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The Rolling Blackouts of NIMBY Minds on Pipelines

delaware riverkeeper - Jim Willis reports

Jim Willis
Editor & Publisher, Marcellus Drilling News (MDN)

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Threats of rolling blackouts are meaningless to fractivists and NIMBYs who imagine electricity appears magically without need of natural gas or pipelines.

It has seemed to us, anecdotally at least, that most of the media in Virginia has tilted left and anti-pipeline when covering stories about the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) and Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) projects, both slated to cross the state. So imagine our surprise in reading an editorial from the editors of the Fredericksburg, VA Free Lance-Star that gives full-throated support for fracked shale gas pipelines.

Rolling Blackout

Atlantic Coast Pipeline visualization of completed pipeline

The editorial begins by calling those who oppose ACP “NIMBYs” (Not In My Back Yard). Later in the editorial, we learn this startling fact: “To prevent blackouts in Virginia this summer, Energy Secretary Rick Perry had to give Dominion Energy permission to reopen two shuttered coal-burning plants (Yorktown 1 and 2) in response to a request by PJM Interconnections, which manages the electric grid in 13 states. That’s how close the East Coast is to a real power crisis.”

Yes folks, without ACP (and MVP), Virginia faces rolling blackouts. They won’t be able to produce enough electricity to meet the demand–unless they want to keep using coal. When will the NIMBYs wake up? Will it take a blackout to snap them out of their denial?

Here’s the marvelous editorial (emphasis added):

Even after an endorsement by Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe and a green light from the relevant federal regulatory agency, the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline is still meeting stiff resistance from environmental activists and the Not in My Back Yard (NIMBY) crowd.

Concerns about the pipeline’s environmental impact are certainly warranted, and it’s understandable that most people do not want a pipeline anywhere near their property. But to meet the power needs of a modern state economy like Virginia’s, energy infrastructure has to go somewhere.

If approved, the 600-mile underground pipeline would deliver up to 1.5 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day from the Marcellus Shale deposit in West Virginia to serve the growing need for electricity in Virginia and North Carolina.

Richmond-based Dominion Energy, the project’s lead developer, Duke Energy, Piedmont Natural Gas, and Southern Company Gas have made more than 300 route adjustments to minimize the $1.5 billion project’s environmental impact – including changing the route to protect endangered salamanders in the George Washington and Monongahela National Forests.

On July 21, after a three-year period culminating in 150,000 pages of regulatory findings and more than 75,000 public comments, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) released its Final Environmental Statement on the pipeline.

FERC stated that although construction and operation of the pipeline will undoubtedly have “some adverse effects” on the flora, fauna and topography of the proposed route, “most project effects would be reduced to less-than-significant levels” due to mitigation strategies.

Although the Atlantic Coast Pipeline cleared this significant hurdle, it still needs a number of state and local permits before construction can begin. The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality is expected to issue its recommendation in December. Another proposed natural gas project, the Mountain Valley Pipeline that would pass through Virginia near Roanoke, also faces opposition.

Here’s the problem: Virginia consumes roughly two and a half times the energy it generates, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. And because Virginia has less than 1 percent of the nation’s natural gas reserves, it has to be delivered via pipeline from either the Gulf Coast or Appalachia.

In 2016, natural gas fueled 44 percent of all the electricity generated in the commonwealth for the second year in a row, followed by nuclear and coal, with renewables a distant fourth, according to EIA. But Virginia’s aging coal-powered power plants are being shut down and plans for a new reactor have been shelved even as demand for electric power continues to increase.

To prevent blackouts in Virginia this summer, Energy Secretary Rick Perry had to give Dominion Energy permission to reopen two shuttered coal-burning plants (Yorktown 1 and 2) in response to a request by PJM Interconnections, which manages the electric grid in 13 states. That’s how close the East Coast is to a real power crisis.

Using clean-burning natural gas to produce electricity has obvious environmental benefits over using coal or nuclear energy. It is also necessary as a back-up for renewable sources of power to keep Virginia residents’ lights, computers, coffee makers, air conditioners, and furnaces running, since demand for electricity does not stop at times when the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine.

Natural gas is currently the best feasible alternative to coal and nuclear power. But natural gas consumption in Virginia increased eight-fold between 2003 and 2016, according to EIA, without a corresponding increase in delivery capacity.

Demand for electricity will continue to rise even as the commonwealth’s dependence on coal and nuclear power diminishes. That’s why new natural gas pipelines are needed now to keep power flowing in the future.

Editor’s Note: Jim poses a good question when he asks when NIMBYs will wake up. Unfortunately, the answer is never. That’s why FERC exists after all; because no one wants anything near themselves despite how much a community or a nation might need what’s proposed.

Rolling Blackouts

The classic over-wrought angry NIMBY – there’s no changing his mind

I’ve spent most of my life dealing with NIMBYs on land use issues and I’ve learned no amount of education or reasoning will turn the mind of either a NIMBY or an ideologue. Faced with undeniable facts refuting the premise of their opposition, they simply resort to another line of attack. Even individuals who’ve had to defeat NIMBYS to realize their own dreams of projects are happy to dash the hopes of other dreamers when it comes to something in their own backyard. It’s our human nature, after all, and isn’t capable of being altered by argument.

This is what makes government so difficult. It must always balance the needs of communities with the rights of individuals. Anytime the scales are tipped too far in one direction or another things go awry.

The problem is dramatically worsened, though, when the news media merely serves as an echo chamber for one side or the other and we’ve seen a lot of that on the fracking and pipeline fronts as irresponsible biased reporters and news organizations have implicitly taken the side of MIBYs and ideologues, giving them the benefit of any doubt whatsoever, no matter how glaring, and failing to tell the facts. This has made government gun-shy about doing the right thing. The amplified voices of a few have taken precedence over the needs of the many far too many times. This is what makes this editorial such a welcome turn of events.

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4 thoughts on “The Rolling Blackouts of NIMBY Minds on Pipelines

  1. Rolling blackouts are a good start to waking people up. Politically it may have been a better approach to let some of this come to pass. The real conversation can begin in the dark!

  2. I agree with Patrick, let there be blackouts. Virginia gets rather hot in the summer. Let’s see how the NIMBYs like it there with no A/C or even a fan.

    • South Australia is just a few weeks away from their summertime and the probability of blackouts or brownouts (the Aussies call it load shedding) is about 100%. This has come about in large part due to the shunning of carbon-based generation.
      Politicians are frantic concerning the anticipated furious public backlash when the lights go out.

      In a similar vein, up in New England, the next few winters will be perilously short of adequate gas supplies to both heat and light that area during cold snaps.
      In a remarkable – and beyond bizarre – paper just released by a group associated with the Environmental Defense Fund, ‘researchers’ are accusing 2 companies of hoarding scarce gas pipeline capacity in order to drive up prices.
      Setting aside the completely irrational basis for their argument, this study DID go into some detail concerning the razor thin gas supply available available to that area.

      If the pukes at the EDF openly acknowledge the insufficient availability of natgas, public response to blackouts up there will be swift, harsh, and – hopefully – directed at those responsible for their plight.

  3. I think one of the most important and scandalous elements is the ecochamber and sloppy biased reporting, which frankly is based almost exclusively from info coming from antifracking pipeline resistance activists. It has only become more and more difficult to get the facts over the last several years and that is never a good thing for anyone, whether agencies giving permits or communities where pipeline proposals are placed .

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