Tom Farrell isn’t ready to talk about his legacy after 15 years as chief executive officer at Dominion Energy because he says he’s not done yet.
Hours after announcing a leadership succession plan at the Richmond-based energy giant on Friday morning, Farrell made clear in an interview that he will remain at the top of the company as its new executive chair, focusing on Dominion’s role in what he called “the vanguard” of the new clean energy economy in Virginia and 17 other states.
“I don’t think it’s legacy time,” he said. “I’m not going anywhere.”
The announcement that Farrell will relinquish his role as CEO on Oct. 1 is the third sharp turn by Dominion in less than a month, following the decisions to cancel the $8 billion Atlantic Coast Pipeline and sell the company’s gas transmission and storage business to Berkshire Hathaway for almost $10 billion.
The new succession plan will promote Bob Blue, currently executive vice president and co-chief operating officer, to become CEO, but Blue will report to Farrell, not the Dominion board of directors.
“It’s not like I have some diminished role,” said Farrell, who joined Dominion in 1995 as its general counsel and turned 65 in December.
Diane Leopold, the company’s other executive vice president and COO, will become chief operating officer and report to Blue. Ed Baine, senior vice president of power delivery, will become president of Dominion Energy Virginia, the regulated electric utility he joined 25 years ago. He will report to Leopold.
“The team that we have assembled at Dominion over the past 15 years will be the same team that will move us into the future,” Farrell told investment analysts in a call on Friday morning about the company’s earnings in the second quarter, which ended June 30.
The leadership changes represent a succession plan that Dominion has been developing actively for three years, but it reached the trigger point in July with the cancellation of the 604-mile natural gas pipeline and the sale of the gas transmission and storage business.
With those actions, Dominion will now devote itself to regulated electric and gas utility operations that will generate up to 90% of its revenue and rapidly escalating investments in renewable energy, including a proposed 2,600-megawatt wind farm off the Atlantic coast that Farrell said would be “the largest in the Americas.”
“The strategic direction of the company has been settled,” he said.
Farrell acknowledged that Dominion’s role as majority partner in an alliance with Duke Energy to build the Atlantic Coast Pipeline may have overshadowed the company’s emergence as the third-largest utility developer of solar energy in the United States and an emphasis on reducing methane and other sources of greenhouse gases linked to global warming.
“In some people’s minds, those were inconsistent actions,” he said. “We don’t think so. I don’t think so, but that project is in the past.”
The decision to cancel the pipeline forced Dominion to take a $2.8 billion loss in its second-quarter pre-tax earnings, or a drop of $1.41 a share. After taxes and the pipeline costs, earnings for the second quarter rose by 82 cents a share, which reflected a decline in electricity and natural gas demand because of milder weather than the company expected.
During the call with investment analysts, Farrell maintained that the pipeline was needed to provide a reliable and affordable supply of natural gas from the Marcellus Basin to southeastern Virginia, eastern North Carolina and potentially South Carolina.
“The need has not changed at all,” he said. “The result of [canceling the pipeline] is that need will go unmet.”
Asked whether the need could be met by the Mountain Valley Pipeline, a partially built project in Southwest Virginia that also faces major permitting and legal roadblocks, he replied, “Not that we can see.”
However, the Atlantic Coast Pipeline has made Farrell a bigger target for opponents who contended the pipeline wasn’t needed and that the natural gas it would have carried would have worsened climate change from global warming caused by the buildup of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane in Earth’s atmosphere.
He also has come under fire for proposing a natural gas compressor station for the pipeline in Buckingham County at Union Hill, home to a predominantly African American community founded by freed slaves after the Civil War, and for initiating the failed $1.5 billion Navy Hill development in Richmond to replace the Coliseum and redevelop much of downtown.
Recently, he’s become the target of anti-racist activists over his use of a state film subsidy for a movie he helped write and produce in 2014 about the role of the Virginia Military Institute cadets in fighting with Confederate forces at the Battle of New Market during the Civil War.
Farrell would not discuss those issues, but he touted Dominion’s response to street protests sparked by the death of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis, which he referred to during the earnings call with analysts as “the murder in Minnesota.”
