Let’s Keep All the Big Boys Honest

Clean Virginia, the anti-Dominion group dedicated to “fighting monopoly utility corruption,” released a study Monday asserting that Virginians pay excess rates of $254 a year on average due to poor state oversight. That study was duly picked up by the Washington Post, which duly repeated its findings (along with Dominion’s rebuttal).

As far as I’m concerned, as a regulated monopoly, Dominion deserves the public scrutiny it gets. Dominion Energy is a publicly traded company, and its fiduciary responsibility is to maximize profits for shareholders. Its interests are not the same as those of ratepayers or the general public. But Dominion doesn’t exist in a vacuum. The company does business within the context of a larger political system — a political system in which the environmental movement constitutes an increasingly powerful force.

Dominion hires a cadre of very smart lawyers and lobbyists who work every hour of every day to ensure that its interests are looked after in the General Assembly and in State Corporation Commission hearings. Environmental groups hire lawyers and lobbyists, too. The utility is one of the biggest campaign contributors in the state, as the media repeatedly remind us. Environmentalists contribute even more money. Dominion exercises influence through targeted donations to charitable causes. Environmentalists exercise influence through targeted donations to activist groups.

The main difference is that journalists have demonstrated an extraordinary lack of curiosity about how environmentalists flex their muscles in Virginia’s political system. Uncritical news coverage effectively assumes that environmentalists are idealists with motives as pure as angel feathers.

In fact, the environmental movement is not a disinterested participant in the political process. The goal of the groups pitched against Dominion isn’t to maximize profit, but to advance an ideological vision. These groups see climate change as an existential threat to humanity, and they aim not to balance the cost, reliability and environmental sustainability of Virginia’s electric grid — they aim to build a green grid and decarbonize the economy. Environmentalists say a green grid can be just as affordable and reliable as the one Dominion wants to build — claims that deserve respectful consideration — but affordability and reliability are subsidiary to the primary goal of combating global warming by reducing carbon-dioxide emissions.

Millions of dollars in dark money from wealthy philanthropists and foundations is sloshing around Virginia’s political system. It doesn’t show up in campaign contribution reports or lobbyist reports. But this dark money is used to influence public policy indirectly, by hiring lawyers to file lawsuits, organizing activists to hold protest rallies, engaging P.R. professionals to do research and spin… and in even to underwrite the hiring of climate-change activists on the staffs of state Attorney Generals. (Hopefully, I’ll find the time to write that story.) While the environmental movement we see in Virginia unquestionably has grassroots support, its political power is magnified immeasurably by dark money.

Therefore, it is right and proper that journalists scrutinize environmental groups and dark money just like they scrutinize Dominion. But they don’t. There is a vast nexus of money and influence to be laid bare, but mainstream journalists have studiously ignored it. The reason, I suspect is simple. Most journalists share the environmentalists’ worldview. They don’t see anything that needs investigating.

Here at Bacon’s Rebellion, we believe in holding Dominion accountable. Steve Haner has broken almost as many news stories lately as the mainstream media has. Admittedly, he approaches Virginia energy policy from a ratepayer perspective, not an environmentalist perspective. But he carries on the old Henry Howell tradition of “keeping the big boys honest.”

But Dominion isn’t the only big boy in this playground. There are people like Michael D. Bills, a Charlottesville multimillionaire and Clean Virginia chairman, who has made it his mission to advance clean energy by countering Dominion’s political influence. What does the public know about Bills? How much of Clean Virginia does he fund himself, and how much comes from other sources? How else might be influence public policy in Virginia?

Delving deeper, one could document Virginia’s changing political economy. Who are the other environmentalists groups seeking to influence energy policy in Virginia? How do they exercise influence — through campaign contributions, lobbying, filing lawsuits, underwriting activist groups, conducting research, influencing the media, and by ways not yet discovered? Where does their money come from? From personal donations? From tax-advantaged foundations? From other sources even more deeply hidden?

What can be done. I have dipped into these questions on Bacon’s Rebellion, but I am only one person with a dozen different editorial priorities, not to mention the necessity of earning a living outside the blog. I propose hiring a full-time staff writer to work under my direction, documenting and laying bare the political economy of energy and environmental policy in Virginia, with a special emphasis on bringing the dark money to light. I can donate my time as editor, but I cannot afford to pay a writer’s salary myself. If you are interested in supporting this initiative financially, or if you know someone who might be, please contact me at jabacon[at]baconsrebellion.com.

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57 responses to “Let’s Keep All the Big Boys Honest

  1. The companies that build wind turbines, solar panels, and a half dozen other renewable energy generation tools have exactly the same profit motive as the people selling coal or natural gas or the needed equipment. Just because they might have additional motives, or their products are popular, they still have stockholders looking for returns. They are (OMG) capitalists! The scrutiny you describe is needed.

    I haven’t taken the time to examine Clean Virginia’s math, but the bottom line message that Dominion is earning excess profits above and beyond what the SCC would normally allow is an old story, one I’ve told many times and will keep telling. Their website uses an SCC chart I used here months ago. It is effective to put a hard per-household dollar figure on it, but the math can get tricky.

    • Steve, you are absolutely right. The renewable energy industry, allied with environmentalists, also constitutes a profit-driven interest group. Nothing necessarily wrong with that. But if we want to be honest about how policy is made in Virginia, this reality is part of the story.

