November 2019 News

November 2018

11-27-19 The Nation. Meet the Men Fueling the Climate Crisis. “Until there are courts willing to hold the titans of the climate crisis accountable, it’s up to people to begin calling them out by name. …. Earlier this year, the climate writer Kate Aronoff laid out the case for trying fossil-fuel executives for crimes against humanity. The effort, she argued, ‘would put names and faces to a problem too often discussed in the abstract’ and ‘channel some populist rage at the climate’s 1 percent.’ Not all of us anthropoids, after all, are equally responsible for anthropogenic climate change: More than 60 percent of all the carbon spat into the atmosphere since 1854 can be traced to 90 corporations and state-owned industries. Over the last half century, just 20 firms produced more than a third of all emissions.”

11-27-19 Daily Stock Dish. Duke scientist: Stop building natural gas infrastructure now. “A climate scientist at Duke University, in a letter backed by two dozen former officials at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, called Thursday for a halt to natural gas development in North Carolina. Drew Shindell, an earth sciences professor at the Nicholas School of the Environment, said Gov. Roy Cooper should push back on Duke Energy‘s plans to build multiple new natural gas plants in the state, essentially asking the governor to back a moratorium in the fight against climate change. ‘The time is now to stop building more fossil fuel construction,’ Shindell, who is part of the United Nations‘ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, said on a conference call with reporters.”

11-27-19 Nelson County Times. Nelson County looks to renewable energy. “Nelson County is looking toward the future by combining renewable energy and school curriculum. At the Nelson County Board of Supervisors meeting on Nov. 14, Jesse Rutherford, East District representative, announced plans for Nelson to get into the renewable energy game. ‘I have been part of a group that has been working on soliciting grant money for career and technical education in renewable energy. We have the potential of being the first high school in the state of Virginia to be offering training in that industry,’ Rutherford said.”

11-26-19 S&P Global. FERC takes more time for review of MVP Southgate after route changes. “The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has pushed back the environmental review schedule for the 73-mile, 375 MMcf/d MVP Southgate project, due to recently proposed route changes, and set the timetable for reviewing the 750 MMcf/d Cameron Expansion project in Louisiana. The natural gas project would connect the mainline of the Mountain Valley Pipeline near Chatham, Virginia, and extend to Rockingham and Alamance counties in North Carolina. FERC now expects to release a final environmental impact statement for MVP Southgate on February 14, 2020, rather than December 19 of this year as previously proposed. FERC pointed to changes to the route and revised data for resource impact, filed October 23, in explaining the extension.”

11-26-19 Charlotte Business Journal. Duke Energy stock sale for pipeline funding comes in below anticipated price. Duke Energy Corp.’s stock sold below its hoped-for price in last week’s forward sale that’s designed to raise about $2.5 billion to finance the remaining costs of its share of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. The shares sold to eight banks at $85.99, 46 cents per share lower than what the company announced when it priced the stock at $86.45 on Nov. 18. But the bank consortium involved in the transaction picked up an option to buy an additional 3.75 million shares above the 25 million basic proposal. With the sale of the additional shares, Duke raised $2.47 million. Spokeswoman Catherine Butler acknowledged the price was a little lower than expected. Still, the company raised what it needed out of the sale, she says.”

11-26-19 Daily Tar Heel. Governor’s office denies Republican allegation of misused natural gas pipeline funds. “A Republican investigation into [NC] Gov. Roy Cooper’s influence on the Atlantic Coast Pipeline project concluded that he ‘improperly used the authority and influence of his office.’ The investigation was started in 2017 by Republican leaders in the General Assembly, which hired independent investigators to look into funds under the governor’s control that they say were used as leverage to influence the partners of the pipeline. …. The report alleged that the governor attempted to influence the ACP partners in a manner that benefitted solar energy companies. However, the report also said no information found in the investigation showed that Cooper ‘personally benefited’ from the creation of the mitigation fund or the nameplate dispute settlement. According to a press release from Cooper’s spokesperson, Ford Porter, the report further stated that no one in the governor’s office interfered with the issuance of permits, that Duke did not think their permits were contingent on the fund or settlement, and that the governor did not benefit from any of this.”

