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NextEra, partners get green light for natural gas pipeline

Federal regulators have given the go-ahead to a controversial $3.2 billion 685-mile natural gas pipeline slated to supply Florida Power & Light’s South Florida plants.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has issued a certificate of public convenience and necessity for the approximately 515-mile Sabal Trail and 126-mile Florida Southeast Connection pipelines. The certificate gives the pipeline companies the authorization to construct and operate the pipelines as long as they meet certain conditions.

Sabal Trail Transmission LLC is a joint venture of Houston-based Spectra Energy Partners, LP (NYSE: SEP), FPL’s parent company NextEra Energy, Inc., Juno Beach, and Duke Energy, Charlotte, N.C.

The approval authorizes Sabal Trail and Florida Southeast Connection, subject to certain conditions, to proceed with final preparations to begin construction in the coming months to meet a May 1, 2017, in-service date.

The pipeline will originate in Alabama and also include Transcontinental Gas Pipe Line Company’s 48-mile Hillabee Expansion project and six new compressor stations.

“This is a major milestone for an important infrastructure project that will help meet the growing energy needs of South Floridians for generations to come,” Michael DeBock, NextEra Energy’s executive director of gas infrastructure.

The estimated $550 million Florida Southeast Connection pipeline would interconnect with the two existing systems in Central Florida and Sabal Trail. It would terminate at FPL’s plant in Indiantown, which has a pipeline connected to FPL’s Riviera Beach plant.

More than 60 percent of the electricity used by Floridians is generated by natural gas. Florida is currently served by only two major pipeline systems, and both are nearing full capacity.

FERC spokeswoman Tamara Young-Allen said the companies have 60 days to submit plans detailing how they will construct and operate the projects.

During the next 30 days, intervenors can file a petition seeking an appeal of the commission’s decision.

The project has been widely opposed by environmental groups and residents of the communities along the route. They have raised concerns that the pipeline will harm the Floridan Aquifer, which supplies water to millions of people in Florida and Georgia, and could damage wetlands, scenic rivers and wildlife habitat and pose a safety threat.

Many of the conditions FERC is requiring revolve around environmental issues. For example, construction must be avoided within occupied scrub-jay habitat between March 1 and June 30.

Once complete, the pipeline will have the capacity to deliver approximately 1.1 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day .

“Sabal Trail will provide a critically-needed source of domestic, clean-burning, affordable natural gas to the Southeast U.S. to meet the growing demand for natural gas-fired generation, the cleanest and most versatile fuel for powering the region’s homes and businesses,” said Bill Yardley, president of Sabal Trail Management, LLC and president of U.S. Transmission and Storage, Spectra Energy.

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