Category Archives: Dominion

Cold Weather Excuses and Financial Realities


Cold snap brings hot PR,” says Doug Wellman’s letter to the January 18, 2018 Nelson County Times. “Recent cold snap fuels argument in favor of Atlantic Coast Pipeline,” says the news story in the same issue.

Aaron Ruby, Dominion’s ever-present ACP cheerleader, wants to convince us that our recent cold weather is a justification for the ACP, telling us the cold “demonstrated in dramatic fashion the real and urgent need for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.” Ruby says that because they used more electricity and gas to run heating systems, customers will see higher utility bills. Yes, we may see higher utility bills for January, but that doesn’t justify the immense long-term cost of the ACP ($2.3 billion more than existing sources, according to the Southern Environmental Law Center) which will be passed to Dominion customers – on every month’s utility bill for years to come.

Ruby cites “severely limited capacity” of existing pipelines serving Virginia and North Carolina as the cause for a spike in gas costs passed on to customers. Yet in the same article, Chris Stockton, spokesperson for Williams Partners, which operates the Transco System that Dominion relies on, said the pipelines “performed remarkably” during the cold weather. “We were able to meet all of our firm capacity contracts. The system delivered a record amount of gas,” said Stockton, noting that the system delivered about 10 percent of the natural gas consumed in the country on that day, Jan. 5. “It’s an incredible accomplishment. It’s a testament to the system that we have.”

In his letter to the editor, Wellman reminds us that, “Ruby fails to mention that, if the ACP is built, its captive ratepayers will be paying for it for decades. So the question for consumers is whether to pay now — $5 billion to $6 billion direct cost of construction plus Dominion’s 14 percent return on equity — or to pay later if and when there are short-term spikes in gas prices.

“There are good reasons to opt for the ‘pay later’ approach. If producing electricity is the main reason for the ACP proposal, as Dominion officials claimed when they announced their plan, there is ample pipeline capacity now and more is coming. Independent analyses have shown that existing pipelines have sufficient capacity until 2030. Later this year, modifications of the huge Transco pipeline serving the East Coast are scheduled to be completed, thereby greatly expanding available supplies well before the ACP would become operational.

“More broadly, Dominion’s relentless push to build the ACP runs against the global tide — a shift in energy production from fossil fuels to renewables. This shift is necessitated by the threat of devastating climate change and facilitated by the falling cost of solar and wind energy, both of which have reached or are approaching parity with natural gas. Rather than being a bridge to the future, gas is becoming an anchor in the past.

“If the ACP were truly in the public interest, Dominion would be stating its case directly and openly, rather than relying heavily on politics and PR. Building the pipeline truly is not for ‘public use and necessity,’ but just another instance of public pain for private gain.”

DPMC Seeks Urgent Action From Governor Northam on Pipelines

On January 17, 2018, Dominion Pipeline Monitoring Coalition sent a letter to Gov. Northam asking that he take swift and decisive action to restore integrity and transparency to Virginia’s regulatory reviews of the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) and the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP).

DPMC is calling on the Governor to require his administration to take three specific actions, to meet the law and satisfy his stated intentions:

  1. His environmental officials must use their authority to review and approve or disapprove waterbody crossings covered by the Corps of Engineers’ general permit.
  2. His environmental officials must prohibit any and all activities related to construction of the pipelines that might affect water quality unless and until all requirements of the WQCs are met.
  3. His environmental officials must ensure that before the ACP certification is deemed effective:
  • a) remaining plans submitted by the company are made available to the public for review and comment and that DEQ considers and addresses those comments,b
  • b) DEQ makes a final recommendation to the SWCB, based on its review of the final plans and of public submissions, and
  • c) DEQ requests formal Board action on its recommendation.

The Northam administration now has the authority and duty to uphold the principles Mr. Northam previously outlined as the guide for determining whether the pipeline proposals were properly and fairly handled by the State of Virginia:

  • that the outcome of those deliberations must be based on scientific evidence
  • that proceedings must be conducted in a transparent manner, and
  • that approvals must be denied unless actions can be fully protective of Virginia’s environment and its citizens.

Unfortunately, the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) has betrayed the principles the Governor has espoused. DEQ has also disregarded intentions and expectations the State Water Control Board (SWCB) expressed when it considered these proposals in December of 2017. (see DEQ Statement on Process)

We call on all Virginians to let the Governor know you support the principles he’s outlined for these processes and want his to make sure they are followed by DEQ. You can do so by emailing him c/o his Chief of Staff at clark.mercer@governor.virginia.gov or calling 804-786-2211.

