A letter signed by 33 members of the Hampton Roads legislative caucus and sent to U.S. Sens. Mark Warner and Timothy M. Kaine endorsing the Atlantic Coast Pipeline project has drawn the ire of some Nelson County residents.
“The need for this project is urgent; to put it bluntly, our region’s natural gas transportation system has reached a tipping point,” the letter reads. “Without new infrastructure there is no way to meet our region’s rising demand for natural gas.”
Joanna Salidis, president of Friends of Nelson, a group in opposition of the pipeline, said the letter is filled with “mischaracterizations and errors.”
“For example, they point to the commodity price spikes in the winter of 2013-2014 as evidence that more pipeline capacity is needed,” she said. “But, those increases were so isolated that they were not passed on to rate payers.”
Bill DeSteph, R-Virginia Beach, is the caucus co-chair and senator for the 8th District. He said his passion for this project grew in February 2015, when natural gas supplies adversely impacted the U.S. Navy presence in his area.
“We had to reduce gas supply for the Navy for a three-day period,” he said last Wednesday.
Curtailment is the reduction of gas due to a shortage of supply or because demand exceeds a pipeline’s capacity.
“That was a catalyst alone to stand up and say we need a bigger pipeline; we need more natu-ral gas and we need it now,” he said. “We shouldn’t be curtailing the Navy.”
DeSteph added continued growth in Hampton Roads only can be supported by the increased supply of natural gas.
“If I had to do it all again, I would do it in a minute,” he said.
Salidis said legislators cite environmental benefits, but there are few of those in her opinion.
“Far from it, from both a climate and clean water perspective, more fracked gas is a disaster,” she said.
The letter speaks to a case where the record cold in the area in 2014 caused huge increases in natural gas commodity prices due to pipeline constraints.
“Additionally, on extremely cold days, Virginia Natural Gas is often forced to interrupt service to large-use customers, further demonstrating that major new customers cannot be added without an expansion of pipeline infrastructure,” the letter states.
The lawmakers say the pipeline “would provide operators of electric power stations here in Virginia with much better access to this clean-burning fuel and in turn help them comply with carbon restrictions in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan.”
Ultimately, Salidis asks what benefits, and to whom, are enough to justify the “forcible taking” of so much property?
“I don’t think enough Virginians understand that not a single property owner ‘chosen’ by Dominion has any choice about whether they get the ACP on their property or not,” she said.
DeSteph argues property owners are being “compensated appropriately” for the use of their land and Nelson County will receive millions of dollars in tax revenue.
Aaron Ruby, spokesman for Dominion, said Nelson is estimated to receive up to about $1.2 million per year, with a total of $7.7 million from 2018 to 2025.
Del. Dickie Bell, R-Staunton, said last Wednesday he had heard about the letter. The planned 550-mile pipeline, from West Virginia through Virginia to North Carolina, would cut through the district he represents, which includes half of Nelson County.
“They’re sort of on the receiving end, so it probably looks a little better to them. Whatever damage is done by the pipeline will be done at our end of things,” Bell said. “They are in a posi-tion to reap some real economic benefits from it in terms of jobs and economic development that we may not be in line for.”
He said he is not against pipelines in general, but does not like the path of this one, saying he thinks there should be a better solution than cutting through the mountains.
He said he has had several conversations with Dominion officials asking for changes in the route, as well as writing letters to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
“Since it’s not a legislative issue for us, there’s not a lot more I can do,” Bell said.
Sen. Creigh Deeds, D-Bath County, said he read media reports about the letter. He isn’t sure what difference it would make because the decisions will come from the Federal Energy Regula-tory Commission.
He isn’t going to say “not in my backyard,” but said local economies should influence the pipeline’s ultimate path. He said the path should avoid Nelson County where it could disrupt tourism, the county’s major industry.
He said transferring gas by pipeline is likely safer than by rail, but he would rather see elec-tricity transferred than gas.
He sees natural gas as the transition between fossil fuels and renewable energy. An abrupt switch to all renewables, he said, would cause utility prices people are unwilling to pay.
“At the end of the day, people want electricity and they want it at as cheaply as possible,” Deeds said.
Sarah Peck, spokeswoman for Kaine said he appreciates hearing from Virginians on both sides of the issue and will continue helping them get answers to their questions on the pipeline proposal.
“He has called on FERC to fairly evaluate this project based on its need and feasibility bal-anced with its likely environmental and economic impacts in Virginia.”
Rachel Cohen, spokeswoman for Warner said the senator will keep everyone’s views in mind as FERC continues to process of reviewing the ACP application.
Reporter Alex Rohr contributed