PSNC Energy is studying where to build a transmission pipeline extension to help meet what the company says is an increased demand for natural gas in Franklin and Wake counties.
Officials plan to finalize the route for the pipeline by the end of 2014. It would run roughly from Franklinton to Wendell and connect two existing pipelines.
Construction would begin in 2016 or 2017, after PSNC negotiates any needed property easements with land owners, or, in rare cases, seeks legal recourse for eminent domain power.
While residents and businesses along the pipeline may eventually be able to tap into the line, its primary function is to move natural gas through PSNC’s system.
The extension will ensure quality service for customers throughout the area, said Jerry O’Keeffe, large accounts manager for the Raleigh and Durham regions.
“You have to keep up with growth. It’s in demand,” he said.
Ronnie Goswick, director of the Franklin County Economic Development Commission, said potential access to natural gas would be an attractive incentive to offer businesses looking to expand or relocate in the area.
“Depending on the route, it certainly could be advantage to the county,” he said.
A local industrial park has lost several clients because of the lack of natural gas, he said.
PSNC is not required to seek approval from the state’s Utility Commission for the extension. The company has responsibility to provide service to their franchise area and is allowed to expand as needed.
“They’re expected to use their judgment to serve the public,” said Bill Gilmore, deputy director of operations at the commission.
PSNC will have to notify the commission before beginning construction so that safety inspections can be done.
Once a final route is established, PSNC also will apply to the relevant state departments for any environmental or transportation permits.
The pipeline is expected to be between 20 and 29 miles and cost about $35 million to $45 million.
Elizabeth Ouzts, state director for Environment North Carolina, said that any pipeline construction project brings with it environmental risks such as water pollution. The project also is a step away from cleaner energy alternatives, even if it’s not as big as some other pipeline proposals, she said.
“Anytime we make a major infrastructure investment, we’re just missing an opportunity,” she said.
Planning a route
PSNC has identified several quarter-mile-wide study corridors that run through Franklin and Wake where the land could make a suitable location for the pipeline. The corridors are much wider than any final pipeline route would be and are not themselves proposed routes.
The company has asked residents for input about the corridors and whether there are features of those properties that make them unsuitable for a final route.
PSNC pulls as much information about a study area as possible but seeks additional information about features such as historic barns or family burial plots not recorded publicly.
Once it has collected information from residents, PSNC will winnow its options to a final route, then begin the process of talking to residents about purchasing easements for access to the land.
The pipeline is expected to require a permanent 50-foot-wide easement for access and maintenance, with a temporary 25-foot-wide construction lane.
Land surveyors will talk with property owners about whether there are minor modifications to the route they would prefer.
“We want to work with the land owners to be as minimally invasive as we can,” said Andrew Moore, manager of transmission engineering services at PSNC.
If a property owner refuses to sell an easement, PSNC can file a petition with the courts to get access to the land through eminent domain. The property owner still would be compensated.
Teri Sparrow, who lives in southern Franklin County, said she will be paying close attention to the process. She’s disappointed the pipeline could go through her rural community.
Sparrow wants to know more about how the pipeline could affect property values, legal entanglements that can accompany an easement and the effects of construction on local homes.
“I know they don’t want to mention the downsides, but that’s pretty important,” she said.