Dominion Scraps the Atlantic Coast Pipeline

Breaking news: Dominion Energy and Duke Energy have announced the cancellation of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, citing ongoing delays and increasing cost uncertainty. The cost of the project had escalated from $5 billion to $8 billion, and, despite winning a victory in the United States Supreme Court, the power companies still have no certainty of gaining all the needed regulatory approvals.

Said Dominion CEO Thomas F. Farrell, II, and Duke CEO Lynn J. Good in a joint statement:

We regret that we will be unable to complete the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. For almost six years we have worked diligently and invested billions of dollars to complete the project and deliver the much-needed infrastructure to our customers and communities. Throughout we have engaged extensively with and incorporated feedback from local communities, labor and industrial leaders, government and permitting agencies, environmental interests and social justice organizations. … This announcement reflects the increasing legal uncertainty that overhangs large-scale energy and industrial infrastructure development in the United States. Until these issues are resolved, the ability to satisfy the country’s energy needs will be significantly challenged.

Bacon’s bottom line: I have mixed feelings. On the one hand, the cost of the project had escalated to the point where I could not see it becoming anything but a liability to rate payers. On the other hand, the fate of the ACP sends a signal that environmentalists have the power to block almost any project anywhere. The ACP was not a uniquely bad project. Environmentalist groups opposed to the use of fossil fuels of any kind, any where, under any circumstances, were endlessly creative in conjuring political objections — some having merit, some spurious, some thoroughly reprehensible — and using the courts to create endless delays.

Environmentalists now exercise an effective veto over almost every major energy infrastructure project. No corporation would be foolish enough to propose a project that conflicts with the extreme green agenda. The future now looks like energy-efficiency, solar farms, wind farms, and whatever cobbled-together back-up systems Dominion and Appalachian Power are allowed to build. Let’s hope the new green grid is robust enough to withstand hurricanes, polar vortexes and other extreme-weather events. Our lives literally depend on it.

— JAB

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27 responses to “Dominion Scraps the Atlantic Coast Pipeline

  1. Well, well, well. The free market has spoken.

  2. It’s also worth noting that Dominion has agreed to sell off its Gas Transmission and Storage assets to a Berkshire Hathaway affiliate for $9.7 billion. Tom Farrell said that company was selling the assets as part of a “narrowing of focus,” moving toward a pure-play focus on “state-regulated, sustainability focused utilities.”

    I guess this means two things: (1) Dominion will focus even more resources on working the legislative and regulatory process in states where it has regulated gas and electric utilities; and (2) it will follow the path of least resistance by building more renewable energy projects.

    Remember, the electric power industry has three broad competing demands: affordability, sustainability, and reliability. Dominion will pursue sustainability over affordability. It remains to be seen how reliable the green grid of the future will be.

    • Interesting that Buffet is buying into natural gas which his fellow democrats see as the greatest poison and unethical fuel mankind has ever known.

  3. What is your definition of free market?

  4. Reaction from the Southern Environmental Law Center:

    “This is a victory for all the communities that were in the path of this risky and unnecessary project. The Atlantic Coast Pipeline was wrong from the start. After years of opposition, legal defeats and threats to the environment, SELC is relieved to see Duke and Dominion make the right decision to walk away from it.

    This is a great day for the people of Union Hill, for public lands, for landowners in the path, and for all North Carolinians and Virginians who deserve a clean energy future and are no longer on the hook to pay for this $8 billion pipeline.

    Reaction from Clean Virginia:

    “Today marks a huge win for Virginia. For years, communities across the Commonwealth have fervently opposed the unnecessary and dangerous Atlantic Coast Pipeline, the most acute manifestation of Dominion Energy’s commitment to putting its financial interests above the health and economic well-being of Virginians. …

    “The Atlantic Coast Pipeline was never in the best interests of Virginians. That it was allowed to fester as long as it did is evidence of a fundamentally broken utility system that will only be remediated through comprehensive regulatory reform. While we welcome the Atlantic Coast Pipeline’s demise, this only marks the end to one symptom of the underlying structural problem of Virginia’s monopoly utilities–the problem itself remains.”

