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FPL Seeks Approval For 600 Miles Of Natural Gas Pipeline

Hundreds of miles of proposed pipeline may begin pumping natural gas between Southwest Alabama and Martin County, Florida within four years. First, Florida Power and Light needs to get the okay from state regulators.

This is a two part project. The northern pipeline will stretch roughly 465 miles from Alabama to a hub in Central Florida. From there, a second line will run 126 miles to a Florida Power and Light plant in Martin County.

The natural gas that's piped in will be used by consumers around the state.Mike Sole is a vice president for FPL and former Secretary of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

“This project has a central Florida hub that interconnects the existing pipeline system in Florida – the Florida gas transmission pipeline and the Gulfstream pipeline – so that we also significantly improve the reliability of the pipeline infrastructure in Florida.”

The existing pipeline capacity is almost full, so FPL solicited proposals from companies to construct the pipelines. Two companies were chosen, and they will spend an estimated $3.6-billion to do the work.

Sole says FPL won't pay construction costs, but it will pay rent, essentially buying the right to move gas along the line.

“We hope and expect to begin construction in 2016 and complete that construction and actually begin using the pipeline in 2017. We expect to see some 8600 direct and indirect jobs associated with construction of this pipeline.”

A tentative route for each line has been established. The pipes will be buried a few feet underground, and Sole says they won't pass through much land owned by the state. The company is contacting property owners that might be impacted.

“Whether it's a transmission line, whether it's a road, when you look at Florida's geology and geography, you need to identify those corridors that already have some linear features to them – like adjacent to roads or other transmission corridors. And that helps reduce the concerns and impacts to businesses and residents.”

FPL has to go through a lot of permitting at the federal, state and local level.

This process actually started several years ago when the company offered up a very different proposal. The Florida Public Service Commission rejected it and told FPL to come up with something more cost effective. That led to the current proposal.

Tom Ballinger is director of engineering for the commission. He can't comment on whether this new proposal will be approved, but he can talk about the potential impact.

“It's a very highly regulated industry on the safety and the construction aspects of it. Obviously to build a large infrastructure project like this is going to take many years, many jobs. It's going to be a huge impact on Florida's economy. We are the second largest consumer of natural gas in the United States, Texas being the first, California actually below us.”

About two-thirds of the electricity FPL supplies to Floridians is produced by natural gas.

Eric Draper is executive director of the conservation group Audubon Florida. He was able to review the plans and evaluate the potential impacts to public lands and wildlife habitat.

Draper says FPL took his advice and made a change to avoid harming a tiny federally endangered bird.

“They agreed to move the routing on the pipeline to avoid possible impacts to the Florida Grasshopper Sparrow.”

Audubon's preferred energy source is renewable energy, but Draper says this is the next best thing. He likes the fact that if any state lands are affected by the pipelines, FPL has to pay the state one and a half times what the land is worth.

“Natural gas is going to be part of our energy future for a while. It's relatively low cost. Of course it does have some environmental cost, but we think in that case, you know, given that we're offsetting the environmental impact of building the pipeline, this is an acceptable approach.”

The pipes could run through 16 of Florida's 67 counties.

FPL is hoping to get approval from the Florida Public Service Commission by the end of the year.