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Candidates at odds over electric rates

Wednesday, October 13, 2010


Electricity rate hikes are at issue this week in both the 5th and 9th District congressional campaigns, with the candidates accusing one another of potentially contributing to rising electricity costs while their constituents struggle to make ends meet.

Democratic 5th District U.S. Rep. Tom Perriello's campaign on Tuesday released a television ad accusing his Republican opponent, state Sen. Robert Hurt, of causing electricity rate hikes that "have raised your electric rates seven times."�

The ad is aimed at customers of Appalachian Power Co., which provides electric service to most of Southwest Virginia, including Henry and Patrick counties. Appalachian's rates have climbed steeply during the past few years, including seven increases since September 2007.

The spot cites Hurt's vote that year in favor of Senate Bill 1416, legislation that the ad says "was backed by the electric utilities because it would allow them to seek more rate increases for more reasons," according to a news release.

In response, Hurt's campaign released a statement that calls the accusation false and accuses Perriello of trying to divert attention away from his vote in support of cap and trade legislation, which aims to reduce green house gas emissions from burning fossil fuels. Hurt's spokesman, Amanda Henneberg, said Perriello made the same attack this summer, and Hurt rebuffed it.

The Chatham senator argued then that the APCo rate hikes were based on an earlier law and were not related to SB 1416.

Both Hurt and Republican Del. Morgan Griffith, who is seeking the 9th District congressional seat, point to their opponents' support of federal cap and trade legislation, which passed the House but stalled in the Senate. Griffith, R-Salem, the House majority leader, is challenging U.S. Rep. Rick Boucher, D-Abingdon.

"Congressman Perriello's support for the job killing cap and trade bill makes him the only candidate in this race who has knowingly taken a vote to raise electric rates on Virginia families by over $1,000 and kill over 50,000 jobs in the commonwealth," Henneberg said.

Perriello has said he voted in favor of cap and trade because he believes that every day the United States waits to have a national energy strategy hurts this country's competitiveness compared with other nations, and he believes a clean energy economy would create jobs that would benefit the 5th District.

Boucher has said he voted for the legislation only after working to protect coal interests by having a voice in crafting it.

Griffith said Monday that recent fliers attacking his voting record on utility legislation distort the truth and are aimed at drawing attention away from Boucher's vote for cap and trade.

The fliers, paid for by the Democratic Party of Virginia, say Griffith voted against lower electric rates.

The legislation at issue was sponsored by Del. Ward Armstrong, D-Collinsville. According to a news release from Boucher's campaign, Griffith's opposition to two of Armstrong's bills, both aimed at relief for Appalachian customers, ignored the struggles of those customers.

"Morgan Griffith led the fight against meaningful electricity rate regulatory reform," Boucher said in the release. "At a time when Southwest Virginians were facing rate increases of 73 percent, Griffith said the current system is working. He failed to respond to the urgent needs of Southwest Virginians who are hurting because of soaring electricity rates."�

Griffith denied that.

Boucher "is saying these things because he wants to draw attention away from his support of, and his vote for, cap and trade. That legislation will drive up energy costs for everyone," Griffith said.

Griffith acknowledged voting against Armstrong's legislation, which he said would have done nothing to lower rates.

Griffith argued that federal actions, not state law, are behind increasing utility costs. He said the environmental regulations with which Appalachian and other companies are forced to comply raise costs, which are passed on to customers.


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