Newly released polling shows despite some vocal opposition from Nelson County residents and others, a majority of voters in three states directly affected by the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline support the 600-mile natural gas project.
“By any measure, whether it’s a policy matter or a voting matter, the pipeline has widespread support,” said Harrison Hickman, founder of Hickman Analytics Inc., the Democratic-leaning, Maryland-based firm hired to conduct the poll by the Consumer Energy Alliance, a nonprofit that says it is dedicated to promoting “rational, balanced energy policies that will ensure affordable and reliable energy” for consumers.
Dominion Energy, the company proposing the pipeline, is a member of CEA.
The pipeline, which would run from West Virginia to North Carolina and through Virginia, currently is being reviewed by state and federal regulators.
In Virginia, 54 percent of registered voters say they support, either strongly or somewhat, the proposed pipeline while 31 percent oppose it.
In West Virginia and North Carolina, support for the project is even higher. West Virginians polled show 60 percent support the ACP while 28 percent oppose it. Fifty-two percent of registered voters in North Carolina interviewed support the project, with 32 percent opposed.
Also in North Carolina, Hickman Analytics conducted oversampling in seven counties through which the pipeline may run. Results of those interviews show 60 percent of people in directly affected counties are in favor of the pipeline, and 29 percent are opposed.
“While a small minority of opponents has received disproportionate attention, the vast majority of people in the region want to see this pipeline built. Their voices deserve to be heard,” Dominion Spokesman Aaron Ruby said in a statement Monday. “They want a cleaner environment, lower energy bills and more economic opportunity. They want the tens of thousands of new jobs and new manufacturing industries the pipeline will bring to the region. They understand that it takes new infrastructure like the Atlantic Coast Pipeline to make that possible.”
CEA Executive Vice President Michael Whatley said during a teleconference the CEA believes the pipeline is “critical” to ensuring affordable energy is available for consumers.
The poll showed the Atlantic Coast Pipeline also could be an important factor in upcoming elections.
“Voters are going to take the energy issues into the voting booth,” Hickman said.
In Virginia, where voters will decide who will be the next governor in November, the poll showed registered voters are more likely to support a gubernatorial candidate who “favors more natural gas infrastructure projects like the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.”
Forty-eight percent say they would vote for such a candidate while 27 percent say they would vote for a candidate who opposes such projects.
According to the CEA, the pipeline will provide $377 million in energy cost savings to consumers and should lead to $28 million in tax revenue for localities along the route.
But Nelson resident Richard Averitt, whose property is directly affected by the proposed pipeline, said in an interview Monday the tax revenue isn’t “free money,” adding it comes with a cost to landowners and others along the route.
Averitt contends a resort he had planned for the Nellysford area cannot be built because the pipeline is slated to go through the property. He said the project likely would have produced more tax revenue for Nelson County than the pipeline, which Dominion officials have said should generate about $1.2 million.
The pipeline is slated to cross about 27 miles in Nelson.
Pointing to the result of the 2016 presidential election, Averitt said he believes polling can’t always predict accurately how people actually feel.
Overall, though, Averitt said the pipeline issue shouldn’t be reduced to a poll.
“We don’t have to ask those questions if we ask the question: ‘Does the end justify the means?’”Averitt said. “We could spend all day arguing [the poll] … but it doesn’t matter if you ask yourself, ‘Is this the right thing?’”
Justin Meighan, assistant regional manager for the Laborers’ International Union of North America Mid-Atlantic region, said during the CEA teleconference while there is a vocal contingent of opponents in Nelson County and elsewhere along the route, “If you want to have a serious conversation [about energy needs], natural gas has to be part of the debate.”
“We think we can get all stakeholders to see the benefit … and get this project across the finish line for the good of the commonwealth,” said Brett Vassey, CEA vice chair and Virginia Manufactures Association president, during the CEA teleconference.
According to Ruby, Dominion has signed mutual easement agreements with 65 percent of landowners along the route.
Whatley said the pipeline also will result in more than 17,000 construction jobs and 2,200 manufacturing jobs.
“You hear people attacking this pipeline and calling them temporary jobs,” Meighan said, adding it’s “insulting” to construction workers who often make careers out of such jobs.
Registered voters in Virginia, West Virginia and North Carolina were interviewed between May 9 and May 11 for the poll.
In West Virginia, 405 registered voters were polled. The margin of error is 4.9 percentage points. In Virginia, 500 registered voters were interviewed, and the margin of error sits at 4.4 percentage points. In North Carolina, 660 voters were polled with a margin of error of 3.8 percentage points.