Dominion Energy says it still expects to open the Atlantic Coast Pipeline in 2021, despite court rulings and ongoing appeals that have delayed key environmental permits and halted construction.
Among the holdups is a Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals' ruling in February that the pipeline cannot cross the Appalachian Trail in central Virginia. Dominion CEO Thomas Farrell told Wall Street analysts Wednesday the company expects the U.S. Supreme Court to take up the case.
"We expect that in October or November, the Supreme Court will schedule arguments to occur in the spring of next year, with a final decision no later than June 2020," Farrell said. "We are confident that the Fourth Circuit's ruling will be overturned."
Farrell also hinted at a possible deal that could allow the Appalachian Trail crossing. He said the company is exploring the possibility of a land swap, similar to one proposed by another project, the Mountain Valley Pipeline. That would trade private land near the trail for permission to cross.
Duke Energy and The Southern Company are partners with Dominion in the 600-mile, $7.5 billion pipeline,which is designed to carry fracked natural gas from West Virginia to Virginia and North Carolina.
FISH & WILDLIFE PERMIT HELD UP
Farrell also said he expects the company eventually to get a Fish & Wildlife Service permit that also has been blocked by the appeals court because of concerns about four endangered species.
The Fourth Circuit appeals court on Friday tossed out the permit that deals with the project's effects on the threatened or endangered species: the rusty patched bumble bee; the clubshell, a mussel; the Indiana bat; and the Madison Cave isopod, a crustacean.
Farrell said the company is doing an additional study of the bumblebee that he says will support Dominion's argument for the permit.
"There is nothing in the court's opinion on the four species that we expect would prevent the biological opinion (the permit) from being reissued in time to recommence construction by year end, and complete critical path tree-felling during the November through March window," Farrell said.
SCANA MERGER HITS PROFITS
The pipeline update came Wednesday morning as Dominion announced that profits fell sharply in the second quarter amid costs for its acquisition of South Carolina utility SCANA and a job-cutting program that saw 12 percent of its employees take early retirement.
The Virginia company made $54 million in the quarter that ended June 30, down from $449 million in the same quarter a year ago. Earnings per share were 5 cents, down from 69 cents a year ago.
Excluding those unusual expenses, Dominion said operating earnings rose to $619 million, or 77 cents a share, slightly ahead of Wall Street analysts' expectations.
Dominion has 7.5 million customers in 18 states from Connecticut to Georgia to California. In January, Dominion acquired South Carolina-based SCANA, which includes South Carolina Electric & Gas and the North Carolina-based gas company PSNC Energy.