Reportback From The Dominion Shareholders Meeting

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Above Photo: By Bill Green

Dominion held its annual shareholders meeting yesterday in Richmond, Virginia. A couple of Calvert County residents active with We Are Cove Point and other allies went inside the meeting. Here’s one person’s account of what it was like to be inside:

People started gathering outside the Greater Richmond Convention Center around 8 a.m. to show our displeasure with Dominion as shareholders began to arrive for the meeting. People held signs and banners between where shareholders would enter to park their cars and where they could enter on foot. Dominion put up black curtains inside the convention center to hide us from being seen by shareholders once they were inside, but we were pretty impossible to miss before that point.

Around 8:45, a number of us with tickets left to go inside the meeting. We presented our tickets and IDs to four layers of security before we were given our name tags and meeting materials. At that point, we were left to mingle until the meeting room opened at 9:30. Light refreshments were available, and private security was all around. It was a good opportunity to meet other people who had concerns with Dominion and rub elbows with Dominion insiders. Dominion’s executive board stayed apart from us. Eventually, the people who were introducing shareholder resolutions were taken into a room and warned by security to not try anything funny. By 9:30, the doors opened and we took our seats.

Dominion CEO Tom Farrell called the meeting to order, said some introductory words, and went pretty quickly to announcing Dominion’s resolutions and hearing the shareholder resolutions. The primary resolution coming from Dominion was to change its name from Dominion Resources to Dominion Energy, changing the logo as well. The shareholder resolutions included measures addressing lobbying disclosures, adding a seat on the board to address environmental issues, thorough reporting on Dominion’s methane emissions and analyzing what impacts would look like on Dominion if it was forced to abide by the Paris Climate Accord. As expected, after we watched a short film glorifying Dominion while the votes were counted, it was announced that all of the Dominion resolutions had passed and all of the shareholder resolutions had failed. Evidently, that’s how it goes every year.

With the resolutions and the name change out of the way, Farrell went into a long and rambling presentation. Near the beginning, he said he wanted to address some “misinformation circulating through social media” about the company. Much of the presentation seemed directly in response to widespread criticism the company has received from all sides. Farrell spent a lot of time displaying misleading numbers and charts designed to frame things in very carefully narrow ways. He talked about “intensity reductions” of carbon dioxide, for instance, rather than actual reductions. He blamed overall carbon dioxide emissions on “cars, trains and planes” more than the energy industry. He talked at length about how Dominion’s pipelines were so well made that they’d never leak, then said Dominion was trying to replace leaking pipelines with new ones — bit by bit, of course. Farrell finally got it right when he said, “We are not excellent in everything we do.”

From a Cove Point perspective, it felt like a massive slap in the face when Farrell started talking about the export terminal Dominion is building in our neighborhood. He showed pictures designed to omit the homes across the street and all around, focusing instead on the neighboring Calvert Cliffs State Park and Chesapeake Bay. Dominion has a habit of doing this, insinuating that this terminal is remotely sited — as gas export terminals are supposed to be — while this is being built in a town of 22,000 people. Of course, he repeated Dominion’s ever-present “on time and on budget” line, even though construction started six months late. He went over how great this terminal would be for investors, leaving out how Dominion has had to renegotiate one of its two 20-year purchase contracts because of weakened profit ratios and that delays from the Atlantic Sunrise Pipeline are creating serious problems about where Dominion would get its gas to fulfill these contracts.

Farrell went out of his way to talk about how Dominion is expanding its solar capacity (largely by buying companies in Utah and North Carolina), failing to mention how Dominion is buying solar and wind rights and then sitting on them, not developing them or allowing other companies to develop them, thereby perpetuating reliance on gas.

When it came time for questions and comments from the shareholders, Farrell acted as master of ceremonies, greeting each speaker and responding to their questions. Around 15-20 people spoke. Two questions were asked by skeptical shareholders who seemed mostly motivated by the profits they’d make from their shares. The rest were all far more critical of Dominion, focusing on renewable energy, the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, the Cove Point export terminal, impacts of gas that would be carried by the Cove Point Pipeline through Dominion’s proposed Eastern Market Access project, and Dominion’s participation in the American Legislative Exchange Council.

