Public Service Commission approves 591-mile natural gas pipeline to Treasure Coast

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To meet the Florida’s increasing reliance on natural gas, state regulators supported plans Thursday by Florida Power & Light to develop a natural-gas pipeline stretching 591 miles from Alabama to the Treasure Coast.

Public Service Commission member Eduardo Balbis said the project promotes “fuel diversity” by stabilizing supply and price. The two-section system will be the third pipeline to provide natural gas to power plants and other energy consumers.

“I believe this is a good project,” Balbis told the committee, writes Jim Turner of the News Service of Florida. “Adding this pipeline, having a third come into the state, we’re going to continue to rely on natural gas, and this achieves that mitigation against price fluctuations.”

The need for additional energy is “indisputable at this time,” says Commissioner Julie Brown.

Two interconnecting pipelines will transport natural gas — one to the state and another to areas southeast of Orlando.

Permitting has already begun for both parts of the project, but necessary permits are pending from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Those authorizations will begin in 2016. The two pipelines will cost around $3.5 billion and take 6,600 jobs to create.

The pipelines expect to increase natural gas production by 25 percent in May 2017, when it becomes operational, according to FPL representative Sarah Gatewood.

In 2009, the Public Service Commission rejected a similar pipeline, one directly sponsored by the Juno Beach-based FPL to benefit the company.

The newest project involves NextEra Energy, FPL’s parent company, along with Spectra Energy Corp.

The project — called Sabal Trail Transmission LLC — will create a $3 billion pipeline that spans 465 miles from Southwest Alabama into Georgia and finishes in Osceola County.

Florida Southeast Connection, a division of NextEra, is in charge of building the next section, which runs 126 miles south from Osceola County to the Indiantown FPL plant in Martin County. The second part will cost around $550 million.

As presented, the project will generate about 1 billion cubic feet of natural gas into the state every day.

“We’ll be renting part of that capacity, but not all of it,” Gatewood told the News Service.

After the pipeline opens, FPL will buy about 400 million cubic feet a day, which will grow to 600 million cubic feet a day by 2020.

Natural gas has become an alternative to burning coal and oil by several energy companies. Natural gas is a cleaner way to power energy plants while also meeting environmental standards. Gas is also reasonably priced, a trend that will continue as the extraction of gas from shale increases throughout the country.

As of now, FPL uses from 1.5 billion to 2 billion cubic feet of natural gas daily, delivered through two existing pipelines—owned by the Florida Gas Transmission Company and Gulfstream Natural Gas System.

Currently, nearly 68 percent of Florida’s electricity, and more than 72 percent of total energy from FPL is produced by natural gas.

The commission agreed on Thursday to evaluate existing transportation costs during the annual cost-recovery clause hearings.

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Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.