      • Well, I did find one grain of truth in the entire Washington Post article peddling Clean Virginia’s new “study:”

        “The U.S. Energy Information Administration says that Virginians pay less for electricity than the national average, at 9.09 cents per kilowatt-hour vs. 10.41 cents nationwide, based on 2016 data.”

        Looks to me this guy Michael Bills of Charlottesville is out to buy himself a Commonwealth named Virginia with the help of the Washington Post.

        • Reed,

          According to more current information from the EIA (May 2018) Virginians do pay less than the national average (12.28 cents /kWh versus the 13.93 cents /kWh average). We are 24th out of 51 (including DC).

          The average is skewed by a few high rate states. The four highest have rates from 21.54 to 32.03 cents /kWh.

          A more illuminating comparison is how we are doing compared to rates in states that are in conditions similar to ours.

          Kentucky 10.66 cents per kilowatt-hour
          Tennessee 10.87
          North Carolina 11.41
          West Virginia 11.78
          Virginia 12.28
          Maryland 13.33

          These states are in the same Goldilocks (not too hot – not too cold) region as Virginia which allows the utilities in our climate zone to use their generating plants more to serve both summer and winter peaks. This provides more revenues for the plant instead of other regions where they have only one extreme season and plants are idle or operate at reduced capacity the remainder of the year.

          When looked at in this way Virginia is not keeping pace with our neighbors. To be fair to Dominion, their rates are lower than the state average because they operate in the more densely populated, cheaper to serve areas of our state.

          Because of our relatively mild winter temperatures, many Virginians rely on electric heat (heat pumps, baseboards, etc.). This makes Virginia electric bills the 10th highest in the nation.

          It is important to note our position relative to our neighbors. Not only do they operate in similar conditions to ours, but they also compete for many of the same industries. Maryland is the only state with higher rates than ours and they have recently begun a shift to a modern energy system and is one of the few states that reduced their rates in the past year.

          The new energy bill, plus the $200 million per year in extra costs related to the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, will add hundreds of millions in added energy costs to customer bills each year. We are headed in a direction where our energy costs will make Virginia less appealing for families and businesses than our neighboring states. We can do better. It is not appropriate to pat ourselves on the back and mislead ourselves that we are doing “great”.

      • The national organizations related to some environmental groups with Virginia chapters are fairly well funded – but can we really compare them to the largess of Dominion? Only a portion of their funding is available to the Virginia chapter and the majority of the work on campaigns is done by volunteers. It’s hard to compare volunteer funded efforts, especially lobbying, with Dominion’s huge stable of professionals – which they expand with employees from every firm in town at the drop of a hat. When you compare the political contributions, are all of the parts of Dominion included? Even if you consider all the other contributions to be from the environmental community, it’s still hard to believe environmental groups contribute at equivalent levels. They certainly don’t have the decades long history of relationship building done by Dominion.

        Even if you say the parties are even in political contributions, there’s no way to say they are even in personnel deployed for legislative efforts or in funding available for media campaigns. Dominion has released extensive paid advertisements – full page ads, TV advertisements, everything – across all media, in addition to its targeted community contributions. Opposition groups have struggled to place the occasional partial page ads in only targeted places, using free social media primarily.

        Many who are involved in the current struggle against Dominion have “real” jobs and other responsibilities to meet in addition to these volunteer efforts. Fighting this battle is not something we asked for and we eek out every resource we have around other obligations that don’t go away. For Dominion folks, this IS their job and they make it their primary focus, with access to apparently unlimited professional resources.

        I find the comparison of environmental groups with Dominion to be over the top. I know many of the people involved in this struggle and there are very few who are paid; those who are get non-profit organization level support, compared with Dominion’s lucrative corporate support. Calling funding from environmental groups dark money is similarly extreme.

        Dominion has the resources to target individuals and organizations, providing them with something they need to remove their opposition and thus divide the competition. The most recent example of this is the Union Hill community division. It’s laughable to think any environmental group could pick off any of Dominion’s key players.

        There’s no way those fighting the pipelines are limited to well financed environmental groups with resources on par with Dominion’s. Most are unpaid volunteers who finance our own work with limited time and money. By claiming that everyone involved is connected to professionally led national environmental groups and then characterizing them as extreme, Dominion attempts to write off the opposition. This hides or erases the diverse and widespread nature of the opposition.

        Have you been to one of the Circle of Protection events in Union Hill? Or the Miracle Ridge or other vigils on directly affected land? Have you even talked with someone whose heritage and business is affected? Did you pay attention to the ties of those who spoke at hearings? On Dominion’s side were current and former employees and labor representatives, supplemented by elected officials. At the Air Board there was also the Dominion organized group with Union Hill connections but few of them were sufficiently invested in the process to speak up individually. The opposition was represented by more grass roots groups than I could list here, directly affected people, students, a few elected officials, and other individuals as well as variously well financed formal organizations. The opposition has nowhere near the resources of Dominion under any reasonable comparison.

    • https://www.cleanvirginia.org/the-dominion-tax/

      ICYM, here is the actual Clean Virginia report.

  2. What is perhaps missing in the saga what the “average” consumer wants, which is reliable, low cost electricity, without undue risks. BR and Steve are doing a great job, but I don’t know if there is a voice or organization providing that viewpoint that could be amplified.

    In general what I like, if you want off-shore wind or whatever, fine with me, you pay for it in your elec bill and I do not pay for it.

    • I think it boils down in some respects to what Dominion has chosen to generate electricity with little or no input from those who use it. They’re basically fine with it as long as it is affordable.