  5. Look, I don’t know who you are, if you are a real lawyer or whatever. The pipeline was killed by economics. Fracking is dead. There is a huge gas over supply. Dominion and duke could not deal with skittish financiers. Do you want me to draw you a picture? What’s more “crazy jd,” I am not dealing with you any more unless you identify yourself. I do and In gave more integrity than you.

    • Gee, a reason for me to resume a fake ID….But I agree it was a business decision. Oversupply? Perhaps. Fracking dead? No way. But the cost of the project was driven up by the unlimited assets of the opponents. What happens now to the other Virginia mega-project? The Mountain Valley Pipeline? All the big guns will focus on it, now, but with the ACP out of the picture, the business case for MVP may have just improved greatly. Likewise the case for the VNG header project. Stronger now? My friend Mr. Pollard is gloating on Twitter that this is end of fossil fuels, but that’s just dumb. Eventually all will understand that the wind-solar-battery dream is actually an illusion.

      I’m glad Jim added the detail about Dominion moving more focus on its state regulated lines of business. That’s where you see the big rate of return on corrupting politicians with cash. It’s investors hate risk. Dominion’s investors are taking zero risk on the boondoggle wind projects.

    • Geez, lighten up. How did he sleight you any worse than those with names you know?

      It died from costs and financing, but those are no more a “free market” pressure than, oh, say, the cost of healthcare. If they could have wrung the money out of the consumer with SCC blessing, they’d build it if all they pumped through it was sewage.

  6. Duke had a bit of a different spin:

    ” Despite last month’s overwhelming 7-2 victory at the United States Supreme Court, which vindicated the project and decisions made by permitting agencies, recent developments have created an unacceptable layer of uncertainty and anticipated delays for ACP.

    Specifically, the decision of the United States District Court for the District of Montana overturning long-standing federal permit authority for waterbody and wetland crossings (Nationwide Permit 12), followed by a Ninth Circuit ruling on May 28 indicating an appeal is not likely to be successful, are new and serious challenges. The potential for a Supreme Court stay of the district court’s injunction would not ultimately change the judicial venue for appeal nor decrease the uncertainty associated with an eventual ruling. The Montana district court decision is also likely to prompt similar challenges in other Circuits related to permits issued under the nationwide program including for ACP.”

    https://news.duke-energy.com/releases/dominion-energy-and-duke-energy-cancel-the-atlantic-coast-pipeline

    These court decisions make also affect the MVP.

  7. Haner. Fracking died several years ago. You do not get this. I could go somewhere else with this but not now.

  8. Jim,

    The effectiveness of the legal opposition to the ACP is certainly a major factor in its demise. However, I think you miss the root cause of the delays.

    A court will not overturn a permit just because they think that a project is a bad idea. Regulators do that (just not FERC). The ACP permits were vacated because they did not follow the law. The lawyers representing various groups were very effective in bringing the flaws to the attention of the courts, but the permits would not have been vacated if they had met legal requirements.

    The fundamental cause was the poor selection of the project in the first place.

    Because of all of the landslide prone areas, national forest crossings, stream crossings, destruction of endangered species, etc., the ACP could not meet the administrative and legal requirements of the various permitting agencies. The ACP chose to use influence to have the newly appointed heads of those agencies ignore their legal requirements and issue the permits anyway.

    The ACP was not months away from obtaining permits that would meet the court’s requirements. Even if reissued, they would likely have fallen short of the courts’ requirements and been open to appeal. It might have been impossible to fully authorize construction of the ACP in a way that satisfied the law. That is the fault of the pipeline developers, not the environmental groups.

    The pipeline’s FERC certificate was expiring on October 13, 2020. The entire FERC certificate was going to be under review this fall by the DC circuit. A court examination of the faulty federal regulatory process would not have been good for the industry. Perhaps it was more convenient for everyone to drop the ACP and avoid having too many people looking under the covers of how FERC approves new pipelines.

