Cautionary offshore wind tale out of Va.

Massachusetts earned plaudits earlier this year for its handling of an offshore wind procurement, but not every state’s pursuit of renewable energy is getting rave reviews. Reports out of Virginia suggest the state may be getting hoodwinked by one of its leading utilities.

The cautionary Virginia tale began innocently enough earlier this year. Angry about reports the state’s utilities had been making excessive profits for years, the Virginia legislature approved a law that required Dominion Energy and Appalachian Power Co. to return hundreds of millions of dollars to ratepayers. One story estimated the size of customer bills could drop by as much as $6 a month.

But there was a loophole. The utilities could hold on to the money as long as they invested it in renewable energy. The law declared renewable energy investments “in the public interest” and essentially exempted them from any second-guessing by the state’s chief utility regulator, the State Corporation Commission.

A Washington Post story on the legislation raised the prospect that the utilities could invest their excess profits in renewable energy projects and build the cost of those projects into their base rates. “It’s the equivalent of being given a new car as payment for a debt, then having to take over the payments on the car,” the newspaper reported, citing an analyst at the State Corporation Commission.

That analogy may be coming to pass. Dominion hired Denmark’s Ørsted Energy to install two, six-megawatt wind turbines 27 miles off the coast of Virginia Beach at a cost of $300 million with the hope of using the results from that small, pilot project to determine whether it would make sense to build a much larger $1.3 billion, 2,000-megawatt wind farm.

The pilot project went to the State Corporation Commission for approval. On Friday, the agency issued a blistering decision saying the deal was terrible for ratepayers. The opinion noted the deal wasn’t competitively bid and ratepayers would be on the hook for the entire cost as well as any overruns. (The Massachusetts offshore wind procurement was competitively bid and much of the risk is borne by the developer, Vineyard Wind.)

The commission’s opinion also suggested the $300 million pilot project would not provide much guidance for the larger wind farm project Dominion is planning, since Dominion wants to make a decision about the larger project by 2019 but the smaller project would not be up and running until 2020.

Lastly, the commission said, the electricity from the offshore wind turbines wasn’t needed and its price was excessive. The forecasted price was 78 cents a kilowatt hour, 9.3 times greater than the cost of the Vineyard Wind project off the coast of Massachusetts (8.4 cents a kilowatt hour). It was also twice as costly as a similar small-scale project (five turbines, 30 megawatts) built by Deepwater Wind near Block Island and much higher than other forms of renewable and non-renewable energy.

Despite its many concerns, the commission said its hands were tied by the new state law and approved the project. “The commission finds – as a purely factual matter based on this record – that the proposed project would not be deemed prudent as that term has been applied by this commission in its long history of public utility regulation or under any common application of the term. The commission further finds, however, that as a matter of law the new statutes governing this case subordinate the factual analysis to the legislative intent and public policy clearly set forth in the statutes quoted above and, thus, the instant petition should be – and is hereby – approved.”

BRUCE MOHL


BEACON HILL

Brian Dempsey, the former chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee who left to lobby at ML Strategies a year ago, is now launching his own lobbying firm. (State House News)

Massachusetts gives $1.5 billion in extra aid to the state’s rural schools. (MassLive)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Quincy officials will pay $6.8 million to use eminent domain to take a downtown lot which the city has been leasing from the owner as a temporary parking area for about 100 cars while downtown development has vacuumed up other available parking. (Patriot Ledger)

ELECTIONS

Yes, we all know it, but to say it once more: Today’s midterm elections are all about Trump. (Boston Globe) Check out CommonWealth’s election cram sheet, a compilation of the magazine’s coverage of state and local races.

Major networks, including Fox News, and social media sites that had run an ad from President Trump’s campaign featuring a convicted cop-killer in the country illegally have ceased airing the commercial because they said it is racist and offensive. (New York Times)

Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions both warn in dire terms — without any evidence — of the danger of voter fraud. (Washington Post)

Joe Battenfeld takes stock of today’s balloting, which he says may feature a lighter blue wave than some had predicted. (Boston Herald)

The Herald summarizes the three ballot questions facing Massachusetts voters.

Secretary of State William Galvin is predicting 2.4 million people will vote in Massachusetts today, roughly 52 percent of registered voters; (MassLive)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

It looks like Amazon HQ2 isn’t coming to Boston as reports point to the company setting up two new secondary outposts, one in Queens and the other just outside Washington, DC, in Crystal CIty, Virginia. (Boston Globe)

Papa Gino’s pizza franchise, which filed for bankruptcy and closed 47 outlets plus 45 D’Angleo sandwich shops that the company also owns, cited minimum wage increases as a big reason for its problems, but a local union lead said the company is scapegoating workers instead of owning up to management shortcomings. (Boston Globe)

Sports apparel company Under Armour, whose sponsorship list includes Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and his wife, Gisele Bundchen, and the Boston College athletic teams, has ended the long-standing practice of allowing executives to use corporate credit cards at strip clubs after pressure from women inside and outside the company. (Wall Street Journal)

Farmers in areas that have been strong Trump regions are seeing as much as a 94 percent decline in their products shipped to China since the institution of tariffs. (New York Times)

EDUCATION

As Boston ramps up its search for a new school superintendent, there are varying views on what qualities are most important in a new leader. (Boston Globe)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

Is the marijuana derivative cannabidiol a panacea or placebo for modern day ills? (New York Times)

TRANSPORTATION

T notes: A dedicated bus lane is cutting commute times in Arlington and a buck-stops-here manager has been hired to oversee the transformation of the Green Line. (CommonWealth)

Ari Ofsevit of TransitMatters diagrams how the MBTA’s Harvard-Alewife bus shuttles can be run better (two routes instead of one) and at far less cost. (CommonWealth)

Officials on the Cape are pushing the state to repair a pair of aging, crumbling bridges over the Bass River on Route 6 but transportation officials deem the structures a low priority even though they are missing pilings and support beams. (Cape Cod Times)

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

A federal judge blasted the US Fish and Wildlife Service over its failure to abide by a congressional mandate to protect the endangered red wolf population and ordered a permanent injunction against the agency’s authorization to shoot and kill the animals. (Washington Post)

RELIGION

Cardinal Sean O’Malley said he was “shocked” by a Boston Globe/Philadelphia Inquirer report that nearly a third of living US bishops have been accused at some point of failing to adequately respond to charges of sexual misconduct in their dioceses. (Boston Globe)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

A former captain in the Bristol Sheriff Department was sentenced to one year probation, including eight months of home confinement, for his role in aiding Carlos Rafael, the New Bedford “Codfather,” to smuggle his profits from illegal fish hauls to Portugal. (Herald News)

MEDIA

The line between Trump and Fox News was completely erased when some of the network’s hosts joined the president onstage for his final election eve rally. (New York Times)

Stan Rosenberg, the former Senate president from Amherst, will host an election night special on the city’s public access channel. (MassLive)

Meet the Author

Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

A representative for billionaire philanthropist George Soros, who has become the liberal bogeyman despised by conservatives from President Trump on down, says Fox News refuses to book him or other Soros officials to rebut what he says are false accusations and wild conspiracy theories by network hosts and guests. (CNN)