      That does not mean the choices made right now will always be the ones that benefit us in the longer run but most of us don’t spend much time on that.

  3. In addition to Steve and Jim’s comments above, surely too by now we have learned on Bacon’s Rebellion that all too often today there little difference between non-profit and for profit with many large organizations. For one example, many such non profits organizations too often have to create “scares” to stampede donations, if only to maintain their size and influence. Hence some become masters at cascading a crisis, irrespective of facts at enormous social and economic costs to the nation. The Love Canal affair (a hoax) the triggered the Superfund legislation that wasted billions, a debacles the continues to the day is an example. (See Cass Sunstein Study).

    To date, we as society have failed miserably to measure, understand, and appreciate the enormous harm this vast wastage of money does to our children’s future. A dollar wasted today would have, if invested properly, been a fortune for our grand kids.

    A new seminal book on this subject is just out. Stubborn Attachments, a vision for a society of free, prosperous, and responsible individuals, by Tyler Cowen of George Mason University. Here the short review of book on Amazon:

    “Growth is good. Through history, economic growth, in particular, has alleviated human misery, improved human happiness and opportunity, and lengthened human lives. Wealthier societies are more stable, offer better living standards, produce better medicines, and ensure greater autonomy, greater fulfillment, and more sources of fun. If we want to continue on our trends of growth, and the overwhelmingly positive outcomes for societies that come with it, every individual must become more concerned with the welfare of those around us and in the world at large and most of all our descendants in the future. So, how do we proceed?

    Tyler Cowen, in a culmination of 20 years of thinking and research, provides a roadmap for moving forward. In this new book, Stubborn Attachments: A Vision for a Society of Free, Prosperous, and Responsible Individuals, Cowen argues that our reason and common sense can help free us of the faulty ideas that hold us back as people and as a society. Stubborn Attachments, at its heart, makes the contemporary moral case for economic growth and delivers a great dose of inspiration and optimism about our future possibilities.

    As a means of practicing the altruism that Stubborn Attachments argues for, Tyler Cowen is donating all earnings from this book to a man he met in Ethiopia earlier this year with aspirations to open his own travel business.”

    • For Peter and others, for a full discussion of this entire problem as it relates to environmental issues and their regular and constant abuse by parties in interest, go to:

      https://chicagounbound.uchicago.edu/do/search/?q=Cascades%20&start=0&context=4271603&facet=

      Or Google this:
      2007 Availability Cascades and Risk Regulation
      Authors: Cass R. Sunstein, Timur Kuran
      Publication: Coase-Sandor Working Paper Series in Law and Economics
      chicagounbound.uchicago.edu
      Download

      • Reed have you met and talked with people who are trying to protect their land and heritage from the pipelines? Many opposed to this project do so on private property rights grounds. In my case, my family has owned and nurtured our land and business for 116 years. Some of the buildings have existed since 1804 – a century before we purchased them. This pipeline bisects our property for 1.1 mile, placing all of our buildings in the incineration zone. If anything goes wrong, everything we own would be immediately vaporized. Anyone there would die. And the fire would have to burn until the gas burned out from 20 miles of 42 inch pipe composing the most immediate segment after pressure is increased at the compressor station. We have been unsuccessful getting Dominion to move the path of the pipeline to the edges of our fields instead of through their middles. The move would help our regular operation and our options for future use of our land. We own enough land that the path could be moved 500 feet without affecting others. The move would also place our buildings in the zone where siding on buildings would melt, but at least it wouldn’t absolutely to burn to nothing.

        No one has brainwashed us that we need to protect what we own. We’re just trying to keep our business sustainable for future generations.

        My conclusion is that as things stand today no one has any reason to work hard to build a business or a home becuase someone else, like Dominion, can come along and claim higher use. They can take what you’ve built and interrupt your dreams and plans and you have no recourse. We have not been able to fairly compete for the opportunity to use our land for our purposes. Dominon has the upper hand and gets to call the shots.

        You seek for everyone to be responsible and take care of themselves instead of counting on others to do it for them. How can this happen when even the most precious of resources, our land, can be repurposed at any time? when landowners have no real rights? W hy should I invest my retirement into the family farm when it is permanently and daily subject to Dominion’s decisions about the risk to which we’re exposed? And if they don’t find the project sufficiently financially rewarding, they can sell it to anyone, including someone from a country with which we don’t have good relations. We will have no say. We will not be able to protect ourselves or our business. Nothing has made Dominion treat us like equal partners. It’s allowed to take what it wants and ignore our wants and needs related to property we’ve owned for 116 years. Is this your vision of American democracy?

        The situation is not as simplistic as you view it. There is much more at stake.

  4. I think if you really want a FAIR comparison between environmentalists money and other money – you either need to compare the environmental money against all industry money or you need to look at the sub-categories of environmental money per each sub-category of industry.

    Next – accusing the enviros of “dark money” without also giving the same treatment to industry is not honest.

    Next – if money for enviros is used for legal then where is the money for industry and Dominion legal compared?

    Finally – most of what the enviros is actually doing is forcing Dominion to be honest about the information they are providing for their regulatory wants.

    Who, other than the enviros, is actually holding Dominion to account on their account? So we are accusing those who are trying to hold Dominion accountable as using dark money and ideology to do what? Apparently to “target” … activists? geezy peezy.

    Tell me exactly WHERE the enviros have successfully influenced anything at all instead of what Dominion has wanted and got?