    FERC authorized three major pipelines to serve the same market demand in the mid-Atlantic and the Southeast. One pipeline, which was approved 8 months before the ACP, went into service in October of 2018. It provides more added capacity to Virginia and the Carolinas and can supply all of the original requirements of the ACP. The ACP and MVP duplicate the capacity now in service at a much higher cost.

    The public began to catch on that the ACP was not necessary for them to receive all of the gas they need, regulators became more aware that the pipeline was not a good deal for utility ratepayers and (along with a new Virginia law) made it much less likely the the utilities would get all, if any, of their costs of the ACP contracts passed through to ratepayers. That made the pipeline a losing proposition for developers. As long as the contracts could be passed along to ratepayers, it didn’t matter how much the pipeline cost.
    In fact, it added to profits.

    More than half of the originally planned power plants were canceled. It is unlikely that any of the remaining units in North Carolina will be competitive enough to be approved. Dominion has all of the pipeline capacity it needs to operate its system reliably under long-term contracts with existing pipelines.

    Dominion plans to operate most of its current conventional units through 2045. Gas will continue to be used in Virginia, we just won’t need more, although more is available without the ACP or MVP.

    It is very likely that our energy demand will be about the same or lower in 2045. Nearly all of the same power plants that are in operation are planned to be in operation then, so our reliability will be uncompromised. Dominion will just add more renewable generation that will require the conventional units to run less.

    Now that Dominion has gained approval to put wind and solar in the ratebase, they will continue to reap significant profits no matter how much any particular unit runs.

    Jim’s three competing demands of affordability, sustainability, and reliability were never demands of the utility. Reliability was and continues to be the only requirement, and that is not at risk. Sustainability applies to the need to keep dividends rising, and affordability has been opposed by adding new generation since the 1970s.

    We can have cleaner and cheaper energy, but not the way we are currently approaching it.

    Families and businesses in Virginia should thank the various groups that identified the flaws with the ACP and saved them billions of dollars in added energy costs for a pipeline they didn’t need.

  9. Haner. Fracking is dead. You don’t know what you are talking about. Look at the market and business failures.

  10. Electricity and natural gas demand has leveled off quite a bit since this project was conceived. If I recall, this pipeline was supposed to be huge diameter. Whenever a utility does something they want make it the worlds largest, which is questionable value for public.

  11. Well, first the claim was the ACP was needed for electricity. Then the claim was that natural gas was in short supply for certain kinds of economic development.

    Some folks thought they were trying to export it in LNG ships.

    So did the courts really kill it or the economics?

    What happens to the MVP might shed some light.

    • Both the courts and the economics killed the pipeline. There was no logical path forward. There never was from the beginning unless the ACP could hoodwink the public and the regulators. They never expected the opposition to persist so long or be so effective in order for the truth to come out before the pipeline was built.

  12. Wait! There’s tons of oil and natural gas just offshore. You know this is true because of the 1000s of wells and derricks on the Eastern Shore, and all of those east of the Appalachians.

  13. JB – Dominion also sold their Gas storage and transmission business to Berkshire Hathaway/Warren Buffet and cut their dividend (I am a shareholder).

    They are focusing on their transition ” to a pure-play regulated utility company that focuses on clean energy production from wind, solar and natural gas.”

    https://www.cnbc.com/2020/07/05/warren-buffetts-berkshire-buys-dominion-energy-natural-gas-assets-in-10-billion-deal.html?__source=iosappshare%7Ccom.apple.UIKit.activity.Message

  14. James Wyatt Whitehead V

    Dominion will be back when it is sunny again for the pipeline project. Snakes wait in the tall grass.

  15. A while back, I thought they might abandon the ACP and buy most of the MVP, if that still had a chance. Permitting issues still plague the MVP and they have no buyers for the gas.

    The ACP has no market for the gas, Dominion doesn’t need it, Duke doesn’t need it (they have Transco), and they sold their South Carolina gas transmission system that connected to the Elba Island LNG export facility.