ACP Construction Yard in Augusta County

At their January 4, 2018, meeting the Augusta County Board of Zoning Appeals considered Dominion’s application for the required permit to use a 34 acre site in Churchville, currently zoned as agricultural, for two years as a storage yard for ACP construction materials, equipment, fuel and worker trailers. At least 400 workers would be coming and going from the site each day, 6 days a week, and large trucks and equipment would be traveling between the site and the proposed pipeline construction site 10-20 miles away. The property in question is on winding Rt. 42, designated as a Scenic Highway.

About Special Use Permits, the Augusta County General Code says, “No Special Use Permit shall be issued without consideration that, in addition to conformity with any standards set forth in this chapter for Special Use Permit uses, the following general standards will be met either by the proposal made in the application or by the proposal as modified or amended and made part of the Special Use Permit:

  • 1. Conformity with Comprehensive Plan and policies. The proposal as submitted or as modified shall conform to the Comprehensive Plan of the county or to specific elements of such plan, and to official policies adopted in relation thereto, including the purposes of this chapter.
  • 2. Impact on neighborhood. The proposal as submitted or as modified shall not have undue adverse impact on the surrounding neighborhood.”

The Augusta County Comprehensive Plan states, “Agriculture will continue to be the predominant land use in the county and a major part of the economy. The county’s scenic beauty and natural environment will be preserved, with farms, forests, mountains, rivers and streams providing the framework and context for development in the urban areas, and continuing to define the landscape in the rural areas.”

More than 250 people turned out at the BZA meeting to speak against the application, including Ryan Blosser, whose adjacent 4-acre organic farm is downhill, downwind, and downstream from the proposed yard, meaning it no longer would be possible for him to maintain his organic status and the organic CSAs which are his family’s livelihood. When the BZA members asked Dominion if they had discussed their plans with the Blossers, the answer (not surprisingly) was “No.” When they were asked if they were planning on compensating the Blossers for the hardship they were imposing upon them, the answer (again not surprisingly) was “No.” Dominion representatives initially stated at the meeting that they have “no responsibility” to their neighbors. The BZA tabled any decision on the matter and will consider it again at their next regular meeting on February 1 at 1:30.

Read the News Virginian coverage of the meeting here, and read Ryan Blosser’s impassioned letter to the editor here. A Facebook page, Augusta County Standoff, is following the issue. A petition page asks the Augusta Board of Zoning Appeals to turn down the application. You may send email opposing the application to Sandra Bunch (Secretary), sbunch@co.augusta.va.us.

The YouTube video below is a 20-second time lapse of a Rover Pipeline construction yard over a three year period, 2014-2017.

Brief Radio Piece: Dominion and Scana

A 3-minute radio spot on WTJU on January 9, 2018, discusses Dominion’s purchase of Scana, and South Carolina’s potential as a market for and extension of the ACP, continuing from the NC-SC border to Elba Island near Savannah, where there is a massive gas export facility. Remember that not only has Dominion repeatedly and publicly denied that any of the gas is for export, they wrote it into the Purpose and Need section of their FERC application.

Dominion’s Purchase of SC Utility


Dominion recently announced plans to purchase Scana, a South Carolina utility company whose stock plummeted after they cancelled a nuclear power project in July 2017. Scana customers are still on the hook for years of payments for that cancelled project, and would continue to pay with higher bills for many years to come, despite Dominion’s offer to pay $1000 to the average residential customer as part of the sale deal.

“This is a case of meet your new boss, same as the old boss,” said SELC [Southern Environmental Law Center] attorney Gudrun Thompson. “This is a for-profit company thinking it can throw a little cash at South Carolina customers now, hoping they won’t notice they’re signing on for decades of payouts for a power plant that won’t power a single light bulb.”

And, of course, the purchase of Scana will fit right in with Dominion’s stated intention to extend the Atlantic Coast Pipeline into South Carolina. Dominion expects property owners in West Virginia, Virginia, and North Carolina to give up their land to serve customers in another state (not to mention customers outside the US).  South Carolinians should be prepared to lose their land as well.