    It’s some pretty convoluted and conspiratorial thinking going on here…

    but again – what non-enviro groups are speaking for ratepayers interests?

    apparently, anyone who speaks against Dominion is one of those nefarious enviros, eh? those two are the only participants…..

    • “It’s some pretty convoluted and conspiratorial thinking going on here…

      Wow, so in your mind a call for greater transparency amounts to “convoluted and conspiratorial thinking.”

      Would you say you speak for most left-of-center people?

      • Nope. But I know biased thinking when I see it. You broad brush the entire environmental community here who work on a variety issues besides Dominion and then you characterize their funding as “dark money” . “Dark Money” is not that. There’s more but like I said it’s conspiratorial rubbish.

    • The environmentalists are not representing the interests of consumers. They are raising valid issues but issues that address the concerns of environmentalists. Some of those positions would result in higher electric rates, either in real or nominal terms. I suspect the average resident of Virginia would rather have lower electric rates or, at least, rates that do not increase over time, including by Dominion’s smelly riders.

      Personally, I don’t care about how my power is generated although I support the use of cost-effective renewable energy. Fossil fuels are not unlimited. From what I’ve read over the years, both Dominion and other businesses tied to fossil fuels and environmental groups lie and distort facts. Neither side does this all the time but falsehoods and distortions exist. It’s like the Washington Post. Sometimes, it writes the truth but many times it omits inconvenient facts and sometimes it flat out lies. So my interests are not equal to those of either Dominion or the environmentalists.

      From what Steve writes, the AG’s office represents consumers. I would hope it takes an independent stand from both Dominion and the environmental groups.

      • What I’m saying is that I see no other groups representing the interests of consumers and at least SOME of what the enviros is doing – like challenging the disinformation, bogus IRP and refusing to give back profits IS defending the interests of the consumer also.

        Enviros also – have always, here in Va and nationwide advocated for cleaner and less polluting electricity which again defends consumers who are hurt by pollution …

        but some folks here act like they are acting against the interests of consumers on one thin basis – that what they advocate for – MIGHT be more expensive and because of that they are considered “equally bad” as Dominion… that’s the logic for some these days,.

        • Larry – I have no problem with the active participation of environmental organizations in the regulatory process. There are legitimate environmental issues in many proceedings. Their views should be presented to the SCC and tested by other parties.

          And there are likely certain issues where there is an overlap between consumer interests and those of environmental organizations. For example, pushing for lower prices for LED devices would seem to be in the interests of both parties. Cheaper lights would incent consumers to purchase more LEDs and use less power.

          But there are also issues where the two “groups” are in conflict with each other. It is clearly in the consumers’ best interest to pay the lowest reasonable price for electricity and to expect that power to be generated by whatever are the most cost efficient plants with sufficient capacity to provide the needed electricity. I suspect that many environmental organizations would disagree with this objective. I think they might argue that power should not be generated by coal plants, for example, even if the unit price of electricity goes up. Hence, we have a conflict in the views of consumer advocates and environmental organizations.

          Both sets of views should be argued to the SCC and decisions made. It’s right to recognize that both groups are interested parties in SCC regulation of Dominion. But its wrong to state that either group can and does represent the views of the other. I believe we need the participation of both groups separately.

          • Reed Fawell 3rd

            The additional costs imposed on energy products by environmentalists are typically very substantial. The pipe line costs at issue here are one example of many. It’s a very big revenue producer for environmentalists, likely the biggest revenue producer in their portfolio, and been going on continuously without interruption since the Alieska Pipeline controversy began in the 1960s. https://www.alyeska-pipe.com/TAPS/PipelineFacts

  5. In what way was Love Canal a “hoax?”

  6. As was recently pointed out to me, even within the broad category “environmentalist” there are divisions. A couple of the large groups, for example, did endorse the controversial 2018 legislation (and were crucial to its passage), but several others did not. I think some may be more tied to the renewable energy industry, which does have a profit motive, while others are focused more on the clean water, clean air, less emitted carbon outcomes. Sometimes I wield too broad a brush.

  7. Environmental organization come in all shapes and sizes. The ideologues are easy to spot. Like the universities, they were bought by Obama administration, and were a shadow government. This is how leftist operate. It’s pure hard left wing operating procedure. So they also work hand in glove with big segments of mass media as well.

    • It’s always useful to see how many financial investments Green philanthropists hold in their portfolio, how much and in what, if any at all. And also it’s good to now how much money each “Save the Environmental Campaign” raises for those pushing the message, and who benefits therefrom. There are huge amounts of money involved here, $Billions and $Billions of dollars are at stake, converting Dark Money to Green Money. That is one reason Dominion has so many enemies. Many of those enemies simply want to take Dominion’s place, get all that money, $Billions worth of it, for themselves, instead of Dominion. Everybody suddenly now wants to be a public utility, and university research hospital too. And we know why now. Health and the environment has little to do with it typicalluy. But all’s fair in love and war, right?

  8. I support transparency and open discussion, but I avoid labels. In this age of increasing polarity, we are increasingly offered just two choices – either/or, left or right, etc. Good ideas can come from people of various backgrounds and political persuasions. Our discussion and policy-making should not be limited to choices from one extreme or another.

    Where do we fit if we want healthy utilities, lower cost cleaner energy, and a more open marketplace for independent energy services providers? These are not mutually exclusive concepts and none should be solely in the domain of an “environmentalist” or a utility.

    Our energy policies should be as objective as possible and guided by facts. But with the realization that many “facts” come with an agenda these days.

