is PUE-2016-00094.