The Virginia Senate Commerce & Labor Committee rejected two bills on February 24, 2019 that would have allowed customers of Dominion Virginia Energy and Appalachian Power Company greater access to purchase renewable energy from an entity other than their electric utility. Customers and competitive service providers (CSPs) had lined up to support the bills, which passed the House two weeks ago.
The Senate C&L Committee a few weeks ago rejected similar bills that originated in the Senate, but the House versions passed. As a result, virtually identical bills found themselves back before the same Senate C&L Committee for consideration.
Currently, in Section 56-577 A 5 of the Code permits customers to purchase electricity provided 100% from renewable energy from CSPs but only if the customer’s incumbent utility does not have a 100% renewable energy tariff. HB 889 would have modified that language to allow CSPs to sell, and customers to buy, renewable energy even if the utility has such a tariff. About two years ago, the State Corporation Commission approved APCo’s 100% renewable energy tariff, so APCo customers who desire a renewable product must purchase it from APCo. Dominion’s 100% renewable energy tariff is currently pending before the Commission.
HB 889 would also have : (1) shortened from five years to three years the period that a large (+5MW) customer who switches from a utility to a CSP under Section 56-577 A 3 is barred from returning to utility service; and (2) made it easier for customers to aggregate their loads to reach the 5 MW threshold. The Senate Committee voted 8-6 (with one abstention) to pass the bill by indefinitely. It had passed the House 56-44.
Second, HB 868 was basically a scaled-down version of HB 889, addressing only the Section A 5 modifications. Gov. Ralph Northam had backed HB 868, which passed the House on a 55-44 vote. The Committee voted 10-4 to continue the bill to 2021.
Larger customers such as Target and Costco lobbied for these bills, explaining that they could purchase renewable energy and lower their carbon footprint at a price cheaper than Dominion’s current price which is not a renewable product. Dominion and APCo argued in response that while shopping under Section A 5 might benefit those who shopped, the utilities’ remaining customers would be left to pay the costs that the shopping customers no longer had to pay. During the last two General Assembly sessions, similar bills failed to make it out of committee in each chamber, so the proposals made it farther this year than in prior years.