The company recently committed to investing $35 million in 11 historically Black colleges and universities in Virginia, as well as $5 million for social justice and community nonprofit organizations.
“We’re investing in recovery and reconciliation,” he said during the earnings call.
Farrell joined what was then known as Dominion Resources as its general counsel in 1995, during a bitter corporate feud between the holding company and its dominant utility subsidiary, then operating as Virginia Power. He had represented Dominion in the dispute as part of the legal team at the McGuireWoods law firm in Richmond.
Under then-Chairman and CEO Tom Capps, Dominion focused on deregulated energy businesses that generated most of its revenue. After Farrell became CEO in 2006, the company moved in a different direction toward reregulating the electric utility business on profitable terms for investments in new power generation.
With the pending sale of the natural gas transmission and storage business, “it’s back to the future,” Farrell said.
Dominion now is positioning itself as primarily an operator of state-regulated electric and gas utilities, which it expects to generate 85% to 90% of its revenues.
The company also worked with environmental organizations on the Virginia Clean Economy Act, which the General Assembly adopted this year, to push for greater investments in solar, wind and other forms of renewable energy to reduce emission of greenhouse gases.
With the change in strategic direction, Farrell said “the time was right” to begin carrying out the company’s succession plan for executive leadership.
His 65th birthday in December “in itself is an appropriate time to do a little less day-to-day administration and more policy,” he said.
In the announcement of his new role, Farrell said there is “no established time frame” for his service as executive chair, but added, “I will be particularly focused on continuing to develop our strategic plan and Dominion’s leadership in the new clean energy economy.”
When Chesterfield residents walked up to the free COVID-19 testing site at the Crystal Lakes Apartments on Wednesday evening, they were greeted by Juan Santacoloma, a familiar and welcoming face for the county’s Latino community.
“I’ve been working for the county for almost 19 years. So Latinos know me, so Latinos trust me. So, because I tell them, ‘You can come, you are safe, don’t worry about it,’ they trust and they are receiving resources,” Santacoloma said.
In his role as Chesterfield’s community engagement coordinator for multicultural services, Santacoloma is a communication channel between minority residents and the county government, helping people of color navigate the county’s resources, including those related to COVID-19.
Black and Latino residents make up nearly 63% of all confirmed COVID-19 cases within the Chesterfield Health District, which covers Chesterfield, Powhatan County and Colonial Heights. At 39%, Latinos have the largest percentage of all confirmed cases in the health district. In Chesterfield County, by far the largest locality in the district, Latinos make up 9.5% of the total population, according to July 2019 U.S. Census Bureau estimates.
“For many Latinos, the [COVID-19] situation is worse,” as they may have not received the government stimulus check, may be unable to file for unemployment benefits and do not have health insurance, Santacoloma said.
The location for Wednesday’s testing site was selected in part because of the high number of Latinos in the immediate area.
“We have the obligation to reach them and provide them the [COVID-19] tests where they are living,” Santacoloma said.
Katiria Serrano went to the testing event with her three children, Kristal Rosa, 15, Amaya Narvaez, 8, and Ian Narvaez, 3. The family resides in the Meadowbrook Apartments, less than 10 minutes from the Crystal Lakes testing site.
Serrano came for peace of mind, but also as a safety precaution ahead of a trip to Puerto Rico to see family for the first time in three years.
While the testing site “looked very intense,” Serrano said, she felt safe and is thankful for the opportunity. Serrano and her children all left with new masks and hand sanitizer.
As of Friday, there are 3,937 COVID-19 cases, 208 hospitalizations and 72 deaths in Chesterfield County, according to state data.
Community COVID-19 testing events began in May, “primarily in areas of socioeconomic need,” Dr. Alexander Samuel, director of the Chesterfield Health District, said Wednesday afternoon at the testing site.
In the beginning, the events were held monthly in areas that had a high number of COVID-19 cases. The events then transitioned to occurring every Wednesday, moving throughout the eastern and northeastern part of Chesterfield, Samuel said. A couple of weekend testing sites have been offered, too.
