A demonstration outside the Dominion Power headquarters in downtown Richmond highlighted the one-year anniversary of Dominion’s proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline on Aug. 18.
The demonstrators marched to the state Capitol building in protest. The event, organized entirely through social media, was called “Hands Across Our Land” and involved participants joining hands in a show of solidarity against the construction of the pipeline.
The Atlantic Coast Pipeline is the 550 mile-long brainchild of Dominion, Duke Energy, Piedmont Natural Gas and AGL Resources. The four U.S. energy companies would build and own the pipeline, which is intended to provide “clean-burning natural gas supplies to growing markets in Virginia and North Carolina,” according to Dominion’s website.
A number of Virginia counties have come out in favor of increased natural gas dependency, but not been in favor of the proposed pipeline.
Although natural gas is less environmentally destructive, coal still makes up a large portion of Virginia’s energy production. The infringement upon private land and the potential for destruction of fragile ecosystems in the southwest portion of the state have united local residents with state and national groups in opposition of coal use.
A recent document released by the Forest Service highlights 335 issues with the proposed pipeline construction plan. Although the Federal Energy Resource Commission can authorize the entire pipeline, only the Forest Service can authorize the use of public lands.
While there are groups and individuals who support the pipelines as a means of economic growth and incentive, grassroots environmental coalitions see the opportunity at the one year mark to halt this progress if they continue to mobilize and demonstrate en masse in view of the Virginia legislature.
Dominion reportedly already contracted at least 90 percent of the pipeline to regional utility and distribution companies. Dominion spokesman Frank Mack said the company will include its responses in its final reports to be filed with FERC later this summer.
The resistance to the ACP and natural gas pipelines overall in Virginia has been sustained consistently over the past year, and was visible enough to prompt Sen. Tim Kaine to draft a letter on July 31 to FERC urging major changes to the projected routes.
According to the Dominion website, the pipeline would originate in Harrison County, W.Va., travel southeast to Greensville County, Va. and down into southern North Carolina, including an “almost 70-mile-long pipeline to Hampton Roads.”
Joe Lovett, executive director of Appalachian Mountain Advocates, said all the pipelines go from the same sources to the same markets, or connected markets.
Lovett’s group has requested FERC to perform an overall Environmental Impact Statement, which he says will force regulators to decide which of the projects are supurflous.
“There’s already a spaghetti of pipelines,” Lovett said. “We believe those pipelines are already sufficient to carry the gas from northern West Virginia and Western Pennsylvania to the south.”
Dominion also drew criticism earlier this month from the State Corporation Commission who said the utility company has overcharged customers and needs to issue a refund of $64 million.
This comes after Gov. Terry McAuliffe signing Senate Bill 1349 into law on July 1. The new law effectively froze Dominion Virginia Power’s base rate for five years but prevents the state from forcing the company to reimburse customers if the utility earns excessive profits.
VCU’s Capital News Service reported in February that the bill caused substantial debate while working its way through the Virginia General Assembly. Dominion assured the public and legislators that the bill would keep rates low and help the state comply with new federal regulations, others think Dominion could use the bill to avoid state regulation and boost its profits.
When the bill passed the Senate, Sen. Chap Petersen, D-Fairfax, called it a “major victory” for power companies and expressed concern over the effect on customers. Meanwhile, Dominion has been circulating press releases that say, “SB 1349 enables Dominion’s residential customers to benefit from a rate reduction of about five percent this spring.”
Under the former regulatory structure, the State Corporation Commission conducts biennial reviews and can make Dominion refund customers if it finds that the utility has earned excessive profits. With the legislation, the reviews are suspended. The bill was amended to give the SCC the ability to look into the financial standing of Dominion at any time, but refunds would not be an option.
While Dominion’s base rate — which makes up just over half of customer’s bills — would be frozen, electric bills still could rise if the company increases fuel charges or other riders.
Dominion officials said the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan — which requires states to reduce carbon output by various amounts by 2030 – will be a burden on the company and Virginia. They said that they could be forced to close power plants to comply and that SB 1349 would make sure shareholders, not customers, shoulder the resulting costs.
McAuliffe did not reappoint Dominion CEO, Thomas Farrell II, to the VCU Board of Visitors at the conclusion of his first term on June 30 this year.
Print Managing Editor, Matt Leonard
Matt is a senior print journalism major and political science minor graduating this December. Matt began at the CT as a contributing writer before moving up to staff writer and online news editor. Matt worked at The Denver Post with the web team as a Dow Jones News Fund digital intern last summer, and previously interned with WTVR/CBS6. // Twitter | Facebook | LinkedIn