In a statement emailed to Think Progress, Thomas Hadwin said, “With substantial cutbacks in the need for gas-fired generation in Virginia and North Carolina, the ACP needs to find a market for the gas carried by the pipeline somewhere. South Carolina is such a market. The output from the abandoned nuclear plant will have to be replaced by energy efficiency, renewables, or new gas-fired generation, or a combination of these.” The Think Progress analysis notes that natural gas producers “likely would gain access to new markets through ACP, which could deliver natural gas produced in the Marcellus Shale and Utica Shale to power plants in South Carolina and potentially connect with a pipeline that would send natural gas to the Elba Island liquefied natural gas facility in Georgia, a terminal that will soon be able to export natural gas.”

Read the Bloomberg announcement of Dominion’s planned acquisition.

Read the Southern Environmental Law Center’s commentary on the plan.

Read the Think Progress analysis of the purchase.

2017 in Review

2017 was a busy year in the pipeline fight. Here are some highlights – there are a lot!

On December 30, 2016, FERC released the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline. In response to requests from numerous elected officials and organizations, FERC extended the usual 45-day period for public comment so the deadline was April 6, 2017. Over January-March 2017 FERC held public hearings on the DEIS, where the majority of speakers (once beyond Dominion’s front-loaded supporters) pointed out omissions and inaccuracies in the DEIS, as well as numerous instances where Dominion had not provided required information. Thousands of groups and individuals, some property owners along the route and others not, filed comments with FERC.

On January 5, 2017, the Buckingham County Board of Supervisors ignored their constituents so thoroughly that after five hours of testimony almost totally opposed to the ACP compressor station in Buckingham County, they read a PREPARED statement approving the station, having obviously reached their decision well ahead of the meeting. On February 2 a complaint for declaratory relief was filed against the Supervisors and Dominion asking that the special use permit for the station be vacated.

FERC Commissioner Norman Bay resigned on February 3, and with only two remaining commissioners, FERC no longer had a quorum and could not issue decisions.

Judge Michael T. Garrett ruled in Nelson County Circuit Court on February 6, 2017, that Dominion may have access to survey for the proposed ACP on the property of landowners who had steadfastly denied access. The landowners filed a joint notice of appeal with the Virginia State Court of Appeals in early March.

On February 15 Oil Change International released two studies finding that if built, the controversial Mountain Valley and Atlantic Coast pipelines would together contribute as much greenhouse gas pollution as 45 coal-fired power plants — some 158 million metric tons a year. ACP basic facts: http://priceofoil.org/2017/02/15/atlantic-coast-pipeline-greenhouse-gas-emissions-briefing/ ACP full briefing: http://priceofoil.org/content/uploads/2017/02/atlantic_coast_pipeline_web_final_v3.pdf

In mid-March, Friends of Nelson released the Steep Slope Report by Blackburn Consulting Services, which concluded that “Dominion has not adequately identified those soils and landforms that are prone to debris flows (and) landslides.” The report also states that “the potential for debris flows in the very steep mountainous portions of Nelson County is underestimated by the reports submitted to FERC by Dominion.” Steep Slopes Study by Blackburn Consulting:
http://friendsofnelson.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/Final-Steep-Slope-Report-March-2017.pdf

On April 5 Friends of Nelson submitted comments to FERC on the DEIS – 96 pages including charts, diagrams, maps, and photos. Read it here: http://elibrary.FERC.gov/idmws/file_list.asp?accession_num=20170405-5161

On April 6, Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality announced that both proposed Virginia pipelines, the ACP and the MVP, would be subject to DEQ water-quality review. This meant that DEQ would require water quality certifications under Section 401 of the federal Clean Water Act for each segment of both projects that crosses or potentially affects water bodies. But the next day, on April 7, 2017, DEQ provided water quality certification for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers 2017 Nationwide Permits, thus issuing a blanket Clean Water Act section 401 certification for pipelines that are covered by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Nationwide Permit number 12. And in late May DEQ said they would not require specific water quality impact analysis for water crossings for the proposed ACP or MVP. On June 5, the Dominion Pipeline Monitoring Coalition (DPMC) filed suit against the DEQ in state Circuit Court for the City of Richmond, asking the court to rule that DEQ issued a Clean Water Act section 401 Water Quality Certification for construction of utility lines, including natural gas pipelines, in state waters without legal authority to do so and without ensuring water quality would be protected.

