News You May Have Missed

Recent post-ACP-cancellation news articles of interest. More detailed information on our In the News page.

 

 

Eminent domain for energy projects could be on its way out.

From Sierra. Reformers Set Sights on Corporate Land Grabs for Energy Projects. February 22, 2021. 


Williams Companies Inc. used the power of eminent domain to obtain an easement for a gas pipeline it wanted to build across private property in Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania. Even though it didn’t have all of its paperwork in order, Williams Companies’ construction crews proceeded to cut down 90 percent of the family’s maple-syrup-producing trees, some of them over 200 years old. The damage done to the maple-syrup operation was a complete waste as Williams later announced it was abandoning the pipeline. “To FERC, the destruction of the Holleran’s maple business is just collateral damage for their real job, which is facilitating whatever the pipeline companies want to do,” said Representative Jamie Raskin, a Democrat from Maryland, during a December 2020 virtual House hearing titled “Pipelines Over People: How FERC Tramples Landowner Rights in Natural Gas Projects.”


Among its many other responsibilities, FERC is charged with regulating interstate energy projects, including gas pipelines. During the past few years, protracted pipeline battles such as the fights over the Mountain Valley, and Atlantic Coast Pipelines, to name a few—have aimed a new light on the agency and its practices. Now, landowner rights groups and lawmakers from across the country are calling for change.


Raskin’s December hearing builds on an investigation his subcommittee launched early last year looking into FERC’s treatment of landowners. The numbers from the subcommittee’s report are damning: In the past 20 years, FERC has granted 1,021 certificates but rejected just six—an approval rate over 99 percent. In that same period, FERC did not grant a single appeal from a landowner. The report also called out FERC’s routine use of “tolling orders,” which effectively block a landowner from appealing a project by delaying the agency’s response, sometimes for months. Meanwhile, pipeline companies can initiate work even without final approval.


Groups opposing the ACP and other pipelines have challenged FERC’s practices and called for changes to the Natural Gas Act to level the playing field for landowners. Now the House Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, which Raskin chairs, is working in parallel to a host of other efforts to reform FERC.


Lawmakers on both coasts have introduced bills aimed at leveling the playing field for landowners. Virginia Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, both Democrats, have introduced the Pipeline Fairness, Transparency, and Responsible Development Act of 2020. Oregon’s two Democratic Senators, Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, have each proposed legislation to reform FERC’s processes. All three bills have been referred to the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.


Glick, the new chair of FERC under the Biden administration, has regularly dissented from decisions that pushed forward pipeline and liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal projects, often citing his colleagues’ failure to consider the full climate impacts of projects and advocating for landowner rights.


Changes were afoot at FERC even before Joe Biden took office. On December 27, an omnibus spending bill funded FERC’s long-awaited Office of Public Participation. The new office will give environmental justice groups a voice in FERC proceedings and ensure those who can’t afford legal representation can participate.

A pipeline-loving agency could be key to Biden’s climate plan

From Grist. A new commission chair could change the way FERC regulates energy projects.  February 18, 2021

There’s a saying about the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission: It’s never seen a pipeline it didn’t like. But the commission’s new chair could make that adage a thing of the past.

Established by Congress in 1977 to regulate the United States’ energy landscape. FERC wields an enormous amount of power, overseeing the nation’s pipelines, natural gas infrastructure, transmission lines, hydroelectric dams, electricity markets, and, by association, the price of renewables and fossil fuels. It’s made up of up to five commissioners — no more than three members of the same party can serve at a time — including one chair, who sets the commission’s agenda.

Historically, the commission has not done a good job of taking climate change and environmental justice into account as it has approved and regulated energy projects across the U.S. A system for accounting for climate impacts isn’t baked into FERC’s structure. That could change as President Joe Biden executes a “whole of government” approach to tackling climate change.

In January, President Joe Biden appointed Richard Glick, formerly the sole Democratic vote on the commission, to chair FERC. Some of Glick’s priorities? Environmental justice and climate change mitigation and adaptation. At his first press conference since being appointed to lead the commission, Glick announced that FERC will create a senior-level position dedicated to assessing the environmental justice impacts of proposed projects. For the first time, the commission will take a look at how developments like natural gas pipelines affect surrounding communities to make sure they don’t “unfairly impact historically marginalized communities”.

Experts say Glick’s influence on the commission will extend far beyond the new environmental justice position. Under Glick, FERC could liberate renewables from “artificial impediments” and allow clean energy to hit the grid at the lowest possible cost. In addition to taking a hard look at MOPR (Minimum Offer Price Rule that keeps energy prices at a level gas generators needed in order to operate in a profitable manner), Glick is expected to develop a more cooperative attitude toward states and their green energy objectives. Glick could also update electricity transmission policy to encourage more transmission infrastructure — the backbone of America’s power system, without which power from power plants wouldn’t be able to flow to customers. System reliability is going to be a priority, too, especially considering the power issues Texas and other states are experiencing right now.

Glick is in a powerful position as head of FERC, but he still has to work with the Republicans on the commission, at least until June, when Republican commissioner Neil Chatterjee retires and Biden appoints his replacement.

Electric school buses would be good for Virginia, but it has to be done right

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.

Attorney general pushes for legislation aimed at Dominion Energy’s excess profits

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.

News You May Have Missed

Recent post-ACP-cancellation news articles of interest. More detailed information on our In the News page.

1-28-2021 G.M. Will Sell Only Zero-Emission Vehicles by 2035.

1-22-2021 Pipeline eminent domain battle lands at Supreme Court.

1-17-2021 Biden to rescind the cross-border permit for the Keystone XL pipeline on his first day in office.

1-15-2021 The legislative session may be short, but the list of energy bills is long. 

1-2-2021 The Atlantic Hurricane Season Typically Brings About A Dozen Storms. This Year It Was 30.

1-1-2020 GE’s Giant Wind Turbine could stoke a Renewable Energy Arms Race. 

12-27-2020 Mountain Valley Pipeline faces political, regulatory changes in 2021.

12-17-2020 Virginia Natural Gas planning $205 million pipeline project in ‘rural crescent’