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Dominion was able to do this thanks to a 2014 law that allowed the company to deduct $310 million from its earnings — money that under Virginia law could have been rebated to customers. A Dominion spokesman confirmed that $600 million had been spent but disputed that customers absorbed the planning expenses. Industry pattern

But it still means customers are paying for electricity they may never get, he said. "Every place where lawmakers have granted advanced cost recovery has been a disaster. Florida, South Carolina and Virginia — advanced recovery projects there have produced zero electricity. It’s a crummy way to treat ratepayers."

On Thursday and Friday, it added several heavy hitters, including former Gov. Jim Hodges and Benjamin Homeyer, former director of legislation for the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, according to lobbyist filings with the state Ethics Commission.

Dominion regularly flexes its political muscle in Virginia, observers there say. "Dominion is unquestionably the most influential company in Virginia," said Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics. "At least until this year, they have gotten most everything they wanted from governors and legislatures, though from time to time there were compromises."

Some background: Regulated utility monopolies such as Dominion are typically allowed to charge customers enough to cover their costs and make a reasonable profit. In Virginia, rates are set by the State Corporation Commission, the Virginia equivalent of South Carolina‘s Public Service Commission. In the past, Virginia regulators ordered Dominion to turn excess profits back to customers.

David Botkins, a Dominion spokesman, said the 2015 law came in the wake of the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan. The utility said customers’ bills could have gone up as much as $5.5 billion to comply. The law enabled the utility to refund customers $85 million and spurred $1 billion in spending on solar energy projects.

Others, including the Virginia Poverty Center, point out that Virginians pay the 10th highest average monthly electricity bills in the nation. The group found electric bills rose 30 percent between 2006 and 2016, largely because of the rate adjustment clauses.

Dominion’s presence in Richmond is particularly prominent. It sponsors races, arts groups and sports teams. Its chief executive officer, Thomas Farrell, earns $13.2 million a year, twice as much as what former SCANA CEO Kevin Marsh made. Sabato of the University of Virginia said the company remains the state’s "best corporate citizen" by making numerous donations, including his college.

The company also has its share of critics. "It is a 100 percent certainty that this merger will take money out of the South Carolina economy and hurt South Carolina businesses and ratepayers," said Jeff Thomas, author of Virginia Politics & Government in a New Century.

In his book, Thomas describes how Dominion doled out tens of thousands of campaign donations to lawmakers, and how many lawmakers have significant holdings of Dominion stock. One lawmaker had more than $250,000 worth of Dominion shares, he wrote.

"There’s no such thing as representative government in Virginia energy policy anymore," he told The Post and Courier. "Dominion just buys politicians and writes it themselves, to the detriment of every person, business, and school that flips on a light switch."

Dominion also has a controversial record of wining and dining state officials. This included the head of the state’s environmental agency, who received a trip to the Masters Tournament in Augusta, Georgia in 2013, and a $1,200 dinner for the official and nine others.

Some in South Carolina have been open to Dominion’s move into South Carolina. Gov. Henry McMaster praised the sale offer as "progress." Catherine Templeton, a candidate for governor, tweeted her support. Templeton’s spokeswoman, Mollie Young, later explained that she was "glad to see there’s an outside company not part of the nest of vipers. We want to be hopeful.”

"The legislature has to understand that selling SCANA doesn’t fix anything," said Lynn Teague, a lobbyist for the League of Women Voters who has pushed for changes to the state’s utility laws in recent years. "It still remains true that we have a monopoly business that needs to be firmly regulated. We must fix the system."