On April 14, 2021, the Board of Supervisors of Nelson County unanimously directed that a comment letter be filed with FERC to address the many “zombie” easements that afflict landowners in the County following the cancellation of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. In the comment letter, the Board stated that “we submit that it is the responsibility of FERC to require Atlantic Coast Pipeline, LLC to release the thousands of easements that were obtained by Atlantic from private landowners on the proposed path of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline,” including 250+ easements in Nelson County. The Board added that “these easements impose a significant burden upon these landowners which has been proven to be unwarranted. They significantly diminish and limit the owner’s use of their properties and, therefore reduce its value.” Moreover, “it is inevitable that the county tax assessments on these properties will be reduced due the limitations that the easements put upon the landowner’s
Signed Letter to FERC – April 14 2021
properties, costing a loss of county tax revenue on these properties.
Friends of Nelson, a non-profit organization originally formed to oppose the now-cancelled Atlantic Coast Pipeline has asked the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to order Atlantic Coast Pipeline, LLC to release private landowners from the easements it obtained to cross their land.
Friends of Nelson cites statements by Atlantic that it does not intend to voluntarily release the easements, and has not ruled out transferring the easements to another party, saying only “it has no plans to do so at this time.” “These easements represent a severe, continuing, and — in the wake of the project’s cancellation — a totally unwarranted burden on the properties along the Pipeline’s 604-mile route,” the comment letter to FERC says, adding, “With no ‘public use’ justification remaining, FERC must ensure that landowners’ full property rights are re-stored.”
The comment letter says Atlantic and FERC bear joint responsibility for the “zombie easements,” so-called because the easements live on even though the pipeline proposal is officially dead. FERC bears responsibility because it awarded the essential certificate of “public convenience and necessity” that opened the door to Atlantic’s use of eminent domain. Faced with powerful corporations with huge financial and legal resources, most landowners felt forced to grant easements rather than take their chances in court. Atlantic is owned by Dominion Energy, Inc. and Duke Energy Corporation, two mega-corporations.
“By remaining in place even after the cancellation of the project, these easements burden landowners’ ability to use or sell their property—and also their peace of mind, due to the threat that Atlantic could someday transfer the easements to the developer of another project” the comment to FERC states.
Friends of Nelson has researched the more than 250 easements and easement modification agreements that were filed at the Nelson County Courthouse between October 2015 and July 2020. “The owner is prohibited from doing many things within the Permanent Easement,
including, but not limited to erecting structures such as a house or barn, planting
trees and moving earth. These prohibitions continue forever, even though the pipeline will never be built,” the Friends of Nelson letter to FERC says, and it cites specific examples of Nelson County landowners’ agreements that constrain the use of their land.
The Friends of Nelson’s letter to FERC asks the agency to order Atlantic to contact all owners along the pipeline’s entire 604-mile route to inform them that Atlantic will release the right-of-way easement within 90 days of a written request from an affected landowner.
Friends of Nelson also wants FERC to order Atlantic to provide landowners with a written release of the easement, pay reasonable attorneys’ fees the landowners incur in negotiating the release of the right-of-way, and file the release in the land records of the appropriate jurisdiction.
Friends of Nelson’s request was filed on March 3. A full copy of the letter can be viewed here.
From Power for the People VA. Buses present a strong case for electrification because they serve more people of all income levels, and are mostly diesel now. February 15, 2021
Switching to electric buses, especially school buses, would save money on fuel and improve air quality, especially for children riding them. The only electric school bus bill that would have much immediate impact is so deeply flawed and counterproductive that the environmental community is largely united in opposition.
The proposed bill allows Dominion to deploy an unproven technology, electric school bus batteries used to support the electric grid, and collect the costs from ratepayers. The bill, SB1380 (Lucas), specifies that these school buses connected to the grid are in the public interest, and therefore ratepayers must pay for them, including the guaranteed profit for the utility. Also of concern is that the bill does not ensure that the buses will always be available when the schools need them for transporting kids.
While vehicle-to-grid technology is not new, it has never been deployed at this scale to support a utility’s electric grid. SB1380 will allow Dominion to charge ratepayers hundreds of millions of dollars for this unproven technology, without a thorough State Corporation Commission evaluation.
The environmental community supports battery storage as a key part of the transition to renewable energy, and adding battery storage to the grid is needed for utilities to meet storage targets of 250MW by 2025 and 1200MW by 2030. However, the vehicle-to-grid technology that enables electric buses to support the electrical grid has never been implemented at this scale. Dominion has begun a pilot program, but it is in its infancy.
From The Richmond Times Dispatch. Proposals would enhance the authority of the Virginia State Corporation Commission. February 1, 2021
Meade Browder, a senior assistant attorney general asked lawmakers to support proposals to strengthen oversight of the state’s largest electric utility after years of utility-friendly laws tied regulators’ hands.
