Gordon Davidson is chapter director of E2 Mid-Atlantic.
Dominion Energy’s effort to undermine economic findings that raise fundamental questions about its proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline ran into a major snag. And for good reason. The State Corporation Commission quashed the utility’s attempt to suppress analysis showing that its pipeline venture would add as much as $2.3 billion to Virginians’ electricity bills — an analysis that used the company’s own data.
Now that we have a clearer picture at the SCC of the pipeline’s cost to electricity ratepayers, Virginia is faced with a fundamental economic choice: Are we going to invest more in the cost-increasing fossil fuels of the past century? Or are we going to make Virginia a more business-friendly place for lower-cost, cleaner renewable energy?
The answer is critical.
Cost increases from the Atlantic Coast Pipeline would not only kill jobs but also stifle the kind of clean-energy growth Gov. Ralph Northam (D) and others are working hard to get moving in Virginia.
Here are some numbers to help us decide:
More than 75,000 Virginians now work in energy-efficiency-related jobs. Most of these workers help make buildings more efficient by improving heating and cooling systems and upgrading lighting and appliances. Unlike Dominion’s cost-raising pipeline, these improvements save money for homeowners and businesses by wasting less energy. An additional 5,500 Virginians are employed in the solar and wind industries, which also reduce demand for polluting fossil-fuel power.
The commonwealth has recently made concerted efforts to expand that clean-energy economy further, including the recent energy legislation signed into law by Northam. That means the growth potential in Virginia for clean-energy jobs is massive.
Unfortunately, that promise of more clean-energy jobs, more low-cost clean energy and cleaner air could be left unfulfilled if Dominion’s proposal for a costly, unneeded and financially risky pipeline is approved.
And that’s why the Atlantic Coast Pipeline should not be built: It will hamper Virginia’s investment in clean energy and all the economic benefits that come with it. A recent analysis showed that:
• For the same amount of money spent on building the pipeline, an additional 1,500 megawatts of new renewable power could be built in Virginia, North Carolina and West Virginia — enough to power almost 400,000 homes.
• Clean-energy investments could support more than 9,000 gross direct and indirect jobs in the three states over the next 20 years. This is three times greater than the estimated employment impacts that the pipeline projects over the same period.
And as the recent SCC ruling made clear, Virginia electricity customers won’t benefit from the dubious pipeline deal, either. Instead, they’ll merely help finance it.
Sinking $2.3 billion in Virginia ratepayer dollars into this pipeline is unwise. Not only would our state — and Virginians themselves — take an economic hit, but we also would lock our economy into a high-carbon future at a time when other states and the rest of the world are taking serious steps to reduce the greenhouse-gas pollution driving climate change.
As for the supposed need to build the pipeline, the claim rings hollow when you examine who is building the pipeline and who is buying the gas — the very same company: Dominion Power is selling gas to Dominion operations in Virginia (with ratepayers picking up the tab). Duke Energy is doing the same with its own operations across the border in North Carolina. That’s not a free market; that’s just the commonwealth picking up the tab.
Armed with these facts, Northam should direct his commerce secretary, Esther Lee, to assess the true costs and benefits of Dominion’s pipeline. She should examine whether it’s a judicious use of billions of ratepayer dollars to fund speculative gas purchase agreements between Dominion affiliates. This cost-benefit assessment is especially important when fossil-fuel infrastructure will crowd out investment in Virginia’s nascent clean-energy economy.
If Northam makes that clear-eyed assessment, he’ll find we don’t need to underwrite Dominion’s fossil-fuel infrastructure venture.
Our future is in clean energy — and that’s where we should invest the commonwealth’s money, energies and ingenuity.