11-25-19 Who.What.Why. The Latest Pipeline Battle: ‘Everyday People’ vs. Corporate Goliath. “It seems like a David vs. Goliath battle. Since 2014, a coalition of environmental, civil rights, and community groups, along with some local businesses, has fought in court to block a massive $8 billion pipeline. The anti-pipeline coalition, which is represented by an environmental law firm, is up against a politically connected corporation with 7.5 million customers in 18 states, 21,000 employees, and 2018 earnings of $2.4 billion.”

11-25-19 Virginia Mercury. Facing backlash, Dominion says it’s willing to have coal plant removed from green energy package. “Amid complaints from businesses and environmental groups, Virginia’s largest utility said it would be willing to let regulators remove a Southwest Virginia power plant that relies almost entirely on coal from a renewable energy portfolio it is aiming to sell to environmentally conscious consumers.”

11-21-19 Roanoke Times. Bondurant and Leech: The ‘public need’ argument for the MVP grows weaker. “As MVP falters, as state agency evidence negates the core constitutional requirement of public need, as the developer advertises its glut for export, why is any eminent domain process against landowners in federal courts actively proceeding? Where, in this mix, is ‘the interest of justice’?”

11-21-19 Richmond Times-Dispatch. Regulators reject request to boost Dominion’s profit rate. State utility regulators on Thursday rejected a request from Dominion Energy that would have increased the utility’s profit margin through small increases in Virginia ratepayer bills. The State Corporation Commission ruled that it would hold the rate of return at the current level of 9.2% — rejecting Dominion’s request for a return of 10.75%, a rate the SCC said is not ‘consistent with the public interest.’”

11-20-19 News & Advance. Letter: Time to pull plug on natural gas. “Is the Atlantic Coast Pipeline still a good investment? The pipeline will break the carbon budget and lock in long term emissions. Six lawsuits are still outstanding. Pipeline costs continue to rise. Several projected gas plants are canceled, and there are other resource choices that can replace those newly proposed gas “peaker” plants. Offshore wind combined with solar can meet all our summer ‘peak’ demand, and solar-storage or wind-storage are able to back up intermittent power. Those alternatives are already cheaper than new natural gas plants. So are potential demand response and efficiency savings reductions. It is time to pull the plug on gas. The natural gas bridge to the future is behind us.”

11-20-19 Charlotte Observer. There’s enough smoke for an official probe into the NC governor’s pipeline deal. “Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper set out in late 2017 to create a “mitigation fund” intended to offset environmental damage resulting from construction of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, a natural gas pipeline that is planned to roughly follow I-95 through North Carolina. But what resulted is a misbegotten fund that’s causing ongoing political damage — for him. The damage grew Wednesday with the release of a report by private investigators hired by the General Assembly’s Republican leaders. The report, based on research and interviews conducted by the firm Eagle Intel Services LLC, did not find the proverbial smoking gun, but it did find smoke — enough of it that an official investigation is needed to assess the legality of how the fund was established.”

11-20-10 Raleigh News & Observer. Advocates say the state is allowing environmental harm in low-income, minority counties. “The state is failing low-income communities with large African-American and Native American populations by allowing polluting industries to concentrate in their counties, a group of residents said Wednesday as they demanded that an environmental justice advisory board do more to advocate for them. Michael Regan, secretary of the state Department of Environmental Quality, set up the Environmental Justice and Equity Advisory Board last year. The board has had a low profile even as the state deals with environmental issues that residents say heap harm on economically disadvantaged counties. Opponents of Enviva, a company that produces wood pellets by the ton for export, the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline, coal ash disposal sites, and industrial agriculture said the DEQ is watching out for industries and not the people who live near those operations.”

