Virginia and retail choice

Virginia and retail choice

August 19, 2020 | By Keith Martin in Washington, DC

Virginia told Walmart that it could not enter into one or more corporate power purchase agreements to buy electricity for its 188 stores in the state.

Before 1999, Virginia residents had to buy their electricity from the local utility. The state experimented with retail choice from 1999 to 2007 when retail customers could choose their electricity suppliers.

Since 2007, the local utility has been the sole authorized supplier, except in two situations. Large customers whose electricity needs exceed five megawatts a year and customers who want 100% renewable energy, but who are not given that option by the local utility, can contract with other suppliers.

The Virginia Corporation Commission has discretion to let nonresidential customers who can aggregate load to get above five megawatts also contract directly with another supplier. Walmart tried that approach. The commission turned down the request. It did so again on appeal in July.

The two main Virginia electric utilities are Virginia Electric Power Company (VEPCO) and Appalachian Power (APCO). A hearing examiner concluded that letting Walmart go its own way on electricity would increase monthly bills for remaining VEPCO customers by 13¢ a month and for APCO customers by 5¢ a month.

The commission said Walmart must be arguing that it is in the public interest to have many customers pay a little more so that it can pay a lot less. It was not persuaded of the public interest.

After oral arguments in the appeal, but before a decision was announced, the state legislature enacted a new law setting up a pilot program in VEPCO service territory under which nonresidential customers who can aggregate to five megawatts can buy electricity from independent suppliers. The pilot program took effect on July 1, 2020 and is subject to review by the Virginia Corporation Commission in 2022.

The case before the commission was called Wal-Mart Stores East, LP v. State Corporation Commission. The commission released its decision on July 9.