The ACP Wins One But The War Drags On

By Peter Galuszka

The $8.5 billion Atlantic Coast Pipeline has won a significant legal victory but the war is far from over.

The U.S. Supreme Court, in a 7-2 decision, has ruled in favor of project operated by Dominion Energy and Duke Energy saying that its 42-inch pipeline can cross under the Appalachian Trail in the George Washington National Forest.

The Court ruled that the pipeline can pass 600 feet underneath the trail and that the U.S. Forest Service has the right to allow a right of way. The Richmond-based 4th Circuit Court of Appeals had previously ruled that the Forest Service had no such authority.

Dissenting, Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan wrote that the U.S. Minerals Leasing Act does give the federal government the right to regulate federal land, including trails. Justice Clarence Thomas, who wrote the majority ruling, said that plans to bury the pipeline under the Appalachian Trail represent an easement which is not the same as “land.”

The project still faces eight other permitting issues involving the Forest Service, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the National Park Service and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Perhaps the biggest challenges of all are not with the regulatory process but simple economics. In February, a third partner, the Southern Company, sold its share in the project over concerns of rising costs. Originally figured at $5 billion, the pipeline’s cost is now estimated at about $8.5 billion.

The Marcellus Shale fields in West Virginia and Pennsylvania spearheaded a boom in natural gas production thanks to advanced hydrofracturing drilling methods known as “fracking.” The development had huge implications for the U.S. petroleum industry that resulted in much lower prices for natural gases and the revival of an export market.

But fracking wells are considerably more expensive than traditional ones and tend to play out after only a few years. That gives fracking companies a short time frame in which to ramp up production and pay off their substantial debt. The coronavirus pandemic has dampened demand thanks to dramatic economic slowdowns.

One victim is Oklahoma-based Chesapeake Energy Corp. which has been a pioneer in the fracking boom. Reuters reported that the firm is preparing to file for bankruptcy this week due to overwhelming debt.

Meanwhile, there are serious questions about whether more natural gas is needed, especially since the Virginia Clean Economy Act commits the state to switch from fossil fuels to renewable sources such as wind and solar in coming decades.

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24 responses to “The ACP Wins One But The War Drags On

  1. I suspect the ACP is a zombie…. at this point… we’ll see.

  2. For me, I am 100% convinced that we will never achieve WORLDWIDE CO2 reduction targets without nuclear power as THE centerpiece of our efforts. Wind and solar will never get us there. Batteries are dirty and will never be able to store enough chemical energy to make wind and solar reliable in large quantities over days of no sun or wind. See how dirty and expensive Germany is compared to France. To implement, the environmental community has to change its mind and get behind the nuclear effort in a big way. The 2 Ted talks below provide all the evidence and rationale from a former anti-nuclear environmentalist who now sees the light for the need for nuclear. Please view both. They are extremely well done and factual. In fact, they don’t even need to mention that current nuclear technology is far more advanced and safe than the first-generation Fukashima 1960’s plant and outrageously designed Chernobyl plant and even still the nuclear arguments make imminent sense. Pass them on to your colleagues. It is critical for our children.

    • I’ve seen a couple of these, thanks to a suggestion from Regimbal. They are just as interesting and just as effective at puncturing some of today’s enviro-fables as the Michael Moore film (finally bumped from YouTube, as I predicted.) Also shorter. 🙂

    • Don’t forget about 3 miles Island in PA. However, all your assertions are very much correct. Wind and Solar will never been efficient to the levels required and batteries end up in landfills because the structures can no longer hold charges.

    • I have long thought nuclear power made sense. The only problem has been what to do with those spent nuclear rods. Now that Harry Reid has retired, maybe we can resurrect the Yucca Mountain project.

      • Modern Nukes hold great promise :

        “How Far Do You Have To Run After A Small Modular Nuclear Meltdown?

        It turns out you don’t have to run at all. First, they really can’t melt down. Second, the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission just agreed that any emergencies that could possibly occur at a small modular nuclear power plant probably won’t even get past the fence.

        No need to come up with huge evacuation plans for nearby cities or anyone living near the plant, like we did for older plants. You can just stand there at the fence and watch what’s going on.”

        2018 Forbes..

  3. Some in the environmental community HAVE advocated nuclear but it’s really a false choice in some ways and here’s why.

    Conventional nuclear power – the kind we have right now cannot modulate. That means it cannot ramp up and down in response to demand. So if you want 100% nuclear power it has to be enough for the highest demand periods but it will run 100% flat out 24/7.

    In that scenario wind/solar have no role – at all.

    Conventional Nukes are dangerous and expensive – and prime terrorist targets. One modern drone – flying at night could wreak havoc and they are truly a disaster waiting to happen.

    Next – we can make hydrogen fuel from water. Yep. It could provide unlimited power – but alas – it cannot yet be done cost-effectively.

    The new Nukes which are called Advanced Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) can modulate and do not melt-down and because of that can be sited nearer to where the power is needed. They could be nearer to major population regions without fear of a major disaster.

    AND they are compatible with wind/solar.