11-20-19 Raleigh News & Observer. Cooper ‘improperly’ used influence on pipeline, investigation started by GOP concludes. “An independent investigation started by Republican General Assembly leaders into the state’s approvals for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline found that Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper ‘improperly used the authority and influence of his office’ but did not personally benefit from those decisions. The report was released Wednesday, almost two years after GOP leaders first questioned the governor’s office about the appearance of a ‘pay-to-play’ or ‘pay-for-permit’ after the Cooper administration approved a permit for the pipeline in 2018. Cooper’s administration at that time also announced the pipeline companies would provide $57.8 million to a fund under the governor’s control to be used for environmental mitigation, economic development and renewable energy in areas affected by the pipeline.”

11-19-19 Utility Dive. Time to move away from old precedents in FERC pipeline reviews. “Since adopting its natural gas pipeline Policy Statement 20 years ago, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has approved 474 gas pipeline projects, representing 23,773 new miles of pipeline around the nation. It has rejected only two projects. This outcome, along with the significant changes that have occurred in the natural gas industry, led me two years ago to call on FERC to update its Policy Statement, which has guided how the Commission considers pipeline projects since 1999. In April 2018, FERC decided that it would consider changes and it requested stakeholder comment. The fact that more than 1,600 comments, from a broad spectrum of industry participants, were filed with the agency suggests the intense interest this debate is generating.”

11-19-19 NRDC. Reform Is Long Overdue for FERC’s Gas Pipeline Reviews. “It’s been almost two years since the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission announced that it would take a fresh look at its 20-year-old policy that guides its reviews of new gas pipeline projects, and almost 18 months since NRDC and others filed more than 1,600 comments with the agency on this very question. Since that time, FERC has been silent on the status of its review. A new NRDC-commissioned report released today brings this important issue back into focus and highlights the key areas for reform.”

11-19-19 WDBJ7. Pipeline opponents say erosion controls are inadequate. “Opponents of the Mountain Valley Pipeline say sediment and erosion controls approved by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality are not protecting water and endangered species. During a Roanoke news conference Tuesday afternoon, they cited conditions near Yellow Finch Lane in Montgomery County. They said citizen monitors documented problems there in the days after DEQ approved the controls.”

11-18-19 The Motley Fool. Is Dominion Energy a Great Dividend Stock?  “One of the largest utilities in the United States, Dominion Energy (NYSE:D) is currently offering investors a very attractive 4.6% dividend yield. That’s 1.8 percentage points higher than the average utility, as measured by Vanguard Utilities Index ETF, and about 2.6 percentage points higher than an S&P 500 Index fund. But a high yield isn’t enough to make Dominion a great dividend stock. Here’s a deeper look at Dominion to help you figure out if it belongs in your dividend portfolio. …. Add all of this up, and it’s hard to call Dominion a great dividend stock today. If the dividend were more secure, perhaps. Or if the dividend growth rate were more robust, maybe. Or if the valuation were deeply discounted, sure. But right now Dominion doesn’t really stand out in any material way other than a relatively high yield. That’s not enough to call it a great dividend stock.”

11-12-19 WITF [PA]   FBI eyes how Pennsylvania approved pipeline. “The FBI has begun a corruption investigation into how Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration came to issue permits for construction on a multibillion-dollar pipeline project to carry highly volatile natural gas liquids across Pennsylvania, The Associated Press has learned. FBI agents have interviewed current or former state employees in recent weeks about the Mariner East project and the construction permits, according to three people who have direct knowledge of the agents’ line of questioning. …. The focus of the agents’ questions involves the permitting of the pipeline, whether Wolf and his administration forced environmental protection staff to approve construction permits and whether Wolf or his administration received anything in return, those people say. …. the construction has spurred millions of dollars in fines, several temporary shutdown orders, lawsuits, protests and investigations. When construction permits were approved in 2017, environmental advocacy groups accused Wolf’s administration of pushing through incomplete permits that violated the law.”

