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Duke Energy sticks by Atlantic Coast pipeline for gas transportation needs

Duke Energy Corp. has a backup plan for its gas needs should delays and cost overruns fully derail the Atlantic Coast Pipeline LLC project. But that does not mean the Southeast utility is giving up on the 1.5-Bcf/d long-haul project.

Duke is committed to the $7.5 billion line, spokesman Neil Nissan said a day after Duke CEO Lynn Good in an interview pitched a hypothetical scenario about what would happen if Atlantic Coast cannot be built.

"Duke Energy is committed to the Atlantic Coast Pipeline," Nissan wrote in a March 26 email. "As Lynn Good stated, if Duke Energy is unable to get ACP in place, we would need to look at building other infrastructure to provide the critical natural gas that is needed in the region. But at this point that's speculative, and we're committed to the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and the significant benefits it will deliver to our customers."

The Duke Energy CEO had described a potential pipeline project that would run East-West across North Carolina, unlike Atlantic Coast's North-South route, in an interview that appeared in a March 25 Bloomberg News article. The comment came after a reporter asked what the best alternative would be if the Atlantic Coast project does not move forward. Good went on to say during the Bloomberg interview that her company is confident that the project will be completed in a timely manner.

The Atlantic Coast pipeline, a joint venture of Duke Energy, Dominion Energy Inc. and Southern Co., has faced permitting and legal troubles after it was approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in October 2017, including the loss of a U.S. Forest Service authorization to cross the Appalachian Trail. The setbacks have delayed construction and increased costs from an earlier $5.1 billion estimate to an estimate of up to $7.5 billion in a recent assessment.

SNL Image

Duke Energy CEO Lynn Good said her company remains committed to the Atlantic Coast pipeline.

Source: AP images

Environmental opposition has played a large part in the challenges to the pipeline. The Sierra Club pointed to Good's comments in the Bloomberg interview as evidence that Duke Energy has doubts about the Atlantic Coast project.

"Duke Energy is finally getting the picture that it cannot overcome the power of the grassroots, the economics that favor clean energy over fossil fuels, and our fundamental environmental safeguards," Kelly Martin, director of the Sierra Club's Beyond Dirty Fuels campaign, said in a statement.

The Atlantic Coast project would consist of about 600 miles of pipeline through West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina that would move gas to mid-Atlantic and Southeast markets. Nissan called it "a critical infrastructure investment" for the Southeast.

"It will provide significant benefits to our customers, including access to a lower-cost natural gas supply, increased supplier diversity, improved natural gas transmission infrastructure, increased operational flexibility and system reliability," he said.

The project has received the necessary federal and state permits to ensure it is "built in a way that protects public safety and the environment," Nissan said.

Dominion also expects to complete the Atlantic Coast project. "We're actively pursuing multiple paths to resolve all outstanding permit issues including judicial and legislative avenues," spokesman Karl Neddenien said.

"Our current expectation is that construction could restart in the third quarter of this year," Neddenien said. "Regardless of temporary delays, we know that the completion of [Atlantic Coast] is essential to meeting the energy needs of millions of Americans, and we are confident in the ultimate outcome: The ACP will be completed."

Duke executives have said gas is an important part of the company's energy portfolio. "Natural gas will play a major role in a cleaner energy future, and we are leveraging the overlap between our electric and gas businesses to provide better service to our customers," Good said on a Feb. 14 earnings call.