    From 1881, with Edison’s first electric power company in New York City, until 1973 (the first oil price shock), what was good for the electricity producers was also good for the public at large. During this first century of electricity use, when we built bigger and better power plants the price per unit of electricity went down. Since the 1970s, each time we add a new utility facility the unit price of electricity goes up.

    This sea change slowed the growth in electricity usage since that time. It wasn’t until the severe economic decline in 2008 that this became obvious. Even as the economy recovered and our population continued to grow, U.S. electricity use remained stable or declined. On a weather normalized basis, since 2009, the amount of electricity sold by Dominion has declined or remained stable.

    This is not good news for a regulated utility in Virginia that needs to build more and sell more in order to make more money under our current regulatory scheme. The sluggish growth in electricity usage since the 1970s caused consolidation within the utility industry. Unregulated holding companies were formed to manage multiple utilities or utilities plus unregulated activities to provide operating efficiencies and other growth opportunities to prop up the share price.

    This created a new problem. For much of the 20th century electricity suppliers were individual regulated utilities. In exchange for the grant of a monopoly to serve a designated territory, the utilities agreed that an objective regulator would establish fair prices and provide a fair return to shareholders. The new utility holding companies are unregulated business. Their executives are paid to increase shareholder value. They receive bigger bonuses if they do that more effectively. This puts a strain on the fair prices in exchange for fair returns agreement.

    Several decades ago, about 40% of the revenues of Dominion Energy (the holding company) came from regulated subsidiaries. Today, according to statements made to the financial community, over 90% of Dominion Energy’s revenues come from activities that are regulated in one way or another. Dominion Energy’s executives tell financial analysts that it is easy for them to increase profits within Virginia’s friendly legislative and regulatory climate – much easier than competing in the open market.

    Recent legislation has reduced the role of the objective regulator in Virginia. The battlefield has become the legislative arena and the court of public opinion. Various interest groups have rushed in to fill the void with political contributions and press releases of their own. The traditional representatives of the public’s interest, the SCC and the AG’s Office of the Consumer Advocate have, until recently, been relegated to quiet observation from the back row.

    This new state of affairs sometimes creates strange bedfellows. Many advocates wanted more solar in the state, the utility said they want to build it and put it in the ratebase. So the new energy bill encouraged Dominion to build up to 5000 MW of solar generation. The good news – more clean energy for the state, especially for the data centers. The bad news – ratepayers will pay much more for this energy than if it was provided by independent power producers and sold to the utility or directly to customers using a Power Purchase Agreement. Final score: Utilities 1, Environmentalists 1, Ratepayers -2.

    It doesn’t have to be this way. Other states are finding ways for utilities to prosper by avoiding putting new generation in the rate base, and providing new valuable services to their customers. We can create a similar scheme that suits Virginia that is good for all concerned. But it won’t happen by continuing to use outmoded 20th regulatory models and pitting one group against another. This process should be open to scrutiny and wide-ranging input. Our utilities can only remain successful in the long-run when they serve the interests of their customers.

    • Tom, too be blunt about it, I have never seen you balanced on any of these issues whatsoever. I do respect your knowledge, and ultimately where you want to go. But I see no balance whatsoever on how you want to get there. Nor on how your characterize the problem, and its short or midterm solution, no balance there either. Best I can see is that for you, its all or nothing.

      • Reed,

        I respect your experience and your opinion. Although, I have offered opinions on various energy topics, I am most interested in having Virginia develop a process where we can re-examine our policies related to our energy system. Our current path is raising costs to families and businesses in the state with little benefit in return. Although higher profits benefit the utilities in the short-term, it gives their customers more reason to do less business with them. And customer choices are increasing with declining costs for self-generation and energy efficiency. This will harm the utilities in the long run, unless we create a new set of profit opportunities for them.

        Are you suggesting that we stay the course or do you have other ideas on how we should proceed? I would like to hear how you see it.

        By re-examining the methods and the incentives we use to develop our future energy system, I think we can come up with a better way to meet the needs of the various stakeholders. Other states have been at this for several years. Virginia should be a leader at this, but we are lagging behind.

        I am intrigued by the book that you referenced in your earlier comment. I haven’t read it, but I might guess that it is more about building wealth rather than unfettered economic growth. Currently, we measure “progress” using GDP. This measure increases when we have more train wrecks and automobile accidents because more money is spent on hospital charges and repair costs. I don’t think many people would advocate that we encourage more train wrecks and automobile accidents in order to have a better future.

        The same applies to a 21st century energy system. Producing more electricity and paying more for it is not necessarily sign of progress. In that case, we would all still be attached to mainframes and Moore’s law, personal computers, and cell phones never would have been invented.

        We can improve economic vitality by learning how to use less energy to produce more goods and services. It will give us more resilience in dealing with economic downturns and allow us to maintain a high standard of living without creating harmful externalities.

        I certainly don’t have all of the answers about how to do this. But if we create the right process, we can hear from many different sources that will give us good ideas about how to move in the right direction.

      • As someone very invested in consumer advocacy, I don’t even see the consumer position as automatically opposed to business. Consumers need the things businesses provide. Businesses need consumers to purchase their products and services. Thus both need each other. Neither should take unfair advantage of the other. Both need to help each other achieve the best possible for each.

        Unfortunately, for my entire career too many folks have assumed that business and consumers are inherent enemies. The labels that are assigned and the scorched earth tactics used today are hurting everyone.