New legislation could lead to hundreds of millions in refunds for Dominion customers in Virginia. At issue: The State Corporation Commission has projected that Dominion, since 2017, earned more than $500 million above the fair profit allowed by law in exchange for operating an electric monopoly. Browder told lawmakers the fundamental issue is whether a utility is recovering its costs and a fair profit, and nothing more.
Should the legislation be approved by the House, it is expected to face an uphill challenge in the Senate.
On October 27, 2020, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) asked Dominion Energy Transmission, Inc. (DETI), managing partner for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) and Supply Header Project (SHP), to provide to FERC “a plan for disposition of ACP and SHP, including restoration activities.” Dominion was given 60 days from the date of the FERC letter to respond, which would be December 26, 2020.
On June 16, 2020, Dominion had filed with FERC a request for a two-year extension of its FERC certificate in order to complete the SHP, and in a separate filing on July 10 requested a one-year extension of its ACP certificate to implement abandonment of the ACP project areas that had been disturbed.
The FERC letter asks that Dominion’s plan include:
Discussion of the status of Atlantic’s/DETI’s consultation with landowners on matters pertaining to project disposition and restoration activities on their property, as applicable, including: a. preferences regarding treatment of pipeline segments that have already been installed (i.e., pipeline to be left in place or removed); b. preferences for removal of felled trees that have not been cleared; and c. preferences on how disturbed areas would be restored, depending on their land use type (e.g., forest, agricultural, etc.).
FERC has not yet granted the extension, but is asking Dominion to submit plans for the ACP restoration they intend to do.
However, FERC’s response does not address the question of easements at all. The Southern Environmental Law Center, along with many others who submitted comments to FERC on Dominion’s July 10 request, urged that the issue of landowner easements be included in the restoration plan. Further, FERC has not granted requests to solicit comments from landowners themselves regarding what restoration is needed on their lands. FERC Commissioner Richard Glick wrote recently: “When it comes to protecting landowner interests, we should look at what the Commission does, not what it says. With that in mind, today’s order tells you everything need to know about how much the Commission cares about landowners.”
An October 29 Virginia Mercury article, Federal regulators order Atlantic Coast Pipeline to provide a plan for project wind-down, restoration, says, “Asked about how Dominion intends to approach easements that remain in force and whether it plans to relinquish those easements, Dominion spokesperson Aaron Ruby said in an email the company ‘will work with each landowner whose property has been disturbed to develop a plan for the right of way on their property’ and will ‘evaluate each easement agreement on a case-by-case basis in consultation with each landowner. Our goal is to close out the project as efficiently as possible and with minimal environmental disturbance.'”
We are urging everyone — and especially impacted landowners — to file comments to FERC on the request that Dominion Energy Transmission, Inc. (DETI) submitted to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) on July 10, 2020, for an extension of time of
- one-year to address abandonment and restoration issues for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, and
- two-years to complete construction of the Supply Header Project (SHP).
FERC has set a comment deadline of 5 p.m. Monday, August 3.
For details on how to comment, click here.
The major points that should be made in comments are:
1) – Landowners who entered into an easement agreement with Atlantic Coast Pipeline, LLC (Atlantic) should be provided an opportunity to be released from those agreements as a condition of FERC’s granting Atlantic its requested extension so that the landowners can once again utilize their land without the restrictions such agreements placed upon future use. The recommendation for such a remedy made in the July 17 filing by a group of conservation organizations (cited below) should be adopted by FERC. “Requiring Atlantic to promptly contact all landowners where a right-of-way easement exists and inform them that
- (i) Atlantic will release the right-of-way easement within 90 days of a written request from an affected landowner,
- (ii) Atlantic will provide the affected landowner with the proposed written release of the right-of-way easement,
- (iii) Atlantic will pay the reasonable attorneys’ fees of the affected landowner in reviewing and negotiating changes to the proposed written release of the right-of-way easement, and
- (iv) Atlantic will file the final, executed written release of the right-of-way easement in the land records of the appropriate jurisdiction. Atlantic has already committed that landowners will keep the easement compensation they have received.”
For impacted landowners: Click here for additional information, including a comment template.
2) – The extension request for the ACP to address abandonment and restoration activities along the project’s right-of-way should not be granted without a public comment period of at least 30 days. It is in the Commission’s interest to know the concerns that the public and affected landowners have about restoration activities and impacts on landowners’ rights in the future.
FERC’s agreement with these first two items would be in keeping with the recently expressed interest by Chairman Chatterjee for the Commission to be more responsive and sensitive to the interests and concerns of landowners who are affected by projects being considered by the Commission.
3) – The SHP time extension should be denied because it has not and cannot be justified in accordance with FERC standards. The project was proposed as being dependent upon the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP). Dominion Energy clearly stated on the record that “the SHP does not have independent utility and would not be built without construction of the ACP.” If built, the SHP would be a pipeline to nowhere!
If you are interested in learning more about all of these issues, you can read more about them in the excellent and detailed comments that that SELC submitted to FERC.