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.
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.