    • sorry, I do not see Tom as “all or nothing”. He lays out his vision but he seems more than willing to entertain half-loaf compromises… he just wants something different from now in a direction where we all can be better off.

      I’ve never seen him lay out a line in the sand or portray things in an all or nothing way…

      and the irony is – he gets classified as an enviro … here.

  9. Sorry to say – in the left-right world – Tom who is not exactly a “supporter” of Dominion would be classified as opposed to Dominion and allied with if not in bed with – the enviros.

    And yes.. that’s the problem here in BR also.

    If you advocate for cleaner energy , less polluting fossil fuels and a more modern grid that incorporates solar and promotes conservation – you’re an enviro with an “ideological agenda” because .. there are only two sides – those who like or don’t like Dominion and those on the other side – those folks whose “ideology” and “dark money” who are trying to impose bad stuff on others. It’s almost like a plot in a comic book!

    There are a long series of laws today that most people support :

    Antiquities Act
    Atomic Energy Act of 1946
    Atomic Energy Act of 1954
    Clean Air Act
    Clean Water Act
    Coastal Zone Management Act
    CERCLA (Superfund)
    Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act
    Endangered Species Act
    Energy Policy Act of 1992
    Energy Policy Act of 2005
    Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act
    Federal Land Policy and Management Act
    Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act
    Federal Power Act
    Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act
    Food Quality Protection Act
    Fisheries Conservation and Management Act (Magnuson-Stevens)
    Lacey Act
    Marine Mammal Protection Act
    Migratory Bird Treaty Act
    Mineral Leasing Act
    National Environmental Policy Act
    National Forest Management Act
    National Historic Preservation Act
    National Park Service Organic Act
    Noise Control Act
    Nuclear Waste Policy Act
    Ocean Dumping Act
    Oil Pollution Act
    Resource Conservation and Recovery Act
    Rivers and Harbors Act
    Safe Drinking Water Act
    Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act
    Toxic Substances Control Act
    Wild and Scenic Rivers Act
    Wilderness Act

    not everyone supported these laws and in fact, my bet is that those who now refer to enviros in disparaging terms here probably did not support any of these original laws and now would actually want to dismantle some of them because we’re now “all cleaned up” .

    Most folks, even the numbnuts who spout anti-environmental foolishness – support the clean water and safe drinking water acts – and others.. they’re just too ignorant of the history and the reason the laws came to be in the first place and they spend too much time listening to the “anti” folks.

  10. Actually Larry, I am a “supporter” of Dominion. I believe it is important that we have financially healthy utilities that serve the interests of their customers.

    When I provide information that questions the wisdom of some of the projects that Dominion is undertaking primarily to increase their profits but that have little or no benefit to their customers, I speak up. Because I believe those projects will harm the viability of the utility in the long run and harm families and businesses in Virginia from the outset.

    We can find other ways to sustain the utility that also benefit their customers.

    • Well.. my perspective of you is that you’re a supporter of fiscally healthy AND modern AND less polluting, “greener” utilities in general and want Dominion to be that way also.

      And that you’re NOT a supporter of the way Dominion is performing right now.

      and I actually consider you far more “balanced” that most including those who seem ass over tea kettle on the enviros… but I digress …

      I was reading about this guy Miller in Charlottesville that seems to have also caught their ire….

  11. from WaPo:

    ” Anti-Dominion Energy group says company charges excess fees in Virginia”

    ” RICHMOND, Va. – A new political action group taking aim at Virginia’s biggest utility claims that customers of Dominion Energy pay excess rates of $254 a year because of poor state oversight.

    Calling it a “Dominion Tax,” the group Clean Virginia released a study Monday that attempts to quantify what consumers pay for electricity beyond the cost of generation, production and delivery.”

    The article goes on and the funny thing is that they call themselves Clean Virginia everything in the article talks NOT about “clean” just what they feel are the anti-consumer things that Dominion is doing..

    but on their website they lead with:

    CLEAN GOVERNANCE
    CLEAN ENERGY
    CLEAN COMPETITION

    The fact that it’s one guy with money also seems to rile up some folks for some reason… even calling it “dark money: – even though it’s totally out in the open … not hidden…

    I would have thought the other “anti” Dominion folks would like it…. but apparently, because he also put “Clean Energy” in his advocacy – he’s considered one of those nasty Enviros…

  12. The bottom line for many commenters: No problem with putting Dominion under the microscope, but Dominion’s opponents get a pass. Because.

    • I don’t think the opponents get a pass. Mostly we’ve been marginalized, belittled, and pushed aside. I don’t agree that all opponents fit neatly into the category of environmental zealots. The opposition is much more diverse. It is so diverse that putting one aspect under the microscope is not going to give you the answers you seek. Most of us are trying to protect our land, our heritage, our right to use our land as we desire and to be able to feel safe on our property, without worry about infrastructure we didn’t ask for and don’t benefit from. We view this as a basic right of American citizenship and a foundation on which this country was established.

      I’m concerned about the environment and believe we are on the wrong track right now. We must be responsible in our treatment of the environment and I don’t think we are acting that way when we continue sinking resources in fossil fuel that damages the environment. But environment is only one of my concerns. For me, property rights are even more important. It’s also that Dominion’s rate payers are treated fairly and don’t have to shoulder risk for which only stockholders benefit. There is much more at stake and all perspectives are needed to develop a solution that helps all of us succeed. Dominon shouldn’t be the only entity to achieve its objectives. Our objectives matter, too.

    • There is some confusion here between opponents in issues versus political campaigns for elections. I don’t think we know how much Dominion spends on PR an legal and other – either.