11-12-19 WMRA. Valley Activists Aid Mountain Valley Pipeline Opponents. “The proposed Mountain Valley and Atlantic Coast pipelines are slated to carry natural gas from West Virginia through Virginia, and in the case of the Atlantic Coast pipeline, on into North Carolina. Even as construction has been halted or limited by legal challenges, opposition to those projects remains strong among some residents. …. Opponents of the pipelines cite accelerated climate change, health and safety risks, ecosystem destruction, and the abuse of eminent domain as reasons for their activism.”

11-10-19 Kent County News. How a blind crustacean stopped a power company. “Dominion and Duke Energy in late July lost yet another federal permit to build the ill-conceived Atlantic Coast Pipeline. For the second time, the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals vacated Dominion’s permit to take, kill and destroy habitat for federally listed endangered species. A bumble bee, a bat, a mussel and a tiny blind crustacean are in the proposed path of the 42-inch fracked-gas pipeline. All four species are on the brink of extinction. …. But, wait, aren’t there also hundreds of people in the path of the pipeline that don’t want Dominion to take their land through eminent domain? Won’t thousands of streams and rivers be damaged by sediment pollution during construction? And what about the environmental injustice in Union Hill, Va., where a toxic compressor station for the pipeline is planned in a community of descendants of freed slaves? Wasn’t all that enough to stop the pipeline? …. If a bee, a bat, a mussel and a crustacean can stop Dominion’s destructive pipeline, I’m all for it. I just wish the people in its path had as much standing in court as the critters.”

11-8-19 Virginia Mercury. Green power for suckers program gets SCC approval.  “Virginia’s State Corporation Commission has approved Dominion Energy Virginia’s request to offer a new product to electric utility customers who want to buy renewable energy at a discount but lack the knowledge to understand when they are being taken for chumps. ‘Rider REC’ is an ultra-cheap version of the company’s Green Power Program (itself of questionable value). For less than a buck a month on their electric bills, customers will be able to buy renewable energy certificates that cost Dominion next to nothing because no one else wants them. And for good reason: these are the dregs of the renewable energy category. You won’t find any wind or solar in Rider REC, but you might find paper mill waste, trees burned after clear-cutting or century-old hydro dams — all officially ‘renewable’ under the generous provisions of Virginia law. Dominion will scrounge up these old and dirty leftovers, package them up and put a green bow on them.”

11-8-19 New York Times. Natural Gas or Renewables? New Orleans Choice Is Shadowed by Katrina. “Is it wise to keep building fossil-fuel plants — even those powered by natural gas rather than coal — that will be in operation for decades? Or are wind turbines and solar farms now reliable and economical enough to take their place?” Article includes discussion of the rapidly dropping cost of renewables, utility company arguments about why renewables are not sufficient to meet needs, environmental justice issues – and the fallout from utility companies hiring of paid actors to stack public hearings in their favor.

11-8-19 Charlotte Business Journal. Sudden change of plans for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline surprises Duke Energy investors. “Duke Energy Corp. has changed its construction and financing plans for the still-stalled Atlantic Coast Pipeline, pushing off any operations to 2022 and issuing $2.5 billion in additional stock by the end of next year to cover costs. Charlotte-based Duke (NYSE: DUK) has been saying for some time that it did not anticipate issuing additional stock for the project. The sudden reversal, announced in conjunction with Duke’s earnings Friday, came as a surprise to investors, said analyst Andy Smith at Edward Jones. He suspects that it is the major contributor to a drop in Duke’s stock price.”

11-7-19 Utility Dive. Dominion Virginia plan for 1.5 GW new peaking capacity will lead to more gas plants, NGOs fear. “Dominion Energy Virginia is seeking up to 1,500 MW of new dispatachable peak capacity beginning in 2022, to replace generation retirements and to provide system balancing needs for the company’s growing renewables fleet. Environmental groups say the RFP aims to bring new gas-fired generation into the state, which is at odds with state policy targeting 100% carbon-free power by 2050. Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, D, in September signed Executive Order 43 setting the state on a course to reach 30% renewables by 2030, along with the 2050 goal. Dominion says it is on track to meet the state’s clean energy goals, but the need for additional generation was identified in recent Integrated Resource Plans. Proposals for new generation are due to the utility by Dec. 19.”

