By Hanish Patel and Eric Coffill

The Supreme Court of Virginia held that a city could not impose its consumer utility tax on the natural gas consumed by an electric power company solely for the purpose of generating electricity. Virginia localities are authorized to impose the tax on consumers of natural gas provided by a pipeline distribution company, defined as a corporation which transmits natural gas to a purchaser “for purposes of furnishing heat or light.” The city argued that the electric power company was subject to the tax because it consumed natural gas to create heat in order to power its electricity-generating turbines. The court disagreed, concluding that the statute was not intended to tax natural gas consumed for generating electricity because the definition of a pipeline distribution company omitted the word “power” in the context of “furnishing heat or light”. Additionally, a concurring opinion reasoned that although the electric power company produced heat, it was an incidental byproduct from the generation of electricity. City of Richmond v. Virginia Elec. & Power Co., 292 Va. 70, 787 S.E.2d 161 (2016).