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Virginia Saddles Residents With $172 Million Worth Of Amazon's Electric Bills

Virginia Saddles Residents With $172 Million Worth Of Amazon's Electric Bills

You don’t get to be a multi-billion dollar corporation like Amazon without some penny-pinching behavior along the way. It appears the home delivery empire is back to their old tricks of manipulating government for corporate self-interest. This time, however, the company is taking aim at the humble residents of Virginia, expecting them to cover their $172 million in electrical bills, as per a Bloomberg report published last week.

According to journalist Mya Frazier, the small town of Gainesville, Virginia only saw a short-lived victory against Amazon when local protesters successfully fought against the installation of a controversial power line through their land. Dominion Energy Inc. — the largest electrical company in the state — intended to install the above-ground power line in order to reach a nearby data center run by an Amazon subsidiary. This plan, however, required construction through a Civil War memorial site and the private homes of Virginian residents, without any evidence of due reimbursements to come.

Following three years of persistent activism, from petitions to organized protests in front of the restricted Amazon data center (where residents were met with guard dogs and police resistance), the deal was soon buried into obscurity. This didn’t last, of course.

Within a month’s time, Virginia’s own House of Delegates approved Dominion’s proposal for residents to cover the cost of the replacement venture with $172 million in higher electrical bills. Instead of Amazon – a massively wealthy corporation, just in case it needs repeating – covering the higher costs associated with running their business, the replacement will be bought and paid for by the residents of Virginia. Because Amazon is doing them such a massive favor for having a data center there, didn’t you know?

“That’s de facto cost-­shifting,” says Ned Hill, an economist who teaches economic development policy at Ohio State University, who spoke with Bloomberg. “Other businesses and households are now bearing all the costs.”

“Lord, have mercy,” resident Rosie Thomas told neighbors upon learning of increased electrical fees, according to Bloomberg. She continued to explain she’s already struggling to maintain her family home under current monthly payments of $170. Any increase would surely leave lower-income residents in a financial wreck, which can’t be said of the corporate monolith now receiving subsidized electricity. “Amazon’s got all the money they ever needed,” she proclaimed. “They don’t need any more.”

We should mention this is on top of the $1.2 billion in state and municipal tax incentives that Amazon has already received over the past decade from government. Amazon Web Services, their largest branch, turned $6.11 billion in profits for their second quarter. What an absolute joke.

This is only the latest in what seems to be a never-ending trend with Amazon. In December, The Seattle Times journalist Danny Westneat uncovered staggering details of how city and state governments were trying to court Amazon as the host of their 50,000-employee hub known as HQ2.

TrigTent reported the details of how some government bureaucrats, such as those in Chula Vista, California, went as far as to offer Amazon over 85 acres of land (valued at over $100M) for no cost and granting a 30-year write-off for all property taxes. Chicago, Illinois offered Amazon the option of pocketing $1.32 billion in income taxes from their own workers. The most disturbing was from Fresno, California where government officials were willing to allow the company to have “special authority” over how their company’s taxes were spent.

It should be noted they’re not the only company to have such pervasive influence over governmental policy, but they among the most powerful with a known interest in using that power. As Frazier argued, the two do share the common practice of “shifting costs from businesses to poor residents who already pay about three times more of their income on utility bills than do wealthy households,” citing a 2016 ACEEE prices study.

Their best argument is this is a government investment for the greater good of job growth. Unfortunately, that little silver lining was debunked in the same study. “When you attracted the steel mill years ago, you got 2,000 employees,” Hill continued to explain. “When you attract a data center, you get maybe 50.”

Should Virginians truly have to pay the cost of Amazon’s private ventures when their lavish profits more than cover the costs? President Donald Trump is right in calling out the company as just another example of the “great damage” being inflicted by big business. What, if anything, he plans to do about that fact is anyone’s guess – especially since Amazon will no doubt be one of the major benefactors of Trump’s 2017 tax reform.