On April 27, a briefing paper released details on how Dominion intends to blast away, excavate, and partially remove entire mountaintops along 38 miles of Appalachian ridgelines as part of ACP construction, flattening them by anywhere from 10 to 60 feet. See http://friendsofnelson.com/press-release-acp-would-require-extensive-mountaintop-removal/

June 17-July 2: Walking the Line. Group walks the proposed ACP path for 150 miles, through Bath, Augusta and Nelson Counties, into the heart of Virginia, Buckingham County, where the walk ends at Union Hill, the site of the proposed compressor station.

On June 29, 2017, the Virginia Conservation Network, along with its partners Southern Environmental Law Center and Shenandoah Valley Network, sent a letter (signed by over 80 organizations) to Governor McAuliffe, DEQ Director David Paylor and the State Water Control Board asking them to use their full authority under the Clean Water Act to conduct a thorough and transparent review of stream and wetland crossings along the proposed ACP and MVP fracked gas pipeline routes and ensure that Virginia water quality standards are met.

And then there was one: Friday June 30, 2017, was FERC Commissioner Colette Honorable’s final day at FERC. Although a pair of Trump administration nominees remain on the sidelines awaiting Senate votes, Honorable’s a departure leaves the already quorumless panel with a single member.

At their meeting on July 4, members of Wintergreen Property Owners Association voted overwhelmingly for a new covenant prohibiting construction of “any lines, facilities, structures, or other appurtenances related to the transmission of utilities” if they do not provide services to the Association or its members.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission issued its final Environmental Impact Statement on the Atlantic Coast Pipeline on July 21, 2017. FERC has 90 days to make a decision on issuing a certificate of approval for the project. The full statement can be found here: https://ferc.gov/industries/gas/enviro/eis/2017/07-21-17-FEIS.asp. The summary statement from FERC staff said, “The FERC staff concludes that construction and operation of ACP and SHP would result in some adverse effects,” but that with adherence to mitigation measure and FERC staff recommendations “most, but not all of these impacts, would be reduced to less-than-significant levels.” FERC said their determinations were based on information provided by Dominion and ACP, with no mention of extensive contradictory information filed by a variety of experts.

Also on July 21, the U.S. Forest Service issued a draft Record of Decision to authorize the use and occupancy of National Forest System lands for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. The Forest Service release statement is available at: https://www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/fseprd551404.pdf.

In July Friends of Nelson posted interactive maps showing the ACP route through Nelson County. See http://friendsofnelson.com/information-resources/maps/

Through August, DEQ held public hearings to receive comments on draft water quality certifications designed to protect water quality along the routes of the proposed ACP and MVP.

On August 3, 2017, the Senate voted to confirm Donald Trump’s nominees for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), Neil Chatterjee and Rob Powelson. They join Cheryl LaFleur, who had been the sole member of the five member commission, so FERC now has a quorum.

In mid-August, Friends of Nelson submitted extensive comments to DEQ on the proposed 401 Water Quality Certifications for the ACP. See http://friendsofnelson.com/friends-of-nelson-submits-comments-to-deq/ And a group of thirteen expert scientists and engineers submitted reports to the DEQ on August 22, finding that DEQ has failed in its duty to properly analyze and protect against the water quality damages the Mountain Valley Pipeline and Atlantic Coast Pipeline would cause to Virginia’s waters. See http://friendsofnelson.com/failure-to-meet-minimum-standards-of-scientific-proof/

On August 22, the Virginia Supreme Court agreed without argument to hear on appeal the survey suit against the ACP brought on behalf of six Nelson residents by Lollar Law. Briefings will take place in autumn 2017, and the oral arguments before the full seven-justice court will take place in late 2017 or early 2018. See http://friendsofnelson.com/virginia-supreme-court-to-hear-survey-case/

On August 22 in a 2-1 ruling, the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit found that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) did not properly analyze the climate impact from burning the natural gas that a Florida pipeline project would deliver to power plants.

A lawsuit, filed September 5 in Washington D.C. federal district court, on behalf of 57 Landowners, Bold Alliance and Friends of Nelson, challenged the constitutionality of the eminent domain provisions of the Natural Gas Act, and seeking to end the unconstitutional and unconscionable process of taking citizens’ private property via eminent domain for a corporation’s profits — and not for “the public good” as the Constitution intended.

