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State lawmakers are still divided over SCC vacancies

Offshore Wind Virginia
Steve Helber
FILE - Two of the offshore wind turbines which have been constructed off the coast of Virginia Beach, Va. are viewed June 29, 2020.

Virginia's governor is now considering a number of bills aimed at the relationship between regulators and utilities. But, that's happening during a time when some key positions remain vacant.

The State Corporation Commission is not exactly a household name. But it has outsized influence over how electric utilities are regulated, and the three member commission currently has only one member. That's because Democrats and Republicans can't agree on appointments.

Harry Godfrey at Advanced Energy United says legislation to restore authority to the SCC is a good idea, but it won't mean all that much in the short term if the commission can't get a quorum.

"The reforms that have been passed by the General Assembly this session are really intended to operate over the long term to restore the authority of the SCC," Godfrey explains. "But before we can get to that, we’ve got this immediate short-term need to have a fully functional SCC with a quorum of three judges on it. We just don't have that right now."

Stephen Haner at the Thomas Jefferson Institute says the battle over the SCC judges is really a battle over the future of energy policy in Virginia.

"I think the problem is because both sides see the judges as making decisions that have such high stakes," says Haner. "I mean there really are some key decisions enforcing this Virginia Clean Economy Act, and there was a big debate before the SCC this year about the offshore wind project that could’ve gone a couple of different ways."

Members of the General Assembly will be back in Richmond for the veto session in April, and they could appoint members to the State Corporation Commission at that time. Or they could continue the gridlock and leave the positions unfilled.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Michael Pope is an author and journalist who lives in Old Town Alexandria.