The primary goal of the free testing is to reach residents who may otherwise not be able to access a test. There were 150 tests available on Wednesday. Nearly 80 residents pre-registered.
In addition to the testing, Chesterfield has had several food drives during the pandemic, Santacoloma said. An upcoming food drive, in part with the Mexican Consulate, will provide fresh vegetables to roughly 1,000 Chesterfield families.
In June, a six-person team from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention came to the Richmond and Chesterfield health districts to conduct community surveys with Latino communities about COVID-19.
In Richmond, the Latino population also has been hit hard by COVID-19, accounting for 46.4% of the city’s cases, according to state data. Latinos make up 7.3% of Richmond’s population, according to July 2019 U.S. census estimates.
After gathering data from both Richmond and Chesterfield, the CDC team recommended having a more concerted communication strategy and bringing individuals on staff to help residents gain access to resources, such as what to do if a resident may need to quarantine, according to Samuel.
Samuel said it’s been difficult to hire contact tracers, but the health district has brought on a few who are bilingual. In the interim, the health district has had some of its bilingual staff help with COVID-19 efforts.
On Aug. 5, Chesterfield will hold a testing event at the Bellwood Maisonettes apartment complex at 6745 Jefferson Davis Highway. Walk-up testing will be from 5 to 7 p.m.
Virginia has avoided the possibility of 800,000 more COVID-19 cases since it started its phased reopening in May, according to researchers from the University of Virginia who are urging residents to stay vigilant amid surges across the state.
Most of Virginia entered the state’s first reopening phase on May 15, which allowed businesses to reopen with industry-specific restrictions and let places of worship open at 50% capacity. The state has continued its reopening since, with businesses and schools in Phase Three since July 1.
With the phased approach, Virginia has avoided potentially 827,377 additional COVID-19 cases, according to updated modeling from UVA.
“We cannot rest on our laurels though,” researchers from UVA’s Biocomplexity Institute wrote in their weekly update Friday. “Beating COVID-19 is a marathon, not a sprint. It requires all of us to do our part to stop the spread.”
Nearly one-third (11 of 35) of Virginia’s health districts are experiencing surges of COVID-19 cases, seven of them in the Hampton Roads region. Gov. Ralph Northam on Tuesday announced new restrictions in Hampton Roads, including a limit on public and private gatherings to 50 people, citing the rise in cases. The rest of the state is limited to 250 people.
Just 2.4% of adults in the state have antibodies to COVID-19, indicating that they had the virus at some point, according to preliminary data that the Virginia Department of Health announced on Wednesday.
“The big takeaway from this is the overwhelming majority, a very large portion of the population in the commonwealth, is still vulnerable to infection and we must continue to take precautionary measures,” state Health Commissioner Norman Oliver said Wednesday.
UVA modeling released in May after the state entered Phase One projected that new COVID-19 cases would peak at between 5,000 and 9,300 a day in late July or early August. Modeling unveiled Friday says that on its current course, Virginia will have an expected peak for new weekly cases at 12,926 (and growing) by early September.
With a statewide surge that some areas of the state are already experiencing, that number climbs to 15,858.
Virginia’s COVID-19 cases have increased by roughly 7,500 in the past week, according to data from the state Health Department. The department reported Friday that 89,888 people have tested positive for the virus, an increase of roughly 1,000 since Thursday.
“People’s behavior has maybe relaxed a little bit as the summer season kicked off and people wanted to get closer back to normal,” said Bryan Lewis, one of the UVA researchers. “That may have led to increased transmission, certainly in the Tidewater area.”
He added: “If you have one part of the state that’s a little bit hotter than the rest, it’s not going to take long before people move between those areas and re-seed [the virus].”
The researchers said in their report last week that cellphone data shows residents in the state are returning to work and visiting businesses “almost at pre-pandemic levels.” That’s OK, they said, if residents and businesses follow the state’s reopening guidance, but they warned that not doing so could lead to a rollback of reopening plans, which has happened in other states.
Virginia has been under a mask mandate since the end of May, which Madhav Marathe, another UVA researcher, said “there’s no denying” has helped.