September 15-17: No Pipeline Action Camp held in Nelson County, sponsored by Friends of Nelson, Greenpeace, and Blue Ridge Rapid Response.

In mid-September North Carolina delayed by three months its decision on certification of the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline under section 401 of the federal Clean Water Act. This followed West Virginia’s September 7 announcement that the state was vacating its water quality certification for the proposed MVP in order to reevaluate. Virginia’s DEQ pressed ahead, even as other states hit the brakes.

In late September, Dan Weekley, Dominion Energy’s vice president and general manager of Southern pipeline operations, told attendees at an energy conference ‘everybody knows’ the Atlantic Coast Pipeline — currently slated to pass through Virginia, West Virginia and North Carolina — is not going to stop there, despite what the current plans say, and that the ACP will be extended into South Carolina.

The NC DEQ disapproved the erosion and sedimentation control plan submitted to the agency by the ACP, Their September 26, 2017, letter of disapproval, cites 17 specific deficiencies in the submitted plan as grounds for disapproval.

Late on Friday evening October 13, FERC approved both the ACP and the MVP. Authorization had been widely expected by both supporters and opponents of the pipelines. The certificates granted by the commission came with dozens of conditions, and other necessary permits for both projects are still pending. The approval was issued with a highly unusual dissenting opinion by Commissioner Cheryl A. LaFleur. The FERC permit is not the final word on the projects. VA, NC and WV must still issue environmental permits.

Meeting in Richmond on October 16, the Virginia Outdoors Foundation (VOF) voted to approve Dominion’s application for 11 land conversions of open-space easements on the route of the proposed ACP through southern Highland, northern Bath, Augusta and Nelson counties, and approved a single swap for the proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline near Roanoke.

On October 18 Dominion released a proposed construction plan, see http://friendsofnelson.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/Dominion-construction-plan20171018-5002-32464467.pdf, When they sent their original “we want your land” letters in spring 2014, Dominion planned to start construction of the ACP in the Fall of 2016 and have the pipeline in service sometime early in 2018. But Dominion did not expect so many people and organizations to fight back!

On November 2, 2017, the Senate approved Trump’s final two nominees to FERC, giving the Commission the full five members for the first time in two years.

On November 13, a motion was filed with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) requesting a rehearing of the Commission’s order issuing a certificate for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. The petition, filed on behalf of 22 organizations (including Friends of Nelson) and 10 individuals. See https://www.abralliance.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/Petition_for_Rehearing_to_FERC_20171113.pdf.

On November 14 Friends of Nelson filed a Request for Rehearing with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) on FERC’s decision to issue a Certificate of Convenience and Necessity for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. The filing is on behalf of 63 property owners and citizens of Nelson County, and 4 community organizations.

The NAACP released a report on November 14, Fumes Across the Fence Line: The Health Impacts of Air Pollution from Oil & Gas Facilities on African American Communities. “The life-threatening burdens placed on communities of color near oil and gas facilities are the result of systemic oppression perpetuated by the traditional energy industry, which exposes communities to health, economic, and social hazards. Communities impacted by oil and gas facility operations remain affected due to energy companies’ heavy polluting, low wages for dangerous work, and government lobbying against local interests.”

On November 17, the US Forest Service released a final Record of Decision (ROD) approving amendments to the Forest Plans for the Monongahela National Forest and the George Washington National Forest to accommodate the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP).

Late in the afternoon on December 7, 2017, after two days of hearings, the Virginia State Water Control Board approved water quality certification for the Mountain Valley Pipeline. The vote was 5-2, with members Roberta Kellam and G. Nissa Dean dissenting.

On December 12, 2017, the Virginia State Water Control Board voted 4 to 3 to approve certification under Section 401 of the Clean Water Act the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. However, the approval does not immediately grant the 401 water permits requested by Dominion; it is subject to certain conditions and to information which must be provided by the ACP. The permit can’t take effect until several additional studies are reviewed and approved by DEQ, including soil and erosion control plans and stormwater management plans. Although this is not an outright denial of the permits, it does not allow Dominion to move forward at this time.

SO…. As we move into fourth year of the pipeline fight, we know the ACP is closer to receiving all final approvals, but we continue our work to stop this economically unnecessary and environmental damaging project. Legal challenges to some approvals have already been filed, more are being evaluated. No, the pipeline is NOT a done deal.