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 rubber-stamped 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?