  13. Why is no one responding to the issue of property rights?

    • I’ve always distinguished between property owners and environmentalists. Both groups have some legitimate arguments, but they are very different sets of arguments. Landowners are focused on the local impact of the pipeline on their working farms, their vistas, and their property values. Environmentalists are focused mainly on two things: (1) water quality, and (2) state energy policy, the latter of which is subsidiary to the larger struggle to decarbonize the global economy. Water-quality issues are common to both groups. But the environmentalists’ concern about landowners’ property rights is totally tactical. They routinely support regulations that curtail property rights when it suits their interest.

      I have blogged in the past how eminent domain law needs to evolve to reflect the reality that rural property values, once calculated purely on a utilitarian basis of the farming- and timber-production value of the land, needs to be updated to reflect the fact that land is increasingly valued for landscapes, vistas, and wildlife habitat.

      • I totally agree with Jim’s statement. This includes, without limitation, “I have blogged in the past how eminent domain law needs to evolve to reflect the reality that rural property values, once calculated purely on a utilitarian basis of the farming- and timber-production value of the land, needs to be updated to reflect the fact that land is increasingly valued for landscapes, vistas, and wildlife habitat.”

        And I would abhor a “taking of one’s land” to build “wind towers,” on it. Or the building of wind towers on one’s land that despoils the view-sheds of one’s neighbor, or doing so with solar panels that have the same practical affect, without proper remediation, out of sight, for example.

        Underground pipes within one’s property lines that serve vital public needs fall into a wholly different category, and are a far more permissible use, if due regard be given to their location and compensation therefore be based on today’s values, including how those values are tallied in today’s market place. This can vary greatly depending on locale and siting, and likely much else too.

        • Is it acceptable that there is only a one time fee paid the landowner, although the infrastructure is there for 50-70 or more years and the landowner continues to pay property tax year after year?
          Is it acceptable that there is no bond or insurance to ensure that if something goes wrong the company doesn’t just go bankrupt and avoid paying the huge cost?
          Is it acceptable that the safety standards are based on the company’s potential loss, not the landowners’ and as a result rural people get less safety – thinner pipe, cut off valves 2o miles apart instead of 3-5 miles apart as in populated areas, less frequent and less stringent inspections?
          Is it acceptable that the process allows the utility to ignore the landowners’ use and requests that affect no others?
          Is it acceptable to take private land and then use it for shareholder benefit in any portion of the use?
          Is it acceptable that the process does not require utilities to engage landowners in a cooperative way?
          Is it acceptable that the rules are vague, manipulated by the utility, and unfair to landowners?
          Is it acceptable that FERC does not fully consider the use of the infrastructure but simply accepts the company’s word that ait is needed?
          Is it acceptable that FERC does not consider all of the infrastructure in a state/area and proposed in the area when it evaluates proposals, only the one in front of it?
          I could continue, but I hope you get the drift. Landowners are dismissed and ignored in the current system.

        • Broad generalizations are made to say that landowners can do anything they want with pipelines underground. That is patently false. You can walk on the land, but there are limits to the weight you can transport over the pipes. Since these pipelines are being built under standards designed for much smaller, lower pressure pipelines, (industry has stalled implementation of higher safety standards passed by Congress 7 years ago in favor of industry self regulation), it is likely that more limitations will be placed on land use in the future. You can’t camp on the pipeline right of way, build a pond, put up even a temporary building/structure. You are instructed to not park farm equipment on the pipeline right of way and to absolutely avoid use of fire anywhere near it.

          Instead of implementing the new safety regulations, the industry is already working with localities, seeking to get them to require via zoning that a wide no development zone extend well beyond the pipeline right of way. By getting localities to do it for safety reasons via zoning, no one will pay the landowner for the lost use of the additional land.

          Landowners stuck with this infrastructure can also expect that someone will come along wanting to add more infrastructure along the same area. Once something is there, society would rather see new infrastructure put in the same area instead of taking new land. People are frustrated that we do not believe this was adequately considered in the current land grab. We also believe it will be more fully considered in the future.

          Is all of this OK with you?

        • In our society today, I suspect the major hurdle to all of these complaints is that both sides far too often abuse the system. This, for example, is what far too many environmental organizations have been doing for far too long, so that any good will, and basis for trust, left the system long ago. That is very sad, but likely also very true. By way of example, see Cheez-Its and the Judiciary editorial in today’s Wall Street Journal.

  14. I hesitate to bring it up given the immediate response I know will come from this group, but environmental racism/ environmental justice is also an issue.

    Is it fair that those who just happen to own land next to this infrastructure get the added safety risk, pollution, noise and general property devaluation but nothing to offset these negatives? In the case of the ACP, the compressor station is placed in the middle of a low income census tract. They claim it is not a minority tract, but a study of the population within 1.1 mile of the compressor station is 83% minority. Many are direct descendants of original freed slave owners. This was not the only option for the site of the compressor station.

    Further, there are many people along the pipeline routes whose land is not directly crossed but who will live within the incineration zone and/or evacuation zone. Right now many are unaware of that fact because they were not notified except if their land was directly crossed.

    That justice also needs to consider whether rural areas are being made sacrifice zones in our state, placed in a position where they will never be able to be economically sustainable given the landfills, pipelines, and other infrastructure stuck there. They don’t bring enough jobs and money to the area to make it sustainable and they negate many of the existing positives of rural areas.