    So the question is what breakthrough will happen first …. SMRs or making hydrogen cost-effectively or perhaps something else.

    But when it does – the fossil fuel industry will end up like the whale oil industry did… gone…

    • Nobody is advocating 100% nuclear. But plenty are advocating o% nuclear and o% fossil and that way lies unreliability.

    • That’s not what modulation means regarding nuclear engineering or otherwise.

      You can very much ramp up power supply in a reactor by adjusting the amount of reaction through the fission.

      “Conventional Nukes are dangerous and expensive – and prime terrorist targets. One modern drone – flying at night could wreak havoc and they are truly a disaster waiting to happen.”

      All reactors are “dangerous and expensive”, they and railroads are monitored by the Government at all times.

      Electrolysis viability has nothing to do with cost it’s not efficient (see wind and solar).

      “The new Nukes which are called Advanced Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) can modulate and do not melt-down and because of that can be sited nearer to where the power is needed. They could be nearer to major population regions without fear of a major disaster.”

      SMR’s can meltdown, and your explanation as to why they can’t is completely and utterly bollocks.

      I’m continually amazed by the dis-information that you provide.

  4. How about the majority? Do they support O%, and 0%?

    (2019 Americans love clean energy. Do they care if it includes nuclear?}

    I haven’t seen a poll lately but not that long ago – about 60% did favor nuclear – as nuclear is right now – dangerous and capable of meltdowns and most do not realize that Nuclear cannot modulate so it’s basically got to run full out 24/7 and something else has to handle the peak load over that.

    What do we want to handle the peak demand that exceeds nuclear?

  5. Consider the sources. Green Advocacy Project and Vox. The latter are folks who were too radical for the Post.

    • The point is that even their poll shows support for nukes….

      We have this tendency to point to the extremes as representative of those that lean that way – both left and right.

      But folks who are “green” are way more that just the extremes no matter how much others try to characterize them that way.

      If small modular reactors or a cost-effective way to extract hydrogen became a reality – a wave of people – left and right would approve and basically the controversy would pretty much subside.

      But some folks don’t want the controversy to go away. They want to mine it politically.

      Some folks conscientiously want to find better answers, others just like to continue the culture war – “green” is just one front.

      At some point, we’re going to see some breakthroughs on energy… and a good chance that climate change will solve itself… but even if that might happen, it won’t please the naysayers.

  6. The biggest problem with nukes is cost. Surry and North Anna are basically 1960s designs built in the 1970s. They are very old. New ones are a minimum of $10 to $15 billion. Dominion took over a South Carolina utility after it got swamped with costs of a new nuke. Safety and storage remain concerns, too.

  7. If climate warming is an existential threat to humanity, nuke costs are minimal and will come way down with standardization and economies of scale.

  8. Do your homework and listen to the podcasts. Nuclear is the least dangerous reliable energy source – by far.

  9. And what do we do with the nuclear fuel at the end of its useful life? Life cycle costs are not part of cost-benefit analyses and as we’ve seen recently in Washington, government often mandates that only certain costs and benefits are recognized – effectively negating the value of required cost-benefit analyses. In Virginia, I’ve watched our state legislators refuse to consider environmental impacts time and time again.

    Right now we have used nuclear material piled up in sites everywhere. We are no closer to having a or multiple site(s) to safely store and dispose of it for centuries than we were 20 years ago.

    Here in Virginia we learned how little protection there is for communities if uranium mining is allowed. If we grow the need for uranium, we will need to factor in reasonable costs to allow mining areas to become sacrifice zones. Today, we assume there are no costs and those unlucky enough to own neighboring properties have no recourse. The long lasting gob piles left in coal country are further reminders of the lack of responsibility for environmental damage big business is allowed to have.

    COVID has revealed how fast government drops health, safety and environmental protections when things get tight. For those unlucky enough to have to live/work near infrastructure for which protections have been reduced, the increased risks dumped on them to protect big business are unfair and ignored. This is no way to give others confidence that future infrastructure can be safely accepted! Big companies are always bailed out but individual landowners and communities are destroyed without even acknowledgement.

    In addition to health and safety, we need to include environmental cleanup in the lifecycle costs of all energy sources. By not acknowledging the government granted liability waiver for nukes, the government granted environmental damage waivers of fossil fuel, tax advantages, etc. it’s hard for anyone to trust information about what is the greatest cost/most damaging fuel vs least cost/least damaging. We need to focus on the long term impact, not just the situation today. We can’t keep ignoring some costs, effectively dumping the risk and costs on others in the future, while privatizing all the benefits from the outset. The liabilities of miner health care, retirement funding, environmental cleanup, etc. that the dying coal industry is dumping on us should make us aware of the need for change.

  10. Getting back to the real topic of Peter’s post, yes, the ACP won this battle. However, would it be worth winning if government (FERC) didn’t protect the companies from loss as has become the discussion here, but also if the government didn’t give the company incentive to fight the battle so it can lock in a 30 year guaranteed rate of return that cannot be achieved in the marketplace? or if the government didn’t give private companies the right to use eminent domain to force their way on unlucky landowners? or if the government didn’t allow these companies to take from the rest of society the protection of undisturbed forests, protection of endangered species, clean air, water, etc?

