SELC op-ed: Dominion desperate to get the pipeline built before the facts catch up with it

Dominion Energy headquarters in downtown Richmond.  (© VCU CNS)
The latest report from Dominion estimates building the Atlantic Coast Pipeline will cost $7 billion. Dominion customers will bear the burden of those costs on their monthly bills for years to come.
Meanwhile, as an air permit for a compressor station along the pipeline is under review, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam replaced two members of the State Air Control Board. The decision comes as months of public hearings and information sessions were set to culminate in a vote on whether or not to approve the compressor station’s permit. During that process, numerous constituencies have advocated that the permit should not be approved due to pollution concerns and environmental justice issues around its outsized impact on the predominantly African-American community living nearby.
As all this was unfolding, a letter drafted by Senior Attorney Greg Buppert appeared in the Richmond Times-Dispatch outlining just why this pipeline is such a bad deal for customers and those living along its path—and such a payday for Dominion investors.

Dominion Energy CEO Tom Farrell is trying to hide the ball when it comes to the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. He’s leaving out the most important part of the story—that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission allows Dominion shareholders to recover their investment in full and collect a guaranteed 15 percent return on the pipeline, while shouldering none of the risk. That risk falls on the backs of Dominion’s utility customers who will pay billions in project costs and the lavish profit back to shareholders in their power bills.

CEO Farrell has a lot on the line. He has to make sure landowners, local governments, property rights advocates, communities, conservationists, and climate change opponents don’t get in the way of his shareholders’ profits. So he’ll say anything he needs to publicly. But what his company tells federal and state agencies is the real story.

The truth is the demand for new gas-fired power plants isn’t growing in Virginia. But year after year, Dominion submits plans to the Virginia State Corporation Commission that depict aggressive demand growth to justify new infrastructure. And each year, the actual power needs of Virginia fall far short of the company’s predictions. This September, the SCC Staff finally said it has “no confidence” in Dominion’s story. If Virginia doesn’t need new power plants, we don’t need the ACP.

The truth is Dominion customers are going to pay for the ACP. At that same September hearing, an expert testified that the pipeline would increase customer costs by as much as $3 billion. Dominion had no response or rebuttal.

The truth is the ACP has never been about what is best for Virginia—it’s always been about Mr. Farrell getting that 15 percent return for his shareholders.

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