    It makes no sense for them to invest in a pipeline later on when they don’t have a case to pass on the cost to their utility ratepayers. Gas will have a long slow phase out in the region. Lower demand and cheaper, cleaner alternatives are forcing it out.

  16. TomH is right.

    On the landowner side, this extended 6 year battle in which we were forced to engage and none of us chose, has extracted tremendous commitments of time, money, energy, emotion and more. I have realized that the values I thought our country represented – life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, meaning the opportunity to improve your life – do not exist. Ultimately, it appears (I’m not positive we’re out of the woods as long as Dominion holds an easement on our land) the courts and economics won but the fact that we had to fight so long and hard to hold on to our heritage is not right.

    There remains the need to adjust our laws related to eminent domain and the Natural Gas Act that is largely unchanged for over 100 years. FERC must be realigned to fairly treat both industry and landowners, not simply represent industry and throw out a few meaningless and unenforceable words about landowner rights. The basic premise of proposing a project without full information and adjusting it, only as suits one player, throughout the process while claiming all is set in stone, is a problem. For too long, industry has shaped the game rules. For all the whining industry does about excessive regulation, my first hand experience is that it is the landowners who lack protection.

    Virginia is better off with Dominion focusing on its business as a utility, not transforming itself into a natural gas power. The risk to the company and everyone else was too great. It has realigned with goals that make sense. It’s a shame so many resources from so many were spent getting them there – but at least it is happening, to benefit all.

    • All along Dominion was counting on using eminent domain to force people to sell. That’s why they initially claimed the gas was for electricity.

      Then when that changed, they just relied on FERC and laws that presumed all pipelines were needed to serve the “public” no matter what they really were for – which in the ACP’s case – was a pure for-profit venture base on selling gas to the private sector.

      Dominion was claiming that Tidewater needed the gas for economic development – never mind all the rural towns and property owners in between the source of the gas and Tidewater that also would have like gas to attract economic development. People’s whose land it would cross would not be offered an opportunity to be co-owners or stockholders, nope, they were to give up their rights with someone else deciding what it was worth.

      So Dominion basically chose to proceed in the way they did – essentially telling everyone that they intended to ram it through regardless – and that engendered a wide and deep opposition that would not give up.

      Dominion chose a lose-lose path..

  17. While I agree with VaConsumerAdvocate regarding Utility Companies, FERC and landowner property rights, its important to keep in mind there is a big difference between government endorsed monopolies and smaller businesses. When Buffett and his ilk open one side of their mouth about social and economic unfairness, they’re drooling out of the other side in anticipation of value investing in the discounted assets of those who will actually be impacted by the policies they advocate.

    When Amazon or Walmart advocate for minimum wage laws, it’s not because they care about their workers. Its about driving up the cost of business for their competitors. When the Feds implemented expanded Family & Medical Leave due to coronavirus, it only applied to business under 500 employees.

    When one advocates for policies favoring consumers and labor, keep in mind that influential business is going to play you for their competitive advantage against smaller, non-influential businesses. But, there’s no doubt in my mind that many who advocate under the guise of consumer fairness know d#!% well that’s how it’s going to play-out.

  18. None of the expenses incurred by Dominion and its affiliates should be passed on to Dominion’s electric ratepayers.

    I’ve read a couple of articles describing how Buffett purchased small, private companies that had trouble paying the estate tax he advocates. How about limiting an estate’s ability to give away money to a private foundation to $5 million? The rest would be taxable.

  19. TMT,

    None of the expenses for the pipeline were incurred by the utility. They were only exposed to pay $6 billion+ for a 20-year capacity reservation once the project was in service.

    The write-off will be taken by the parent company, Dominion Energy, which issues the stock. Nothing related to the ACP is included in the Berkshire Hathaway transaction.

    Dominion is using $3 billion of the $4 billion in cash it will receive from the BH deal to buy back stock and keep their earnings per share up, hoping to maintain the stock price.

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