by Elena Schlossberg
Dominion Energy’s paid spokesman Chuck Penn, at almost 6.5’, towers over my petite 5’ frame — and outweighs me by probably more than 80 pounds.
I’d never thought much about this, until he stood blocking my way out of a conference room at the Washington, DC offices of public radio WAMU. We had just finished debating Dominion’s ongoing problems with the Haymarket powerline project (“the Prince William County neighborhood of mostly elderly African American homeowners is being threatened by plans for a 38-acre computer data center that will be built nearby. The project requires the installation of 100-foot-high towers carrying 230,000-volt power lines through their land.”) on the Kojo Nnamdi Show
Joyce Hudson of the Alliance to Save Carver Road, Tony Olivo from the Washington Post, and Ken Schrad from the Virginia State Corporation Commission (SCC) joined us on the program. Joyce was standing with me now, watching Chuck verbally attack me.
Chuck was looming. Chuck was booming. Chuck was furious. All six feet and more.
Those of us who have spent years opposing Dominion’s attempt to build Amazon’s private extension cord are accustomed to the blustering and bully pulpit tactics – Chuck’s behavior just echoes his employer’s, only at a smaller scale. The angry, personal attacks with a more desperate edge, well…you never get used to it.
But if I were him, I might be mad too. When the alternative “facts” you’re peddling crumble, standing taller, getting louder, and using intimidating body language might be all you can do. Hell, it got Donald Trump elected president.
What are Dominion’s alternative facts? Right now, they’re selling three big ones.
Alternative Fact #1: “It’s all about Corey Stewart.”
Corey Stewart inspires no neutral reactions. On many issues, he’s wrong. But on this issue, Corey happens to be right. He correctly labelled Dominion’s initial, single-power-line proposal, as “corporate vandalism.” He has worked with other elected officials and residents to stop that option and to oppose all overhead-only routes. He and the full Prince William County Board have hammered Dominion’s shifting “need” narrative. Others, including Brentsville Supervisor Jeanine Lawson, have led opposition to legislation in Richmond clearly aimed at strengthening utilities versus localities. This issue is broad-based, bipartisan, and bigger than any single politician.
Alternative Fact #2: “Carver Road wasn’t Dominion’s choice.”
Attempting to cut out community opposition, Dominion wants desperately to collapse the plot to “Stewart Stopped Railroad; That’s Forcing Carver.” Quite simply, this is a lie. First, after the Railroad route got stymied, Dominion proposed four additional routes across three counties and nearly every major neighborhood, historic site, or natural preserve. Second, Dominion developed Carver as one of their final route alternatives – not Stewart, not the SCC, not anyone else. Third, Dominion could save Carver Road by dropping the project, since the need argument has imploded, or by asking the SCC to consider the partially buried hybrid alternative. Like Chuck in the doorway, Dominion controls the options now.
Alternative Fact #3: “This project isn’t about Amazon.”
Speaking of Chuck, he himself said that the Haymarket project is for a single large block load customer, later revealed to be Amazon. Dominion’s expert witness testified at the SCC’s Evidentiary Hearing that 97% of the project’s capacity would support this one “customer” (oddly, Amazon disputes this and has said on the record it may not need the power at all, undercutting Dominion’s arguments).
As I finally got into the elevator with Joyce, we both expressed relief, along with shock at the open attempt to intimidate. And that’s the reaction Dominion and their professional “communicators” count on from individuals and communities alike. They want us to see their superior size and strength. They want us to know that their paid voice will be louder. They want us to feel their control over exits — and options.
But it hasn’t worked this time or with this community. We stand united behind a single alternative – if needed, bury the line; and Amazon pays – and we will continue to stand united. We won’t take the bait on Dominion’s alternative facts, or let them pit community against community. We will be vigilant in our defense and vigorous in our response, whether in the court of public opinion, or possibly all the way to the Virginia Supreme Court.
And as for Mr. Penn, I will happily debate him again. But I might just ask for better security.