Virginia’s pipeline prob­lem

The Washington Post Sunday - - LOCAL OPINIONS - BY KEN CUCCINELLI II

In Ship­man, Va., a fam­ily that has held its homestead for gen­er­a­tions, tend­ing graves of ances­tors and build­ings erected by great-great grand­fa­thers, strug­gles to un­der­stand why it must give its land to Do­min­ion En­ergy.

In Lyn­d­hurst, Va., an ag­ing mother who owns 125 acres filled with creeks and springs fights back as the land she has tended for decades to pass on to her daugh­ter is prepped for bull­doz­ing.

They are pay­ing a price for Do­min­ion’s At­lantic Coast Pipeline, but they, like ev­ery other Do­min­ion cus­tomer in Virginia, will also pay hard cash for this un­needed project when the util­ity bill shows up, thanks to a poorly reg­u­lated mo­nop­oly scheme that Do­min­ion and its po­lit­i­cal cronies have con­structed.

The fed­eral agency that ap­proves these projects and au­tho­rizes emi­nent do­main does not an­a­lyze whether the project is nec­es­sary. In­stead, the gov­ern­ment sim­ply asks whether any­one has signed a con­tract to use the pipeline. If so, the fed­eral gov­ern­ment deems the project “needed,” com­pletely ig­nor­ing the fact that, for the At­lantic Coast Pipeline, about 90 per­cent of the “con­tracted” ca­pac­ity has been sold to sis­ter com­pa­nies.

Do­min­ion En­ergy is on both sides of this deal. On one side, a Do­min­ion com­pany is build­ing the pipeline. On the other side, Do­min­ion acts as the elec­tric util­ity for mil­lions of Vir­gini­ans who have no choice in the mat­ter. Do­min­ion’s util­ity has signed a 20-year con­tract with Do­min­ion’s pipeline de­vel­oper to al­legedly pro­vide the nat­u­ral gas for Do­min­ion’s nat­u­ral gas power plants. Yet only two of Do­min­ion’s 35 nat­u­ral gas units in Virginia will con­nect to the At­lantic Coast Pipeline, and nei­ther of these will use the pipeline as a pri­mary fuel source.

I am not op­posed to nat­u­ral-gas pipe­lines, and I’m not op­posed to emi­nent do­main for ap­pro­pri­ate and nec­es­sary projects. But I am op­posed to cap­tive mo­nop­oly cus­tomers shoul­der­ing the cost and risk of Do­min­ion projects that are rub­ber­stamped with­out any­one at any level ask­ing whether the pipeline pro­vides value to Vir­gini­ans.

Do­min­ion En­ergy tes­ti­fied be­fore the Virginia State Cor­po­ra­tion Com­mis­sion in Septem­ber that the com­pany has not an­a­lyzed how much the At­lantic Coast Pipeline will cost its cus­tomers. That an­swer is, frankly, shock­ing, es­pe­cially af­ter a non-Do­min­ion ex­pert tes­ti­fied that the pipeline would raise power bills by $2.5 bil­lion over the next 20 years. Do­min­ion in­tends to charge its cus­tomers for all of its At­lantic Coast Pipeline con­tract costs, re­gard­less of whether it ac­tu­ally uses the pipeline.

The only thing stand­ing be­tween us and a $2.5 bil­lion rate in­crease is the State Cor­po­ra­tion Com­mis­sion, which could pro­tect Vir­gini­ans by forc­ing Do­min­ion to ab­sorb its own costs of in­vest­ment, which any other non-mo­nop­oly busi­ness would have to do as a mat­ter of course.

From my view as a former Virginia at­tor­ney gen­eral, the process that al­lows Do­min­ion to do busi­ness this way is bro­ken, and Virginia con­sumers will be left hold­ing the bag.

The pipeline may have other uses that will ben­e­fit the com­mon­wealth, but Do­min­ion’s share­hold­ers should bear that risk, not Vir­gini­ans who have no say and no profit in the ven­ture.

How will this go for­ward? Look for the fol­low­ing: pro-Do­min­ion crony­ist leg­is­la­tion in the Virginia Gen­eral Assem­bly that ef­fec­tively or­ders the State Cor­po­ra­tion Com­mis­sion to charge Do­min­ion’s cus­tomers the full cost of the pipeline. Af­ter all, Do­min­ion con­sis­tently gets the Gen­eral Assem­bly to do its bid­ding on a bi­par­ti­san ba­sis, so why should we ex­pect that to change now? The writer, a Repub­li­can, served as Virginia’s at­tor­ney gen­eral from 2010 to 2014.

TI­MOTHY C. WRIGHT FOR THE WASH­ING­TON POST

Trees have been cleared in Buck­ing­ham County, Va., for the At­lantic Coast Pipeline.

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