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How the Dominion-SCE&G deal could trample your property rights

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Dominion’s offer to purchase SCANA is a bad deal for the entire state, not just SCE&G customers, who will stay on the hook for the abandoned nuclear plant. Ultimately, this deal could trample property rights and strangle the opportunity to develop an energy mix that supports efficiency and renewables while increasing our long-term commitment to the price volatility and environmental impacts of fossil fuels.

I am convinced that Dominion’s interest in SCANA has to do with only one thing: bringing the Atlantic Coast Pipeline into South Carolina. Dominion and Duke Energy are co-owners of the pipeline, which Dominion has said it wants to bring to South Carolina, but Dominion is the operator and stands to profit the most.

There may be sections of the state, such as the Pee Dee, that need more natural gas capacity to support some industrial growth. But there’s just no need for the massive pipeline. Let’s look at the numbers.

The Atlantic Coast Pipeline has a planned capacity of 1.5 million dekatherms per day. Both Santee Cooper and SCE&G have stated that, even after the abandonment of V.C. Summer, they now have adequate generating capacity for many years.

Further, SCE&G will have expanded access to the Williams Transcontinental pipeline that crosses the Upstate once the 52-mile Transco to Charleston project is completed later this year. So there is no demonstrated need for additional baseload electricity generation.

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Shelley Robbins

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Supporting documents for this column

Why should a private company be able to make you sell your land?

SC bill would protect your right to not sell your property

Three ways the Dominion-SCE&G deal could fall apart

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What about industrial need? The Transco to Charleston project application revealed that two industrial subscribers would need 2,000 dekatherms and 3,000 dekatherms. Using those numbers as a guide, that suggests that the Atlantic Coast Pipeline’s 1.5 million dekatherms could supply 500-750 new large industrial customers demanding natural gas — at a time when half of all Fortune 500 companies are actually retreating from fossil fuel generation. Bringing this pipeline into South Carolina would be like using a fire hose to douse birthday candles.

So what happens if the Atlantic Coast Pipeline is extended into South Carolina and all of the gas isn’t actually needed after all? Dominion conveniently already owns a S.C. transmission connection to the Elba Island natural gas liquefication and export facility near the Port of Savannah, scheduled to open next year. All of that excess gas could be sold internationally at a significant Dominion shareholder profit, fed by a pipeline built using eminent domain. That is the taking of private property for “public” use.

We would rather work with our state’s energy providers and lawmakers to develop policies that meet common goals and usher in the future rather than propping up the past.

Because of this connection to Elba Island, Dominion’s existing statewide transmission system, purchased from SCANA in 2014, is considered interstate and therefore overseen by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, not by South Carolina.

When new pipelines are approved, FERC grants the pipeline builder the right to use eminent domain for the acquisition of right of way. Ask people in the Upstate who had to give up their rights for the Transco to Charleston pipeline project how they feel about eminent domain.

And, because FERC has consistently refused to scrutinize pipeline need in its approval process, Dominion can “self-deal” on the Atlantic Coast Pipeline once it controls SCANA: Ity can sign a contract with itself for a “need” that doesn’t exist. This is what critics say has happened with this pipeline in Virginia and North Carolina: The end customers are the pipeline developers themselves, but the ratepayers wind up paying for it while shareholders profit.

Supporting a company so clearly interested in us only for our gas infrastructure would be a tragic step backwards, both for SCE&G customers and for the entire state.

Flooding the state with temporarily cheap gas also threatens our opportunity to invest in efficiency and renewable energy and storage. These non-fossil-fuel options cost less in the long run and encourage investment and advances in the energy industry. The International Energy Agency has stated that solar is “on track” to become the cheapest source of electricity.

Dominion, however, sees South Carolina only as an opportunity to expand its gas business. It have stated this repeatedly, and it is evident in its Securities and Exchange Commission filings.

We would rather work with our state’s energy providers and lawmakers to develop policies that meet common goals and usher in the future rather than propping up the past. In Columbia, we have an unprecedented opportunity to embrace the rapid advances and transformation of the energy industry. Supporting a company so clearly interested in us only for our gas infrastructure would be a tragic step backwards, both for SCE&G customers and for the entire state.

Ms. Robbins is energy and state policy director for the environmental group Upstate Forever; contact her at srobbins@upstateforever.org. Find supporting documents for this column at upstateforever.org/scana.

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