“Adherence is the real key,” Marathe said. “It is easy. It is effective.”
The Richmond area has already seen its peak for new confirmed cases, with 1,281 per week during the week ending May 17, according to the model, which also showed that the region has avoided potentially 134,763 additional cases since May 15. The model doesn’t stretch into the fall.
“If residents and businesses adhere to good social distancing and infection control practices, new case growth rates may remain low,” says the report. “Otherwise, cases may peak in the fall.”
Richmond, Northern Virginia and Accomack County delayed entering Phase One on May 15, waiting two weeks longer than other localities to start reopening. Accomack, which is home to two poultry plants, sought a delay after the virus spread in the plants.
After initially declining to release data on COVID-19 at poultry plants, the Virginia Department of Health said Thursday that there have been 15 outbreaks in meat and poultry processing facilities across the state. Those outbreaks have led to 1,216 confirmed cases, 48 hospitalizations and 10 deaths, according to the Health Department. The majority of those cases (720 out of 1,216) were in the state’s eastern region, where Accomack’s plants are located.
“Initial cases of COVID-19 associated with meat and poultry processing plants were reported in March of 2020. Cases peaked in April and May,” the agency said. “Facilities implemented multiple interventions to reduce and prevent viral transmission. Cases have since decreased significantly and only sporadic cases are being reported at this time.”
There have been nine confirmed cases in the plants in July, according to Health Department data, down from 24 in June and 550 in May.
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Citing credible threats to Mayor Levar Stoney, Richmond police have assigned him a security detail, reviving a controversial practice from the two previous mayoral administrations that Stoney ended when he took office.
Police Chief Gerald Smith created the detail because of “serious, credible and ongoing threats to Mayor Stoney,” police spokesman Gene Lepley wrote in an email.
“The mayor has spent the last three and a half years traveling to hundreds, if not thousands, of public and private events without police protection. Unfortunately, recent events have made it clear that we are now in different times,” Stoney spokesman Jim Nolan wrote in an email.
Nolan added, “ For obvious reasons, we cannot discuss details of his security.”
The Executive Protection Unit was a perennial budget-season punching bag, particularly toward the end of former Mayor Dwight C. Jones’ eight years in office. The security detail’s annual costs varied from $300,000 in 2013 to more than $500,000 in 2015, when the city’s then-police chief cut off overtime payments.
That move resulted in a lawsuit. The city settled the suit in 2018, agreeing to pay $51,000 in back wages and legal fees to the four police officers assigned to Jones’ detail.
In 2016, the final year of Jones’ term, the Richmond City Council voted to limit the detail — it began during former Gov. Doug Wilder’s term as mayor and had up to 11 officers — to a single officer who would accompany Jones only while he was on official city business. Upon taking office, Stoney eliminated the detail entirely after criticizing it during the campaign.
Citing security reasons, neither RPD nor the mayor’s office would reveal further details of Stoney’s detail, including how many officers were assigned, how long it will be in place, or what it will cost taxpayers.
“It is now in effect and will remain in place for the time being,” Lepley said. “The threats are being investigated.”
In late June, Stoney’s spokesman said Richmond police had received “credible threats” against the mayor since he vowed earlier in the month to remove Confederate statues from Monument Avenue. Police recommended then that Stoney receive additional security in certain situations.
On June 16, protesters showed up at Stoney’s downtown apartment building, and police said 20 people briefly entered the lobby before being removed by security. A crowd of 200 or more protesters gathered outside, shouting for Stoney to come out.
Several City Council members reached Friday said they had not been briefed about Stoney’s security detail. They all voiced concerns for the threats that precipitated it and said they hope the arrangement will not be needed for long.
Councilman Chris Hilbert, the 3rd District representative, said he had “no objection” as long as there was an ongoing threat.
“Given the current environment, I’m not surprised that there has been a credible threat,” he said. “This is a volatile time.”
Hilbert said he was on the council under Jones’ and Wilder’s tenures and believed the “day-to-day” security detail was “a waste of taxpayer dollars.”
