Herring Working to Ensure Utility Customers Receive Benefits of Companies' Tax Savings

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Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring (FILE IMAGE) Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring (FILE IMAGE)

Release from the Commonwealth of Virginia Office of the Attorney General:

RICHMOND (January 11, 2018)-Attorney General Mark R. Herring, in his role as Consumer Counsel representing the interests of Virginia utility customers, is working to ensure that customers and ratepayers receive the benefits of recent changes in federal tax laws. He has joined a bipartisan coalition of 18 state attorneys general, state agencies, and consumer advocates in calling on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to take immediate steps to ensure that public utility companies do not receive a major windfall at the expense of their customers. He will also argue at the State Corporation Commission for the maximum appropriate refund or rate reduction for Virginia customers of utilities whose rates are set at the state level.

"I'm going to do all that I can to make sure that savings and benefits are passed onto customers, as they should be, not just tacked onto the bottom lines of the utility companies," said Attorney General Herring. "If these companies are going to reap a windfall from changes in federal law, their rates need to reflect that."

In a letter sent to FERC [PDF], Herring and his colleagues request that an investigation be opened into whether the current rates for federally regulated utilities - electric transmission and interstate natural gas and oil pipeline owners - are justified following the recent passage of the new federal tax law, or whether they should be reduced. Without action by FERC, utility companies may simply transfer savings from the new tax law to investors instead of reducing rates for customers.\As Attorney General Herring and his colleagues note in their letter, FERC has experience in adjusting customers' rates to reflect a reduction in federal income taxes. In 1987, FERC allowed electric utilities to file for rate decreases after the corporate tax rate was reduced from 46 to 34 percent.

"We call on the commission to use its experience and expertise, with stakeholder input, to determine appropriate procedural mechanisms to discover information about the scope of over-collections at issue, the types of voluntary rate reductions or refunds that can be implemented by the Public Utilities in an expedited manner under existing commission rules and precedent, and the best way to ensure that customers are not harmed by any delay in making the appropriate changes," the letter states.

At the state level, Attorney General Herring and his Division of Consumer Counsel will be advocating for the interests of Virginia customers and for the maximum appropriate refund or rate adjustment during Virginia State Corporation Commission proceedings. The SCC, the body that regulates utilities in Virginia and sets rates, has notified utilities that they should begin accounting for cost savings and prepare to pass those on to ratepayers. The exact amount for each utility will be determined by the SCC in future proceedings that will include active participation and consumer advocacy by Consumer Counsel.

Attorney General Herring and his Division of Consumer Counsel have been successful advocates for Virginia consumers at the SCC, helping to secure refunds and rate reductions for customers of utilities including Appalachian Power Company (APCo) and Dominion. Attorney General Herring also has been and remains a strong opponent of SB1349, the so-called "rate freeze" bill, which has hindered efforts to examine the profits of utility companies and reduce rates for customers, and which could hinder efforts to pass tax savings on to consumers.

Joining AG Herring in sending the letter to FERC are the attorneys general of California, Connecticut, Illinois, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, New York, North Carolina, Rhode Island, Texas, as well as the Connecticut Office of Consumer Counsel, the Florida Office of Public Counsel, the Maine Office of the Public Advocate, the New Hampshire Office of the Consumer Advocate, the Rhode Island Division of Public Utilities and Carriers, and the Vermont Department of Public Service.