    The list of considerations that are being swept under the rug is long.

  15. re: ” But the environmentalists’ concern about landowners’ property rights is totally tactical. They routinely support regulations that curtail property rights when it suits their interest.”

    And Dominion is not also?

    Does Dominion support property rights when they actually use the law to take private property for a for-profit corporate purpose that is NOT a true public necessity but instead essentially gaming the issue by claiming it is “necessity” for electricity and ” economic development”?

    If Walmart or Amazon used eminent domain so it could provide “needed services” – it would be no different yet no mention of this when attacking the enviros for using “tactics”.

    While all of this going on – the FOCUS in BR is on those nefarious enviros and their use of “dark money”… … as if we know all the financials that Dominion is using for it’s legal and other “tactics”.

    Opponents AND proponents ARE going to use tactics of whatever they can use to further their efforts.

    It’s downright silly to focus almost solely on enviros use of “tactics” as if no other players are and especially Dominion… News Flash – ALL the players will use “tactics” not the least of which is Dominion!

    The “tactic” of claiming a public necessity and forcibly take other privately-owned property for Dominion’s own purely at-will for-profit venture – a competitive one against existing providers of gas – to characterize THAT as a “public necessity” is the mother of all tactics and the focus here in BR is on those nefarious enviro “tactics”??? Good LORD! talk about fair and balanced!

  16. Reed says …” underground pipes within one’s property lines that serve vital public needs fall into a wholly different category, and are a far more permissible use”. That was true in the past, but ….

    The right to assign the use of eminent domain to pipeline builders was given to FERC and it’s predecessors almost a century ago when we had very few pipelines, and hinged on the facts of the Fifth Amendment which “imposes limitations on the exercise of eminent domain: the taking must be for public use and just compensation must be paid.” The Commission’s own regs say they “shall only issue a certificate “upon a finding that . . . the proposed service and construction is or will be required by the present or future public convenience and necessity.”

    In a suit filed in November 2017 by those ‘tactical’ environmentalists, a group of petitioners requested the Court invalidate the approvsal given to the ACP for, among other reasons, the primary issue that the FERC finding fails to show any real public need for the gas. FERC’s designation of ‘need’ was based on ‘precedent’ agreements with sister companies, agreements that can easily be broken. In fact the proposed 2 gas plants the precedent agreements were based on have been canceled leaving the utility with the obligation to still pay for reservations on the pipeline whether or not the utility uses any ACP gas.

    It is the belief of many of us that Dominion’s inflated numbers, now challenged by the SCC, were intended to make the use of eminent domain appear OK, even though the gas was probably going to be exported, where the price differential was significant a few years ago.

    The suit also challenges the right of the company to go around taking land by eminent domain before all the approvals are in place, and for something called a ‘quick taking’, which is taking the property before the amount of just compensation has been determined.

    A 2006 Court order allowed taking for general public benefit, but that order limits this use by stating that it may not be used “for the purpose of advancing the economic interest of private parties to be given ownership or use of the property taken.”‪

    Seem to me that this fight is beneficial to everyone …

  17. Jane, thanks for that update on the filing of the suit.

    Jim’s post minutes ago may well impact the resolution of that suit, perhaps. That’s just a quick reaction.

    See https://www.baconsrebellion.com/wp/accelerated-phase-out-of-coal-nuclear-could-overwhelm-virginia-electric-grid/

    • Not exactly an update …there are so many suits out there. Last week the ACP was stopped by the Court and I see this week retaliation has come in the form of a suit against the zoning decision in Nelson County and a suit against Wintergreen for the inability to reach a valuation for property to be taken.

  18. This is certainly an interesting debate, which I’m glad to see evolved into a discussion about property rights. As an example of using property rights as a tactic, one needs to look no further than the other big power company abuse in Virginia: AEP running roughshod over the shoreline property owners at Smith Mountain Lake.

    If you’re not familiar with the issue, there’s an in-depth presentation at the website curb-ferc-aep.com. The short of it is that, at the behest of FERC, AEP reinterpreted their rights under the various flowage easements they hold around the lake to effectively take the use of the property from the fee simple land owners. In this case however, the environmentalists, along with their conservative cousins in the “back to nature” / conservation faction, are A-OK with AEP’s abuse as they see it as an environmental benefit. And, AEP seems to be using these abuses as a way to appear concerned about the environment.

    Smith Mtn Lake is not the only lake where this has been happening (Lake of the Ozarks, among others, is another noteworthy example. Also, keep in mind SML and these others are not Army Corp lakes and therefore fall under a different regulatory scheme.) Its been my observation that many conservatives are willing to allow these abuses in part because they have been mislead by the power companies “pro business” propaganda, painting anyone opposed to them as an “evironmentalist” in order to avoid the property rights issue. What they don’t understand is these utility companies are operating as an arm of the government. Unfortunately, I’ve also run into my fair share of conservatives who don’t want their power bill going up and therefore seem to be OK with the utilities stealing property so long as its not their own.

  19. And to vaconsumeradvocate point, the abuses at SML are a good example of what happens with these easements over time. The powers that be reinterpret the language to meet whatever their current political or financial needs dictate. Playing the long game AEP picks and chooses it targets, most of whom are unable to afford to fight them in court. The few that have tried have so far been derailed over technical matters.

    The environment should be the tactic, and property rights the real issue. However, the environmental groups seem to be the only groups with enough money, legal resources and political influence to put a fight. If the utility companies weren’t in bed with the government, it might be a different story.

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