Councilwoman Kristen Larson, who represents the 4th District, said her concern is about what happens once the threat to Stoney has subsided.
“It’s absolutely warranted now,” Larson said. “The question for me is the long term.”
Councilman Michael Jones, the 9th District representative, said he agreed with his colleagues and “hopes Stoney will keep to his word, his campaign promise,” and that once the threat is gone, the detail will be disbanded.
All three of the council members said they would like a report on how much is spent on the security unit.
“I lament the fact that people would threaten public officials. It’s alarming,” said Councilman Jones, who previously has reported a threat to police, as have Hilbert and Larson.
Councilwoman Kimberly Gray, whose 2nd District has been where much of the ongoing civil unrest has been centered, did not respond to a request for comment. But Gray criticized the police response when she estimated 200 protesters demonstrated outside of her Jackson Ward home the night of July 15.
Police said they closely monitored the group, which dispersed after 15 minutes.
Demonstrators also held a “sit-in” outside the home of Commonwealth’s Attorney Colette McEachin’s home on June 25, when 15 people were arrested by Richmond police. Eleven were charged with picketing, one with obstructing justice, two with assaulting a law enforcement officer, and one with trespassing.
No other city officials, including Gray and McEachin, have been assigned security by Richmond police.
Richmond will remain under a state of emergency until Aug. 30, due to “civil unrest,” that has been in effect since May 31, according to an order Gov. Ralph Northam signed Friday at the request of Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney.
Stoney wrote in a letter to Northam on Wednesday that the “climate of our city has again risen,” referring to demonstrations last weekend that resulted in police using chemical agents, while protesters set a dump truck on fire and shattered storefronts. Events last weekend resulted in the arrest of more than 20 people.
Stoney said that the Richmond Department of Fire and Emergency Services is operating on limited resources to address “building, trash, dumpster and car fires as a result of looters and disgruntled protesters.”
“The bandwidth of our personnel will reach its limit due to the additional demand to curtail damage done by bad-faith demonstrators,” Stoney said.
Stoney made no mention of the Richmond Police Department or Virginia State Police, which have been the primary agencies responding to protests.
The order gives the Northam administration the ability to deploy additional state resources to “implement recovery and mitigation operations and activities” to return the city to “pre-event conditions as much as possible.”
That includes emergency funding for government response to the protests and activation of the Virginia National Guard, according to the order. The Northam administration has said it has “absolutely no plans to deploy the National Guard” in Richmond, and that a reference to it in the emergency order is standard language.
Northam spokeswoman Alena Yarmosky said in a statement that it is “standard practice” to approve local emergency requests. “I would note that Richmond is the only locality in the Commonwealth that continues to request these emergency declarations,” she added.
In his letter to Northam, Stoney pinned Saturday’s demonstrations on “extremist groups,” though law enforcement officials have not provided evidence supporting that claim. The majority of people arrested Saturday and Sunday were from the Richmond area.
“The intent of civil demonstrations in our city has become undermined by extremist groups and are at times being organized from outside of the Richmond region,” Stoney wrote.
In June, Stoney blamed “outside agitators” for the violence in Richmond. Storefronts were smashed, dumpsters burned and the headquarters of the United Daughters of the Confederacy set on fire.
These actions led to RPD headquarters forming a barricade of concrete silos, Humvee and dump trucks around the building’s perimeter.
On Sunday night before protests began, police occupied Monroe Park, a common gathering place over the past 60 days. Officers threatened to arrest anyone walking around the public park. Chief Gerald Smith referred to the approach as “proactive measures.”
Protesters continued to gather without incident into the week. The most recent incident involving police was Thursday morning, when Richmond officers cleared the area around the Robert E. Lee monument.
Videos shared on social media showed police officers using a stun gun on one individual. RPD said in a statement Thursday that when officers removed “illegal items,” they were assaulted.
Stoney also added that there is a “likelihood” that Monument Avenue could attract counterprotesters and white supremacists from outside the region, who may be violent.
“Public safety has also been made tenser by the continued use of divisive language, messaging, and tactics by the U.S. President,” Stoney said.
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