Just in: Pipeline firms that supply FPL seek emergency permits

UPDATE: Late Friday natural gas pipeline companies Florida Southeast Connection, Sabal Trail and Transcontinental asked federal regulators to take action to prevent supplies from being shut down next week.

The companies asked the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to either expedite an environmental review of the impact of emissions from the power plants supplied by the pipelines and reissue the required certificates or issue temporary emergency permits.

Otherwise, the pipelines will have to cease operating Wednesday.

An interruption in service could substantially increase costs for consumers, the companies said in a 25-page filing. In addition, they said they will be harmed financially from lost revenue and having to shut down and later restart the project.

A federal court’s ruling this week has the potential to shut down Florida Southeast Connection and Sabal Trail, the newest natural gas pipeline system that serves Florida Power & Light’s power plants.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, known as the “D.C. Circuit,” Wednesday refused to review an August 2017 ruling that found federal regulators should have considered the impact of greenhouse gases from the power plants.

Following this week’s decision, FPL officials said they do not anticipate any impact on their operations, while the Sierra Club said the decision means that the pipeline has to stop operating until a complete review is conducted.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission was ordered in August to conduct a new environmental review of the pipeline and take into account the emissions from FPL and Duke Energy Florida plants that are fueled by the pipeline’s gas or will be. It did not do that before it allowed the pipeline to begin operating in June 2017.

The court is scheduled to enter its final order or “mandate” next week in the case brought by the Sierra Club. Once that happens, the federal certificates allowing the pipelines to operate will be void.

One possibility is that FERC could appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, and could ask the court to withhold the mandate pending that appeal, Christine Tezak, managing director for research at Clearview Energy Partners in Washington, D.C., said Friday.

FERC spokeswoman Celeste Miller said Friday, “The Commission is reviewing the decision and determining its next steps.”

In the meantime, FERC staff continues to review the comments and other data to prepare a final supplemental environmental impact statement, Miller said. In September it issued a draft statement that found the emissions from FPL’s Indiantown plant, its future Okeechobee plant and Duke’s Citrus County plant, now under construction, will not be harmful if mitigation measures are in place.

Juno Beach-based FPL, which uses natural gas to generate 70 percent of its power, is the pipeline’s primary customer. Florida has two other major natural gas pipeline systems.

The Southeast Market Pipeline Project includes the 515-mile $3.2 billion Sabal Trail pipeline from Alabama to Central Florida, the $550 million 126-mile Florida Southeast Connection pipeline from Central Florida to FPL’s Indiantown plant, Transcontinental’s $459 million 48-mile Hillabee Expansion project in Alabama, as well as six new compressor stations.

Sierra Club attorney Elly Benson said, “The D.C. Circuit’s orders confirm what we already knew — when a fracked gas pipeline has been constructed without its threats being fully considered, the pipeline should not be allowed to continue operating. Sabal Trail has run out of excuses.

“The court already rejected FERC’s failure to consider the greenhouse gas pollution from burning the gas transported by the pipeline. It’s time this dirty, unnecessary pipeline is shut down unless and until FERC conducts a comprehensive review of its climate impacts,” Benson said.

Andrea Grover, spokeswoman for Enbridge, which last year acquired Sabal Trail and its developer Spectra Energy Partners in a $28 billion deal, declined to comment.

FPL spokesman Dave McDermitt said, “We continue to closely monitor the ongoing legal proceedings. The pipeline is operational and at this time we do not anticipate a curtailment of FPL operations as a result of the recent court ruling.

“The underground natural gas pipeline which has been operating safely since June 2017 remains vital to meeting Florida’s energy needs,” McDermitt said. “If the Sierra Club is successful in its misguided and politically motivated efforts to reduce Florida’s access to clean U.S.-produced natural gas, the likely outcome would be increased energy costs for consumers and more use of coal and foreign oil to generate electricity.”

Tezak said it is unclear what happens to the delivery of gas through the pipeline because the situation does not appear to have happened before.

While most of the pipeline’s construction is complete, Tezak said it is possible but not certain that the pipeline may need to suspend construction if FERC needs to reissue the certificates.

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