Recently, former Republican State Senator John Watkins (R-Chesterfield) penned an opinion piece in The Roanoke Times accusing environmental and pro-transparent government advocacy organization Clean Virginia of “demonizing” Richmond-based electric utility Dominion Energy. The group said that Virginians pay the 11th-highest power bills in the nation, mainly because of the company’s “corrupt” nature, according to various statements on their website.
Watkins had an issue with the statement and said Clean Virginia’s comments and criticism “are not tethered by the truth,” adding that the company “has invested millions of dollars in the communities they serve…hardly the actions of corrupt individuals.
“In this era of ‘fake news’ and spin, an engaged citizen must do a lot of research to find the truth on a variety of subjects.
A recent article on USA Today’s website which ranks all 50 states says Virginia customers pay $127 for an average monthly bill, and it ranks our state – as a whole – as the 8th highest.
Clean Virginia says people in the Commonwealth pay high electricity bills because “systematic contributions and gifts to lawmakers have led to a rigged system that has favored corporate interests over the common good.” They argue that the “Virginia legislature is responsible for balancing the logical pursuit of a monopoly corporation to maximize its profits with the interests of bill payers.”
The group notes on its website that Dominion Energy and Appalachian Power Co., Virginia’s top two electric utilities, together provide 82 percent of the state’s power. Meanwhile, since 1996, they have contributed $12 million to state candidates, leading many to claim the company has a major role in writing the legislation that regulates their industry.
Politifact Virginia has weighed in on the claims by Clean Virginia, concluding they are not true.
Email and phone interviews were conducted with two members of Clean Virginia, executive director Brennan Gilmore and policy director David Jonas.
According to the fact checkers, the two referred them to data on residential power use collected by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA). Tables show that Virginians received an average residential electric bill of $124.54 a month in 2017, which in fact, was the 11th-highest in the country.
However, as Politifact puts it, “Power bills are generally tallied by multiplying two figures: the cost rate for a kilowatt of energy per hour times the number of kilowatt hours used.”
“Virginia’s average residential rate of 11.55-cents per kilowatt hour is the 17th-lowest in the nation. Conversely, its average household use of 1,078 kilowatt hours a month is the eighth highest. In other words, the driving force behind high residential bills in Virginia is not the rate; it’s the heavy use of electricity.”
The federal agency’s analysis shows a similar trend nationwide, with consumers buying more of inexpensive electricity, and those in states with high electricity rates buying less. Therefore, households in states where power is relatively inexpensive usually consume more electricity than those in expensive states. “Virginians, for example, use more than twice the power consumed by households in Vermont and Hawaii, which pay some of the highest rates in the nation,” the report added.
The former Republican state lawmaker also added to Clean Virginia’s claims:
“But here’s where I had to pay attention: This ranking is for all Virginia customers, which includes Appalachian Power, Dominion Energy and the electric cooperatives, combined. In my years on the Senate Commerce & Labor Committee, I’ve learned to trust the data provided by Virginia’s State Corporation Commission. Sure enough, after a couple clicks on the computer, I found that the SCC data says Dominion Energy customers paid $115 for an average monthly bill as of July 2018, considerably less than Clean Virginia purports – about $12 a month less.”
The driver of large electric bills is Virginia’s high consumption of the resource in a majority of households, which are in the top ten of consumers in the U.S., behind seven others. The Commonwealth also has the 17th-lowest residential rates, showing that the corruption claims from Clean Virginia against Dominion Energy, Appalachian Power, and other electric utilities colluding with state lawmakers are inaccurate.