RICHMOND, Va. (AP) – Virginia House Democrats and a handful of Republicans dealt Dominion Energy a rare setback Monday, amending legislation in a way that could save customers billions of dollars but that the state’s most politically influential company has said is unneeded.
The House forced a change in a proposed utility backed rewrite of the state’s electric regulation laws that Democratic Del. David Toscano, the amendment’s sponsor, said would ensure customers don’t pay twice for grid upgrades or other spending.
The 55-41 vote for the amendment caught many political watchers off guard, as the state’s biggest corporate campaign donor with a small army of well-connected lobbyists in both parties rarely loses floor votes.
Dominion has already secured passage of one version of the legislation in the state Senate and Gov. Ralph Northam has lined up behind the bill. Both Dominion and Northam have promised lawmakers that the legislation, which is dozens of pages long and dense with regulatory jargon, wouldn’t let utilities “double dip” by charging customers twice for some spending while not giving them refunds on excessive profits.
But several others rejected that view, including state regulators, the attorney general’s office and other advocates. No consumer advocacy group has endorsed the bill, which would also refund Appalachian Power and Dominion customers some money for past overearnings while adding new limits on regulators’ future ability to lower rates that overearn.
David Botkins, a spokesman for Dominion, and Brian Coy, a spokesman for Northam, said they were still studying Toscano’s amendment and couldn’t immediately comment on it.
Toscano said the amendment shouldn’t be a problem for either the governor’s office or Dominion.
“If there was no double dip in the bill, like everybody has asserted, we will make sure that the language is absolutely, positively clear,” he said.
Toscano credited last year’s wave election, which produced several new Democratic lawmakers who are openly skeptical of Dominion’s political influence, for the successful vote.
After the amendment passed, Republicans quickly scrambled to secure a new vote on the amendment. It passed 96-1.
A vote on the full legislation is expected Tuesday. If it passes in its amended form, it will still have to pass the Senate and the final bill could still change significantly.
Republican Del. Terry Kilgore, a longtime Dominion ally and sponsor of the legislation, initially tried to persuade lawmakers not to support Toscano’s amendment. Kilgore said the amendment wasn’t necessary and compared the overall legislation to getting a new car for the price of a used one.
Kilgore voted for amendment on the second vote but said he still thinks the double dip is “more perception than reality” and that Toscano’s amendment takes “a lot of stuff out that needs to stay in” the legislation.
“I’m going to have to fix it,” Kilgore said.