FPL moves forward with major pipeline plans

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Saying the state needs another source of natural gas, Florida Power & Light on Friday announced plans for two new pipelines that would stretch more than 300 miles through the northern, central and southeastern parts of the state.

Combined, the pipelines would cost more than $3.5 billion, bringing natural gas from a facility in Alabama to a hub in Osceola County and then delivering part of it to an FPL power plant in Martin County. Officials said the pipelines also would offer gas supplies to other electric utilities and industries, with FPL an “anchor” customer.

The plans come as FPL and other electric utilities become increasingly dependent on natural gas to fuel power plants. Florida has two major pipelines serving the central and southern parts of the state, and FPL officials say those pipelines are near capacity.

“Natural gas is vital to the reliability and affordability of electricity in our state,” FPL President Eric Silagy said in a prepared statement Friday. “Although Florida has essentially no natural gas reserves, many areas of our country have a wealth of supply. This project is not only about FPL and our customers — increasing access to clean, efficient, U.S.-produced natural gas will benefit the entire state.”

The pipelines need state and federal regulatory approvals and would not start operating until 2017. FPL proposed another pipeline plan that the state Public Service Commission scuttled in 2009, but FPL Vice President Mike Sole said the new project is different from the earlier proposal — in part because the earlier proposal would have been built primarily to serve FPL.

“There’s tremendous benefits to the state as a whole and natural gas users of this state,” Sole said of the new plans.

FPL announced in December that it was seeking proposals from pipeline companies. The project is broken up into two pipelines, with one running from Alabama to Osceola County and the other running from Osceola County to Martin County.

The roughly $3 billion northern segment would total 465 miles, including 214 miles in Florida, and would start at a site in Alabama where natural gas comes from different parts of the country. FPL’s parent company, NextEra Energy, Inc., and a Texas-based company, Spectra Energy Corp., would enter into a joint venture on the pipeline.

Gas would go to an Osceola County hub, which also would tie in with other pipelines. A NextEra Energy subsidiary would then own and operate a new, 126-mile pipeline that would go to an FPL plant in Martin County. That pipeline is estimated to cost $550 million.

In all, FPL said proposed corridors for the pipelines include parts of 16 counties. In the northern pipeline, those counties are Madison, Hamilton, Suwannee, Columbia, Gilchrist, Levy, Alachua, Marion, Lake, Sumter, Orange, Polk and Osceola. In the southern pipeline, they are Okeechobee, St. Lucie and Martin, along with Osceola and Polk.

The proposed corridors are about 600 feet wide, and the exact routes of the pipelines will be determined after surveying is finished, according to FPL. The pipelines would be buried underground.

Officials said they expect much of the project to be built in existing utility easements or right of way. David Shammo, a vice president of Spectra Energy, said building in such areas can minimize environmental effects.

In an FPL news release Friday, Audubon of Florida Executive Director Eric Draper said his group provided guidance about the proposed route and said FPL had worked to “avoid sensitive habitats.”

Utilities have increasingly shifted in recent years to natural gas from burning coal and oil. Powering plants with natural gas is cleaner, which helps utilities meet environmental standards, but gas also has been relatively inexpensive — a situation that utilities expect to continue with the extraction of gas from shale formations in various parts of the country.

Shammo said the northern pipeline would carry natural gas that comes from Louisiana, Arkansas, Texas and Oklahoma and that it also could include gas from Ohio and Pennsylvania. Much of Florida’s natural-gas supply currently comes from the Gulf of Mexico and Mobile Bay.