    Some of these decisions are still unresolved. Will they be made to protect society and future generations or to just further these big bully companies today at everyone else’s expense?

    • I’d say the state government by giving Dominion free ride to build costly wind energy projects and include them in the rate base with a return of more than 10% on investment and then charge different rates to customers based on their DNA is the biggest energy threat I see.

      For years, I’ve read many articles and blog posts about the lower cost of renewable energy but never see anyone propose delivering it at that low cost. I don’t like Dominion at all but the biggest threat to the quality of life is state government.

  11. Some of the lawsuits are obstructionist apparently due to lower court liberal judges doing their best to adhere to the Democrat platforms . Meanwhile there could be valid objections that do not get adequate attention due liberal focus on outright killing projects that they do not like. Hint- I do not consider a pipeline to be environmental racism.

  12. No doubt the new designs are safer but costly. Unsolved is the problem of waste. This has been unresolved for decades. Dominion keeps north Anna’s waste onsite. An earthquake in 2011 actual moved the heavy casks around resulting in a months long shutdown and warnings to every reactor in the country.

  13. Dealing with the waste but also there might be good support for more nukes so we burn less fossil fuel but try to site a new one – like in Virginia somewhere.

    That’s why the small modular plants are important. They do not need a 25 or 50 mile zone around them.

    The existing conventional plants – some of them can be operated flexibly, i.e. ramp up and down to complement wind/solar, and some cannot. They were all designed originally to run 24/7 wide open or shut down.

    Here’s an MIT paper that discusses the “flexibility” issue:

    • Larry, I’m in agreement with JR’s basic thrust in support of nuclear power, but the “small modular reactor” is no panacea. It may simply be a better way to build nuclear units, especially from the safety point of view, but SMRs do not overcome the basic problem of generating electricity that cannot be varied in time frames relevant to operating the Grid. You say, “You can very much ramp up power supply in a reactor by adjusting the amount of reaction through the fission.” Nope. Not in the relevant time frame.

      Remember what a nuclear reactor is: a heat source. What’s ultimately driving the generator is plain old steam, passed through a (usually multi-stage) steam turbine. A cycling generator also runs on steam, but it can be ramped up within minutes and shut down even faster without substantial loss of overall energy efficiency because it uses the heat from natural gas to boil the water; it may even use the combustion byproducts themselves to power a stage of the turbine. To turn on the gas, you open a valve. In contrast, manipulating the rods of fission material to change the level of radioactive reaction to increase or decrease the heat output is a delicate process taking at least hours. Shut down a conventional nuclear unit suddenly (as can be done in an emergency) and it takes days to get it back on line; an SMR may be somewhat faster but nowhere near capable of responding to the Grid’s demands as a “dispatchable” unit. You can shut down the steam turbine part of a nuclear unit fairly quickly and divert or “dump” unusable heat from the nuclear reactor into a cooling reservoir or river or cooling tower, but that is not an efficient way to run things: it wastes the nuclear fuel — no electricity sales to pay for it — and, perhaps worse, it damages the nearby environment with all that unexpected and unnatural heated water.

      No, nuclear when used efficiently is a 24/7 power supply for 24/7 loads. Renewable resource generators like wind and solar are variable as they are totally dependent upon those resources and must be supplemented with cycling resources in the hours when they aren’t available. The only way to spread “renewables” generation into those “unavailable” hours is to bank it, usually in batteries, then release the stored energy as needed; and we all know batteries (not to mention pumped storage) are expensive and environmentally unfriendly. Those are the facts. Not even Germany, which has committed to renewables generation politically and economically in a huge way because of the public sentiment against nuclear power, has figured how to evade those limitations.

      • So let’s switch gears here and let me provide the resources that I am reading that goes into my opinion.

        Here’s another from Scientific American:

        3 Ways Small Modular Reactors Overcome Existing Barriers to Nuclear

        1. – SMRs don’t have the same scale issue that conventional nuclear plants do. Because they are smaller, they require less upfront investment (even if the cost per unit of energy produced is higher)

        2. – Modular Means Mass Production

        3. – Flexible Enough to Be Friends with Renewables

        Another factor that limits conventional nuclear power plants is that they were largely designed to operate as base load, i.e. produce electricity at their full output nearly 24 hours a day for every day of the year. In today’s dynamically priced electricity markets, it turns out this function is not actually very useful. The most valuable power plants can produce electricity at a low cost and quickly turn on an off in order to capture high electricity prices and avoid periods where the real-time price of electricity is low — especially periods where overproduction of renewable energy versus demand causes the price to become negative.

        Because SMRs are small, mass-produceable and safer they can be deployed in places where larger conventional plants would not be acceptable.

        Because there would be many smaller rather than a few mega – they can turn on and off independent of each other and more in concert with regional variations not only in demand but in how much wind/solar might be putting out.

        My views are based on what I’m reading… I’d be glad to post more of the articles if desired but these articles are out there for anyone who wants to find and learn…

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