Dominion Energy, the fifth largest energy utility in the United States and the largest in Virginia, has flexed its political muscle to craft and pass legislation that pads its corporate profits while raising electricity prices for consumers. It has set up shop in 19 states across the country. Over the past two decades, Dominion has spent at least $59 million to influence federal and state lawmakers and regulators to double down on its fossil fuel infrastructure investments right when science is telling us that the time to move to clean energy is now. Unless the truth is uncovered about how they operate, Dominion will lock us in to a future of dirty energy and the certainty of the worst effects of climate change.
Dominion’s Power Grab Goes Way, Way Back
Its origins stretch back to a firm chartered to improve water transportation on the Appomattox River in 1787. The company expanded into other businesses via mergers, and by the end of the 1800s it was operating generators to power its electric streetcars, creating the seed of the utility company that we know today. The son of the famed robber baron tycoon Jay Gould became majority owner of what became the Virginia Railway and Power Company. In 1925, a pool of investors merged it with the Spotsylvania Power Company to become Virginia Electric Power Company.
From these colonial roots Virginia Power rapidly became the biggest utility in the state. It used the earnings from selling electricity and natural gas to Virginia residents to begin spreading its tentacles across the country. In the 1980s, Virginia Power created a new holding company, what became Dominion Energy, to own the Virginia utility as well as its other spreading businesses.
By the end of the 1990s, Dominion had been expanding and endangering communities first with coal-powered energy production and more recently pivoting to promote fracked natural gas with major infrastructure projects like pipelines, export terminals and more, while doing frighteningly little in clean energy even as the urgency of climate change is becoming increasingly clear.
Food & Water Watch exposé of Dominion Energy's power grabs and fracking agenda
Dominion Has Greased The Wheels To The Tune of $59 Million Since 1998
Dominion is a powerful political player in Richmond as well as at other statehouses and on Capitol Hill. It has spent lavishly, pouring at least $59 million into campaign contributions, lobbying and gifts to influence Virginia legislators and officials, the U.S. Congress, and other states where it operates.
It wields its greatest influence in Virginia. It has spent over $10 million filling Commonwealth campaign coffers over the past two decades and over $400,000 on gifts, dinners and trips for legislators and regulators from 2008 to 2016. The ample campaign generosity is bipartisan: 86 percent of Virginia legislators have received campaign cash from its political action committee and/or employees. Of the $2.7 million funneled to Virginia’s current lawmakers, 25 state legislators received more than half of the largesse. And the top five recipients received nearly one-third of its contributions.
Political spending is often called buying influence, but it really amounts to investing in legislators that demand light regulatory oversight. Dominion has used those investments to great advantage. Dominion has been able to craft, push and enact legislation to shore up corporate profits, leave utility customers vulnerable to rate hikes and sidestep responsibility for cleaning up its coal-ash ponds that are leaching dangerous chemicals into local waters. Its political generosity probably paved the way for its controversial projects like the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (in Virginia West Virginia and North Carolina) and the Cove Point export terminal (Maryland).
“Dominion’s investing. It’s paid off handsomely.” — Former Virginia Republican Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli
State “legislators agree that Dominion’s power is unmatched at the state Capitol.” — The Richmond Times-Dispatch
Dominion’s New Fracked Gas Investments Are A Threat To Humanity
Dominion isn’t satisfied with the profits its already carved out at great harm to the planet. They’ve more than doubled down on investments in both fossil fuel infrastructure and political favor.
Dominion’s sprawling network of natural gas infrastructure promotes the expansion of fracking. The company plays a major and growing role in transporting, processing and storing natural gas. Dominion’s CEO Tom Farrell trumpeted that fracked shale gas would promote energy independence and turn the United States into an “arsenal of energy.” Building pipelines, power plants and other fracked gas infrastructure locks Virginia and the nation into a fossil fuel future.
Dominion’s climate emissions are already trending upwards, but this aggressive investment is at direct odds with the warning from the Intergovernmental Panel On Climate Change to move to renewable energy completely within twelve years in order to save humanity from the most ravaging impacts of climate change. Dominion’s insistence on pushing forward with its own plans to profit in the face of this news is a huge threat to the planet and mankind.
“Dominion’s stranglehold over politics, energy, and infrastructure in the state of Virginia is a travesty to democratic values,” said Jorge Aguilar, Food & Water Watch Southern Region Director. “Such a legacy of pollution continues to threaten communities with major fracked gas infrastructure, climbing climate emissions, and controversial projects like the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, the Cove Point export terminal, power plants and electric transmission lines. It is up to our elected officials to halt dirty fossil fuel development and flip the switch on dirty energy by committing to rapidly shifting to 100 percent clean renewable energy now.”
Stand With Us Against Dominion Energy’s Endangerment To Our Way Of Life
Americans need to understand how Dominion Energy is maintaining its vice-like grip on our legislators so that we can begin to break its hold and move toward the renewable energy future we need to survive on this planet. Stand with us by supporting the call for 100% renewables in Virginia for the safety of our future.