11-7-19 Nelson County Times. Letter: Court’s decision a bump in the road. “The Supreme Court’s recent decision to hear Dominion’s appeal for reinstatement of the permit to cross the Appalachian Trail is a bump in the road, not the end of the story. However this case is decided, the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) faces many more challenges. As the case goes forward, public appreciation of the weakness of the ACP proposal will continue to grow. …. Dominion’s appeal to the Supreme Court is a Hail Mary attempt to rescue a pipeline that is clearly in jeopardy. The ACP is two years behind schedule and close to $3 billion over the estimated cost. Dominion’s captive ratepayers are waking up to the billions of dollars they will be compelled to pay for the pipeline and the additional 15 percent ‘return on equity’ guaranteed by federal law. Investors are growing wary of fossil fuels; Moody’s has downgraded the ACP to a risky investment. Renewable energy continues its trend of increasing efficiency and declining cost. The myth of methane as a ‘bridge fuel’ has evaporated. Public concern about climate change is growing explosively worldwide.”

11-6-19 Clean Virginia. Virginia Candidates Refusing Dominion Money Win Nearly 50 General Assembly Seats. “In a decisive rebuke to Dominion Energy’s unprecedented electoral spending, voters in Virginia overwhelmingly rejected the monopoly’s attempts to influence Virginia’s political system in statewide elections yesterday. All seven flipped seats in the House of Delegates and State Senate went to candidates who refused campaign contributions from the utility monopolies they will regulate in the General Assembly — Dominion Energy and Appalachian Power Company. This issue resonated with Virginian voters across party lines, as two Republican incumbents who also refused these campaign contributions kept their seats in highly contested races.”

11-6-19 S&P Global. Virginia’s legislative shift could tighten RGGI market, impact gas pipeline development. “The Democratic Party winning control of both chambers of Virginia’s General Assembly in Tuesday’s elections paves the way for the state to join a regional emissions cap-and-trade program, thus tightening that oversupplied market, and could have natural gas pipeline development implications. …. Virginia wrote and finalized a regulation to cap carbon dioxide emissions earlier this year, but the budget did not allocate any money for it. The regulation is designed to cap emissions from 32 fossil fuel-fired power plants with more than 25 MW of generation capacity starting in 2020, and then require a 30% emissions reduction over the next 10 years. ‘With the election results, we are very hopeful the Assembly will fully fund Governor Northam’s carbon regulations,’ Will Cleveland, senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center, said in a phone call Wednesday.”

11-6-19 The Intercept. Democratic Sweep Sets Up Confrontation With Corporate Giant That Has Loomed Over Virginia Politics for a Century. “The stunning victory on Tuesday by Virginia Democrats, seizing control of both chambers of the state legislature and bringing the state under unified party control, sets up a new confrontation with a powerful adversary: Dominion Energy. Dominion Energy, the privately owned utility company, has long cast a shadow across the state, buying favor in both parties as the most generous donor in state history, writing its own lax regulatory rules, and funneling consumer bills into billions of dollars of investor dividends and executive compensation.”

11-5-19 Progressive Pulse. [NC]DEQ staff to investigators: We knew nothing about the governor’s deal with Dominion over Atlantic Coast Pipeline. “Ten NC Department of Environmental Quality staff, including Assistant Secretary Sheila Holman, told investigators earlier this month that they did not communicate with the governor’s office in advance about a $57.8 million mitigation fund related to the controversial Atlantic Coast Pipeline. Nor was there a quid pro quo involving a key water quality permit for the natural gas project and the fund, DEQ staff said.”

11-5-19 Virginia Mercury. Report: Department of Defense ‘precariously unprepared’ for climate change risks. “If the stalwart presence of the U.S. military in Virginia makes you feel safer in an uncertain world plagued by sea level rise and climate change, a recent report by the U.S. Army War College would like to disabuse you of that sense of security. According to ‘Implications of Climate Change for the U.S. Army,’ the Department of Defense is ‘precariously unprepared for the national security implications’ of climate change, while the U.S. Army has fostered an ‘environmentally oblivious’ culture. ‘In short, the Army is an environmental disaster,’ the authors write.”