One of the Calvert County residents asked about Dominion’s support for increased renewable energy standards in Maryland. Farrell responded that, since Dominion doesn’t participate in electric generation in Maryland, it is not concerned with Maryland’s energy standards. The thing is, Dominion is saying the increased volume of gas its Eastern Market Access project would enable the Cove Point Pipeline to carry would go directly to service residential customers in Prince George’s County and the not-yet-built Mattawoman power plant in Brandywine. Both of these plans would be directly impacted by a shift in Maryland toward renewable energy, but maybe Farrell either forgot about this project or forgot that the line Dominion is telling everybody is that this increased volume of gas would be for these domestic uses and definitely not to bring gas to Cove Point for export — even though it’s not clear where Dominion will get the gas it needs for its 20-year contracts with the Atlantic Coast Pipeline being delayed. That same resident brought up major concerns from the use of sewage that would go into the air at the Mattawoman power plant and other impacts stemming Dominion’s gas that would flow as part of the Eastern Market Access project (if it gets permitted). Farrell’s answer to all of this was a dismissive line about not owning the gas plants in Brandywine.

The other Calvert resident talked about how things have been at Cove Point, mentioning a fire from “undetermined sources,” fines from unreported ammonia emissions, a large anti-freeze spill, a worker death from an onsite accident, reports of unrest and discontent from workers, five nooses found on the site on separate occasions, a DUI checkpoint set up solely to test the sobriety of workers getting on and off their shifts, as well as the broader health and safety concerns that threaten the community around the terminal. There was a back-and-forth exchange as Farrell denied that any of these were true, despite reports and documentation surrounding all of this.

Farrell then addressed other concerns with misleading answers or outright lies. He claimed zero percent of gas carried along the Atlantic Coast Pipeline would be for export. He said that there was only one gas pipeline at all in North Carolina, and “the only pipeline Dominion owns that would be used for export is 100 miles long, from Pennsylvania to Cove Point.” Did this last point refer to the Leidy South project (which doesn’t go to Cove Point), the Cove Point Pipeline (which doesn’t go to Pennsylvania) or another pipeline all together (if he was forgetting about these other two Dominion-owned lines). Whenever he got upset with a questioner or didn’t want to give an answer, he would abruptly thank them for their question and move to the next person.

The meeting ended on an emotional note, when a person talked about her business being in her family for 100 years, but now being threatened by the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, which would run right through it. She said she refused to be a sacrifice to Dominion’s profits and talked about how Dominion didn’t even propose to use modern technology to monitor the pipeline in her area. She talked about how the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration had been directed to make rural areas lower safety priorities, even allowing companies to use thinner pipelines than they use in other areas.

Overall, the meeting felt like a good use of time. Dominion’s CEO, its executive board, and many of its employees and investors witnessed first-person accounts of many of the negative impacts their company has been having on people throughout the mid-Atlantic. Additionally, we got to see how Dominion is deciding to present itself in light of the major criticisms it’s been receiving. Every single one of Dominion’s major projects in the area is facing steep grassroots resistance from impacted people. This shareholder meeting felt very much like a company trying to polish a turd while facing criticism from all sides.

After the meeting, we joined a rally in progress in a nearby park. It felt really good to leave a bunch of corporate spooks in suits, and join friends and allies with colorful props and harsh words for Dominion!

People talk a lot about people power, but it does seem like our numbers and persistence are starting to put Dominion on the defensive. With 60 Virginia politicians refusing to take Dominion money in upcoming elections (including a major candidate for Virginia governor), repeated delays to the permitting of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, orders to change its plans regarding coal ash disposal, and even procedural permit renewals drawing large crowds in opposition (come to Prince Frederick on May 17:, it’s nice to see some of the inroads we’re having against Dominion.

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