Some would have you believe that they care about the lower income among us.  

I say that their actions speak louder than their words. They talk about all the freebies they will provide to those with lower income yet, if you look at the new fees and taxes that they are piling on, you will soon find out that they are simply moving costs from one hand to another.

Consider the issue of electrical power. The Governor is dead set on an energy compact with northern states that have much higher electrical rates than Virginia.  The compact is called the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative— or RGGI (pronounced Reggie) for short. 

Consider these bills

The bill calls for Virginia to have zero-carbon energy no later than 2045. As a first step, it enrolls Virginia in RGGI, which will be Virginia’s first true carbon tax -a con game that allows one power producer to buy from another less clean producer and pass cost to customers. The legislation orders the closure of most, but not all, remaining coal generation; mainly generation from aging plants that are no longer economically viable anyway.

With those continuing to operate for two more decades or longer — and rapid growth of private solar sources — it is doubtful customer demand will be there for multiple gigawatts of new wind and solar power, but a weakened State Corporation Commission will lack the authority to block their construction.  Instead, the law creates a series of hurdles for development of any new fossil fuel generation.

Proponents also expect to bend down the demand with a major expansion of ratepayer-financed energy efficiency programs. These install insulation and low wattage light bulbs, replace older inefficient appliances and seek to reduce electricity usage in various other ways. Large industrial customers who have previously avoided paying for energy efficiency spending will be forced to step up. Both of these can be positive but will drive up costs to you.

Proponents call the main legislative vehicle, adopted on straight party-line votes in both chambers Feb. 11, the Virginia Clean Energy Act. The House of Delegates version is now pending in the Virginia Senate, and vice versa. All involved expect them to be only slightly amended before Governor Northam signs them.

Wind and solar

Not to be outdone, the new Democratic majority in the Virginia General Assembly is seeking to transform the Commonwealth into a wind and solar energy wonderland. It is passing legislation to require construction of solar and wind and close disfavored power sources, and to prevent the State Corporation Commission from challenging either based on cost to their customers.

Environmental justice

Additionally, they have added a new set of political motives to the drive to eliminate carbon dioxide emissions from electric power plants: race, poverty and environmental justice claims. If passed, the utilities, for the first time, will be charging means tested rates, submitting their construction plans for review by an environmental justice council.

Democrats may need to protect low-income customers from these costs to prevent a revolt. In one estimate, their plans will add $280 to $370 per year to a Dominion Energy residential customer. Most of the costs will appear on future bills in the form of rate adjustment clauses, allowing the supporters to blame the power company rather than those who created these policy changes. The pending legislation orders the SCC to accept the costs as reasonable.

Low-income customers will have to accept energy audits and efficiency efforts as part of the program, which may subsidize their residential bills. The proposed Percentage of Income Payment Plan also will pay off bills they owe in arrears, using funds provided by other ratepayers with yet another rate adjustment clause.

This summary focuses only on the highlights of these main clean energy proposals, which is supplemented with other bills changing energy regulation and dictating decisions to the SCC. Trying to eliminate CO2 emissions from energy generation is only a first phase, with the rest of Virginia’s economy facing its transformation away from fossil fuels in years to come. If this bill is the model, expect similar disregard for consumer cost and regulatory oversight in those efforts.

Ruff is a state senator representing parts of Halifax County.