11-5-19 Pittsburgh Business Times. Mountain Valley co-owner puts cap on investment in pipeline. “Con Edison, the large New York-based utility company, is scaling back its investment in the troubled Mountain Valley Pipeline. Con Edison (NYSE: ED) revealed in a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filing Monday that its subdiary CET Gas will cap its investment in MVP, the 300-mile pipeline that has been mired in legal cases on the state and federal level, to $530 million. Con Edison has already spent about $488 million.”

11-4-19 NBC29. Environmental Nonprofit Studies Potential Impact of ACP on African American Community. ” The potential impacts of a proposed compressor station in Buckingham County were explored Monday night. One group is determined to explain how the planned placement of that part of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline contributes to racism while harming the environment. A report released Monday night by the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League goes into detail about how black people and minorities would see the most harm from that compressor station. The problem it says is not new, because according to this report, it stems from a history of racist practices.”

11-4-19 Raw Story. Meet Trump’s ‘see no evil’ energy commission nominee.  “The attorney Trump nominated for a seat on a federal commission that oversees pipeline construction and other energy projects wants to impose the legal equivalent of the three monkeys that see no evil in assessing how oil and gas companies are destroying our planet. James Danly, a relatively inexperienced attorney who was an associate at the mega-lobbying and law firm Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom before the White House named him the general counsel for the commission, prefers the benign-sounding phrase ‘humble regulator.’”

11-3-19 Richmond Times-Dispatch. Letter: Jorge Aguilar on Atlantic Coast Pipeline. “The concession that Union Hill is a predominantly African American community is confirmation of what Virginia’s environmental justice advocates have known for years: Communities of color are disproportionately targeted when it comes to fossil fuel infrastructure projects, in this case the Atlantic Coast Pipeline’s dirty compressor station, scheduled to be built in the midst of a community descended from former slaves. …. After the race-related scandals of the past year, Northam and state officials have sought to address some of the long-term racial inequities that have been prevalent in Virginia. This is a clear moment when Northam can act to do the right thing and demand that agencies revoke the state permits for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and accompanying compressor stations.”

11-1-19 Virginia Mercury. On nation’s biggest proposed offshore wind farm, Dominion plans to fly solo. “Dominion Energy intends to move forward alone with developing the nation’s largest proposed offshore wind farm, an enterprise estimated to cost $8 billion, top utility leaders indicated to investors in a third-quarter earnings call Friday morning. ‘The project will be developed and owned by Dominion Energy Virginia, with regulated cost recovery subject to approval by the Virginia State Corporation Commission,’ said Dominion CEO, Chairman and President Tom Farrell during the presentation. The company’s approach bucks the dominant trend among East Coast utilities, which have otherwise partnered with private developers to add offshore wind energy to their portfolios.”

11-1-19 NRDC. Virginia: Remember, and Protect, Union Hill. “Dominion Energy was in court again on Tuesday for its unnecessary Atlantic Coast Pipeline, which is proposed for Virginia, North Carolina, and West Virginia and would cross the Appalachian Trail as well as several historic and vulnerable communities. The case highlights what has long been known—and ignored—by regulators: the Atlantic Coast Pipeline is a textbook case of environmental injustice.”

11-1-19 S&P Global. In face of litigation, Dominion reiterates Atlantic Coast Pipeline timeline, cost estimate. ” Despite ongoing federal environmental litigation, Dominion Energy expects to complete the Atlantic Coast Pipeline on its previously released timeline, with full project construction resuming by the end of 2020, and with full commissioning of the project in early 2022, company officials said Friday. In the company’s third-quarter 2019 earnings conference call, Chairman, President and CEO Thomas Farrell also said that the company does not anticipate that the court cases would add to the estimated $7.3 billion to $7.8 billion cost of the 600-mile, 1.5 Bcf/d natural gas pipeline project.”