Md.’s Gas Pipelines and Cove Point Plant Soon to be Under New Management

The Cove Point liquefied natural gas facility in the Chesapeake Bay is changing hands. Dominion Energy photo

Say goodbye to Dominion Energy in Maryland and hello to Berkshire Hathaway.

One of the largest energy companies in America is selling all of its natural gas transmission and storage assets for $9.7 billion to focus on clean energy and its state-regulated utility operations.

The initial headlines, after an unusual holiday weekend announcement Sunday, focused on Dominion Energy’s decision to abandon its long-desired Atlantic Coast Pipeline, after a six-year legal, political and regulatory fight.

But equally significant is Dominion’s plan to sell off “substantially all” of its natural gas operations, including a network of pipelines in Maryland, to Berkshire Hathaway Energy, a subsidiary of uber-investor Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc.

Berkshire Hathaway is also acquiring a 25% interest in the Cove Point Liquefied Natural Gas processing plant in the Chesapeake Bay near Lusby, in Calvert County. Although Dominion Energy will retain a 50% financial interest in the LNG export plant — one of just six in the U.S. — Berkshire Hathaway will operate the facility (Brookfield Asset Management, an investment firm, will continue to own the other 25%).
“This transaction represents another significant step in our evolution as a company, allowing us to focus even more on fulfilling utility customer needs and positioning us for a bright and increasingly sustainable future,” Dominion Energy Chairman Thomas F. Farrell II said in a statement Sunday.
In a call with investors Monday, Farrell said the company wants to focus on its renewable energy portfolio. It is hoping to generate 70% of its energy from renewable sources by 2035 and hit “comprehensive net-zero carbon targets” by 2050, he said.
Even as it pursued plans to build the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, a controversial 600-mile project that would have extended from West Virginia into North Carolina, crossing the Appalachian Trail along the way, Dominion Energy was looking to boost its renewable energy business.
Only recently, the company won approval to erect two wind turbines in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Virginia, making Virginia — and Dominion — a player in the race to establish major offshore wind energy operations on the East Coast (a race in which Maryland is currently lagging).
Berkshire Hathaway Energy will keep the 200 Maryland employees who currently work for Dominion Energy at Cove Point, as well as maintain their existing benefits package for at least 24 months, said Ryan Frazier, a spokesman for Dominion Energy.
“We are honored to be gaining a wonderful group of employees with a wealth of experience that will continue to provide high-quality service for our customers and partners,” said Greg Abel, chairman of Berkshire Hathaway Energy.
Cove Point’s pipeline begins in Virginia and goes through Prince George and Charles counties before ending in Calvert County.

BHE will also acquire all of the assets for Dominion Energy Transmission, Inc, an interstate gas transmission subsidiary of Dominion Energy. It maintains more than 3,900 miles of pipelines in Ohio, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York, Maryland and Virginia.

DETI’s pipeline in Maryland comes from Pennsylvania, goes into Frederick County and Montgomery County and then crosses the Potomac River into Virginia.

The news of the sale of Dominion Energy’s assets has taken state regulators by surprise. House Economic Matters Committee Chairman Dereck E. Davis (D-Prince George’s) said Monday he was not familiar enough with the details of the sale to comment. A spokeswoman for the Maryland Public Service Commission, which regulates utilities in the state, said the PSC did not want to comment because the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, rather than the state, has oversight over the Cove Point facility.

Dominion Energy, which is headquartered in Richmond, Va., has enormous influence over Virginia politics. Last fall, the Virginia Democratic Party announced that it would no longer accept campaign contributions from the energy giant, even though the House and Senate Democratic caucuses in Richmond continued to do so, along with the political action committee of Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D).

Clean Virginia, a nonprofit group organized by Michael Bills, a hedge fund manager from Charlottesville, Va., has begun making campaign contributions to Virginia Democrats in an effort to offset the political influence of Dominion Energy.

In Maryland, Dominion Energy co-sponsored a policy forum that the state Democratic Party held earlier this year — before the outbreak of COVID-19. In the State House, the company has been represented by two of Annapolis’ most plugged-in lobbying firms, Rifkin Weiner Livingston LLC and Cornerstone Government Affairs. In the short term, those firms’ lobbyists are expected to become Berkshire Hathaway representatives.

The company’s decision to abandon its Atlantic pipeline proposal has reverberated nationally. In a withering statement, U.S. Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette blamed environmental groups for litigating against the plan and sandbagging the proposal.

“The Trump administration wants to bring the benefits of reliable and affordable energy of all kinds to all Americans,” he said. “Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for the activists who killed this project.”

Among those hailing the death of the pipeline project were former vice president Al Gore and the Rev. William Barber II, the North Carolina-based civil rights leader. In a joint statement, the two men called the company’s pipeline cancellation a victory for environmental justice, noting that communities of color that have traditionally been “deprived of the economic and political power to defend themselves against the fossil fuel industry” prevailed this time.

Josh Kurtz
Co-founder and Editor Josh Kurtz is the leading chronicler of Maryland politics and government. He began covering the State House in 1995 for The Gazette newspapers, and has been writing about state and local politics ever since. He later became an editor at Roll Call, the Capitol Hill newspaper, and spent eight years at E&E News, an online subscription-only publisher of news websites covering energy and environmental issues. For seven of those years, he led a staff of 20 reporters at E&E Daily, which covers energy and environmental policy on Capitol Hill and in national politics. For 6 1/2 years he wrote a weekly column on state politics for Center Maryland and has written for several other Maryland publications as well. Kurtz has given speeches and appeared on TV and radio shows about Maryland politics through the years.
Elizabeth Shwe
Shwe covered California state politics during her internship at The Sacramento Bee. She is a 2020 graduate of Princeton University with a degree in political science. At Princeton she was a producer for WPRB 103.3 FM News & Culture section, the station’s only long form podcast-type program. Shwe also wrote for The Daily Princetonian, and tutored with the Petey Greene Program, which offers free tutoring to incarcerated people. Shwe is a Report for America corps member.