Bay Journal

Wind blowing Dominion’s way on Cove Point?

  • By Rona Kobell on June 05, 2014

Bay Journal photographer Dave Harp and I were mucking about the Eastern Shore’s numerous islands Wednesday when a clear view of Cove Point came into view. We could see the white cylinder containers, the platform where the ships come in. Just a ways down, we could make out the stacks at the Calvert Cliffs nuclear power plant, and the fast-eroding cliffs next to it.

The view reminded me of our recent visit to Cove Point and the story about Liquefied Natural Gas that we did for the last issue of the Bay Journal. You can find it here.

It also reminded me that I haven’t done an update in a bit, and much has happened.

First, a quick recap: Dominion Energy, based in Virginia, has a Liquefied Natural Gas plant on Cove Point, in the Chesapeake Bay, in Lusby – about 10 miles north of Solomons Island. It has been there for several decades, but it has not been active lately. Due to cheap prices domestically, there hasn’t been a need to import, so Cove Point wants to export.

Dominion set about getting its various approvals to export natural gas - a lucrative proposition given the high prices of gas in India, Japan, and Europe. Those high prices come in part because the two big energy suppliers – Venezuela and Russia – are, let’s say, not the easiest suppliers to deal with. Customers would like suppliers with a bit more geopolitical security, the type of supplier that is not going to turn off the pipes in a pricing dispute and leave people in the cold (or heat, as it were).

Dominion has been methodical in this effort. It got permission from the Department of Energy, then from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. It then needed permission from Maryland Public Service Commission to construct a power plant, which it secured last week. Finally, it was hoping that FERC would agree to an environmental assessment instead of the longer, more in-depth environmental impact statement.

FERC last month agreed Dominion’s EA was enough, and it didn’t have to do more. FERC did schedule a 30-day comment period, which will wrap up at the end of June. Getting the EA, though, appears to be key for Dominion, as there will be a small window to make a huge profit, and delays in construction will cause that window to close. In other words, prices abroad will come down eventually, and when they do, Dominion will make less money.

It’s somewhat unusual for FERC to hold a public hearing, which they did last week in Calvert County, and to have a 30-day comment period. But they did so at the request of Maryland’s Congressional delegation, which appears to support LNG in principle but wanted to be receptive to local residents’ concerns about the plant.

The opposition was fervent. Some was coming from the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, a group based in the Washington suburbs that promotes green energy and sustainability. CCAN mobilizes students at universities throughout Maryland to stage protests, speak at rallies and oppose the LNG proposal at hearings – on the grounds that more natural gas production would produce more greenhouse gas, harm the planet, get us further from renewable sources and encourage more fracking in the watershed. Some residents worried about higher emissions and safety, while others worried about transparency and a lack of communication from the company.

But LNG export at Cove Point also had many fans, including members of the Maryland Congressional delegation, the Calvert County Council, its sheriff, its fire chief, its economic development arm, local unions, national unions and many county residents.

I had a feeling three months ago, when we were standing on a freezing platform in the middle of the Bay, that the wind was blowing in Dominion’s favor on this one. There just seemed to be too much geopolitical pressure to approve it. The local residents who opposed the project were passionate, and their concerns were valid -– Cove Point is a very residential community, whereas most of these other facilities are in more industrial places with fewer neighbors. But with Congress trying to fast-track LNG exports to combat Russia’s increasing gas dominance and its provocative Ukraine antics, it just seemed Cove Point was on the road to exports.

CCAN continues to rally against it, though. It is organizing a protest Friday from 9-10:30 a.m. at the Calvert County Courthouse in Prince Frederick.

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About Rona Kobell

Rona Kobell is a former writer for the Baltimore Sun. .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

Read more articles by Rona Kobell

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